By Jennifer G. Gallegos, director of programs and communications, Yotta Energy
In my previous article, I discussed several key factors that are likely to shape the energy storage industry. However, these factors’ precise effect is yet to be seen. What happens when we juxtapose current events with other emerging technologies also being developed and refined today? When looking beyond five years, it’s easy to imagine that both incumbent and novel renewable energy solutions will need to integrate with other emerging technologies or risk becoming irrelevant. In this article, I share my predictions about what trends I believe will become apparent within the next five years due to growing global conflict, policy shifts, increased cleantech investment and supply chain shortages.
Web 3.0 and convergent technologies
The overarching theme for successful renewable energy technologies to thrive will be their ability to seamlessly integrate with or converge with other emerging technologies in what is known as Web 3.0 or the Spatial Web. In the book “The Spatial Web,” Gabriel René and Dan Mapes argue that the Web 3.0 era will be defined “by an integrated ‘stack’ of computing technologies known in classic computer science as a three-tier architecture, comprised of Interface, Logic, and Data Tiers.” René and Mapes further state that “Web 3.0 will utilize Spatial (AR, VR, MR), Physical (IoT, Wearables, Robotics), Cognitive (ML, AI), and Distributed (Blockchain, Edge) computing technologies simultaneously as part of an integrated stack.”
As shown in the image, René and Mapes outline the framework for Web 3.0, noting the key differences from what’s more commonly known as Web 3. For example, a person will be able to connect an energy IoT device (e.g., smart energy storage), view its instruction manual using AR glasses, communicate with it and analyze its data via artificial intelligence, and store secure information (i.e., usage patterns) on the blockchain.
This convergence of the digital and physical worlds will create the next-generation electric grid. This convergence will further increase reliability, as we will be able to analyze better, predict and understand everything from usage patterns on the demand side to congestion points on the supply side. For example, when the grid becomes part of Web 3.0, it will be able to seamlessly and semi-autonomously optimize the performance of energy storage systems. As a result, energy storage and renewable energy technologies will be necessary building blocks of the grid, not just nice-to-have technologies, especially as we continue living with the severe natural disasters that impact our power supply.
Digital twins, or virtual replicas of a physical product, have caught the attention of corporations and governments alike. For example, an energy storage device can have a digital replica of itself, complete with all its attributes, that’s viewable either on a 2D screen or while wearing augmented reality glasses. A person could then remotely provide instructions on repairing a part of the energy storage device or perform routine maintenance by manipulating the digital twin. A digital twin could also provide real-time data and analytics of how an energy storage system performs in the real world. A person or algorithm could initiate a sequence to deploy energy storage if the grid needed additional energy resources during peak usage.
Digital twin technology is rapidly being integrated into industrial and complex engineering applications, including technologies such as energy storage, wind turbines and solar power. Thus, we can expect to see the presence of digital twins radically increase within the energy industry in the next five years.
Smart cities, smart businesses, smart homes
As energy storage converges with other emerging technologies, we will see an increase in smart cities, businesses and homes. “Smart” means having the computing power to assess and understand data in real-time so people (or AI) can optimize asset deployment to save money, electricity and other resources. This doesn’t just mean an intelligent thermostat that turns off your AC during the summer when the load on the grid is too high. This also means applications with direct and substantial benefits to consumers and businesses, such as predicting when to deploy energy storage so you can remain comfortable while still saving money on your electricity bills.
We have already begun to see many technologies hit the market that optimizes building efficiency. Emerging technology companies deploy AI, IoT sensors and machine learning to improve air quality, HVAC efficiency, temperature, lighting and overall occupant comfort. Energy storage is a natural progression to complement this mission of improving building performance and decreasing carbon emissions. In addition, there has been a recent uptick in building codes requiring sustainable technology. For example, California will require solar + storage systems for all new commercial and multifamily construction beginning in 2023. As a result of these new technologies and the state mandate, we can expect to see a drastic increase in solar + storage systems and the smart building management systems needed to deploy them as we continue advancing sustainability.
Distributed energy storage
Distributed energy resources (DERs), such as decentralized energy storage, can decrease the fragility of the electric grid, as it can supply energy to where it’s needed without costly infrastructure upgrades. David Roberts reported in an article for Canary Media, “[t]he more DERs you put in place, the more centralized renewables you can put out on the system. DERs are a utility-scale renewables accelerant.” Further, Roberts cited a clean-energy-fueled DER scenario that is “$88 billion cheaper” than the status quo. As more DERs are brought online, the demand on the electric grid begins to level off, which means a decrease in the big demand peaks and a decrease in the number of peaker plants needed to keep the grid operational. In a recent Canary Media article, Jeff St. John noted that “rooftop solar, batteries, EV chargers, backup generators and flexible load [are] expected to reach 400 gigawatts by 2025.” Connected DERs will enable communities to better forecast and understand where stored energy is available on the grid and how to deploy it to areas that may need it.
Cradle-to-cradle energy storage solutions
The cradle-to-cradle trend raises important questions about the need to examine the entire energy storage supply chain from design to production to logistics to end of life. This highlights the lack of regulations for battery manufacturing and recycling. While a few companies are looking at how we discard, recycle and reuse energy storage components, more innovation is needed.
Novel energy storage technologies
Energy storage will need to move beyond batteries and lithium-ion chemistry to meet the required durations (i.e., days, weeks, months) and aggressive carbon emissions reduction goals. Kinetic energy storage technologies have begun to hit the market. Other solutions, such as geothermal energy storage, have also started to gain traction in the market, such as the recent partnership announcement between Fervo and Google.
So, will energy storage live up to the hype? We still have work to do. We must invest heavily in the intersection of energy storage and various emergent and convergent technologies, including Web 3.0 technologies, smart city and building technologies, digital twins, DERs, cradle-to-cradle solutions and novel storage technologies. But if we invest, research and develop in these critical areas, energy storage can live well past the hype.