A Sideways Look at the Energy Transition

Less than a year ago, I felt pessimistic about our chances of success in the fight to reduce emissions, halting and reversing climate issues. Events in the past year that have made me optimistic and while there is a long road ahead, I see many indications that provide renewed hope and optimism.
Weather-related events appear are worsening at an alarming rate with dramatic increases in fires, floods and high temperatures worse than in the past. While the current target is to achieve net-zero emissions, society must realize that net-zero is not a solution but is the point at which weather issues stop getting worse. At the present rate of progress, our climate issues will be far worse than they currently are when we reach net-zero emissions.
Amidst the gloom, however, we see action by governments and by individuals suggesting a growing recognition of this threat. In April of 2022, Elon Musk funded a $100 million XPrize for innovative solutions that will take carbon from the air and lock it away. Several startup companies are well underway with pilot projects aimed at capturing these prizes. Additionally, Tesla and Volkswagen are now among automakers that see plentiful sources of manganese that may make batteries and EVs affordable for mainstream buyers. An affordable EV may have a large impact on our future.
Germany has announced recently that it might defer the shutdown of their last few nuclear electricity generating stations. While this is driven by other events, it appears that they see a need to avoid the increased use of coal using nuclear generation—an emission-free source that was seen as a threat in the recent past.
Currently, there are advances on two distinct fronts: Public discussion on the clean energy sources that will be used to displace fossil fuels and technical advances in our electric grid that will deliver most of our energy. This supply of clean energy is hotly contested and is the subject of many discussions (some seem based on idealistic targets with little technical backing), while the advances in electric grid technology are understood by few and advance rapidly with almost no public discussion. It is in the latter area that companies such as Generac are active participants, developing and implementing many new concepts.
Following are a few of the concepts that may have a large impact on our future grid. Most of these have the potential to integrate distributed energy sources, improve efficiency and deliver more energy while maintaining power quality for users.

Innovation Could Substantially Reduce Loss

Based in Texas, Metox Technologies is the new company now home to Bud Vos, GGS’s former CEO. The company has developed a new form of conductor to deliver electric power. This company includes a clever bunch of physicists and appears to make conductors that have very low resistance and emit less EMF radiation. At present, the average loss between a generator and a home is about 6%-8%. While that may seem low, it may change dramatically. The existing grid design is based on delivering power at peak demand and needed on a very hot or a very cold day. The average load over a year is about 50% of this peak, so with the help of Generac Grid Services’ virtual power plant technology, the existing grid could deliver almost twice the energy that is currently delivered by using grid-edge storage and demand management. Loss increases with the square of the current, and if the current is doubled, as would occur if power is increased to run continuously at near maximum, the power delivered would double, but the total loss would be increased by four-fold. An 8% loss could easily become more than 30%. The concept of using HTS wire from Metox may have the potential to help to deliver the growing amount of electrical energy that will be needed.

Energy Storage Plus Generation Is a Hidden Goldmine for the Average Consumer

I recently priced a Generac home stand by generator system for my home. I required a 22 kVA generator to start my heat pump and AC unit, the freezers, and a few other items. However, the average capacity used by my home is less than 2 kW, so the generator needs to start some loads and would operate at less than 10% of its rated capacity most of the time. The new PowerGenerator that generates direct current power to charge a battery, and a battery inverter supplies the starting power for these appliances, dramatically improves average efficiency and provides several added benefits. The generator now needs to be only a fraction of the size of a conventional machine, and it operates ONLY when the battery is at a low level and requires charging. Efficiency and emissions could be greatly improved, and the generator operation at night would likely be minimal. Another rarely mentioned advantage, is that an inverter can be paralleled with the grid to provide support where a conventional single-phase generator cannot be directly connected to the grid. This will allow grid-support activities to become a significant revenue source for many homeowners.
The ability to perform many new and complex tasks has become a common reality through surprising technological innovation. The technology and computer power needed to manage these systems is developing at a remarkable rate. When I was a student studying engineering in the 1960s, I learned to program using an IBM 1620 computer—something we all considered to be a magic box with unbelievable computing power. When I heard recently that my iPhone had more than 10-times the computing power of the computer that served my entire campus I was shocked. A little after I graduated, the first Intel microprocessor was introduced. It apparently contained 2,300 transistors (the little semiconductor devices that switch between one and zero). That was a remarkable achievement at the time, but today the latest Apple M1 Max chip has more than 50 BILLION transistors inside: an increase of seven orders of magnitude.
When one looks at the work that is underway in almost all areas of energy production, delivery and consumption, it is not hard to become far more optimistic than we have been in the past. We must focus on a clear target and develop strategies that will achieve our goals and put aside the divisions and disputes about what is the cleanest option. It may be better to pick a suboptimal choice that can be achieved quickly than to argue over the best solution and achieve little in a reasonable time.
This is an important issue, and we all need to participate. There are so many opportunities in so many aspects of energy production, delivery and use, that roles exist for everyone. Innovation will be key to solving our climate crisis, and I believe that the Generac Grid Services culture strongly encourages and promotes individual innovation. Even those that cannot be innovators can fulfill an equally important role by being an implementer. There is a lot to be done in a short time, which is a momentous task but can provide fun and interesting challenges for every member of our Generac Grid Services team.

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