Towards a 24/7 100% Clean Energy Grid: Guides, Trends, Analysis in 2020

With the Enron scandal in 2001 that caused turmoil in the energy industry, to climate change causing adverse changes around the world, to consumers not understanding the clean energy space well enough, the information in the clean energy industry is extremely fragmented. At the same time, the electricity sector is currently experiencing major changes since its original development a century ago. TheEnergyFix’s mission is to fix this.

Our thesis is simple.
TheEnergyFix is the one-stop-shop for all things related to cleantech, including renewable energy, smart grids, energy storage, among others. TheEnergyFix’s mission is to be the voice for a 100% clean energy power grid.

Check out our most recent articles below:


TheEnergyFix Mission: 100% Renewable Power Grid

How can the power grid be powered by 100% clean energy? What technologies are available today and will be needed in the future to enable this? How can governments work with private enterprise to push forward towards a 100% clean energy economy? What are the best business models that can be applied today? All open-ended questions with many viewpoints; Our team of expert evangelists, analysts, and scientists will cover technical analysis, industry trends, inside trends on innovative companies, and product reviews towards the ultimate goal of a 100% clean power grid.

The path to 100% renewable is not simple, nor will it happen immediately. It will have its skeptics but it is one necessary requirement to reduce the impact of climate change. Let’s define what exactly 100% means to TheEnergyFix:  At any hourly or less time period, there is more renewable energy being put onto a certain power grid than being withdrawn from the same power grid. 

Major Requirements for a 24/7 Clean Grid

  1. Emissions-Free Generation: the mix must be emissions-free. This includes technologies such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass, among others.
  2. Local: the injection of energy (supply) and withdrawal of energy (demand) must be within the same power grid
  3. In Real-Time: matching of supply and demand must happen hourly. No annual/monthly/weekly accounting.

Each individual person can assist in this mission by improving their behavior to consume less energy, utilize more efficient devices, and use renewable options when available. Each corporate business can assist by investing in energy efficiency, purchasing local renewable power, being an advocate of a clean local grid, and much more.

Industry Habits Inhibiting a Clean Local Grid

The industry does need to “fix” many of its bad habits and policies. Bad habits include but are not limited to:

Unbundled Renewable Energy Credits (REC)
REC is proof that 1 MWh of clean energy was produced at a certain time. To ensure a specific power grid is clean, unbundling and selling of the REC independent of the physical power should not be allowed. For example, if a customer is located in San Francisco, CA, they are today allowed to purchase RECs from Texas wind farms and claim they are 100% clean. The California grid, however, did not get any more emissions-free. RECs should be bundled to ensure the integrity of the commodity towards a 100% clean energy future.
Annual REC Accounting
Corporates purchases the equivalent RECs they need on an annual basis (e.g., if annual consumption is 15 MWh, they purchase 15 MWh of RECs at year-end or even the next year). However, the actual physical generation that produced that REC may have all happened in one month of the year whereas consumption happened all year. There is a mismatch between supply and demand when annual accounting happens.
False Claims
There should be truth behind claims. For example, a corporation should not be able to claim 100% green if they only buy RECs. While RECs benefit the grid by paying renewable generators a premium for their energy, it still does not force new renewable investments local to where it is needed.
Virtual Power Purchase Agreements (VPPA)
Common among corporate buyers of renewable energy are VPPAs. VPPAs are financial instruments where a buyer purchases a renewable project not in the same location as where their load is (e.g., Texas wind farm when the load is in Californa). They can then claim they are 100% clean, which is not the case. The minimum requirement should be doing VPPAs in the same power grid (i.e., wholesale power market).

Even with these bad habits, there are still major technological, economic, and policy challenges that need to be dealt with to hit the target of a power grid that is 100% clean.

Challenges the Energy Industry Faces Today

The risk of climate change has placed limelight on the energy industry and with that comes the pressure to develop solutions to attempt and fix what has happened to the Earth’s climate. The major challenges faced by the industry are as follows:

Constant Grid Balance
Contrary to popular belief that we can just build an infinite amount of renewable energy, the grid must be balanced in real-time at all times to ensure no blackouts. Grid operators (i.e., Independent System Operators) work to ensure this balance happens even with the advent of new technologies and new installations happening on the grid every day. This is even tougher with the push to a 100% renewable energy grid.
Subpar Economics
The economics of installing advanced renewable energy and grid technologies must make sense. Some technologies like solar do make sense today, whereas other technologies still need more maturation to reach their economic parity. However, the pressure is always there from lawmakers and the general public to move faster.
Bad Regulations
The energy industry is fairly regulated. Each grid balancing market operator (e.g., PJM, ERCOT, NYISO) is a non-profit with its strict rules on how new technologies can be integrated. The U.S. has the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions (FERC) and North American Electric Reliability Commissions (NERC) to oversee all activities. With that, lawmakers also get involved to curb or create new laws in this space. Energy industry experts must always be on their feet because even if technology may work economically, the laws may not be in place to accept it or may be changed at any time.
Public Demand
While this is a pro that the public is demanding a push to more sustainable energy sources, it can be a challenge. The industry is not as fast-changing, and it cannot ever be since everything has to be done precisely so that the world’s biggest network (the grid) works 24/7/365. It will take time for the energy industry to adopt the demands placed forth by the general public.
We, at TheEnergyFix, are here to provide the information necessary to all stakeholders, that includes industry experts, lawmakers, entrepreneurs, and the general public, to help push towards what the end-goal of a 24/7/365 emissions-free climate. To do that, we all need to work together and be informed.

Even with the challenges though, the industry has been developing, integrating, and building technologies for the last century to enable a 24/7 clean energy grid. The following three pillars must work in unison to achieve The Mission.

  • Energy Technology Development & Integration
  • Innovative Energy Companies/Startups
  • Energy Policy and Regulation

Energy Technology Development & Integration Towards 24/7

Energy technologies have advanced significantly over the last decade. Let’s go over the high-level major technologies that will shape the grid towards being 100% clean. Some of these technologies produce emissions-free energy while others act as supporters and enablers within the power grid.

Producer: Solar (Photovoltaics) Overview

Thesis
Solar has revolutionized the power grid industry due to its flexible nature. It can be installed on residential/commercial rooftops, in the desert, in the mountains, and it’s being integrated into everyday products.
History
In 2020, there is more than 71 GW of solar installed in the United States. This number is only growing due to the cost of solar experiencing sudden drops. For example, in 2012, for utility-scale solar (greater than 1 GW installations), the cost was 1.93 $/Watt, whereas it is predicted by 2020, the cost will be 0.70 $/Watt in the United States. This drastic reduction partnered with a global push to reduce the impact of climate change has seen a large resurgence of solar in the markets.
Challenges & Solutions
While solar irradiation is an abundant resource on our planet, it does come with its challenges. First and foremost, the challenge of intermittency and reliability. The sun does not always shine and if it does, it is intermittent due to cloud coverage. Solar is best partnered with other innovative technologies, such as energy storage. Energy storage technologies can provide more flexibility to solar (i.e., energy storage can charge and hold solar energy when it is not needed and then shift it to later parts of the day when energy is needed). While Solar Plus Storage can provide better economics than just solar itself, Solar plus Storage plus Wind provides the best all-rounded use-case.
What's Next?
The industry today is seeing an immense amount of research being done on increasing the efficiency of solar cells, to integration with other clean energy technologies, to grid studies looking at impacts of solar in the long run, to finally various policy and regulatory studies looking at what governments should do to enable more growth in this field. Furthermore, innovative companies are developing residential and commercial products that embed solar technologies.
The solar industry is paving the way for a climate-friendly world and our experts at TheEnergyFix are here to provide you with the information you need to stay informed.  Check our most recent solar articles below:

Producer: Wind Overview

Thesis
Wind turbines provide more generation capacity in a small square footage footprint. Typical large-scale wind turbines range from 1 MW up to 5 MW. For example, a 3 MW turbine can power over 3,000 homes on an annual basis. They are the backbone of the clean energy economy.
History
There is more than 113 GW of wind capacity installations in the United States as of 2020. This number was just 60 GW in 2013. Wind turbines can be installed both onshore and offshore (in the ocean). The economics of offshore is better due to higher wind speeds, and practically “free land”.
Challenges & Solutions
Wind generation comes with its challenges. The wind does not always blow thus making wind generation intermittent. Compared to solar generation relying on the sun which is available in some fashion in all parts of the world, wind generation requires a consistent flow of wind at the right speed. Given such a constraint, wind turbines can only be installed in specific areas. In addition, the wind tends to be at its highest speed during the nighttime periods (i.e., 12 AM-5 AM). However, the power grid demand is at its lowest then. There is a mismatch between supply and demand and therefore, installing an immense amount of wind turbines will not solve the problem of reaching a 24/7/365 emissions-free energy economy. Wind generation is ideally partnered with energy storage such that the wind turbines can produce energy at night, be stored in the battery, and then discharged in the daytime when the grid demand picks up.
What's Next?
Wind turbines are a more mature technology than solar photovoltaics. Research in the development of better wind turbines is usually done by large manufacturers (e.g., General Electric). This is because the cost of developing in-house turbines and testing facilities is prohibitive. Intensive research is being done to simulate the impact of wind energy on the power grid, how it will interact with other clean resources, and what laws/regulations are needed to push it forward.
The wind industry is at the forefront of a 24/7/365 clean energy power grid. TheEnergyFix comprises of wind industry experts that will cover various topics within this technology.

Enabler: Energy Storage Overview

Thesis
Although fairly new technology in the market, energy storage is regarded as the “enabler” technology that is the missing piece of the puzzle for a clean energy grid. With a small footprint, energy storage can be installed in a home, building, or in rougher terrains.
History
In 2020, energy storage is expected to grow to 1.7 GW. With the boom of lithium-ion battery energy storage, the growth curve has been exponential.
Challenges & Solutions
Energy storage is an enabling technology that must be partnered with an energy source. That can be a generation source such as wind, solar, or both, or it can be in a building to assist in demand management. Energy storage inherent nature is to charge and then discharge energy based on the needs of the specific use-case. Energy storage’s biggest challenge is density, i.e., the amount of energy the storage system can store at any given time, and profitable business use-cases.
What's Next?
Energy storage is at its infancy in terms of development. Many organizations, startups, universities, and national laboratories are researching many aspects of energy storage: chemistry of lithium-ion batteries to improve density and efficiency, integration into the power grid, control systems to manage operations of batteries, regulatory policies to ensure mass adoption, among others.
TheEnergyFix is bullish on energy storage being the enabling technology for a 100% clean energy power grid. We will cover various topics in this space.

Innovative Energy Companies/Startups Towards 24/7

Innovation is key. Not only do we need new technologies, but we need novel business models and use cases to take advantage of the technologies. Investments in clean energy technology companies have increased significantly. Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Governmental organizations are all investing actively in novel ideas that have the ability to impact climate change.

TheEnergyFix industry experts will cover new innovative companies in this space, details on raising money, and much more.