Most energy-related news today has been focused on commodity market volatility, scarcity conditions, political turmoil, price increases, and project delays. To provide a dose of optimism for the future we recently asked the newest members of the Competitive Energy Services’ Analytics Team to share what was on their mind that has them feeling optimistic about the future of the energy industry. Here’s what they had to say.
The Green Future of Heating Homes | Emmett Burns, Energy Analyst
Heating homes often involves the combustion of fossil fuels, usually natural gas, or heating oil. While this has historically been the norm and worked well across the country, as we take a more critical look at our energy consumption and climate change the alternatives to fossil fuels for heating are interesting and promising.
One alternative to natural gas heating is RNG (renewable natural gas). RNG is produced by capturing methane, primarily from farm waste and landfills, and processing it so that it can be distributed and combusted like traditional natural gas. The methane, that would otherwise enter the atmosphere, is combusted releasing carbon dioxide. This is exciting because methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so using RNG has the potential to be net carbon negative. Implementing RNG will also give gas utilities more time to adapt to the changing energy landscape as many states pass strict climate legislation.
Another alternative to fossil fuels is community geothermal heating and cooling. This technology works by pumping refrigerant through the ground to absorb heat and bring it to residences and businesses in the winter, and the opposite to cool them in the summer. It is regarded as one of the most efficient ways to heat and cool homes. In the case of community geothermal systems, multiple buildings utilize the same geothermal loop. This is especially useful in more densely populated areas where few buildings have enough space for their own geothermal system. They can rely on a community loop which is similar, in a way, to how natural gas is distributed to homes. Various pilot projects are being proposed and constructed to assess the viability of this technology, including one in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Neither of these methods have been adopted as mainstream yet, but it is exciting to see the interest they garner from governments and utilities, alike, as we see more legislation pushing RNG and pilot projects to better understand community geothermal. These technologies are certainly worth watching during the coming years.
Carbon Neutrality Goals | Charlotte Del Col, Energy Analyst
I am optimistic about the forward pressure from private companies and municipalities to create aggressive goals around carbon neutrality. While many of them seem far-fetched, generating momentum and positive peer pressure for the sake of our planet is important. Day to day, it is very encouraging to work with so many clients at CES who are dedicating increasingly larger portions of their efforts toward sustainability. Living in New England, it is easy to push the impacts of climate change away until we begin to see them here, however it is vital to understand that climate change is a shared experience, and many places are already seeing the effects. Initiatives that come from the private sector and local governments often have more teeth than those at the federal level, and those pushes are going to be the most effective in lowering our planet’s carbon footprint. There are even some oil and gas companies who have pledged to achieve neutrality within the century, and with mechanisms like RECs and carbon offsets, it might be possible for them to achieve net neutrality.
Large-Scale Deployment of Renewable Energy Technologies | Jeff Endler, Energy Analyst
With so many obstacles facing the energy industry today, remaining optimistic about its future can be a challenge of its own. One encouraging trend that continues to move swiftly ahead is the large-scale deployment of renewable energy technologies – chiefly that of solar and wind power – throughout the U.S. The Energy Information Administration anticipates that by next year, renewable energy will provide nearly a quarter of electric generation for the entire country. Additions to solar capacity will include 42 more gigawatts by 2023, with wind adding another 16 gigawatts in capacity by that time as well. As development of additional renewable energy capacity further accelerates, the price per kilowatt-hour for both solar and wind generation is expected to continue declining. Despite a transitory increase in costs due to supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts expect solar prices to fall another 15 percent by 2030 after dropping by 90 percent since the beginning of the 2000s. Costs for on-shore and off-shore wind energy could also decrease 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively, by 2030. While there is still a long road ahead before renewable energy supplants legacy fuels, critical steps are being taken today to accelerate the clean energy transition and usher in a new era of energy generation.
Integration of Renewable Resources into Our Power Grid | Catherine Nisbet, Energy Analyst
I am optimistic about the continued integration of renewable resources into our power grid. Over the past decade, the U.S. has seen renewable power generation steadily increase, accounting for 13 percent of total generation in 2011, and now 20 percent just last year. One state that exemplifies this transition to renewable power generation is California. Earlier this year, the California Independent System Operator announced a record 99.87 percent of their total power demand was served by renewables on an afternoon in late April. This milestone provides a promising example of what is possible for future power grids around the country. Here in New England, there are a considerable number of proposed wind and solar projects that could contribute to our regional power grid in the coming years. Developers are proposing more than 18,000 MW of wind generating capacity in the region, and Independent System Operator for New England (ISO-NE) predicts regional solar PV capacity to more than double in the next 10 years. Given these proposals, I am excited to see our New England resource mix transform over the next decade.
Renewable Energy Market | Hannah Parks, Energy Analyst
Over the past decade, we’ve had the privilege to witness immense expansion in the renewable energy marketplace, with technology becoming more affordable, more efficient, and more accessible. Consumers at the commercial and residential level now have the luxury of choice, with a diversity of technological options to choose from and competitive installer bids. Even during the height of the pandemic, when supply chain constraints and increased shipping costs affected industries around the world, the renewable market remained resilient, with significant growth in the past two years in both solar and wind installed capacity. With states continuing to offer bold incentive programs and imposing stricter Renewable Energy Standards on utilities, organizations in the private sector are eager to continue to build out their renewable portfolios and it is becoming an increasingly viable option for many residential consumers. I’m excited to be working in the energy industry at a time when it is going through such a massive transformation and seeing how many of our clients have prioritized incorporating renewables into their energy suite is so rewarding. Watching the renewable market expand, improve, and strengthen in real time makes me increasingly optimistic for the future of energy!
Photo by Karsten Wurth