Key Insights from X ClimateTech Bay Area Conference on Decarbonizing Energy

Key Insights from X ClimateTech Bay Area Conference on Decarbonizing Energy

Dossier : Vie de l'associationMagazine N°783 Mars 2023
Par Phac LE TUAN (X70)
Par Pierre NEDELEC (X14)
Par Zoé DURAND (X11)

The X Cli­ma­te­Tech Bay Area group is crea­ting a space to share know­ledge, fos­ter the exchange of ideas, and build connec­tions within the Cli­ma­te­Tech com­mu­ni­ty. It was foun­ded by Poly­tech­nique alums and is open to all pro­fes­sio­nals, entre­pre­neurs, inves­tors, and stu­dents wor­king in or inter­es­ted in Cli­ma­te­Tech topics. The group will meet eve­ry other month with experts pre­sen­ting the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties in their field, fol­lo­wed by a net­wor­king event (this event being the first conference).

Clima­te­Tech is a broad field that encom­passes all tech­no­lo­gies cri­ti­cal to either redu­cing green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions or hel­ping huma­ni­ty adapt to glo­bal war­ming. Each confe­rence will deep dive into each hea­vy emit­ting sec­tor (Power, Trans­por­ta­tion, Buil­dings & Cities, Indus­tries, Agri­cul­ture & Food) and explore the role of trans­ver­sal enablers such as Sup­ply Chain decar­bo­ni­za­tion or Car­bon offsets.

With ~50 % of glo­bal GHG emis­sions from Power & Trans­port, this first confe­rence focu­sed on Decar­bo­ni­zing Ener­gy, i.e. redu­cing the car­bon inten­si­ty of elec­tri­ci­ty pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion. Held in a beau­ti­ful­ly deco­ra­ted pri­vate office in San Fran­cis­co on Dec 8, 2022, it was a great suc­cess, well atten­ded des­pite an unu­sual but wel­come rain. 

Our guest spea­kers, Bal­tha­zar Lechene (X06), Asso­ciate Direc­tor, Power­Flex, and Jacques de Cha­len­dar (X11), Adjunct Pro­fes­sor in Ener­gy Science, Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, expert pio­neers in rene­wable ener­gy, gave a com­pel­ling over­view of the chal­lenges and state-of-the-art acti­vi­ties in their res­pec­tive domains.

Solar needs improved energy storage solutions

Bal­tha­zar dis­cus­sed the role of solar in redu­cing the share of fos­sil fuels in the elec­tri­cal grid mix and how this will require more sto­rage and flexi­bi­li­ty capa­ci­ty, as well as the role of intel­li­gent sys­tems like the ones deve­lo­ped by Power­Flex in pro­vi­ding such flexibility.

Solar is a mature and fast-gro­wing, effec­ti­ve­ly decar­bo­ni­zing the CA grid. It’s now cost-com­pe­ti­tive : ~$0.03/kWh solar cost over 20 years for uti­li­ty-scale ins­tal­la­tion (com­pe­ti­tive with fos­sil fuels) and with an ROI of 7–10 years for residential/commercial cus­to­mers. Solar repre­sents 35 % of new US capa­ci­ty addi­tion in 2021 (or ~23GW), most­ly from uti­li­ty-scale pro­jects. And it’s ten-twen­ty times less car­bon-inten­sive com­pa­red to fos­sil fuels (solar : 50g CO2eq/kWh, natu­ral gas : 500g CO2eq/kWh, coal : 1000g CO2eq/kWh).

Achie­ving a high level of pene­tra­tion for solar will require addi­tio­nal sto­rage capa­ci­ty. Solar is inter­mit­tent, and its pro­duc­tion pro­file does not match the grid needs (66 % of gene­ra­tion bet­ween 10 am‑4 pm vs. morning/evening grid load peak). Bat­te­ry sto­rage is still nascent today (1.6GW capa­ci­ty added in 2021); its value lies in peak sha­ving for com­mer­cial cus­to­mers, limi­ted value for resi­den­tial (backup power).

“Storing energy and reducing peak load will be critical to decarbonize the grid.”

Elec­tric Vehicles (EVs) raise a grid inte­gra­tion chal­lenge but also a sto­rage oppor­tu­ni­ty. EV char­ging pat­terns – morning/evening pri­ma­ri­ly – will accen­tuate the grid peak (+35 % home elec­tri­ci­ty usage with an EV). Smart char­ging solu­tions – like the ones deve­lo­ped by Power­Flex with Adap­tive Load Mana­ge­ment – can smooth power use across a fleet of EVs and reduce grid peaks. EVs could also serve as grid sto­rage through vehicle-to-grid tech­no­lo­gies (25M EVs by 2030 = ~2,000 GWh of storage).

The cri­ti­cal takea­way from Balthazar’s pers­pec­tive is that decar­bo­ni­za­tion with the intro­duc­tion of rene­wable ener­gy brings a set of new issues because solar and wind are not ins­tant­ly dis­pat­chable when peak loads occur, lea­ding to the need to use emer­gen­cy fos­sil fuel ener­gy to keep the grid operational.

The long-term solu­tion to this chal­lenge is to deve­lop vast­ly impro­ved ener­gy sto­rage solu­tions com­bi­ned with advan­ced soft­ware tech­no­lo­gies to bring much more flexi­bi­li­ty into the system.

National electrical grid : flexibility in energy distribution is key

Jacques pre­sen­ted the col­lec­tion of tools deve­lo­ped to track ener­gy consump­tion and CO2 emis­sions across the natio­nal elec­tri­cal grid, as well as pilot pro­jects at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty to demons­trate the role of heating/cooling sys­tems in pro­vi­ding grid flexibility.

The grid is a large connec­ted machine ; CA imports dir­tier ener­gy at peak hours. CA Inde­pendent Sys­tem Ope­ra­tor (CAISO), in charge of mana­ging the grid, imports elec­tri­ci­ty during peak hours when load is pea­king and rene­wables gene­rate insuf­fi­cient ener­gy (morning/evening). But impor­ted elec­tri­ci­ty from the Mid­west has a higher car­bon inten­si­ty (natu­ral gas/coal). Sto­ring ener­gy and redu­cing peak load will be cri­ti­cal to decar­bo­nize the grid.

Smar­ter cooling and hea­ting sys­tems can pro­vide load flexi­bi­li­ty to the grid : large cen­tra­li­zed hea­ting sys­tems – like the one ser­ving Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty buil­ding heat/cool – represent a signi­fi­cant share of a building’s elec­tri­cal load. These loads can be intel­li­gent­ly sche­du­led by varying time of use and tem­pe­ra­ture set points to reduce peak demand charges (hal­ved dai­ly usage at Stan­ford during extreme PG&E events in 2018 sum­mer, leve­ra­ging pre-hea­ting of the hot water silo, thus gene­ra­ting $300k reve­nue), pro­vide grid ser­vices, and reduce new infra­struc­ture costs (e.g., equip­ment upgrade). At Stan­ford, real-world expe­ri­ments have shown that a 14 % load reduc­tion can be achie­ved by a +2F set­point adjust­ment during the highest cooling load days.

The takea­way here is that flexi­bi­li­ty in ener­gy dis­tri­bu­tion requires vital inno­va­tion in tra­cking tools, mana­ging buil­ding hea­ting and cooling sys­tems at a finer gra­nu­la­ri­ty level, and opti­mi­zing EV char­ging beha­vior at a regio­nal or natio­nal level.

Join the ClimateTech world

Ove­rall, these pre­sen­ta­tions and their asso­cia­ted dis­cus­sions have hel­ped illus­trate the fra­me­work of revie­wing these tech­no­lo­gy inno­va­tions in Ener­gy Mana­ge­ment through three com­ple­men­ta­ry pers­pec­tives : Decar­bo­ni­za­tion (rene­wables), Digi­ti­za­tion (grid flexi­bi­li­ty) and Decen­tra­li­za­tion (solar roof­tops, mini-grids).

To help keep the com­plex Cli­ma­te­Tech world as easy to unders­tand as pos­sible, we will use this simple fra­me­work in future mee­tings on each of the 5 Cli­ma­te­Tech sectors.

Please join us on our Face­book X Cli­ma­te­Tech Bay Area group to stay tuned, pro­vide feed­back and com­ments, and be sure not to miss future events.

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