Solar 2015 Exhibition Melbourne

Today was the first day of Australian Soar Council’s 53rd annual conference and exhibition, and it was a great start to the two day event.  With three conferences running simultaneously all day and dozens of exhibitors, there was plenty to check out.  The three conferences were divided into three streams: Policy, Professional Development, and Energy Storage.  While the first two conferences had some excellent speakers and topics, I ended up spending much of my time at the Energy Storage conference.

Energy Storage is set to be the next big growth area in the renewable energy field.  Attendees of the conference today would have witnessed just how far the hardware technologies have come in recent years, as well as how confident industry leaders are in the potential for distributed energy storage to completely change the energy landscape.  A recurring theme with the talks was the transition from centralized, linear energy generation to distributed, digitized energy generation and usage.

The energy systems of the future will no longer consist of a few large generation facilities with networks across large areas to reach consumers, but of thousands of smaller generation “nodes” that are located closer to where energy is used, and can be owned by those that use the energy.  One of the most disruptive examples of this is a household or building that generates energy from solar units and stores the excess energy for later use.

Rooftop solar makes it possible for consumers to produce their own energy at some points throughout the day, but when solar is paired with energy storage it provides greater flexible and potential for consumers to become even less reliant on the grid.

This may sound like bad news for the utility companies, and in the short term indeed it could mean sunken costs in infrastructure that has not paid itself back yet, but in the medium to long term it could mean less investment in infrastructure upgrades, capacity, and most importantly a reduction in peak load demand.  Even with widespread adoption of solar and energy storage, there will be a need for large-scale utilities to provide services such as system management, and ultimately energy security.

The next decade will be a very exciting one that presents a great opportunity to overhaul the current energy grid and build a more sustainable one, where consumers have more options and flexibility when it comes to their energy.  Policy and regulation are of course a major hurdle, but it is encouraging to attend events like the Solar 2015 Conference and Exhibition where industry leaders are working together to overcome obstacles and solve problems that seemed impossible only a few years ago.  Exciting times!

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Is Ontario “Solared-Out”?

As one of the first regions to offer huge incentives for individuals, co-ops, aboriginal groups, and municipalities to install renewable energy projects, Ontario is considered a leader in this arena. The first contracts the province (or more specifically the OPA) offered paid out 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Considering the average price consumers paid per kilowatt hour at the time was only about 6-7 cents, this was a very generous offer. With subsequent reviews of the program, the price paid has of course gone down, although projects under Version 3 of the program are still quite profitable.

So with all of these incentives and the program hitting it’s 6th year, is there any opportunity left? The FIT program spurred the launch of dozens of companies across the province and has piqued the interest of major corporations such as Samsung, who are now installing plants over 100MW in size. The IESO claims to have approximately 1500MW of installed solar capacity to date.

I believe that while solar has developed into a strong industry in Ontario, there is still a great deal of room for growth. Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan envisions 20,000MW renewable energy capacity by 2020, and we are still a long way off. In fact, the yearly targets for microFIT have not been reached for 3 years, with the remaining capacity re-assigned to the FIT programs.

The microFIT, FIT, and LRP programs are currently under review and we can expect big changes soon. The microFIT program itself needs to be adjusted so targets can be hit, and the IESO has made wider adoption a priority in the review. 2015 will be another year of great change in Ontario’s renewable energy policy, and we can expect it to be very beneficial to the industry as a whole.

More information on Ontario’s renewable energy and conservation initiatives can be found here.

Energy Storage – The Next Step (Part 3)

Now that we know why storage is important (Part 1) and which types of storage are feasible (Part 2), we’ll look at the economic and political implications of grid-wide storage.

We are at a time now where clean, renewable energy not only makes environmental sense, but it is beginning to make financial and economic sense.  Wind is already much cheaper than many conventional energy supplies and solar is rapidly approaching that point.  Additionally, the long-term financial effects of climate change are becoming a reality and are now being taken seriously by governments, investors, fund managers and bankers.  Utility companies already understand the importance of energy storage, and large pumped hydro projects are already commissioned with more planned across the globe.  Continue reading

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Pipeline – Will It Hold Up?

This veto is a big one on the road to a renewable future – the Keystone XL pipeline would pump over 830,000 barrels a day from the Alberta oil sands through to the Gulf Coast. It would be responsible for over 8 billion tonnes of CO2 being dumped into the air over its lifetime. While the oil sands will still develop regardless of this project, their development would certainly be hindered by it’s cancellation. Continue reading

Energy Storage – The Next Step (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series on Energy Storage discussed why storage plays a necessary role in a 100% renewable future. Since solar and wind provide a variable energy supply, storage is needed to balance out the highs and lows.  This article will discuss some different types of energy storage, their applications, and feasibility.

Battery Storage

Battery storage is probably the most well-known type of energy storage.  It is very scalable, from large-scale utility applications to TV remote batteries.   Continue reading

Energy Storage – The Next Step (Part 1)

One of the biggest hurdles on the road to 100% renewable energy is what happens when the sun isn’t shining or the wind dies down.  We obviously still need power at these times.  Hydroelectricity typically does not experience this unpredictable intermittence (even when waterfalls freeze over like Niagara Falls just did!), making it a very reliable renewable resource.  Biofuels are also reliable in this sense.

But even with their intrinsic variability, the Sun and wind are far too great of resources for us to give up on them.  And the technology to capture these resources is rapidly approaching feasibility.  An important solution to the Sun and wind’s variable energy generation is storage. 

Continue reading