Infrastructure is not a short-term investment. Once installed, these critical systems have to remain useful for at least 20 years. Public utilities looking to invest in solar power and other renewable energy systems face pressure to ensure that these systems are cost-effective and meet the energy demand.
As the cost of solar power has come down considerably, and more public utilities seek to incorporate it into their energy mix, infrastructure is where we will see the next phase of technological development. For investors, this presents a powerful opportunity to back the solutions that will transform the energy industry over the next decade.
The next phase of investment
In reality, energy generation only accounts for 35 percent of a utility’s costs, be that from solar power, wind power or natural gas. The bulk of utility costs come from operating and maintaining the underlying distribution infrastructure. Even the most efficient energy generation methods will result in excessive costs if the distribution infrastructure fails or functions incorrectly. For newer systems to be installed effectively on a large-scale, it is not enough to simply shoehorn them into old structures.
The state of solar power today demonstrates this phenomenon. As it stands, solar photovoltaic (PV) hardware is more affordable than ever, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Yet, high prices are still cited by public utilities as a deterrent towards solar power on a large scale.
In my career providing clean energy solutions at Clear Blue Technologies and other companies, I have seen this first-hand. Governments jump at the chance to incorporate solar power without a long-term plan, only to see their high utility bills get even higher, and then conclude that solar power is to blame. But utility costs of solar power are comparable to other energy generation methods. The real added costs to a utility bill for either a city or a consumer come from operational and maintenance issues of their distribution infrastructure’s patchwork of improvements, not the inclusion of alternative energy generation.
Alleviating the high costs of building and maintaining a distributed infrastructure strategy, just to get energy to where you use it, is the next wave of energy development and investment. In the past decade, technological advancements in wireless systems, big data, cloud technology, the Internet of Things (IOT) and battery storage have brought new solutions that can be incorporated into an infrastructure strategy that enhances the hidden cost benefits of localized solar, wind and hybrid power.
Here are some of the biggest technological shifts for solar power infrastructure over the next decade.
New batteries for a new frontier
Advanced battery technology will make both large-and-small-scale storage of electricity from renewable sources a reality.