In light of last month’s UN Climate Conference in New York there are certain things we’d like to address. Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech called out international leaders for their weakness in dealing with the Climate Crisis. For those of us working daily with facilitating the transition toward a greener economy we find her bravery truly encouraging, not least the global movement she has inspired. Unfortunately, the subsequent pledges made by leaders at the summit did not live up to expectations. Once again, they were predictably underwhelming. The announced efforts are clearly inadequate to address the climate challenge our civilization now faces. At the same time there is great hesitation amongst global leaders to take the necessary steps for instigating the profound changes needed. Political calculations for driving forward climate action is being weighed against options of doing nothing or merely conducting superficial policy makeovers. Despite vast scientific consensus on the dire consequences of continuing to emit at current pace, the fact of the matter is that we are, simply put, struggling with climate inaction–as we have been over the past thirty years.
One of the pivotal moments in Thunberg’s speech was her point about the folly of countries tying their fortunes to the measure of GDP and perpetuating economic growth rates. Indeed, economic growth has no real virtue if it’s not gauged against its cost. But furthering economic development and growth does not need to come at the expense of the environment and climate. What we need now is quick transition towards “smart growth” driven by technological solutions that we have available today. It is no longer a question of waiting for the right technology to materialize or more research to be done. It’s about the willingness to employ capital, resources and manpower to scale up solutions that have real impact. Governments, investors and corporations possess this capability. However, it should be the market that determines the winners and losers. Winners will be defined by their ability to differentiate through green technology adoption enabling them to reach carbon neutrality. “Going green” is a competitive advantage for attaining profitability and long-term business sustainability.
The science on Climate Change is crystal clear. The question now is how best to deal with this crisis and what actions need to be taken in order to circumvent disaster. Some hold our basic economic model, market capitalism, to blame for the situation we are finding ourselves in–and that this model is inimical to saving the planet. Market failures, overexploitation of natural resources, not to mention failure to internalize the real costs of pollution are claimed to be resultant outcomes. Although there are countless variants of capitalist systems around the world, many of which have fostered greed or hazardous market behavior. In our view market capitalism has accelerated human and technological development previously unseen in any period of human history. More crucially it has served the strongest, most intrinsic force there is: the exchange of ideas, human capital, goods, resources and perhaps most importantly, knowledge. What we need right now is a collective sense of commitment and urgency to propel real action. In no other arena can this happen more effectively–or disseminate faster–than where it is in fact market driven. Now that the world desperately needs to spend trillions on transitioning to greener, more efficient and sustainable ways of preserving life, we need to leverage the efficiencies of the market to make that a reality.
Businesses are implementing sustainability and environmental compliance measures like never before. Within few years noticeably “all” corporates have established strategies incorporating sustainability into their baseline. However, real change cannot be obtained if operating conditions do not change on the ground. Industrial manufacturers are still widely exempt from fuel taxes and carbon levies or enjoy strong subsidies from their states. They therefore have little incentive to alter their business or production methods. Carbon price increases are starting to take a toll on company bottom lines, yet evidently more is needed to tip the scale. The measures, incentives and rewards for adopting environmental technologies as it stands today are still far too weak and fragmented. Governments and legislators need to bring out more targeted firepower to facilitate real change within their industries. The cost of transition must be borne by corporations, the public sector and other stakeholders alike without skewing fundamental market mechanisms.
Bill Gates recently made a very valid point: Divesting from energy companies with high carbon footprints is not going to reduce CO2 emissions–we must place investments where they matter–forging way for new, greener technologies to disrupt the energy system and enabling these to scale. However, we need risk-takers from the whole spectrum, not just governments and institutional players. Increasingly it appears that leading investors, portfolio managers and investment banks deem not having green companies in their portfolio a to be liability and competitive disadvantage. Recent economic research has shown that climate and environmental concerns positively impacts investor expectations, capital allocations, and consequently pricing and returns. More importantly decarbonized portfolios perform better overall. Yet too many economies have charged critical financing tasks to semi-governmental investment funds with half-baked mandates to ferry promising companies across the “valley of death” into market. Many of which neither possess the required technical knowledge or market insights. Clearly, combinations of both public and private equity are required for de-risking and scaling up green technology successfully.
We can enact change if there’s will, know-how and ingenuity–but the time to act is now. Tremendous achievements have been made in deploying zero emission systems like solar and wind over the last decades. Renewable power is poised to become cheaper than fossil-fuel based, outcompeting these in already many markets. But curbing emissions in the power sector is just one side of the equation. Electrification of industry and minimizing fossil fuel consumption in manufacturing is equally critical. For sustainable development to accelerate, the pricing of carbon needs to reflect the real cost of polluting. There are already available technological solutions in the market with vast decarbonization potentials. Some corporates are indeed ahead of the curve in investing in these technologies, yet too many choose to “sit on the fence”. With no real pressure to reform there is little incentive to act. But we cannot rely solely on regulating our way to a carbon neutral world. Reaching ambitious emission targets will remain elusive unless we make the hard choices for implementing the required means. This generation-defining challenge demands participation, cooperation and buy-in from all actors. We need politicians and lawmakers, entrepreneurs and industrialists, social campaigners and green activists, and yes–even the traders on the floors of stock exchanges across the globe. Only then can we tackle the Climate challenge within this very short time.
The recent UN climate summit in New York revealed huge gaps between lacking climate actions on one hand and demands for change by the youth on the other. This is quite puzzling because technologies to bring us to a completely new level of energy efficiency already exist in today’s world. One example of a leading initiative is the Dutch Sloecentrale power plant.
The context is simple: Increasing power generation from wind and solar is a priority for reducing carbon emissions from the energy sector. This will only be a success though when these renewable energy sources can be effectively integrated in our power grids. This means that thermal power plants providing baseload power need to strengthen their role more towards even more reliable and highly effective peaking power providers. And this is where EnergyNest’s Thermal Battery™ paves the way.
Sloecentrale combined cycle power plant (CCPP) explores the flexibilization of its power generation by using the EnergyNest Thermal Battery™. Objective in technical terms is to realize unprecedented low part-loads without any dumping of steam as well as additional peak-load capacity at zero marginal cost. In practical terms this means that the Thermal Battery will deliver needed flexibility to allow more renewable electricity into the grid while providing reliable super-peaking capacity when electricity demand is high, renewables are not able to deliver due to weather conditions or a combination of the two. In essence the such ultra-flexible CCPPs will guarantee and secure power grid stability. Martin Jongepier, Sloecentrale Plant Manager: “By developing this solution we will turn Sloecentrale into the most flexible, efficient and consequently profitable plant in Europe.”
In the power grid of the future, CCPPs will offer this flexibility and efficiency with the EnergyNest Thermal Battery™, independent of what the fuels of the future will be, Hydrogen or any other renewable fuel, in a fully decarbonized world.
Electrical energy storage systems claim to have the edge, but are they actually addressing the “elephant in the room”? Securing stable, cost-efficient energy for the manufacturing industry and flexibilizing power generation will be key for accommodating the rising tide of renewables and ultimately combatting climate change.
How often have you heard that energy storage will be the key technology for enabling the ongoing energy transition? Quite often we suppose. How often have you heard that electrical battery storage systems such as Lithium-ion, Lead acid-, Sodium and Flow batteries will lead this charge? Equally often we presume.
The burgeoning energy storage market no doubt represents a huge opportunity for investors, industry, power sector and the like, but so far, the spread of energy storage technology has primarily been concentrated in communication technologies, mobility and transportation sector. Electrical battery storage systems used to service the power grid, which in fact provides power to electric vehicles, is still relatively minor comparatively (4 GW global installed capacity excluding Pumped hydro in 2018) – but expected to incur strong growth over the coming years (IEA forecast 106 GW installed global capacity by 2030)*. Still high capital costs constitute a factor hampering widespread dissemination despite significant cost reductions over the last decade. Moreover, their usage is currently limited to short-term storage for the provision of primary and ancillary services for example as frequency regulation and voltage support for the grid. The market value of battery energy storage systems was estimated at just below USD 2 billion in 2018 but is expected to surge at a CAGR of 33,9% reaching a market value of USD 8,54 billion by 2023 p.a.**. Other studies show the market value by 2024 could in fact reach USD 14 billion p.a.***. The cumulative market for batteries in the period 2020-2030 could total as much as EUR 89 billion≠. Sizeable indeed.
So, what is the “elephant” we are referring to? A recent study EnergyNest conducted with Aurora Energy Research resulted in some very interesting findings: the potential for storing high temperature heat in Thermal Batteries represents a cumulative global market opportunity over EUR 300 billion by 2030, more than 3 times the total market for utility scale electrical batteries. More importantly, Thermal Batteries will have a crucial impact on decarbonizing cornerstone industrial sectors such as Chemicals, Petrochemicals, Food & Beverages, Textiles, Metals, Minerals, etc. by means of a) making electrification cheaper by taking advantage of increase low price periods, b) making electrification cleaner by increase the share of renewable power, and c) increasing energy efficiency within existing processes through waste heat recovery. The industrial sector alone accounts for two-thirds of this market opportunity by 2030 – electrification of manufacturing and waste-heat-recovery combined.
Let’s have a closer look at this tremendous industrial lever that can be lifted. The above-mentioned energy-intensive industries require large quantities of high temperature heat in their manufacturing process. Vast quantities of waste heat can rather be recovered, stored and brought back into processes, or used to generate electricity, thereby reducing fossil energy consumption and CO2 footprint. Furthermore, innovation-focused companies are increasingly looking to rely partly or entirely on renewable-based energy for powering their manufacturing activities and reducing the cost impact of carbon. But the increased proliferation of renewables, along with their inherent intermittency, will equally result in increased price volatility in power markets. EnergyNest provides eco-conscious companies for example in the Food & Beverages industry, the tech-means to convert low-priced renewable electricity into process steam that is stored and dispatched when required, or when electricity prices are high. Steam from fossil sources is likely to get increasingly expensive due to rising carbon and gas prices. Germany, for instance, is a heavily industrialized country with the second highest electricity prices for end-consumer world-wide. Consequently, enabling companies to benefit from falling cost of power from renewables and insulating companies from increasing price volatilities to trigger industrial scale transition toward green energy will become an industry trend where significant value can be achieved. And on another, yet directly connected note: you must admit, “green beer” does sound a lot better, doesn’t it?
And let’s not forget thermal power: Power generation across the globe is still predominantly thermal. The ability to flexibly follow real-time load demands and avoid costly ramping in volatile generation scenarios doesn’t just save money or allow plants to provide additional services to the power grid, but also reduces their impact on the environment. This is not an argument to keep coal alive. Quite the opposite, it is an opportunity for low-carbon sources like Natural gas, Biomass and Energy from Waste plants to provide the much-needed balancing of renewables while coal is being phased out. This constitutes another EUR 100 bn. opportunity in addition to industry for Thermal Batteries.
Ultimately, the potential thermal storage market is forecasted to be a significantly larger than the much “hyped” electrical batteries by 2030, yet paradoxically thermal storage solutions seem largely to have been overlooked until now. Moreover, with a levelized cost of storage down to 1,5 €¢/kWh for Thermal Batteries at present, constituting a 10-fold cost reduction compared to state-of-the-art electrical battery systems on the market° – our common approach needs rethinking. Clearly, electrical batteries play an important role, but if deep and systematic decarbonization of our energy and manufacturing systems are to become a reality, and the environmental targets we have set achievable – we need to start applying the solutions that will in fact make the biggest impact.
*** Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewable’s report. “Global Energy Storage Outlook 2019: 2018 Year in Review and Outlook to 2024”.
≠ Aurora Energy Research 2019
° Lazard LCOS V4.0: Unsubsidized LCOS $/MWh In-front-of-the-meter, Wholesale