ACCES Consumer Update: Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies
The energy industry continues to drive consumer technological advancements. Innovations that seemed out of reach ten years ago are now available to the public.
Many people are aware of rooftop solar panels, and competitive suppliers are among the many companies offering innovative financing, installation, and maintenance services around solar energy. There are also other forms of energy generation that can also happen on a local level.
Some energy suppliers work directly with commercial customers, as well as hospitals, schools, universities, and other institutions, to manage their entire energy portfolio, providing onsite generation and heating through small turbines (powered by natural gas, biofuels, and other forms of energy) and providing energy supply from the grid when needed.
Some energy suppliers have even explored in-home natural gas generators, which would hook up directly to natural gas lines connected to homes and bypass the need for connection to the electric grid all together. This type of service is still several years away from widespread deployment, but represents the type of innovative thinking that energy suppliers are engaging in.
Electric cars have been in the marketplace for over a decade, but their use is limited by distance between charging stations. In November of last year, the White House announced a plan to massively increase EV charging stations, adding 48 new “charging corridors” along 25,000 miles of interstate highways. Industry experts also predict that 2017 will see charging equipment capable of surpassing 350 kW. This will reduce charging time and make daily use of an EV less onerous.
Advances in charging technology come while automakers have announced the introduction of more-affordable long-range electric cars over the next few years, as well as luxury car makers entering the EV market, with BMW, Porsche, and Audi expected to release models later in 2017. Electric cars are also more than just vehicles – they can act as battery storage for the electricity grid, when used in coordination with renewable energy technology and more advanced grid controls.
Electric suppliers participate in this market segment from every angle, from building and supporting vehicle charging networks to offering time-of-use electricity rates (where allowed by law) which facilitate electric cars being used as grid batteries.
Speaking of batteries, one of the major criticism of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power are the indeterminacy outages – the wind doesn’t always blow when you need it to, and the sun doesn’t shine at night. Batteries can act as a gap-filler by supplementing the grid when those resources are not available and acting as storage during peak production. Until recently, batteries were too inefficient to serve in this capacity, but emerging storage technology is pointing in the direction of true alternative to grid reliability.
Boasting similar technologies, the Amazon Echo and Google Home battled for top spots in the 2016 holiday bestsellers list. In addition to serving as audio speakers, and responding to voice command Internet searches, both devices are integrated into various smart home devices. Most significantly, smart thermometers and lights can almost guarantee energy efficiency and cost savings since with automation, no one can forget to turn off the lights.
Even more innovative technologies are on the horizon. Last year, LG released its “home chat messaging service” which allows a consumer to communicate with appliances using the Line message app. Currently this is available across a range of LG products including washing machines, robotic vacuums, and refrigerators. In addition to the remote access benefit of being able to run the vacuum cleaner to arrive home a clean house, there are energy benefits as well. The refrigerator can be directed to enter power-saving mode when the homeowner is away on vacation. Also anticipated in the consumer market are smart windows. This technology turns from translucent to opaque and aids in managing the rising costs of heating and lighting a home.
Many of these home energy efficiency products are available through competitive energy suppliers, as stand-alone services or even bundled together with electricity and natural gas supply. These types of added-value products are one way in which retail energy suppliers deliver cost-savings and tangible benefits to consumers.
Offsite Renewable Energy
Offsite renewable energy options allow organizations that may lack the infrastructure required for an onsite system, or the resources to develop a solar or wind project, to enjoy the benefits of cost savings, increased sustainability, and budget certainty provided by renewable distributed generation. Offsite renewable energy involves electricity generated from a physical asset that is generally connected to a power grid so that an electricity supplier can sell the electric supply directly to the customer. The electricity can be bundled with renewable energy credits to allow a customer retain the environmental attributes. This offsite generation can be purchased through a variety of contract vehicles including Virtual Power Purchase Agreements, contracts for differences or even financial swaps. Offsite generation can offer customers flexibility to meet changing energy needs regardless of their geographic location.
Offsite renewable energy has more than doubled every year since 2012 and is projected to grow to more than 60 GW by 2030. Corporations are becoming increasingly transparent about their energy use, and stakeholders continue to push utilities to be cleaner, more sustainable and to offer more tailored solutions, and as a result offsite generation is experiencing significant growth. Offsite renewable energy offers clear advantages to traditional energy procurement because it can be purchased with fewer location, load, and contract limitations. Energy users that are fortunate enough to have in house energy procurement expertise may find that offsite generation options offer the flexibility to improve their business operations.
-The ACCES team