The energy industry is in the midst of a dramatic transformation as it reevaluates and reconfigures the way that it generates, stores, and distributes electrons.
Energy demand worldwide increases by 2% each year as our culture becomes more energy-dependent. Meanwhile, mounting concern over CO2 emissions, fossil fuel usage, and sustainability have made necessary new technologies and renewable energy sources. This movement is shifting energy policies, business models, and distribution structures.
What will the energy landscape of the future look like? We’ve asked energy professionals to share their perspectives and forecasts. We recently reached out to Erik Lensing, business development manager with ComAp, for his thoughts on the future of energy. ComAp designs and manufactures control products for power generation and diesel and gas engines, along with associated accessories and software. Distributed Energy magazine is honored to share Mr. Lensing’s insights here in an effort to initiate conversation and serve as a catalyst for intelligent solutions.
Distributed Energy (DE): What will the energy landscape of the future look like?
Erik Lensing (EL): The energy landscape has, of course, been evolving for some time, and ComAp has been constantly innovating to keep up with the pace of change and bringing technology to market to support these shifts in the power generation space. We see that renewable energy and energy independence are driving distributed generation, demand response, and the adoption of non-traditional energy source to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for environmental, social, and financial benefits.
I believe that the energy production will become continually less centralized, and that energy storage combined with solar- and wind-based production will reduce stresses of the aging infrastructure, transmission, and distribution systems; while at the same time, create a need to properly manage the various power supplies, in terms of grid stability and that of protecting the power supply system as a whole.
We should expect that reliance on internal combustion engines, coal-fired plants, and other high emissions will become reduced as the technologies—primarily in storage—continue to advance in reliability and costs reduce in the supply of such systems. Nevertheless, for our system to retain its reliability in frequency and overall stability, we will see that the traditional sources are still needed for the foreseeable future. By incorporating hybrid systems that improve the conventional diesel and gas engine system efficiencies, and the adoption of “smart” control systems that bridge the renewable systems into the conventional systems, we can reduce the carbon fuel consumption, overall emissions of such systems, and still retain them for the grid stability we have come to expect as standard. We have been integrating through connected devices, the “Internet of Things,” energy costs, wind and solar prediction, and tracking the ability to further enhance the system stability while maximizing the use of available renewable source of electricity.
With decades of experience in purpose-built controls, a mission to be innovative and supply the industry with first-rate control systems, we are dedicated to the continued adoption of energy storage, renewable integration, and maximizing system efficiencies.
DE: What trends are you seeing that indicate that this is the direction the industry will take?
EL: As with all trends, they are always changing. However, I think as we look at the last 10 or 20 years, we can paint a pretty reasonable picture of where we are headed. Oil markets continue to be volatile, threaten national security, and continue to be a major pollutant in our Earth’s atmosphere. With improvements in natural gas exploration and production, the market has really started to move towards the widespread use of this alternate fuel for both costs and harmful emissions. Developments in LNG bunkering, transport, storage, and accessibility have driven traditional diesel engine manufacturers towards the supply of gas-based reciprocating engines in both single and dual or Bi-fuel arrangements. These changes are driven not only by emissions’ constraints on diesel and heavy fuel oils but by the availability of the fuel supply and the significant fuel savings in terms of operating expenses.
Energy storage, mostly in the form and shape of batteries, is significantly changing how we can maximize renewable sources. When solar, wind, and storage are incorporated into a microgrid or to the utility system, they provide our energy infrastructure a significantly improved, unconventional power supply over a single and volatile renewable source.
With ComAp supplying control solutions—which enable dual fuel operation of a diesel asset, gas and cogeneration controls, power and reserve capacity management, mains control, synchronizing, load-sharing, import/export load management, baseload for maximum fuel and thermal efficiencies, and microgrid controls—we cover the full breadth of integration of all of the conventional and renewable energy supplies. We have everything needed to produce system harmony and an unrivaled hybrid and microgrid system.
DE: What policy changes are needed to support this transition?
EL: Most policy and regulation required to support these systems are already adapted to keep these developments and installations moving forward, with one major exception.
The current EPA position on the operation of a diesel engine as a dual fuel system is overly restrictive to the broad adoption of the use of natural gas in a diesel engine. As dual fuel technologies blend the benefits of both a diesel engine and a gas engine, they are still regarded as a compression engine. When a diesel engine runs a blend of natural gas and diesel, the majority of the emissions’ constituents are reduced. However, the gas combustion process increases the emission of CH4 hydrocarbons and CO. While these two are undesirable, they are a trade-off in the diesel consumption reduction and diesel emission reductions. Additional catalysts are typically added to control these; however, it is an unequal standard. A common-sense approach that understands the diesel emission reduction value and sets a reasonable expectation for the dual fuel operation, where the total HC and CO limits are in between the gas and diesel limits per kilowatt or horsepower rating, would greatly improve the acceptance and adoption of the dual fuel technologies. In doing so, we can further reduce the consumption of diesel-based fuels and use the lower-cost and more environmentally responsible natural and petroleum gases.
We do need to be thoroughly environmentally conscious and make certain that all of our efforts to reduce emissions are balanced to total environmental, social, and socio-economic impacts and burdens. All energy sources have “evils”—be it from mining precious and heavy metals for nuclear technology and batteries, half-life of waste and by-products, emissions, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, etc. We must fight to strike a balance, and use the most efficient systems available.
ComAp has supplied InteliBifuel control solutions to well over 1,000 engines in the last several decades to reduce diesel consumption and reliance on fuel storage. These systems provide reduced total cost of ownership and lowered operational costs without jeopardizing the engine life or grid stability, as well as social, economic, and environmental positives. A common-sense emissions control and set of standard regulations for this technology is a good thing, as it is important to the goals of reducing our reliance on diesel and crude oil in our nation—and globally.