Active energy management
Martin Sweeney, strategic marketing and business development manager for Schneider Electric, energy division - explains the innovations that will shape how companies manage energy in the future.
26th April 2018 by Networks
Corporate demand and recent policy changes are fuelling a revolution in clean technology. Despite initial obstacles, the Paris Agreement has forced organisations to take a fresh look at their energy management practices. Yet, beyond the stated aim of the Paris climate accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce the impact of climate change, businesses are discovering additional benefits by adopting technologies that promote energy efficiency and sustainability.
A growing number of industry leaders are championing new energy opportunities and becoming more willing to adopt innovative technologies that not only reduce environmental impacts, but cut costs and even generate return on investment. Aggressive innovations by solutions providers in the realms of solar, distributed generation and other disruptive technologies, are making this possible.
Foundational technologies of the renewables renaissance
Today’s market forces are causing 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 as 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.
Organisations can 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.
Renewable energy is already shaping the way companies buy and sell energy. Often referred to in the past as an ‘alternative’ strategy, renewable energy is becoming a centrepiece of many corporate energy management programmes.
Renewed enthusiasm around renewables has been stoked by recent progress in energy storage technology. By mitigating the intermittent supply issues of renewable sources like wind and solar, storage helps remove a significant barrier that has prevented greater adoption in the past.
As the cost of storage continues to drop, organisations are well placed 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 may well become the standard rather than the exception in corporate energy management.
Emerging disruptors in the new energy landscape
Renewable and distributed energy solutions provide a strong base to help companies optimise and sanitise their energy consumption. However, for companies wishing to fully exploit cleantech’s potential, emerging technologies such as fuel cells and blockchain are worth serious consideration.
Fuel cells electrochemically combine a fuel (ranging from pure hydrogen to natural gas or biogas) with oxygen and convert the resulting chemical energy into electricity without any form of combustion. Because they require a constant, steady source of fuel to produce electricity, fuel cells are able to provide a continuous, baseload source of clean electric power.
As a baseload resource, fuel cell technology can help 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, they can balance the difference between demand and generation of intermittent resources.
To date, blockchain technology is perhaps best known in the financial space as a decentralised technology to jointly manage databases for digital transactions. However, significant applications for blockchain are beginning to come to light in energy management.
Currently, the only means to track renewable energy generation is through records known as energy attribute certificates (EACs), and manual information sharing among market participants. With blockchain, EACs can be created instantaneously and stored in a distributed digital ledger as renewable energy is put onto the grid, regardless of 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.
To actively manage an energy portfolio means to think critically about not only where your company is in its energy journey today, but where it will go in the future. At the same time, organisations should try to embrace the widest range of cleantech solutions – the unpredictability of renewables and expense of emerging technologies such as fuel cells, limit what they can achieve alone, but together they can have a transformative impact on energy mix. Ultimately, the digitised, decentralised and decarbonised grid of today demands active energy management supported by diverse innovations.
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