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The crucial role Innovation must play in the Energy System Story

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Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation Knowledge Provider Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

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Innovation is vital to the energy system’s integration and operation design, and we need to further recognize its crucial role. I believe we undertake a radical transformation in the way we supply, transform, and use energy. This requires a profound transformation in technologies, systems, and infrastructure.

Innovation is made up of many enabling technologies that support energy. This complexity requires innovative approaches to be built in highly systematic ways. Its ultimate result is to offer innovation that can continually look for re-imagining new market designs and business models to stimulate the changes and solutions for our future energy transformation.

Innovation needs to be transformational, offer greater value than what it is replacing, show the real advantage, set out to achieve competitive gains and offer a higher level of sustainability, value and impact. We need to give innovation a large share of any design voice. Getting new innovation solutions out into the market gives fresh value and market growth opportunity. Find a design that is unique or well advanced on the existing solutions can be dramatic to the future fortunes of that company. Innovation needs greater attention within the Energy Transition. We all need stronger narratives.

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Let's step back here and give innovation the recognition and the air it needs to lift up its positioning.

We need an innovating mantra for energy.

Energy is a vital part of any country’s ability to be competitive. Today half the world’s capital is invested in energy and its related infrastructure as it is the backbone of any industrial and urbanization strategy.

Our need is to keep pushing for discoveries, for experimentation, for demonstrating. We must nurture innovation, and we must continuously look for ways to facilitate its pathway.

Our economic prosperity will be determined by transforming the energy sector, and it is through innovation we will achieve this. To avoid the predicted consequences of climate change, the global energy system must rapidly reduce its emissions.

The vast majority of global CO2 emissions come from the energy production sector, from our buildings or transportation systems. They all need a purposeful design of a new, cleaner energy system.

Innovation needs to be at the top of its game, to be accelerated and scaled.

The energy transition that the world is undertaking is one of the most critical areas where innovation needs to be at its absolute best, top of the game, to make the level of change necessary. We need to deploy every innovative tool to leverage ideas and discoveries and then accelerate the validation into a commercialization path sooner than later.

Innovation needs to get out of the laboratories, moved from theory to application, and off the desk of those executives who fail to see the urgency of change we need to achieve the energy transition.

Innovation has risk always associated with it, but that imperative to push the boundaries does need always to be constantly in our minds; global warming, pollution, and resource finite are our “burning platform.”

We need to ramp up our need for solutions to reduce greenhouse gases, redesign energy generation, transmission, and distribution and bring a balance back into our environments.

Pushing our present understanding, looking beyond the knowns, we need to group and articulate our innovation stories.

  • Today the solutions are centered on decarbonization, applying digitalization, and switching to an energy system that is more decentralized than at present. It is finding imaginative, innovating solutions that become essential to achieve this climate change through the energy transition we are undertaking.
  • Each organization within the energy transition looks at its own position and applies any changes to advance its competitive position. Quite rightly, but in focusing on one specific perspective, you can lose the bigger opportunity.
  • We need to extend the reach of electricity; we need to focus on Hydrogen, validate carbon capture and storage (CCUS) as well as bioenergy and take them out of the lab, out of the realms of theory and validate the innovation concepts into scalable ones that deliver the gaps we have in our energy transition.
  • We must find innovative solutions to reduce local air pollution, strengthen energy security, and develop a more significant energy system that is resilient to minimize the shutdowns and power outs. We need to find solutions to reliable and sustainable energy solutions that deal with heating, lighting, cooking, and cooling. Any change needs to find a way to create local economic value and jobs, as others in any change of this magnitude will be displaced.
  • As we search for enabling technologies, we need to constantly facilitate the integration of renewable energy, accelerate storage, explore sector coupling, introduce new ways to operate within the electricity system, seek out new power generation, design the grids for increased flexibility and digitalize solutions to provide further services, tools and distributed generation deployment knowing how to diffuse innovation in these general five approaches becomes valuable.
  • We need to continue to de-carbonize challenging industry sectors like steel, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, or our transportation systems if we wish to achieve any positive outlook of curbing carbon emissions and moving onto a pathway towards a zero-carbon future.

Innovation and showing progression give market confidence and encouragement that the innovation story is designed to take decisions through this innovation adoption approach.

Everything we are looking at in energy solutions faces a scalability challenge. 

How are we addressing scalability specifically? We need to articulate this, so market understanding has a clarification. The innovation story will be to show how the ability to harness the existing with the new is shaping up, offering a sustaining value, and this is the role of innovation to deliver the changes by being the bridge and being the catalyst of change with new technology and innovative solutions and giving that encouragement to the story teller..

Innovation adoption in the technology lifecycle for Energy Translation

Technological innovation has a central role to play in the Energy Transition currently being undertaken throughout the world. The shifts need to take the different parts of the energy system through a lifecycle approach to any future energy system needs a well structure system that can be used as the process, for all to understand and relate too.

The six critical focal points of the energy transition can shape the opening story to build solutions that deliver on these.

The six main thrusts for technological innovation within the Energy Systems for today’s energy transition are:

  1.  To accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies throughout the system.
  2. There is a real need to find innovative solutions that focus on the end-user sectors of transport, industry, and buildings.
  3. The technological and digital innovative solution needs to focus on the overall system design and the operation needs.
  4. Innovation needs to increase electrification through emerging solutions on the grids’ digitalisation and provide grid-scale energy storage for resolving variable renewable power and building out further energy storage.
  5. To push, nurture, and facilitate different energy sources to provide solutions to scale them up. These include solar power, geothermal, biopower, hydropower, onshore and offshore wind and finally tidal power.
  6. Lastly, innovation needs to achieve an affordably decarbonize industrial transition.

Many new innovation solutions need to continually unlock the system’s flexibility.

Besides technological innovation, there is growing potential for redesigning operational systems through new services, tools, and distributed generation deployment. There are opportunities to find fresh market designs that have demand-response models central to then provide new, more tailored services and then the exciting potential of designing new business models that look to greater co-creation, more flexible power purchase agreements and bring the consumer into the system as contributors, aggregators and highly energy aware.

We do not focus enough on telling the innovating energy story. We often announce, accept, move on. That is wrong!

Innovation must be at the forefront of the energy change; otherwise, we will fail to deliver on the 2050 commitments and goals, and that will have consequences for our very existence as we know it.

We must focus on laying out my business story on where innovation is making real contribition.  Getting across the further message that there is a robust system for accelerating innovation within the energy system in the pipeline raises attention.

Sometimes having the external perspective, an innovation specialist supporting the story can help in setting out the innovation journey and help pain the innovation landscape. To have a well-designed narrative focusing on mapping out the future of energy and where they fit to support, compliment, and provide different value points to some "broad themes" of work is highly valuable.

Weaving the innovation story provides identification and refinement

We all need to recognize that telling the innovation story weaves so much into the work being undertaken. It can complement the insights, it can help feed into were the expertise lies and its future potential, opens up future collaboration opportunities that can build even further different points of value.

Describing, telling and illustrating the innovation story brings individual initiatives into a more cohesive whole It opens up understanding to a greater potential, investors value.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 23, 2021

The energy transition that the world is undertaking is one of the most critical areas where innovation needs to be at its absolute best, top of the game, to make the level of change necessary. We need to deploy every innovative tool to leverage ideas and discoveries and then accelerate the validation into a commercialization path sooner than later.

I feel like I'm reading an inspiring pep talk. Complacency won't get us where we need, but bold action will!

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Feb 23, 2021

It can read like an inspiring pep talk, I would rather present it as "a call to innovation action" that sets about this need for innovating in a very focused, disciplined way.

Often innovation remains "ad hoc", often work can be repeated as it had not system of record and it can never have the recorded learning journey for others to refer too or take some of the understanding to adapt it into their work.

I argue that innovation needs to be presented like our balance sheets or profit and loss. We can recognize what the "line" relates too and can "drill down" to understand this part better.

The more you have a rexcognized, common approach, the more you can gain a uniformity to the systems of innovation. The innovation itself can be brilliant, unique, needing to follow a auditing and awareness path so others can track, trace and test on best emerging practices that become accepted within the organization, and therefore do not get "challenged" each and every time.

Kenneth Pruzinsky's picture
Kenneth Pruzinsky on Feb 23, 2021

If you have Amazon Prime, 2 shows that I found very interesting were "Thorium 2011" (2 hours) & "Thorium 2016" (6 hours). Alvin Weinstein was the inventor of the PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) & he held the patent on it. He also recognized some potential hazards to a very high pressure process & spent much of his career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory working on Molten Salt Reactor technology. That lab operated an MSR from 1965 to 1970. This technology can use thorium as it's nuclear fuel & it it a low pressure but high temperature process that can be built at a much lower cost. With solid fuel PWRs, the fission byproducts like xenon are trapped inside the fuel rods & reduce the life of those rods; with LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) the fuel is mixed in a fluoride salt solution, the solution can be modified chemically as required allowing it to use it's fuel more efficiently. The process has some inherent safety advantages like being able to drain the molten fuel from the reactor (carbon plates are used in the reactor to moderate fission neutrons) to a drain tank on a loss of all power. There are a number of companies working on developing this technology; China & India have quite a few engineers developing the details. This is something that I view as the future for electric energy on this planet. My primary concern is that we take the time to work out all of the details to get it right.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 1, 2021

Molten salt has a number of technical, operational, and maintenance issues that seriously compromise reliability. Fundamentally, if the salt gets too cold, it turns into a rock. The salt also can self-weld itself into a sold block. Flow blockages in a nuclear reactor are generally disastrous. The salt is corrosive and throw in fission products and the material issues become quite vexing.

While the reactor may operate at low pressures, the steam cycle (which is where the electrical power is generated) is at high pressures. The boilers used to create the steam invariably have tube leaks and water and salt do poorly (as in steam explosions) when mixed.

Historically, salt reactors have been extremely expensive to build and extremely unreliable. From a power generation standpoint, this is a dismal combination.

If the Russians wish to pursue the technology, that is up to them. However, looks like a poor investment we should not pursue, in my view.

Kenneth Pruzinsky's picture
Kenneth Pruzinsky on Mar 2, 2021

You don't have to use steam to power a steam cycle, they are trying CO2 as an option with a Brayton cycle gas turbine.  Some designs have used an intermediate heat exchanger to give an extra layer of separation between the low pressure LFTR cycle & the higher pressure cycle that will drive the turbine generator.  From 1965 to 1970 when the MSR reactor was operated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a primary focus of their research was in studying the metallurgy that would hold up to the high temperature molten salt.  50 years ago, they learned a lot about what worked & what didn't; I am sure that in 50 years there has been some significant improvements in this area.  There is a company called Thorcon that is working on units that they plan on marketing for 3 cents per kilowatt hour (less than coal, 1/2 of what I pay in Texas).  Thorcon plans on using a steam cycle because that technology is readily available.  Thorcon will use the type of ship used to transport offshore oil rigs to transport their units which are built in barge like plants for use in coastal areas.  There is a move to make smaller reactors available to more people; I really don't like to take any type of nuclear power lightly where the people operating it did not fully understand all of the technical details of the plant.  The US Navy has many smaller reactors powering ships in their fleet, but they train those people in every aspect.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 1, 2021

Innovation generally springs from entrepreneurs and small businesses, not the government and not big business.

In the US, the DOE/Big-government mob actually stifles innovation as small businesses are effectively frozen out of the corrupt pay-to-play scheme. Further, bureaucrats are attempting to pick marketplace winners-and-losers. Predictably, billions of taxpayer dollars have been squandered.

Provide tax transferable tax write-offs for development of innovative goods/services and drop kick the government out of the process. That will fully unleash the entrepreneurs.

 

Mark Howitt's picture
Mark Howitt on Mar 2, 2021

Innovation is one aspect of the challenge. The next aspect is funding construction of the first commercial plant. For 8 years we've had the world's leading large-scale long-duration storage technologies (by a big distance), the first plants of which will be profitable - but the risk-aversion of financiers (despite many multinational engineering companies saying that it's very low indeed) means that despite dozens of verbal expressions of interest in building follow-on plants, we are still searching for the finance for the first.

Our technology is large-scale - but that's the only scale that will transform the industry, grids and the climate. We still seek  fund that not only has the vision and ambition to lead in a mostly unaddressed multi-$trillion industry but also the appetite to build a first commercial-scale plant to achieve that global growth.

Mark Goldes's picture
Mark Goldes on Mar 2, 2021

A revolution is emerging in the energy industry. However, it takes issue with widely accepted science. That fact has kept it invisible and severely under supported.

Autonomous 24/7 generators have been invented but are not yet recognized. A recently patented (US 10,770,937) example by A&I Power Group of Miami, FL has an 8 watt prototype generator with an output 5.6 times the input power.

The first autonomous generator was invented just over 100 years ago by Alfred Hubbard. He powered an 18' electric boat with a 25 Hp motor - without batteries - on a lake in Seattle in a widely viewed public demonstration. Next he removed the 40 Hp engine of a car and replaced it with a slightly larger version of his generator.

Scientists were baffled (and still are). An attempt at production failed. Had it succeeded we might not be confronting a climate emergency.

At last the technology is understood. A modern version of the Hubbard generator is in development. A 5 kW unit will fit in a one foot cube and offer a 24/7 alternative to rooftop photovoltaics.

Autonomous generators are now in development in India, China, South Korea, Russia and the USA. See MOVING BEYOND OIL at aesopinstitute.org to learn more.

While there, read the segment titled ROOM TEMPERATURE SUPERCONDUCTORS. Four are close to commercialization.

Innovation is alive but not well - as vicious Troll attacks featuring lies and distortions discourage support.

Human survival may require rapid development and commercialization. Bold members of this organization might find it rewarding to dive into this potentially enormous opportunity. Skepticism is justified and understandable. However, you will find the new science will inevitably change the world.

 

 

Robert Guimarin's picture
Robert Guimarin on Mar 2, 2021

Paul, very nice article on the need for innovation across the energy ecosystem.  However, where is the call for innovation action on the consumer, ratepayer, side?  Yes, there are smart thermostats and apps available to help ratepayers better manage their energy usage and lower their bills, and incentives for more well-off ratepayers to install residential energy storage systems to improve resiliency, lower costs, and to help support the grid during times of adverse conditions.  The energy industry needs to remove their paternalistic thinking towards ratepayers and seek innovations that directly benefit all ratepayers and indirectly benefit energy providers.  Take energy storage, 35% of ratepayer households are renters and don’t have the option, like homeowners, to install a residential energy system.  Landlords are not incentivized to install them.  Consequently, 100s of GWs of energy storage potential goes untapped.  Innovations in behind-the-meter portable energy storage systems that are affordable could provide ratepayers who rent a means of achieving greater energy efficiencies and resilience, while opening up a greenfield for energy providers with a complementary energy storage ecosystem.  Innovation is hard, its messy, and often the hardest thing for institutional organizations is to get outside their own mindset.  Thanks for the article and platform for an open exchange of ideas.

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Mar 2, 2021

Robert. You are right. We have very little society engagement on the benefits, costs, issues, disruptions, or value benefits in lower cost, better sustainability etc.

Who eventually pays, what gains in environment, stability, reliability, pollution air quality etc.

All totally necessary and mostly missing. 

As for the changes in habits, technology, giving up freedom etc.

Then, privacy and additional efforts to manage your own energy requirement  

Yes we xan really debate these, look for solutions and new ways of working  

Is it too early as we are only just beginning the change? 

In my view earlier the better for appreciation  and recognition of our needto change  

This has become virtually the next post 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 4, 2021

What sounds good in the theoretical world may be utterly impractical in the real world. Therein lies a major flaw with much of academia that is not concerned with meeting payroll and earning a profit. Innovation is only useful if the result is affordable.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 4, 2021

To play devil's advocate-- is it not the job of science and academia to find ways to push the limit of what's theoretically possible which could potentially pave the way for practical (and economic) applications? If we only funded the immediately usable and profitable, private money would be driving all the research-- but because that's not always the case that's where the role for academia and government-funded scientific research to step in and advance knowledge, because we never know what can be possible until those boundaries are properly pushed. 

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Mar 6, 2021

I also want to pick up on your "theoretical world" and "major flaw with much of academia" and then profit and innovation.

Lets take a view here Academia Theory vs. Engineering Practicality and Experience.

If the engineer does not seek out and learn from Academia in new research, university exploratory work he or she are destine to simply repeat their experience. If they ignore theory then an engineer never advances. Equally if Academics don't publish their finding then engineers can't point out the gaps from practical application. Equally if an Academic does not learn from an engineer then his work is not so well grounded.

Each side the engineers, a business or academia or a research institute in today's world has a payroll to met and investors to satisfy.

Earning a profit is not what interests many that see contributions to give to society, to donate and to share.

Innovation is not simply a smartphone or something you have to buy, the market judges if it is acceptable and affordable, it is offering something that improves on the existing, if it does not then you have a poor result.

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