December 2017 Director’s Note

In January, US DOE published its 2017 Energy and Employment Report reporting 3.3 million American jobs in the $200 billion advanced energy industry, which is larger than the pharmaceutical industry. In the Midwest, clean energy jobs grew almost five times faster than other jobs this year. Many factors will disrupt the energy sector further and aid in the rapidly transitioning clean energy market. Emerging technologies including storage for renewables integration, Blockchain, and intelligent energy efficiency technologies are ones to watch.

Storage for renewables integration can help to address the variable and intermittent nature of renewable energy. According to the Renewable Energy Futures Study, electricity demand in 2050 could be met with 80 percent of generation from renewable energy technologies with better grid storage.

Strides in large scale battery storage occurred in 2017 with a 100MW system by Tesla in  Australia (see News below).  The electric vehicle market is driving manufacturing improvement in battery production that is driving costs down. Also, a new “air-breathing battery technology has been developed by MIT researchers that could store electricity for very long durations for about one-fifth the cost of current technologies and with zero emissions.

Austin, TX is America’s solar storage test bed. In 2016, US DOE granted $18m in federal funding to six integrated PV and storage projects, the largest to help fund Austin SHINES by Austin Energy, a public utility with nearly half a million customers. This project is beginning to deploy integrated solar and storage at the utility, commercial and residential scales, and is looking into new models and software systems to help reduce customer costs and balance supply and demand for distributed energy resources.

Additionally, 2017 saw energy + storage integrated into emergency management plans to increase resilience such as that deployed in the wake of September’s hurricanes in San Juan, Puerto Rico where Tesla restored power to a hospital and other vital infrastructure.

Like bitcoin that is revolutionizing the financial industry by creating a peer-to-peer marketplace, blockchain, could do this for the energy industry. Blockchain is a cryptocurrency technology that enables direct secure processing and recording of transactions between people that eliminates the need for the power supplier, bank or public authority in energy transactions. Members of the Brooklyn miicrogrid are using it to buy and sell their excess energy to neighbors. It doesn’t rely on the utility meter, enabling people with solar on their roof to sell their electricity. Many utilities and energy companies are testing this especially in the 19 deregulated utility states where people have choice for purchasing energy. USAtoday  Municipal utilities and energy coops in Wisconsin might be a testing ground for Blockchain.

Intelligent efficiency technologies such as learning thermostats and smart watches are making it easier to track and quantify the many benefits of saving energy. Automated data collection and processing-  enabled by smart devices, inexpensive sensors, networks, and cloud computing- can quantify how energy efficiency improves worker productivity, building occupant health and the environment. A study by ACEE shows that making energy efficiency more attractive can help boost energy savings for individuals, utilities, and society.

These technologies are likely to transform the energy industry’s processes and markets. I look forward to tracking and reporting the strides in 2018  to you in the Energy On Wisconsin News.

Sherrie Gruder