(Updated 4th September 2021 with further examples)
The wealth of new ways that people are thinking about energy generation and energy supply is amazing. Some of it’s hard technology, some of it’s new software around the hard tech, some of it’s new organisations and smarter business models.
Here are some of the innovations “lighting my spirits”…
(NOTE: The aim of this post is to illustrate the growing range of entrepreneurial thinking around energy – it’s about the scope of possibility NOT the success of any one implementation.)
Bottom up implementations
Citizen-entrepreneurs are building local community solutions in all sorts of places…
Refrigeration solutions, not just panels in Africa
Fridges are packed into a solar home system that also includes an efficient solar panel, lighting and phone charging with pay-as-you-go financing. Food doesn’t go off, medicine can be stored, women don’t spend hours walking to market. (BTW, the #3 Drawdown solution for reversing global warming is reducing food waste)
Renewable energy co-ops in Australia
Totally Renewable Yackandandah started as a buying group for solar panels, expanded into smart grid and storage, then used crowdfunding to become energy retailer Indigo Power, following in the footsteps of Enova Energy and other community energy coops. Last heard of, Indigo Power were targetting 100 townships across North Eastern Victoria.
Meantime, TRY have continued on their energy independence adventure. They commissioned their community virtual power plant in 2020, and followed up with Victoria’s first community-owned big battery in July 2021.
The Yack mob are just 1 of more than 100 community energy cooperatives around Australia.
Co-ops are doing more than just installing and connecting rooftop panels and batteries. One Riverina coop is creating “solar gardens” – for people who can’t install panels themselves because they rent or they have “bad sun”.
Infrastructure for EVs
Love the installation of EV charging points on light poles in London.
What’s the best energy for EV charging – the energy available where your are. And in the remote Shetland Islands, they’re running their EV charger on wave power.
Bits maximising the return on watts
In the Information Revolution, “bits are replacing atoms”. Things we used to buy physically (CDs and DVDs) have been replaced with data (music and movie streaming services).
Similarly, the Information Revolution is creating some fundamental shifts in the way watts of power are delivered – and how much they cost consumers.
Accessing wholesale markets differently
Amber Energy use information tech to get around limits of old-fashioned feed-in tarrifs. Their customers can buy directly from the wholesale market, with visibility of what price they’re buying at. If they have solar to export, they pay the real-time wholesale price for it.
Blockchain-enabled local energy trading
Bangladesh company SolShare is enabling local solar trading in peer-to-peer smart village grids.
Solar in unexpected places
The main ways most people think about solar is 1) residential rooftop panels and 2) big, single-purpose solar farms.
Factory rooftops as solar farms
Many big roof-spaces aren’t filled with solar because of the challenges of feeding energy into a 1-way antique grid. Smarter technology is enabling that, using AI to ensure the grid gets power WITHIN its capacity to accept, without disadvantaging the site owner’s power bills.
Floating solar arrays
Solar and biodiversity regeneration
Integrated thinking is happening to create regenerative solar farms, with new techniques being used to construct plant’saving solar in South Australia.
Cooling wind solutions
Wooden wind towers
Sweden installed its first wind turbine with the tower made from wood. (And I’ve heard rumours that the next generation of wind turbine blades could be made from the cellulose that is the foundation of timber.)
Enabling financial shifts
Batteries with no solar
There are lots of places where there’s too much solar energy at the wrong tome. Energy tech startup iO Energy is working with retailer Energy Locals to give South Australian customers the opportunity to pay less for clean energy by becoming smarter consumers.
Consumers buy grid electricity during the day to charge up their home battery when the price is really low, or even when price is -ve, being paid to take the electricity from the grid; then use it later as their household needs.
Solar AND battery as a service
Instead of going for a big, up-front cost Sola.Energy packages solar+battery packages like phone plans.
When crowd-funding first became a “thing” it was for artists, writers and private individuals.
Now there’s more – startups can seek investors world-wide through crowdfunding without going through traditional markets to raise capital. In the US it became legal on May 16, 2016. Australia followed with effective legislation passed late in 2018.
Green bonds being used by renewables companies
A Singapore investment company has established its own green bonds to build more renewable energy infrastructure across the Asia-Pacific.
Connecting small investors, household purchasers and installers
Fintech company Plenti are a provider of consumer renewable energy loans. They enable “mum and dad” investors to fund solar energy installation.
Plenti recently teamed up with OpenSolar so that users of the solar sales app will be able to access finance seamlessly if they decide to go ahead with their solar project.
OpenSolar’s whitelisted app lets solar installers to offer their customers a complete solution – starting with a visual model of what the solar panels will look like and how much money they can expect to save.
Renewable energy stored as hydrogen
While legacy approaches such as natural gas for meeting energy peaks are still getting a lot of mass media coverage, there are big move afoot in the green hydrogen space.
Large scale hydrogen storage
There’s a project afoot in Japan to turn renewable energy into green hydrogen at Fukushima!
In NSW, hydrogen will be used to store excess energy from a solar farm.
Big players like BP are getting involved in Australia’s north west.
Home hydrogen storage
An Australian-led venture to develop one of the world’s first residential solar-based hydrogen energy storage systems is about to get a boost.
Next Generation Solar Cells
Flexible printed solar cells
Printing flexible solar cells on existing printers in Newcastle.
There’s more to renewables than solar, wind and batteries. The technologies that hang the pieces together are also a growing area of opportunity.
Inverters facilitate collection and conversion
Mains power is Alternating Current (AC) 3-phase, and most of our appliances expect AC. while renewables are generally Direct Current (DC).
New, smarter inverters are enablers that most of us will never notice – but they’re fundamental equipment – and developing all the time.
If you decide that energy is your “thing”, then start looking for up-to-date news sources.
I’m a big fan of Renew Economy – but once you start looking you’ll find your own faves (do let me know what you find).