Game-Changing Clean Technology Essential to the Energy Economy of 2035

Opinion

Our energy portfolio in 2035 will come from a wide variety of sources. The core of the energy mix will be much more diverse than oil, gas, and coal. Renewables will comprise a significant portion of supply. And, over the next 20 years, improvements to batteries and other energy storage technology, and scale, will drive pricing of storage down to an economically feasible price point. This affordable pricing process will be similar to what solar has undergone over the past 15 years.

I also believe that local, on-site electricity production will become an increasingly material part of the supply chain. This will replace what we frequently see today—produce it here, deliver it there, and then accept the inefficiencies and losses that occur from long-range electricity transmission.

There will still be plenty of challenges in the energy economy of 2035, however.

One of the biggest issues will be rationalizing the production and delivery infrastructure. Coal- and oil-fired power plants will need to be decommissioned and taken off-line in an orderly manner. At the same time, utility-grade renewables will increase in importance—as will storage. This will dramatically impact the business models of the independent system operators and utilities, disrupting their profitability and their ability to deliver dividend checks. It may even make some utilities economically unviable.

But I also look at significant opportunities as 2035 approaches.

Huge strides have already been made when it comes to renewables and energy efficiency. The cost of solar and wind have come down to the point where they are economically viable. Energy storage will follow the same declining cost-per-megawatt arc over the next 10 years. And there is a tremendous amount of innovation going on in terms of using less energy, and using it smarter. Examples include—demand management; electric cars replacing fossil-fueled cars; and self-sufficient, facility-based microgrids.

The biggest opportunity, from my perspective, is thinking about supply and demand in concert, and as an ecosystem. This means using renewables to replace fossil fuels and state-of-the-art techniques to optimize demand.

More specifically, if I had to choose the three most important things that we need to do to get ready for the energy economy of 2035, they would be:

  • Improved grid reliability and infrastructure that allows participants to bring local energy onto the grid and sell excess energy back into the grid. This will provide a platform for market-based, buy-sell programs to balance the grid.
  • Increasing innovation around storage that allows for utility-grade and local-grade storage to become economically viable.
  • Improved transparency on energy costs, energy utilization by location and load within any location across utilities. Transparency is essential to develop optimized delivery, demand response participation and grid stabilization.

Looking at Washington state’s energy future, my company is currently working on local microgrid management and optimization that allows a facility to balance demand management, real-time pricing, demand response, and the supply of local generation. This is important as we approach 2035 because it enables customers to automatically optimize energy consumption against the price of electricity coming off the grid, accounting for the availability of stored energy and renewables, and the buffer that’s available from reducing loads in real time.

What we’re doing is just scratching the surface.

I think our state also needs to push forward with the current administration’s efforts around a carbon-reduction tax. The proposal clearly isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a start—especially if we’re looking thoughtfully at the energy economy of 2035.

We also need more joint initiatives between university research and local companies that can commercialize and publicize game-changing clean energy technologies, products, and services. And I think an alliance or industry group (like the Open ADR Alliance) that represents all the research organizations and private companies that are focused on innovative energy is important to advance clean technology and elevate the state to a leadership position in the field.

There’s absolutely no reason that this can’t happen. Washington state has world-class academic institutions and research organizations, a well-educated work force, deep understanding of IT and technology, and a population that’s tuned into, and supportive of, a more energy efficient world.

All of this will make a vast difference come 2035.

Read the other pieces in this series looking at Washington State’s energy sector in 2035 here. The essays were commissioned by the University of Washington Clean Energy Institute.

Kevin Klustner is CEO of Powerit Solutions, a Seattle-based international clean technology company that sets the demand management standard. Follow @

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