Fossil Fuels and Solar Strategies are Smarter With Collaboration
When people think of clean technology, there’s often an assumption of tension between renewable energy and oil/gas, meaning that the two are competing with each other for market share. In some ways, this perception of competition is real: economic forces are driving down the costs of renewable energy, which directly cut into fossil fuel profits.
But there’s a force much greater than economics that is driving a need for greater collaboration between fossil fuel and clean energy sectors: nature. Coal, gas, and oil are finite resources that will one day run out as global consumption continues to rise each year. An exact forecast is almost impossible to develop, as variables are moving targets.
The future, however, is inevitable—and it isn’t an either/or scenario. Large-scale solar utility production is becoming easier. According to research from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, total U.S. solar capacity is expected to nearly triple over the next five years. The authors of the report elaborate that “electricity produced by the new utility-scale solar facilities these days can be as cheap or cheaper than electricity from new conventional coal-fired or natural gas-fired facility.
It’s imperative that the industrial worlds of renewables and fossil fuels converge through strategically planned integrations and real-time information flows.
|DOE Consultant Pablo Solomon
Image via pablosolomon.com
“The most efficient use of solar energy is the opportunity to use data and pivot strategies,” says Pablo Solomon, an artist and designer who was formerly a consultant to the United States Department of Education and developed programs for colleges and school systems.
Here’s what a hybridized approach to energy optimization could bring to utility innovation.
More efficient, cost-effective, and reliable energy sources. The innovation of advanced inverters has made the management of PV energy and storage connection more straightforward. These inverters support grid integration and are smaller in size and weight than their predecessors, without power loss. This innovation enables energy-sharing between communities. Municipalities can rely upon continuous, reliable green energy as a true clean alternative to fossil fuel.
“Solar batteries deplete so quickly that you really need a lot of redundancy without resorting to other power generation sources,” explains Solomon. “There are processes that use electricity that are also not so dependent on a constant source of power—pumping water into a storage tower for example. This is one application that could best use direct solar power and then use stored solar power at night only if necessary and at worst use grid electricity only at non-peak periods.”
Even though direct, continuous sunlight is the “ideal” energy source, innovation will soon outsmart these limited storage challenges.
Improved optimization of distributed energy storage. According to one estimate, energy storage for solar systems will be an $8B industry by 2026. It’s a problem that needs to be solved—and the smartest minds in the world are working on it.
“One of the biggest challenges we face for the continued growth of both utility-scale, and behind-the-meter sited solar is the intermittency of solar generation,” writes John Merritt for AltenergyMag.
“The unpredictable nature of solar power actually stresses the grid in some regions of high-penetration solar, specifically in Hawaii and areas of California, where adding additional solar may actually destabilize portions of an aging electrical grid.”
An energy grid that depends on distributed energy sources goes hand-in-hand with sophisticated data usage monitoring tools. With this information in hand, the energy industry becomes more sustainable as a whole, no matter the power source.
“One of the most innovative ways companies are improving resource allocations is through live, real-time monitoring to both deploy O&M teams to address immediate problems, and also in the long-term to schedule preventative maintenance to avoid problems before they happen,” explains Dan Fink, an interstate Renewable Energy Council Certified Instructor in both solar and small wind at the Ecotech Institute.
Clean technology leader Tesla is heading research in energy storage innovation with its Gigafactory in Nevada, a lithium-ion storage facility in southern Australia, and an ecosystem of partner organizations. For the fossil fuel industry to remain relevant and compete with the open market—and economic force of sustainable energy—collaboration will be a necessity.
Solar makes oil & gas more efficient. When it comes to partnership potential between long-standing oil and gas industries and energy newcomers in solar, knowledge-sharing and utility grid optimization are just two parts of the energy efficiency story.
Take mining, for instance—an industry with high energy consumption, distributed load centers, and a market opportunity to convert 30% of existing energy load to renewables. That’s a change that could result in immediate cost reductions.
“New energy technologies can also lead to improved community relations,” write Kevin Haley and Paolo Natali of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Microgrid image via Utilitypost.com
“Microgrids, for example, are becoming an increasingly popular way to manage renewable energy systems, storage, and locally dispersed load centers. In the context of mining, a renewables + microgrid solution could provide ancillary benefits to local communities lacking infrastructure or access to energy. With the global microgrid market poised to top $35 billion by 2020, mines looking to invest in a complete renewable energy solution can start taking advantage of economies of scale in the microgrid industry, creating shared value that benefits both mines and the surrounding community.”
Collaboration is built on big ideas. Progress is built on execution. A shared focus yields economic wins to all partners.
What’s possible for your utility project?
Boviet is the leading expert in innovative solar integration and would be happy to schedule a complimentary, exploratory conversation to discuss solar modules. Your project may be a candidate for solar in bigger ways than you imagined.