1) Sustainability Problem: Energy Use
70% of Electrical Production relies on fossil fuels and the USDA has predicted that by the 2030s electrical demand will increase by 40%. Currently, buildings use 40% of the electricity generated in the United States and this is expected to increase. Currently, photovoltaic technology, which uses sunlight to create energy, is gaining momentum as a form of renewable energy yet in order to harvest enough energy to run a commercial building, a huge swath of land must be employed. Roof-installed solar panels are not sufficient as their limited size also limits the amount of solar energy they can absorb.
1) Sustainable Technology: Solar Windows
Solar Windows Technology, Inc. has created a solution to energy production that would create acres of vertical solar farms in cities by installing solar paneled windows on skyscrapers and tall towers. They claim that this innovative technology would eliminate the need to use vast acres of land as a 50 story building could generate the same energy production as a 6-acre solar farm and allow for both electrical generation and energy banking. Solar Windows Technology, Inc is targeting towers and skyscrapers which consume about 40% of the energy generated for electricity in the United States. They claim that financial models show that these windows could save building owners 30-50% per year and installation would have a simple payback of 1 year. According to a recent article in Newsweek, “Researchers say transparent solar cell technology that harvests invisible wavelengths of light could meet nearly 100 percent of energy demand in the United States.” While there are still issues with efficiency of solar panels, and these windows are not immune to this problem, researchers are seeing improvements and they believe that approximately “5 billion to 7 billion square meters of glass surface in the United States could be used to meet 40 percent of the country’s energy demand, or “close to 100 percent” if energy storage is improved.”
3) Technology Stakeholder
Large Building Onwers
Solar Windows Technology Inc.
Identify a large city that has a sustainable energy problem they want to address.
Create a public-private partnership between the chosen city, sustainable investors, and Solar Windows Technology, Inc.
Create a multi-year timeline to roll-out solar window technology in 5 city-owned and operated buildings that have been monitoring their energy use for at least 5-10 years. This is essential to create baseline measurements.
Install in 2 buildings over first 6 month period.
Compare savings every 3 months after installation to the baseline measurements ensuring that the comparison covers the same period of the year (i.e. February compared to February).
After the first year, if energy savings are 30-50% as expected, roll-out to remaining 3 buildings. If the model is successful, create a policy for new construction and building retrofits for all city-owned buildings.
“Reliable Power Day and Night,” that’s what a Tesla Energy residential energy battery storage solution promises. For better and worse, the Tesla Powerwall is no longer just for the few seeking off-grid energy storage systems and want to mitigate against utility outages. In fact, smart energy offerings such as this are well beyond the top branded Tesla Energy. Sunrun launched their BrightBox solar-plus-storage product offering, Orison audaciously funded a home storage product through a Kickstarter campaign, and even the old school engineering firms such as Lockheed Martin have taken a foray into the energy management and storage market.
From a citywide sustainability perspective these solutions support the growing public desires to reduce dependency on fossil fuel burning energy sources so we should be pleased these technologies have emerged. Thing is, their capacities to deliver beyond green washing are vast and actually executing this at scale requires sophisticated regulatory and infrastructure coordination, not to mention a whole other set of technologies for load balancing. Scaling such offering at a citywide level, well, that’s even more complicated. Yes, this is what a smart cities should be doing to ride the wave of consumer demand that has gone beyond the need to build a bug out shelter for the next Zombie Apocalypse but integrating solar or renewable energy systems such as wind with battery storage is unfortunately a wicked problem. In executing these CO2 reducing and intelligent energy management solutions there are significant secondary outcomes. At the top of the list is the challenge of dealing with the historically denoted “consumer,” that in the process become a producer. Hands together now, let’s welcome the prosumer to the stage; the true problem child for energy utilities!
How does an electric utility (one only ever known to sell energy) deal with this new bread called a prosumer? If all producers install off-grid energy storage systems, what is the new role and responsibility for an electric utility? In this position, can they garner sufficient income to pay for the maintenance of wires and poles?
To solve these challenges there must be significant regulatory involvement in advance of the transition. Equipment manufacturers and system integrators also need to find ways to make commercially viable solutions that capitalize on consumer demand, but do so in a way so as to not send out a cry and in turn initiate a utility death spiral; ultimately leaving those without an ability to participate in this new energy marketplace footing the bill for the the entire delivery system. Lastly, through smaller scale pilot projects all the stakeholders can work out best in class methodologies that will take us from where we are to where we clearly are going.
Thankfully, innovative energy marketplaces and regulators are seeing themselves as critical catalysts and the stakeholders in this new world of distributed energy resources (DERs) are stepping up on a global scale. Pilot projects have begun and successes through public-private partnerships are happening. The 2016 Southern California Edison and Tesla unveiling of the world’s largest energy storage facility and the New York City program called NY REV have led the way. Each is but a portion of larger deployment plans for grid-connected storage batteries and both seek to reduce fossil-fuel reliance. Comprehensive energy strategies initiated in this way will be a win-win for the utilities that want to defray the costs of replacing peakers plants reaching retirement age and for the prosumer wanting to help reduce CO2 emitting fuel in the energy mix.
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