The Race for Renewable Energy Infrastructure is on: Meet the Players Making It Happen

With wide scale renewable energy on the horizon, here are some of the latest contenders shaping the industry

Along with many other focuses in the energy sector over the past year, perhaps the greatest emphasis has been on developing more renewable energy solutions. As regions across the globe continue to fall victim to widespread natural disasters, both businesses and governments have been forced to notice the failures in their current energy infrastructure.

In recent history, we’ve seen this happen in Puerto Rico with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. A year ago, the hurricane “obliterated the island’s electric grid” which resulted in the longest power outage in U.S. history. Besides the damage done to the electric grid, even more was exacted on Puerto Rico’s citizens (and estimated 2,975 deaths) and physical damages to the tune of $90 billion.

With a system built on energy dependence from imported fossil fuels and centralized mechanisms, the island’s infrastructure was too fragile to handle such a devastating natural disaster.

However, some in the energy industry see this occurrence as a perfect opportunity to start focusing on smarter, more decentralized, and independent solutions for providing energy efficiently. Here are some of the players making it happen.

Tesla

Tesla, of course, has been all over the news recently. However, when it comes to providing alternative solutions for the renewable energy industry, this company—albeit with an eccentric CEO—should not be overlooked. Most know Elon Musk and his recent online antics dealing with the electric car company and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), or with recent Spacex launches over the year, but many may not know about Tesla’s secondary business: batteries.

Actually, one may reasonably argue that Tesla is a battery business that also sells cars as well. Musk and the Tesla team constructed a “Gigafactories” in recent years that produce lithium ion batteries to support not only their brand of electric vehicles, but for low-cost power storage of alternative energy as well.

Tesla continues to produce these low-cost batteries in an effort to bring down the price of energy storage and financially incentivize users to embrace alternative, renewable energy.

After Hurricane Maria, Tesla helped install permanent microgrids for over 1,000 homes using their Tesla Powerwalls to keep energy on, even after a natural disaster. Powerwalls and other batteries storing energy collected via alternative means are increasingly important because they increase the usability of renewable energy and ensure a steady availability.

For example, energy grids powered via solar energy still need power when the sun’s not out. Tesla’s Powerwalls solve that.

Texas

An American state not always associated with an emphasis on renewable energy, the Texas Public Utility Commision constructed a $7 billion system for transporting renewable energy known as the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ).

The CREZ spans 3,600 miles to serve over 1,700 homes with wind and solar powered energy. As a state with an impressive amount of wind power, especially on the western side, Texas officials realized that one of the issues with renewable energy was not just harvesting it, but properly implementing the use of it.

Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that with greater renewable energy production, there are other bottlenecks that must be addressed. According to Jennie Jorgenson, one of the authors of a study on wind curtailment from the NREL, “without expanded transmission capacity, we observed high amounts of wind curtailment.”

Curtailment refers to excess energy collected that cannot be used immediately. Without being used, or a proper way to store it, the state ends up with wasted renewable energy, which is both unfortunate and not cost-effective.

To solve the dilemma, Texas has been improving the infrastructure for energy transportation and capacity for its citizens. The state has been so effective that in the first quarter of 2017, wind power accounted for 23 per cent of power generation for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the highest quarterly wind penetration in the council’s history.

Eloncity

No, there’s no connection with Tesla on this one, but Eloncity is a new project focusing on the infrastructure side of the renewable energy sector, not just like the production. Much like Texas’ recent initiatives and Tesla’s dream for the future, the startup is working on connecting people with access to renewable energy in a series of microgrids.

However, Eloncity is taking a different approach in their solution.

While there are others like Tesla creating battery packs for renewable energy storage (Sonnen, Magnum Dimensions, Outback Power, etc.), Eloncity is enabling a decentralized approach to renewable energy infrastructure by utilizing blockchain technology.

The Eloncity team and its collaborators are creating a redesigned power infrastructure that will make energy consumption, trading, and usage much more transparent and efficient for all parties involved.

The company’s ultimate goal is to create a system efficient enough to make electricity “virtually free” using clean energy and an open, secured platform with direct currents that reduce the need for inefficient, duplicate conversions (AC-DC-AC).

The design model includes communities creating self-sufficient, decentralized microgrids of their own with community-driven planning and implementation.

With an open marketplace for exchanging energy from both producers and users from local sources like wind and solar, communities are not reliant on centralized systems that can fail at critical times such as immediately after a natural disaster.

At the same time, the initiative, backed by the AI Grid Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Singapore, plans to collaborate with utilities in urban areas to provide decentralized energy resources in a push to expand fair energy access to all.

Such an ambitious move comes after the AI Grid Foundation entered Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula to run a pilot program that’s expected to fully showcase the Eloncity Model in 2019.

Working with the small town on the Baja Peninsula, the Foundation intends for the pilot “to serve as a replicable, exportable model not just for similar rural villages within the Baja California region, but also for remote communities around the world that lack reliable electricity services.”

Simultaneously, the Foundation is working with project developers and construction firms to pilot the same program in southern California as well in a newly developed community of both residential and commercial buildings. The new approach ushers in the world of renewable energy consumption and transmission in contrast to the current outdated approach.

Looking Forward

Now that renewable energy sources are making their way into the mainstream, it’s time for communities, companies, and local governments to start taking energy infrastructure more seriously. After natural disasters, it’s clear that running smaller, more decentralized systems is advantageous for those living in the affected areas on the individual level, but now the industry wants to test it on a larger scale.

Looking at systems like the Tesla microgrids and the Eloncity model show a future of energy self-sufficiency in the industry. The next step beyond individual microgrids is the connection of such systems to allow for the sharing and efficient transmission of energy capacity.

At a time when renewable energy is becoming more plentiful, efficient, and cost-effective, solving the problems associated with implementation and rollout are paramount.

Disclaimer: This is a contributed article and should not be taken as investment advice

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