Navigant Research Blog

Funding Smart Buildings to Limit Climate Change

— March 3, 2015

The inefficiencies in commercial building operations have direct implications for the country’s carbon footprint. With climate change still a political stalemate, the Obama Administration has instead taken aim at energy waste in buildings, with voluntary programs led by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that are making waves in the private sector. Energy efficiency challenges, showcases of business best practices, and now a call for private sector financial commitments to fund technology development are all targeting business transformation.

At this year’s ARPA-E Summit, the Obama Administration announced a $2 billion Clean Energy Investment Initiative as a challenge to the private sector to fuel investment in the kind of innovation needed to tackle the threat of climate change. Brian Deese, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget explained, “Further clean energy innovation to improve the cost, performance, and scalability of low-carbon energy technologies will be critical to taking action against climate change. Foundations and institutional investors have the potential to play an important role in accelerating our transition to a low-carbon economy and cutting carbon pollution.”

Anteing Up

Wells Fargo stepped up to the plate with a $10 million Innovation Incubator (IN2) program to support early-stage energy efficiency technologies for commercial buildings. A collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the program offers startups grants, mentorship, research and testing support at NREL, and field testing in Wells Fargo buildings.  The effort will not only help startups develop commercial-ready business models, but also generate proof-of-concept demonstration for innovative technologies. In conjunction with the launch of the Clean Energy Investment Initiative, Wells Fargo also announced it will expand investment partnerships with other financial institutions to bring more money to the table in support of the $2 billion target.

New building technologies remain a bright spot for clean tech investment. In fact, according to statistics from Crunch Base, venture funding for building technology innovations characterized as Internet of Things (IoT) solutions has steadily risen, even as more general clean tech investing took a dive. A recent article on TechCrunch suggests that almost 40% of all clean energy rounds in 2014 went to IoT smart building startups.

Direct Impact

Recent research from Navigant Research echoes the optimism around growth in the market for building innovations. Building energy management systems (BEMSs), for example, leverage the IoT to deliver unprecedented visibility and insight into building and significant improvements in energy consumption and resource utilization. Our recent report, Building Energy Management Systems, shows that the business impacts facilitated by BEMSs have direct and quantifiable climate change impacts. A growing pool of funding sources for companies helping to evolve this maturing marketplace is just one example of the benefits that may come from the Clean Energy Investment Initiative.

 

Islands Sail into Energy Storage

— March 3, 2015

Saddled with the highest electricity rates in the world (and threatened by climate change more than almost any other communities), many islands and isolated grids have opted to integrate wind and solar to replace expensive, imported diesel fuel. One challenge for these systems is that they do not have the benefit of calling upon neighboring systems to balance their wind and solar against load–leading to instability and insecurity of supply.

As a result, many remote grids are adjusting their technical requirements for connecting intermittent resources like wind or solar to the grid, requiring that these resources be firmed. In late 2013, for instance, Puerto Rico adjusted its technical requirements for connecting wind and solar assets to the Puerto Rican grid. This isn’t a direct requirement for energy storage specifically, but is a good fit for storage.

The Flywheel Option

Other island markets are betting on storage more directly. Aruba has committed to an aggressive plan to become 100% renewable by 2020 and has signed agreements with BYD and Temporal Power, as well as a power purchase agreement with Hydrostor in order to achieve its energy goals.

The typical applications in these markets are wind, solar, and diesel hybrids. In previous years, the most common technology for remote, isolated grid storage was advanced batteries. This was partly a function of availability and technology fit. Very few other storage technologies are modular–underground compressed air and traditional pumped storage require specific geologies–and few vendors were targeting the space. Moreover, the working assumption in terms of technology fit has been that a longer-duration storage system is more valuable than a short-duration storage system. Several flywheel vendors are disproving this assumption, however.

ABB’s Powercorp, for example, uses flywheel technology in remote microgrids, such as the BHP Billiton nickel mine in Western Australia and the Coral Bay community in Northwestern Australia. These are remote diesel-led systems.

Way Up North

Beacon Power has commissioned a demonstration project in St. Paul, Alaska, combining an existing plant, which includes a 225-kW wind turbine and 300 kW of diesel generators, with a 160-kW flywheel system. In this scenario, the flywheel system will enable the host utility to further improve wind utilization and deliver fuel savings of up to 30% over existing (pre-flywheel) consumption levels.

While it is still the case that some amount of long-duration storage is necessary in order to achieve very high renewables penetration on an isolated grid, flywheels are demonstrating that significant diesel savings can be achieved with as little as 30 minutes or less of storage.

 

New York Details Its Vision for the Future of Energy

— March 2, 2015

On February 26, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) released its long-awaited Phase 1 Order on its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding. The order lays out the PSC’s vision for how the future retail electricity market in the state should operate to maximize efficiency, improve reliability, engage customers, and create clean, affordable energy products and services. I can’t cover the entire 328-page order in one blog, but I’ll hit on the major decisions that affect the current utility world order.

The biggest variable in the REV equation was whether the PSC would require an independent party to perform the function of the distributed system platform (DSP), the central role of REV. According to the order, the DSP’s functions include load and network monitoring, enhanced fault detection/location, and automated voltage and volt-ampere reactive (VAR) control. That list covers a lot of what the utilities currently do, so taking those tasks away from them would have caused a major shift in the market landscape. However, the Phase 1 Order outright supports utilities acting as the DSP as a way to minimize the redundancy of actions. This singular decision vastly limits the potential impacts to the state and the utilities. Utilities must be breathing a sigh of relief.

Metering Alternatives

A second thorny issue was whether utilities should be able to own distributed energy resources (DER) or whether DER should be the sole domain of the competitive marketplace. Many market players wanted to prohibit the utilities from competing with them when they might have a natural advantage in acquiring customers. Under the order, utilities will be able to own DER if they run a solicitation to meet a system need and they are able to show that competitive alternatives are inadequate or more costly than a traditional infrastructure alternative. They will also be able to invest in storage to the extent it functions as part of the transmission and distribution (T&D) system. This seems like a reasonable compromise that should work for most parties.

The last major component is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Earlier communications from the PSC hardly mentioned metering at all, so it was unclear how the final rule would play out. In fact, the Phase 1 Order does not mandate AMI deployment by utilities. Rather, the PSC prefers the term “advanced metering functionality” (AMF)—meaning that other technologies, including ones provided by third parties, may be able to achieve the desired functionality cheaper and more efficiently than AMI. It states that “each utility Distributed System Integration Plan (DSIP) will need to include a plan for dealing with advanced metering needs; however, plans that involve third party investment may be preferred over sweeping ratepayer funded investments.” This indicates that utilities should consider AMI alternatives before choosing a path forward.

Ticking Clock

As far as next steps, the utilities’ integration plans must be filed by December 15, 2015, so the clock is ticking. Phase 2 of REV will consider reforming the PSC’s ratemaking process so that utilities do not have disincentives to further developing DER. Utility income is tied to bond funds now, but they should depend more on creating value for customers and achieving policy objectives. A draft proposal is expected by June.

It was interesting trying to guess which way the PSC would fall on these and other major issues. Now the real fun begins: implementing the vision.

 

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