Innovation in sustainable energy is occurring so rapidly that in some parts of the world, the status quo systems for energy delivery are struggling to keep up. For example, MIT Technology Review reported a few months ago that “renewables are outgrowing their grids” in places like Germany and China. This should be great news, and it is. However, issues such as the lack of flexibility of turning coal plants on and off in China, or an excess of energy supply in Germany exacerbate the way the grids are currently managed in both countries, thereby, slowing the pace of clean energy adoption. A central issue here is storage. With today’s intermittent renewable energy mix, utilities end up with too much power at certain times and not enough power at other times.
Innovation will restore harmony between clean energy sources and the infrastructure that delivers them to planet-conscious users
The slow-down in adoption caused by structural issues with the electricity grid should translate in the speed-up on innovation for utility companies around the world. It is in everybody’s best interest to have thriving utility companies that deliver sustainable energy to their consumers using the huge infrastructure they already have. The same is true for the transportation infrastructure in cities across the globe; it needs to adapt to accommodate clean vehicles.
Slow Down, but Just to Catch Your Breath
The MIT Review quotes The Guardian‘s recent report that reveals, “Leaked plans from the German federal network agency, which manages the country’s power grid, describe how it is planning to cut back its ambitions for wind power in the north of the country because the grid can’t handle it.” The article paints a similar picture for China by quoting a BBC report that indicates, “China has built so many coal-fired power plants, which are slow to turn on and off, that it has to turn its wind turbines off for as much as 15 percent of the time because its grid can’t always handle both being online concurrently.”
There is also a fast innovation pace in solar that, for very different reasons, could end up slowing the adoption of solar panels for homes and businesses. The issue here is money. Specifically, utilities and their customers are trying to find the right balance between the independent production of energy at the edge of the grid (such as when you install solar panels on your roof) and the need for the grid to be available to you when the sun is not shining. This pricing issue even made it to the voting ballot in Florida this past November.
Innovation in clean hydrogen energy, such as the localized production of Hydrogen 2.0 fuel, will empower the evolution of the grid by helping utilities take advantage of distributed electricity generation and storage. No matter when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, hydrogen is a 24/7 opportunity. As utilities and industry adopt distributed ways to generate some of their own energy at the edge of the network, existing infrastructures, such as that for electricity storage, delivery, or transportation, will become the focus of continued innovation. Together with leadership from electric utilities, this wave of technological progress can meet consumer needs while maximizing the benefits of their business model.
Innovation: Coming to the Infrastructure Near You
In a recent blog post, Bright Future Ahead for Utilities, we wrote, “Innovations not directly related to energy, such as cloud computing, will further help the industry better manage power so they can become more agile.” This is where influences and advancements outside the sector will enable electric utilities to catch up with innovation in sustainable energy such as solar, wind, and hydrogen. As we wrote then, “Taken together, [innovations outside the sector that affect] technological breakthroughs in sustainability, energy delivery, and power management will make the smart grid a truly integrated system that can bring the utility industry into the 21st century.”
The transportation infrastructure in cities must also adapt to keep up with the pace of sustainable energy transformation. An electric Tesla or a hydrogen-powered municipal bus are only truly clean if the energy powering their batteries and fuel cells come from a clean source. States like California are quickly building infrastructure to support hydrogen cars like Toyota’s Mirai, and cities like Stavanger in Norway have “superchargers” for electric cars directly connected to wind energy (which is interesting when you note that Stavanger is Norway’s oil capital.)
Opening the Door to Innovative Cooperation
The accelerated pace of innovation in renewables, like solar and wind, and clean energies, such as hydrogen, will continue to accelerate progress across the entire sustainable energy ecosystem. As the infrastructure that makes sustainable energy broadly available to people and industry adapts, the business models for companies that keep up our electricity and transportation infrastructure will become more inviting to clean sources. Wind turbines, solar panels, and hydrogen production will no longer need to be “tamed,” but instead, can be maximized to create the climate-saving transformation the world now demands.
Ultimately, delivering clean energy that is affordable is a win-win proposition for energy companies and energy users alike—provided all sides cooperate to open the door to innovation, which thankfully, is getting knocked on more and more.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.