Earth Notes: WIRED Energy Conference (2017)
Today (2017/10/12) I have come to WIRED Energy 2017. What is new and hip in energy and sustainability?
There was a networking area with stands for interesting energy companies. There were start-ups such as OpenTRV's old friends including LightFi. A side stage hosted interesting talks of which I watched two. There was also a main 'keynote' stage.
Keynote Stage Talks
I attended most of the talks at the main stage two floors down in the bowels of Kings Place.
Lawrence Orsini, Brooklyn Microgrid, LO3 Energy: new ways for end users to interact with energy supply. Brooklyn (NYC) microgrids. One entirely virtual, and one able to separate from the main grid. But hampered by agreement with the fire department about installing batteries in homes...
Inna Braverman, Eco Wave Power: wave energy. 1$/W CAPEX. CEO's personal impetus was her flirtation with death as a Ukrainian baby. She suffered directly from Chernobyl. "Passion is the greatest renewable energy source!"
Nina Bhatia of Centrica Connected Home in conversation... Set up her home for comfort and security/assurance rather than energy saving. Says Hive customers have difficulty with clicky-clicky buttons and menus. Says setting the schedule most important thing to get right for them. Bringing out a water leak detector product soon. Building business around hardware, software, and services. BoilerIQ means a visit can be planned before failure, with the three most likely needed parts on the van. That saves OPEX, and customers' time off work. Hive has integrated with Alexa. Customers are interested in avoiding waste of time and money.
Ron Bakker of PLP. Getting buildings to use less energy, while delivering on their main purpose of gathering and sheltering people to talk/meet/work/etc. No energy for heating or cooling in new "The Edge" (Deloitte) building, with 130m-deep aquifer as energy store. Including full hot-desking to maximise space and other efficiency. 3:1 people to space because staff mostly out with clients. (Also generates some power from PV, while being structured to make best use of natural light directly.) Building infused with 30,000 sensors. Radiant heating and cooling to change local temperature without having to heat/cool the air. Building is aware of users' diaries. Still not clear who owns the sensor data: the people, the building owner, the occupier company? Real estate business still sees buildings as m^2 and costs, rather than a services for clients. Thinking about 'quality' issues, and major tall wood builds to sequester CO2.
Kevin Jones of Airbus talking about cybersecurity. Particularly Airbus' production lines which he helps protect. Much in common with protecting infrastructure such as the electricity grid, including from espionage. The Ukraine grid attacks in 2015 and 2016 were real. Outlined Industroyer/CrashOverride malware, available fairly widely. Mentioned Showdown that lists vulnerable accessible infrastructure. "Security is a team sport."
Marjan van Aubel, Caventou, designer of 'extreme efficiency' integration of solar power technology into everyday objects. Wants to make people think differently about solar, integrated. Coloured glass surfaces previously just for aesthetics, can now gain an extra function: energy harvesting. Eg a table gathering energy to charge batteries and phones. Achieve desirability and function together!
Joanna Hubbard, Electron: "Blockchain in Energy - hype and opportunities". Energy tech: #entech? Market is iterating through Bitcoin, Ethereum, P2P, etc, etc. But the important element is distributed coordination. For example, for demand response and flexibility, making multilateral (multi-party) fine-grained transactions possible. Liquidity and lowered costs, yes please. My City friends love this type of friction reduction; everyone wins. An eBay for energy minus the central party scraping its profit margin.
Rob Doepel, head of energy UK&I, EY. 50+ active energy retailers in UK. (Though 80%+ of market still with biggest three suppliers, over 50% of population still never switched?) So some good competition, but what is Australia doing better for example? In retail, for high-energy users, pay a monthly fee to access wholesale market, plus solar PV and battery sold back to the capacity market. Rob expects much more market segmentation. Maybe EV will be the tipping point that allows utilities to sell a service, rather than just commodity energy. Says UK is seen as a bastion of reliable, affordable, and now green energy. Would want to keep green incentives to keep the UK market attractive.
Hugo Spowers, Riversimple. (Has Tesla got it wrong?) Riversimple's goal (mems&arts) is to eliminate environmental costs of personal transport. There is a role for battery vehicles. Batteries are heavy, particularly for long distance. Riversimple works with hydrogen, and their vehicle is the "Rasa" with a fuel cell. Highly energy efficient. Typical car engine sized for peak power, only used a fraction of the time, thus generally over-specced and over-engineered and over-heavy. Rasa optimises for cruise speed instead. Riversimple is trying to make efficiency profitable, and align interests of user and manufacturer. Selling mobility as a service, including fuel (and maintenance). The car is not sold. Currently 17 hydrogen filling stations in UK; 300+ needed to be generally viable. Rasa is designed for local use to skirt this issue. Has 300 mile range with the expectation of a full-up once per week from a filling station within 25 miles of the user's base/home. China may lead the way with hydrogen cars.
Yet-Ming Chiang, MIT. Li-ion battery is 25 layers per mm, complex and space-inefficient. $500m+ to get into Li-ion battery manufacturer game, maybe 10x that to win. Key innovation semi-solid electrode. Part of tech to reduce number of layers 5x, and much faster, and thus cheaper to make (target well under USD50/kWh). (And safer too; less fragile, fewer fires after physical insults.) Should be able to compete with gas peakers when fed by abundant local renewables, but not 'baseload'. What about sulphur? Plenty of it around, and cheaper than everything else per unit of charge stored by an order of magnitude at least. (See cell.com/joule article published today.) Air-breathing aqueous (+sodium) flow battery, USD1/kWh estimated. 500x energy density of pumped hydro. Baseload Renewables is the new company. Stretches to seasonal storage requirements.
Sonja Chirico Indrebø, Statoil. Offshore floating wind. World's first floating turbine being turned on next week, outside Peterhead. Statoil understands how things work offshore, eg corrosion. Wind has a steep experience cost curve. Reaching grid parity in recent auctions. There are good potential floating wind areas around Japan, North Sea, US west coast and north east. Hywind project. First demonstrator floating turbine has been pushing energy to the grid since 2009. Stability helped by software adjusting blades. Better performing than comparable fixed/stationary install with the same turbine. 2018 Batwind project combined with batteries, helps grid and value of energy when instantaneous wind energy oversupplied. Stationary turbines are bespoke. Floating can be mass-produced. Sonja said that "A wind farm the size of India in the Atlantic could power the world." (I think that such a farm should be combined with an interconnector to Europe.) Also, at a cost, these turbines can be moved, which opens up some interesting possibilities.
Showcase Stage Talks
The two talks that I saw were from Upside and Oxford PV.
Graham Oakes, Founder and Chief Scientist of Upside gave us a brief and clear tour of why their tech exists and what it does. It's good to know that Upside is doing well and getting supported and funded properly. It even has revenue, aiming to help balance the grid with virtual power plant aggregated from batteries, generators, UPSes, etc.
Frank Averdung, CEO of Oxford PV showed us that (unconcentrated) silicon PV performance has plateaued after decades of development. But the new kid on the block, perovskite, has come from nowhere in only a few years and is already matching crystalline Si in area efficiency for example. He also described Oxford PV's emerging product, with perovskite layered on silicon, achieving an aggregate efficiency of ~30%. He rightly points out that where space is limited such as an urban house roof, that extra output from the available space can be valuable.