This is the third event in the Tech Tank series with its focus on how technology is transforming the Energy sector. Joining the episode are our guest speaker Patrick Mooney - Founder & Executive Chair of Impact Tech Ventures (ITV), Dr Ahmed Halima - Principal Consultant in Hydrogen Group Australia, and Dr Raed Bkayrat - Chief Growth Officer of SunScope Technologies. This blog provides insights to the paradigm shifts that are transforming the sector from the perspective of our speakers.
Paradigm Shift 1: Sustainability
Sustainability refers to the production and consumption of energy in a way that does not hurt the environment and does not deplete irreplaceable recourse. The motivation for sustainability is obvious and has been going on for a while. Solar and Wind are now the main players, but there are some other options to consider.
Grid Parity in Australia and The Challenges Related to Grid Readiness
Patrick: Australia has a high solar PV installation rate in households and high renewable proportion by states. Given that high adoption rate and policy environment, Australia is one of the leaders in achieving grid parity, and one of the countries to confront the issue of grid readiness early on.
One of the challenges that we are facing is that the grid (like almost all other countries) is designing a one-way system. It’s good to see that the Australian emerging tech SMEs are responding to this challenge to make the grid ready. We have companies with several different approaches to this problem and there have been a lot of innovations in this area. They are mainly at their early stage of the development but some of the utilities have been already using them.
Ahmed: Adding on to the opportunities of the SMEs community in tackling this issue, we're also looking at the opportunities in the major transition of the government in their regulation and policy to drive this development further. We're seeing a lot of solutions coming out in the last few years to transition the grid and integrate Solar and Wind. They are going to drive the energy infrastructure in ways that we never imagined before. Energy will start to be integrated in other primary industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, transport and export and they will form a diverse and massive network where energy is integrated in every aspect of our lives.
Solar Dominance and Potential Alternatives
Raed: Nowadays, the cost of renewable energy technology is not an issue anymore, the issues lie in technology adoption and government regulations. Grid parity has other factors to it rather than just a pure dollar sign.
The Middle East is known to be a huge adopter of large-scale renewable energy technology. The cost for solar projects in the region has dropped significantly in the last few years and a lot of solar projects have been conducted. This is good in a sense that renewable energy can be obtained with low cost, but one of the problems that arise is that investors do not invest in PV solar projects anymore due to the low profitability. Solar was hurting itself for a period of time. There is a need for policies & regulations and adoption of new alternative technology (e.g hydrogen projects) to balance out this problem.
Ahmed: Solar industry has been a boom in the renewable energy field but it also has some challenges in terms of demand and supply management, its energy efficiency and how it fits with the operation of other industries (such as mobility). In Australia, we're seeing hydrogen being a new economy. There are massive hydrogen projects that have been funded with different functions of collecting, harvesting and storing Hydrogen. We need to integrate these technologies into our supply chains alongside the solar source. We do need diversity amongst technologies. With solar being very cheap, there might be a chance to use solar energy to develop other technologies in other industries to transform them to be environmentally-friendly.
Patrick: The argument about the dominance of solar will also depend on where the customer is, and their environment. In some countries, solar is an obvious way to go, but for the case of island countries where there is lack of land for solar projects, such as the Philippines and Japan, tidal energy is another option. There will always be a mix so there is no case that one technology has absolute dominance over another.
The Effects of Diverse Technologies on Consumers
Patrick: Diversity gives consumers more choices. For household consumers, they can just pick and choose the technologies most appropriate for them and reduce their cost. The diversity also encourages community engagement where people compete to be the most efficient in their neighbourhood. For commercial consumers, they can use some of those technologies to produce enough energy for their daily operation, and they can even offer their customers e.g. free energy for charging their EVs to improve their customer relationship. In short, all consumers benefit from diversity.
Paradigm Shift 2: Energy Storage
Sustainability is a great and necessary target, but what the world realised very quickly is that we won’t be able to achieve a fully sustainable system without the right energy storage as the output of solar and wind energy sources is not constant and not controllable. There are two main categories: grid-scale storage & mobile storage (for vehicles).
Potentials for batteries in both categories
Raed: Batteries have come a long way with many innovations in lithium ions and other new technologies. It’s a good sign that investors are coming back and investing money into different battery technologies despite the previous failures. There are a lot of developments in the lithium ion that aim to take lithium-ion batteries into a new level to dominate the last mile, light-weight and small-scaled passenger vehicles areas.
Batteries also have a big role to play in large-scale projects. Instead of building high capacity grid connections and substations to distribute all the generated power of solar during the day, but sitting idle at night, on-site storage, such as batteries, is a good alternative to cut down the cost of energy infrastructure and delivery.
Patrick: Thermal batteries have already been integrated into large-scale projects as well. They have low cost and are very efficient.
Ahmed: The potential of batteries also depends on the consumers as well as the pricing at the end of the day. There are a lot of materials involved in the process of manufacturing batteries. It is also not feasible for batteries to be the only storage used for mobility, household heating systems, and large-scale systems such as electrical power for the city. In conclusion, the question is not which one is the best storage but it’s more about how do we achieve the next step to decarbonise the industry with the available diverse types of storage technology.
Potentials for Hydrogen in Both Categories
Ahmed: There are advantages for hydrogen to be applied in large-scale plants, and for export due to its ability to be stored in solid-state materials or as compressed form. Hydrogen can also be used as a source for generating electricity and heating. We can generate hydrogen in places where batteries cannot be used and at the quantity we require. Although the application of hydrogen storage in mobility is still small, there are still hydrogen-related technologies developing. Hydrogen can be a safer option compared to fuels due to its combustion properties. Hydrogen can also be integrated into the agricultural and mining industry.
What should businesses do to adapt to, and benefit from, the changing scene of Energy?
Patrick: Be aware of all the options of energy and if you're not an energy expert, find a good advisor because you have a wide range of options. And it will come down to an economic analysis for your particular situation, your location, your business and how much risk space you’ve got. Also, for startups that are new to energy technology, they can reach to the government published data available about technology to get more information and be able to model their business.
Raed: Go to the nano-level, details of the technology, the science and the engineering that you're trying to do. Talk to advisors, talk to the government, talk to end users (the people that will pay for your technology). It's important not to be left behind the trends because new things are happening every day.
Ahmed: Look at the options available, there are a lot of technologies out there and there are ways to integrate these technologies together to drive the purpose in your business.
Ask yourself what are the challenges in the business, whether you want to target the virtual technology and ability to integrate these things into digitalisation. You are also driven by the funding you can get, look at where the funding is heading.
→ The future of energy is green and promising. Renewables have already become economically viable compared to fossil-fuel-based electricity. The next step now is technology adoption and regulations.
→ While the conventional grid is not originally designed for distributed energy sources that are becoming mainstream in households, innovative solutions made by tech startups promise to transform the grid to be ready for the coming paradigm shift in energy generation.
→ The future of energy is diverse. Solar and wind are the most common renewable technologies, but there is a range of other technologies that are necessary to support wind and solar in generating, storing, and distributing electrical power.
→ Hydrogen is emerging. Combined with renewables, green hydrogen can become also a major player in storing and transporting energy.
→ Diversity of technologies will bring a lot of options for consumers to choose from. This will benefit the consumers financially, but also will pose new challenges of awareness to choose the right combination for their specific circumstances.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in the webinar and in this blog is strictly for educational purposes to explain government incentives and startups, and it does not constitute investment, accounting, financial, legal or tax advice. It has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.