By David Hall, Vice President Energy, UK & Ireland at Schneider Electric
A range of factors, from economics to environmental awareness, are spurring on businesses to become more energy efficient. Past the era of early realisations, now organisations are searching for small but significant gains to give them a competitive edge. A range of industries is now opting to use more sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind. But making the most of low-carbon energy generation will require us to embrace new technologies that help them fit into the needs of modern businesses.
We are seeing companies grow increasingly willing to test out new cleantech in order to create operational efficiencies, reduce environmental impacts, and cut costs — or even potentially generate ROI.
Renewables will be at the heart of forward-thinking businesses, but each of these new technologies poses challenges and opportunities for business. Pioneers in the space are providing us with valuable insight into how the technologies can be implemented for maximum good, both for business and the environment. Once considered an ‘alternative’ power source, now more than 150 global companies have committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.
Google, Facebook, and Nestle are among the first corporations to venture into international renewable energy markets. In providing clean energy for their facilities across the world, they show that global brands are ready and capable of addressing their global environmental impact. What’s more, the inter-organisational network of schemes and methods to obtain renewable energy for business is growing too. However, making the most of such new opportunities requires digital transformation and a rethink of the energy grid, from generation to distribution and the management of excess power.
These are four technologies I think we’ll need to make the revolution a reality:
The mega power of microgrids
Today’s market forces are leading to a departure from a highly centralised power system and a return to smaller scale, localised systems that optimise power demand, consumption, and management. Microgrids are emerging as one of these decentralising technologies that companies are considering because they bring together a combination of clean technologies such as distributed generation, batteries, and renewable resources to help organisations operate autonomously from the traditional electrical grid.
Commercial, industrial and institutional energy buyers can now realise substantial near-term cost savings by implementing technologies embedded within a microgrid that insulate their facilities from the risk and changing cost components of an ever-evolving energy market.
Smarter storage to unleash decarbonisation
Batteries and other types of storage play a key role in enabling companies to embrace clean, low-cost, renewable energy at a higher level. By mitigating the intermittency issues that renewable power sources can face, storage helps remove a significant barrier that has prevented greater adoption of wind and solar resources.
As the price for batteries and other storage solutions drops, corporate buyers will be well poised to maximise energy investments while contributing to the clean energy transition. Additionally, with microgrid opportunities on the rise, energy storage in conjunction with other new energy opportunities very well may become commonplace for companies in the not-so-distant future.
Clean power for the baseload through fuel cells
Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity without any form of combustion. Because they require a constant, steady source of fuel to produce electricity, they are ideal for providing a continuous, baseload source of clean electric power. This provides facilities with a need for a reliable minimum supply of energy, from manufacturing plants to hospitals, to incorporate renewables into their energy mix without compromising the safety and stability of their baseload.
This technology helps bridge the gap where other renewable energy sources face challenges. The intermittency issues that wind and solar must overcome are not a concern for fuel cells. Partnered with other renewable technologies, fuel cells can balance the difference. Though fuel cells are not without challenges, such as their high capital cost, embracing a clean energy transition relies on a diverse portfolio of cleantech solutions. As fuel cells overcome these challenges to adoption, they should become a vital technology to carefully consider within the active energy management landscape.
Bring transactions into the 21st century with blockchain
Blockchain technology is a distributed, digital ledger used to record and track transactions. It uses sophisticated algorithms to validate, encrypt, and instantaneously record transactions for virtually anything of value in a secure and decentralised manner. What could this mean for the energy revolution?
Currently, the only means to track renewable energy generation is through EACs, and information sharing among market participants is a manual process. This is creating an obstacle to adoption, as moving to renewables is being seen as a cost centre for businesses, rather than a value driver. But with blockchain, Energy Attribute Certificates (EACs) can be created instantaneously as renewable energy is put onto the grid — no matter the size or physical location of the producer. With the increased autonomy that blockchain introduces, corporate energy buyers may find it easier to accomplish these goals — and at a lower cost and time commitment.
So, what brings it all together?
The secret to combining the benefits of all four technologies lies in an approach of active energy management. By taking control of their energy, businesses can avoid the most of potential disruption from changes out of their hands, from price fluctuations to the intermittency often associated with renewables. By thinking ahead of the curve with an active energy management strategy, businesses will ensure their systems have the agility and resilience to focus on the next decade’s challenges. Although these four technologies will be part of the energy management revolution, the rallying cry will be a strategic one from business teams looking to deliver value from increased efficiencies.