The first Pike Research Smart Energy Annual Report is due out soon (Q2 of 2012), and in it Pike Research calculates the size and value of the global smart energy market in 2011. We define smart energy as “the range of efficient technological options available to providing electricity in a distributed fashion, either for local use or for grid support,” covering renewable energy, biopower, energy storage and advanced conversion technologies such as fuel cells and CHP technology. But we don’t cover developments in the natural gas market. Why? Because it remains unclear whether the developing natural gas market in the US will harm or help the smart energy market.
Daniel Yergin in his article for CNN is cautiously optimistic that in the US natural gas will not crowd out the developing renewable energy market, but will more likely replace and then displace coal and nuclear for power production. In Europe I believe that governments are starting to move away from the dash-to-gas due to the increased geopolitical tensions caused by the location of most of natural gas reserves. In Austria, for example, the region of Güssing has a policy of 100% renewable, locally produced, power. As I covered in the past in an article for Fierce Energy, this includes 50 MWs of distributed fuel cell power using locally produced biogas. The United Kingdom has taken a slightly different approach, and has to date limited the use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” due to the increased incidences of minor earthquakes in the vicinity of a nuclear waste storage facility.
But how will the surge in natural gas supplies affect the overall smart energy paradigm – the production, storage and use of efficient, distributed power? From my own personal perspective it’s likely to be a good thing. Over three quarters of all fuel cell systems deployed today use either natural gas or a form of fuel in which natural gas is the main component. The addition of natural gas-powered fuel cells will in some cases help a renewable installation in the same grid system win contracts, as it can guarantee steady, predictable baseload power. A win-win surely and a prefect example of the systems based approach that we see rapidly developing in the smart energy market.
One scenario we could see developing is utilities providing smart energy systems, rather than electrons and heat, where a package that combines a natural gas-fuelled fuel cell, solar and wind capacity, and an advanced battery for hydrogen-based storage are deployed together in a turn-key system. This could be everything from 1-5-kilowatt (kW) systems for homes right up to 50-100 megawatts for communities or towns. Joining the dots in this way will increase the overall efficiency of the power and heat production network, and emissions will decrease. So, note to self: Next year in the 2013 Smart Energy Annual Report – include natural gas.
Tags: Climate Change, Natural Gas, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice
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