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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