Will Innovation and Legislature Bring Renewables to Scale?
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- Feb 4, 2020 10:45 pm GMT
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Mattijs Slee, an investment principal at Shell Ventures, Shell’s corporate venture capital team, is on the lookout for innovative technologies and business models that will change energy forever. While wind and solar are providing a more economic and sustainable alternative, other avenues are still hard to scale. Slee says he wants to help companies scale and accelerate innovation in areas relevant to Shell. He continues, “This requires massive investments in new infrastructure, for which companies, governments and society need to work together.” The next challenge is to balance the intermittency of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, with actual demand. “We need new infrastructure to store surplus renewable energy, so that we can use the energy generated during strong winds in summer nights in the cold and dark winter months." Acknowledging the expense of hydrogen and nuclear, he says, "We need to bring that cost down through further innovations and scale.” Slee is a jury member of this year’s Blue Tulip Awards. Despite the wide varieties of tulips developed and cultivated in the Netherlands, no one has been able to cultivate an entirely blue tulip - yet. Therefore, the awards were named after the flower to represent the next big thing in innovative technologies. Among the Top 25 Blue Tulip Awards for 2020; The TerraBattery aims to store renewable energy with recycleable, environmentally friendly batteries. Aerones promises to improve wind turbine maintenance with robotics. Powerchainger 1.0 is a prototype for sharing self-generated power with neighbors. EARN-E’s Low Budget Energy Monitor will provide a cost-effective monitoring system for households anxious to participate in the energy transition. TULYP Wind will use design to address negative opinions about the scale and appearance of wind turbines.
Scale, affordability and public acceptance have always been challenges for innovation in general and energy is no exception. Addressing those challenges will require persistence, patience and long-term investments. One such concern is whether renewables can effectively meet peak demand? Looking toward the future, Hawaii will be a test bed for replacing fossil-fuel burning plants with renewables. Will Hawaiian residents accept or continue to protest changes that require an estimated 3,000 acres of land? Hawaiian Electric utility is concerned residents won’t want the numerous large-scale solar and wind farms needed to replace the state’s fossil fuel-driven power plants. Protests of large-scale projects are happening more frequently and residents want government officials to heed their concerns. Last year, 160 people were arrested in protest of AES Corp.’s Na Pua Makani wind farm. Litigation has hindered renewable energy projects on Maui and the Big Island. Recognizing the utility’s need for community support, legislature put forth a comprehensive plan to help minimize disruption of future renewable energy projects. Sen. Gil Riviere’s bill plainly states, “Without such a plan, future renewable energy projects will likely face fierce opposition and the clean energy initiative goal itself could be jeopardized.”
Determined to move forward toward their goal, Hawaiian Electric is currently considering 75 proposals that employ storage for solar, wind-generated power and other relatively new technologies. On Oahu alone, the company expects 20 to 29 contracts with private developers and a total investment of $2.5 billion to $4 billion. Public Utilities Commission chairman Jay Griffin admits, “There is still significant uncertainty about the extent to which those projects will be selected, come online, and contribute to the state’s RPS achievement.” Several of the newest proposals would replace Hawaii’s two largest existing power plants by 2024. To ease the transition, the utility will integrate more storage-equipped renewable power plants with some 80,000 private rooftop solar systems—the highest ratio of solar-powered housing in the United States. Jim Alberts, a senior vice president for strategic planning for Hawaiian Electric is optimistic explaining they will soon be “well past the halfway mark” to meeting the 100% renewable energy by 2045 goal.
Embracing innovation, AES worked with NREL and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative to research and develop a large-scale solar plus storage system. The record-breaking solar and battery plant was recently completed on Kauai, allowing the area to reduce the use of imported oil and generate power entirely from renewables. Last June, the Edison Electric Institute, awarded AES for “integrating photovoltaic cells and storage at unprecedented scale to transform variable renewable energy generation into safe, reliable, and readily dispatchable power.” Surely this development has addressed the issue of scale, but what more can be done about the remaining objections to renewable energy? While accepting the award, Andrés Gluski, AES’s president and CEO, said the project had proved that solar plus storage can provide “around-the-clock renewable energy” and replace “traditional forms of power generation in many other markets around the world.”
Not everyone agrees this is the solution to "around-the-clock renewable energy." So until it is more widely accepted and deployed, let’s remain on the lookout for the next ‘Blue Tulip’ in energy.