Navigant Research Blog

Hydrogen in Microgrids: Diverse Business Models Begin to Emerge

— September 7, 2017

Hydrogen has long held promise as an energy carrier, though electrolyzer and fuel cell technologies have so far not broken into the mass market—largely due to high costs and infrastructure challenges. As those technologies continue to get cheaper and more efficient, they present intriguing possibilities for hydrogen in one unexpected application: microgrids.

Microgrids, whether grid-tied or remote, rely on local power generation. While solar PV, wind, and other renewables capture many headlines, fossil-fueled distributed generation (DG) accounts for more capacity than any other—40% of the total—among the microgrids tracked in Navigant Research’s Microgrid Deployment Tracker 2Q17. Fossil-fueled DG is often selected since it can provide dispatchable power for long periods and can generally store energy-dense fuel onsite. These facts also hold true for hydrogen. For longer duration storage, hydrogen often outperforms batteries by a significant margin without the emissions associated with fossil fuels.

Emerging business models are setting the stage for hydrogen to play multiple and significant roles in microgrids. Some of these business models are briefly described below.

Remote Microgrids: Hydrogen Displacing Diesel

A new Chilean microgrid developed by Enel, with support from Electro Power Systems (EPS), is showing that hydrogen can fill the same role as diesel, but without the emissions associated with the latter. Remote microgrids have historically depended on diesel gensets, often because many days’ worth of fuel can be stored onsite. While batteries are generally too expensive for multiday storage durations, hydrogen tanks can be easily scaled, independent of the peak power demand.

According to EPS, this type of model is quickly becoming commercially viable. Some reasons include capital and operating cost declines, tighter emissions regulations across the globe, and an eagerness to bypass the diesel value chain across hazardous terrain in remote areas.

Microgrids Exporting Hydrogen

The developers of the Stone Edge Farm microgrid in California had a challenge: despite having excess onsite electricity production from PV and other sources, they faced hurdles in exporting that power in an economically viable way. For example, some of the hurdles to exporting into the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) market include reaching the minimum threshold of 0.5 MW and meeting the ISO’s resource implementation requirements, which include building an onsite meteorological station and control platform. Since these presented significant barriers, the developer looked to another product to export from the microgrid: hydrogen. A bank of onsite electrolyzers turns excess electricity into hydrogen, which then fuels the onsite Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicles and can also feed the microgrid’s fuel cell bank to generate power.

Islands: Hydrogen as Local Energy Commodity

Many islands are dependent on diesel fuel for both transport and electricity, since it has historically been the cheapest large-scale energy carrier available. However, in places like Hawaii, the appeal of hydrogen is growing thanks to concern over climate change and a growing need to store the high output of intermittent renewables—often using power-to-gas schemes (for more information, see Navigant Research’s Power-to-Gas for Renewables Integration report). In addition, the captive nature of the vehicles helps alleviate the infrastructure problem since relatively few stations are needed. ENGIE, a member of the Hydrogen Council, has been bullish on hydrogen as a future fuel. The company is helping to build an island microgrid based around hydrogen technologies near Singapore. More projects are sure to be announced as the technologies continue to improve.

Thanks to cheap renewables and improving electrolysis technology, hydrogen’s outlook is getting better. Due to the challenges with major fueling infrastructure rollouts, Navigant Research anticipates that hydrogen development will be focused in small geographic areas through 2020. Fitting, then, that hydrogen should find a foothold on the small scale of microgrids.

 

Can Solar Make an Impact on the Transportation Market? Part 2

— September 5, 2017

After a few conversations with Scott Shepard about PV systems in EVs, I began to come around to his view that solar is too expensive and the roof space too limited to make a solar-equipped EV work at the mass market scale. But then I read about another PV in transport project that made economic sense: Indian Railways’ newly launched solar diesel multiple unit (DEMU) trains. A total of 16 300W solar modules are installed on each coach on the train for ₹9 lakh ($13,950 or $2.9/W). The Indian Institute of Science estimates that the annual energy yield in a solar rail coach will be between 6,820 kWh and 7,452 kWh. This could displace 1,862 liters of diesel, saving around $1,650 per year at $0.88/liter diesel.

Lessons Learned

I see two key elements that make the project work. The first lesson from India is that solar in transport makes more sense when it is displacing liquid fuels rather than electrons. Going back to the Prius example from the first blog in this series, if the solar roof was available in Toyota’s non-plug-in version of the car, its economic effect would be significantly better. If a non-plug-in version of the Prius could run for 2,190 km per year on only solar, it could save about 150 liters per year, which would have a value of around $180 per year (using Japan’s gasoline price in July 2017). The investment in a solar roof could break even within the lifetime of the car, so the current cost of the add-on could be justified.

The second lesson is the use of off-the-shelf modules. In this way, the project benefits from the economies of scale that PV systems are famous for. It would be difficult to use off-the-shelf modules in cars, but if Toyota introduced the solar roof in all its Prius cars (for example), it could increase the production rate of solar roofs for the Prius from a couple of thousand per year to about 350,000 per year (global Prius sales in 2016). Modules with similar high efficiency cells in the wholesale market sell for about $0.50/W (i.e., $90 for the 180W used in the Prius).

Most of the costs arise from integrating the PV cells into the roof of the car. These costs could decline significantly due to economies of scale as well. If Toyota could cut costs to those of the train company ($540 for 180W already installed in the car, including inverters and other costs), the breakeven period would be about 2.5 years. Slashing costs would make a solar roof a no-brainer (especially for consumers like me who would be able to drive the car without ever using a charging point or stopping at a gas station).

Interesting Niche

This would open an interesting niche for solar companies. If all the EV and hybrid EV cars sold globally in 2017 (expected to be between 3 million and 4 million) had a 180W roof, an additional 840 MW (an extra 1%) could be added to global solar PV demand. But solar roofs need a champion to push them into the mass market in the same way Tesla pushed EVs away from the margins. My last blog discussed two startups that are exploring this niche. However, traditional manufacturers could do the same to differentiate their brand and cars from the competition. Toyota is an obvious choice given its brand association with hybrid cars, but other manufacturers could step in. For example, Volvo could be a great candidate since it is hybridizing all its models.

 

Value of Industrial Flexibility in Europe

— September 5, 2017

The Clean Energy for All Europeans proposal (the so-called Winter Package) is a policy package that aims to meet climate objectives and ensure economic growth. This package prioritizes energy efficiency and renewable energies while fostering organized electricity markets to realize cost savings. It also empowers consumers, strengthens their rights, and gives them an active role in energy markets. The Winter Package emphasizes variable renewable sources and shifts the design of the European power systems toward increased interactivity and complexity.

Industrial demand flexibility can facilitate the cost-effective integration of more renewable energy sources (RES) in the EU market and assist with increasing costs of electricity that hamper the competitiveness of the EU industry. In some cases, industrial customers can provide flexibility much more cost-effectively than supply-side resources. However, industrial customers with flexibility potential must have access to all value streams; different industrial loads can provide many different services. For example, demand-side management (DSM) is always a voluntary service, which distinguishes it from curtailment.

Industrial Demand Flexibility Business Models

There are several business models to deal with demand flexibility that are in line with proposals under the Winter Package. Savings in energy bills are possible through flexibility in responding to dynamic energy prices in day-ahead markets and time-dependent cost-reflective network tariffs, alone or in combination with onsite renewable generation. Additional revenue can be obtained via market participation in system services, such as reserves and balancing, ancillary services, and interruptible contracts.

Energy consumers should be able to access the market directly or work with aggregators. Examples from Australia and New Zealand show that the average capacity of an industrial customer is roughly 0.5 MW, and these are not able to provide flexibility options to the system themselves. Therefore, the role of aggregators is key.

The procurement of balancing capacity and ancillary services close to real time, rather than in big chunks, allows the availability of flexibility to be predicted. Today, most flexibility is sold in balancing markets, but not every industrial process is fit to respond in 15-minute intervals. Still, industrial customers are interested in participating in these markets. Examples from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand indicate industrial customers offer to free up load to provide system services at fair prices.

It is important to set the energy-only market right in all member states and to make the system more flexible. To facilitate flexibility services, power markets need to become more dynamic. Renewable energy will have increasing impacts on power prices. Dynamic pricing would give flexibility a value.

Better engagement of consumers in the energy market should be enabled as soon as possible—the Winter Package provides additional policy and regulatory support in this respect. However, the implementation of policies in member states is often lagging. Regional and multinational approaches can help (e.g., opening of several markets to efficiency/RES development measures).

Value of Flexibility

Flexibility is gaining importance in the changing power markets. Various policy measures should be implemented to stimulate the exploitation of industrial flexibility operations:

  • Introduce dynamic pricing to capture the full value of flexibility.
  • Allow participation of demand in day-ahead, intra-day, and balancing markets, including through aggregation.
  • Design cost-reflective network tariffs aligned with periods of maximum network utilization.
  • Avoid other regulated charges and take non-electricity costs out of the tariff.
  • Make RES responsible for imbalances (exceptions for small-scale RES), move toward efficient imbalance pricing systems, and allow aggregation and imbalance compensation.
  • Abandon net metering policies and allow self-generation for onsite variable renewable electricity.
  • Adopt high level principles-based harmonization of flexibility mechanisms across the EU.

Experience with other policies (e.g., energy efficiency policies for industry) shows that accurate policy and market design measures may encourage industrial customers to be more cost-effective.

 

IoT Provides a Changing Landscape for Lighting

— September 5, 2017

The commercial lighting landscape is shifting these days, giving way to a less siloed market. While historically, lamp and luminaire manufacturers have focused primarily on lamps, the emergence and growth of LEDs with their increased lifespan has led to a stronger market for luminaires, which in turn has negatively affected the lamp market. This has decreased lamp revenue for many incumbent lighting manufacturers.

In order to differentiate themselves within the shifting lighting market, traditional lamp and luminaire manufacturers are looking toward controls and new business use cases. Some use cases provided by lighting controls fall within the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape. Many lighting companies are entering the controls and IoT markets through mergers and acquisitions, rather than focusing solely on internal expansion into those areas.

OSRAM Makes Play toward Increasing IoT Offerings

The German-based lighting manufacturer OSRAM, a spinoff of Siemens in early 2013, has agreed to purchase Digital Lumens. Founded in 2008, the Boston-based industrial and commercial IoT solutions company offers software, products, and systems integration. Digital Lumens’ SiteWorx platform integrates intelligent lighting control, energy use, security systems, and air quality monitoring. The IoT platform will allow OSRAM to strengthen its portfolio for IoT applications. There are currently plans to integrate some of OSRAM’s existing digital services into the platform, such as location-based services utilizing Bluetooth primarily in a retail environment.

Competitive Landscape

While OSRAM has clearly positioned itself to advance its IoT offerings, it faces competition from other lighting incumbents interested in expanding their IoT offerings. Earlier this year, Acuity Brands announced its Atrius Brand, the company’s IoT business solutions portfolio. Atrius provides connectivity through a network of intelligent LED lighting and controls and its software platform that enables indoor positioning, asset tracking, space utilization, spatial analytics, and energy management.

Philips Lighting is also an incumbent that has expanded into this space with its indoor positioning for retail applications and connected lighting for offices utilizing Power over Ethernet (PoE) and SpaceWise wireless technology. Another is Eaton, which has partnered with IoT platform, sensor, and solutions company Enlighted to integrate the company’s hardware, software, and services into Eaton’s LED lighting and controls portfolio.

The technology developments, acquisitions, and partnerships all demonstrate the shifting market and provide a glimpse into the future of commercial lighting. Startups, systems integrators, IT companies, and network providers are mixing with the traditional lighting manufacturers in this market, providing more collaboration and merger and acquisition opportunities. Navigant Research’s upcoming IoT for Lighting report will look at the key players in this industry and provide an overview of the market, including drivers and barriers, technology issues, and a global forecast of hardware, software, and services.

 

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