By Jim Saber,
President and CEO
NextEnergy envisions a future where the energy that powers our homes, businesses and vehicles is 100 percent carbon free. To achieve this vision, we help our partners test new solutions and develop sustainable business models to create a better quality of life for all.
Currently, 65 percent of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels. While the remaining 35 percent originates from carbon-free sources, such as nuclear and renewable energy, the transportation and mobility sectors are more than 90 percent fossil-fuel based. These sectors especially have a significant opportunity to implement renewable technologies. Today, electricity only makes up 1 percent of our transportation energy. Though this figure is expected to increase considerably in the coming years, as electric vehicles and other technologies are brought to market, we have a long way to go.
So, what emerging technologies and trends will help us get there faster? The NextEnergy team has identified three such approaches, with scalable solutions, that can accelerate our path toward a carbon-free future.
Leveraging the Internet of Things
Over the last few years, NextEnergy has worked with technology companies and utilities using the Internet of Things (IoT) on applications that help manage different loads and make our grid smarter and more interactive. Smart home and building technologies — which integrate renewable energy, energy storage, HVAC, smart appliances and electric vehicles — will help customers better control their energy use and will help utilities understand the impact of these solutions at scale and across the grid. The IoT will play a significant role in a clean energy future, allowing both utilities and customers to better manage their consumption.
As we move toward a greater mix of renewable energy sources, we are also moving toward uncharted territory, as these resources are not managed in the same way as natural gas and coal plants. In fact, utilities will need to adopt more advanced methods to manage the grid, its customers — both commercial and residential — and loads during intermittent times. Effectively managing these loads will help utilities better align demand with supply and create new business opportunities.
In February, NextEnergy wrapped up its Lighting Technology Energy Solutions Program, which piloted IoT-based advanced lighting controls in small and medium commercial buildings. This work was completed in partnership with DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United States Department of Energy (U.S. DOE). Program results showed, on average, that participants reduced their energy use by 29 percent.
In the future, many new IoT solutions will come to market, creating smarter homes and buildings that enable greater ability to manage our energy consumption. These will result in win-win opportunities for utilities managing generation and distribution and for customers lowering their consumption and energy costs.
Scaling Solar + Storage
Renewable energy from solar is an intermittent resource, meaning the energy is not continuously available. Coupling energy storage (batteries) with solar can provide significant benefits and accelerate the path to carbon-free electricity.
Energy can be stored when:
- Demand on the grid is low in off-peak times
- Generation from renewables exceeds demand
Energy storage can then be discharged when:
- Demand on the grid is high during peak times
- When production from renewables cannot meet demand
In addition, localized generation and storage can:
- Avoid many of the losses from transmission and distribution
- Be attractive for peak shaving and mitigating demand charges for commercial customers
Beyond benefiting our homes and buildings, NextEnergy believes that solar + storage can greatly accelerate the buildout of electric vehicle charging. We are currently partnering with Delta Electronics, General Motors, DTE and the U.S. DOE on what we call an “extreme fast charger,” which will be capable of providing approximately 200 miles of driving in 10 minutes. This charger is designed to leverage resources, such as lithium-ion batteries or solar photovoltaic applications, which can lower installation and operating costs while supporting the grid.
Commercializing Green Hydrogen Applications
Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on earth. While it is used in many industrial applications, there is a growing interest in hydrogen as an energy carrier for transportation and as a storage method.
The most common methods for producing hydrogen are:
- Fossil fuel reformation, which extracts hydrogen from the carbon chain
- Electrolysis, which splits water via electricity
With fossil fuel reformation, pure hydrogen can be extracted, but the residual effects of carbon must be managed. Electrolysis also produces pure hydrogen; however, the only byproduct of this process is oxygen, allowing us to use electricity generated from carbon-free sources and making it a green solution.
We can harness the power of hydrogen as energy storage under the same scenarios as other forms of storage, such as lithium-ion batteries and pumped hydro, with the same benefits. However, batteries are limited by their physical size and capacity. With hydrogen, we can overcome these limitations. For example, hydrogen can:
- Be generated and consumed locally or onsite to create electricity with fuel cells for applications
- Be moved into tanks and distributed in a manner similar to gasoline as a transportation fuel
- Be moved through pipelines to its end use
For transportation or mobility applications, hydrogen and fuel cells can offer more advantages than batteries in three key scenarios:
- The heavier a vehicle, the more likely that hydrogen and fuel cells offer weight and volume advantages.
- The longer a vehicle needs to run between fueling or charging, the more that hydrogen offers weight and volume advantages.
- The faster you need to refuel the vehicle, the more that hydrogen can offer advantages.
Since commercial trucking and transit buses fit these scenarios, hydrogen can provide carbon-free transportation for commercial trucking and mass transit.
NextEnergy continues to work with its partners to leverage the IoT to better manage energy use within our homes and buildings, scale solar + storage and commercialize green hydrogen applications. These efforts will greatly accelerate our path to a clean energy future.