2019 Energy Trends: Answers from Cleantech Innovation Leaders

At the 2019 Cleantech Forum San Francisco, we launched this year’s Global Cleantech 100 Report; an assessment of the companies most likely to make a significant market impact within the next five to ten years. Forty companies in the Energy & Power sector featured on the list. And, last year investment into this sector reached $3.4 billion across 378 equity deals, $900 million more than 2017.

We sat down with two of the 2019 Global Cleantech 100 companies, GreenSync and FreeWire Technologies to see what trends could play a role in the future.

Designed to tap into multiple grid edge assets, 2019 Global Cleantech 100 debutant, Australia-based GreenSync is addressing the transition to a grid system, where millions of energy users participate in an energy marketplace, deX. The company works with utilities to integrate and manage the growing number of distributed energy resources (DER) being connected into existing grids.

Two-time Global Cleantech 100 company, FreeWire Technologies builds modular and distributed power systems coupled with energy storage to enable infrastructure-light ultrafast EV charging, along with an energy management platform to manage power draw from the grid.

Energy Storage continuing to build momentum in 2019

Over the next few years, a range of technological improvements and operational scaling efforts will take place, supporting the aggressive deployment of energy storage assets. Project economics are improving year-on-year, and from an investor’s perspective, soon it will be economically viable to put low-risk dollars into behind-the-meter solar and storage.

FreeWire believes investment will transition from the core technology towards deployment, and imagines 2019 will see huge private equity funding rounds in companies deploying behind-the-meter energy storage. 2019 could be an exciting year for non-liquid lithium technology, especially in the seasonal storage and electric vehicles applications. Emerging solid-state battery developers and manufacturers are increasing commercialization efforts with investment backing, ultracapacitor players are being acquired by large players such as Tesla (they acquired Maxwell Technologies this February), and thermal and hydrogen solutions are gaining favor to fill the void for seasonal storage.

Australia as a testing ground
Behind-the-meter PV in Australia
Figure 2 Shows the cumulative Australian behind-the-meter PV capacity, courtesy of BloombergNEF.

Australia operates within a fully liberalized market and is experiencing a surge in residential, commercial and industrial solar. Transactive energy business model experimentation is underway by players including Enbala and GreenSync. The growth of renewables is being managed through marketplaces, virtual power plants and other software layers across DER assets, and new value is being realized through system-wide optimization.

In 2019, GreenSync believes that grid flexibility will become more prevalent in regions where older generation assets are shutting down, and where renewable uptake is high. Over the next few years, there will be a much higher penetration of DER marketplace platforms across deregulated markets, in order to optimize the energy data flow. Areas with vertically integrated markets will find alternative routes to managing DER. For these, achieving the right political drive to push utilities to innovate will be the key challenge, and mandates will be a key driving force.

Recent heatwaves that hit Australia over summer triggered significant supply shortages and network failures, with a number of ageing coal generators offline or failing during the time of peak temperatures and demand. On one of these days a total of 200,000 homes were affected by rolling blackouts. With old coal-fired power plants closing more frequently, GreenSync believes that renewable energy penetration will grow throughout 2019/2020, while it will become more likely for coal plants to drop below operational cost viability.

EV fleets (and their batteries) hit the streets

The global fleet of electric vehicles is likely to reach 13 million by the end of the decade. FreeWire believes that, while there will not be major spike in 2019 for passenger vehicles, vehicle fleet providers who are at the end of their current purchasing cycles will be buying EVs en masse in order to avoid any upcoming  fines for breaching emissions’ regulations that could come back before their next purchasing cycle. In the UK, the Optimize Prime EV trial will see 3000 electric vans rolled out mid-year, which will be put to the test by Centrica, Uber and Royal Mail. Logistics providers including DHL and UPS have already been rolling out EV fleets en masse. Furthermore, in many Chinese and European cities, there is a huge drive to deploy EV buses onto streets.

Operational changes ahead

To the grid, one EV looks like half a house, and dealing with the increased level of activity will have to be something the operators are ready to manage. Smart grid hardware upgrades, asset management software layers and innovative technologies at both the transmission and distribution level, will become paramount.

We will be speaking to a range of other innovative companies across other parts of the energy landscape to highlight some of the other key trends and topics, stay tuned!