Navigant Research Blog

If $9 Billion of Renewable Energy Is Curtailed in 2030, What Opportunities Will Emerge? Part 2

— October 4, 2016

Cyber Security MonitoringThe first part of this blog covered the growing trend of renewables curtailment. This second post will cover the solutions that are turning curtailment from a problem into an opportunity.

Many solutions have been proposed to address the integration of renewables into the energy sector. The first two, transmission upgrades and storage technologies, tend to get a lot of media attention. However, these can be seen as “necessary but not sufficient” options in the race to integrate renewables. Flexible gas generation technologies will also play a growing role in the grid of the future.

Transmission upgrades connect renewables to more loads and diversify generation resources. Germany, with 26% of its generation coming from intermittent sources in 2015, has been building out transmission to connect the windy south of the country to the industrial north. As in many global markets, transmission expansion is subject to NIMBYism, and in Germany’s case is being forced underground, which is more expensive. California, with 14% of its generation from intermittent sources in 2015, may be expanding its independent system operator (ISO) into a regional organization across the climatologically diverse Western Interconnection, though the decision has been delayed for further review. And China, generating just around 3% of its electricity from wind in 2015, still curtailed billions of dollars of wind power in recent years and is quickly pushing to interconnect it with load.

Storage technologies are growing quickly, as well. Hydroelectric storage is a cheap and clean technology that nonetheless sometimes battles drought-related, environmental, and even methane emissions concerns. Batteries, including lithium ion and other types, are rightly making news as costs fall and policies like incentives and storage mandates drive the market toward rapid growth. These and related storage technologies, including compressed air storage, are growing quickly and will become a major part of our electric grids.

Flexible Solutions

Flexible gas-based generation solutions tend to get less media attention but will also be crucially important in the flexibility of the grid.

  • A 2016 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report suggested that for California to accommodate 50% of its generation coming from solar PV, a wide range of changes would need to take place. Notably, flexible thermal generators and combined heat and power (CHP) plants were mentioned as a key necessity, even if the amount of energy storage is boosted by more than 10 times what is outlined in the current mandate.
  • A 2015 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists on California’s grid states that under a 50% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) scenario, curtailment could be cut from 4.8% to 3.2% if natural gas resources are able to turn down to half-power.
  • A 2015 report points out that Denmark was able to generate 39% of its electricity from wind thanks in large part to flexible district energy CHP resources. These district energy systems are in some way the core of Denmark’s grid and are expected to become electricity consumers rather than producers during times of high wind generation.
  • A 2016 report funded by the German government suggests that power-to-heat will be more important than batteries in balancing that country’s grid in the future.

Most of these reports suggest that fossil-based sources will fuel this generation, though carbon-neutral biogas and hydrogen are taking strides to catch up too. These gas-based technologies have the dual benefit of boosting grid flexibility while (in most cases) decarbonizing heating, an area of growing concern. As a complement to the transmission and battery storage changes making headlines, these sources are set to become key contributors in the grid of the future.

 

Smart Home Market Plugs through Awareness Gaps and Hacks

— October 4, 2016

Home Energy ManagementConsumers have an awareness gap when it comes to understanding smart home/Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. That’s the upshot of a recent survey by Bosch, which sampled more than 6,000 consumers in the United States and Western Europe.

This is one of those good news/not so encouraging news situations for industry stakeholders. On the one hand, two-thirds of the survey respondents were aware of smart home technology that can automatically turn off the lights when you walk out the front door. However, less than a quarter of those same respondents (22%) are aware that with enabled services, an oven can suggest recipes—though I’m not sure such oven technology is a big driver of adoption. (Foodies might disagree.)

Interestingly, saving energy was the most appealing aspect of living in a smart home, with 69% of all respondents, regardless of country, saying this was an attractive benefit. Spanish (71%), British (72%), and French (75%) respondents were particularly keen on saving energy.

Overall, French respondents were the most confident about what smart home technology can do compared to those from the United Kingdom, United States, or Austria. Respondents from Germany and Spain were the least confident about smart home technology. Not surprisingly, awareness of smart home technology decreased with age, with those in the 25-to-34 age bracket the most likely to understand the current state of what is possible.

The highest barrier to adoption of smart home technology was price, according to respondents, with 60% saying this was holding them back from embracing smart home IoT-type products.

Smart Home Hacks

Perhaps more concerning to the industry is another disturbing report about hacking of devices. According to several accounts, hackers recently hijacked as many as a million Chinese-made security cameras, digital video recorders, and other devices to mount a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Among those infected were French web hosting provider OVH and the website of well-known American security researcher Brian Krebs. The attack on Krebs’ site was so crippling that network provider Akamai had to cancel his account because too many resources were being used in trying to defend it. Krebs himself concluded wisely, “We need to address this as a clear and present threat not just to censorship but to critical infrastructure.”

That was one of the clear message from Navigant Research’s recent webinar, The IoT Transformation of Buildings. Security against hacks must be priority number one in the connected IoT world we now inhabit, and those in the energy sector must continue to demand this protection as a priority from technology suppliers and ensure that security is paramount in all of their deployments.

SpaceX

Quick pivot: No matter what one thinks of Elon Musk and his companies, it is worth noting his bold plan to colonize Mars, which he announced on September 27. There is an energy angle to this, too, as Musk’s Dragon spacecraft will utilize two solar arrays for producing power. Two YouTube videos help explain what this is all about. There might be plenty of good reasons to be skeptical of Musk’s vision and plan. But for the moment, let’s give him credit for being a trailblazer, explorer, and dreamer. We need big thinkers like him, even if we have doubts about their ideas.

 

Beefing Up the Meat Replacement Industry

— October 4, 2016

BiofuelThe environmental impact of agriculture is astounding. Water, fertilizer, large farm vehicles, processing, shipping, and spraying crops all take a major toll on the planet. But for as great an impact as farming plants has, raising livestock for meat has it beat. According to a 2014 study from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, beef production releases 2 to 6 times as many greenhouse gases as any other animal product.

But the burger has always been a staple of the American diet, and it’s not leaving our dinner tables anytime soon. How can the industry reconcile this staggering carbon footprint? The answer lies in high-tech substitutes to the traditional beef burger.

Plant-based meats are one solution to the resource-intensive meat production industry. There are a variety of veggie patties available on the market, and their popularity in American cuisine is on the rise. Most of these do not share the same protein or fat content as actual beef burgers, and therefore are marketed as more of a healthy alternative than a direct replacement. Despite having existed for many years and wide distribution networks, many veggie patties simply do not fill the hockey puck-shaped hole left by beef on the American table.

Some companies are developing more realistic plant-based meat replacements by distilling plants into protein and fat components, creating a more familiar (but environmentally friendly) burger. Beyond Meat, a company based in Manhattan Beach, California, has developed a pea-protein based substitute that not only tastes meatier but, due to the addition of beet juice extract, also resembles hamburger in its color. These burgers are entirely plant-based and, theoretically, cut down on the environmental impacts of beef farming. Beyond Meat’s burgers were released on the market in the spring of 2016. It will be interesting to see whether these products and similar burgers become popular outside of their debut city of Boulder, Colorado.

Where’s the (Lab-Grown) Beef?

The most similar alternative to large-scale farmed meat starts with a single cell. By growing meat cells directly in a lab, scientists have successfully grown hamburger without ever having to set foot on a ranch. This technology is relatively nascent, and lab-grown beef will probably not become available on the market for several years. Memphis Meats, one company developing a lab-grown meat product, expects to have its wares on the market within 5 years.

One of the biggest issues with lab-grown meat is that it does not fall under the same regulatory body (the Food and Drug Administration) as normal meat. However, once licensing and regulation issues are worked through, you can expect to see lab-grown sausages, meatballs, and burgers on grocery store shelves.

The world of technology is becoming more connected, and humanity is becoming more aware of its impact on the planet and climate change. As with all other fields, agriculture will undergo major changes over the next several decades. Soon, the energy- and emissions-intensive burgers of yore may become a thing of the past.

 

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