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As Utilities Seek to Minimize Wasted Energy, Finding Innovative Uses for Excess Generation is Key

Blue Oak Energy

While much of the energy efficiency attention goes to ensuring that consumers (whether residential, commercial, or industrial) maximize the use of the energy that they consume and minimize waste-- whether through efficient appliances, automation, efficient industrial processes, or otherwise-- much focus in the utility industry also comes to how power plants optimize the energy on the generation side as well. One area where wasted energy peeks into the process is when supply and demand are not in line and storage technologies are either unavailable or inefficient. This typically occurs during daytime hours when consumer demand is somewhat lower and generation (particularly from renewable sources of solar and wind) is higher. Without anywhere for this energy to affordably or efficiently go, too often the solution is curtailment-- which is simply reducing the amount of generation from those sources.

But letting the perfectly good renewable sources go to waste cannot be the best solution, so utilities have been innovating to find great uses for this excess energy generation that optimizes the process, reduces energy waste, and maximizes the profits from generation sources.

Hydrogen fuel production for vehicles

In Washington state, a bipartisan bill was passed just last week that would enable public utility districts to sell and distribute hydrogen fuel. The creation of that hydrogen fuel? Excess renewable energy generation from public utility districts, namely from wind turbines, solar, and hydroelectric resources, would be used to power electrolysis to create hydrogen fuel from water. Such hydrogen fuel is becoming "increasingly popular for powering hydrogen vehicles and U.S. fleets," but additionally it solves the problem of when there's excess energy produced, the current solution is paying people to use the extra energy.

Image result for washington hydrogen fuel production 

Desalination

Another great solution to use up otherwise excess energy is desalination. In areas where water is a scarcer resource but the sun shines brightly and reliably, excess solar generation can be used to power desalination processes and create much-needed water supplies. In late February, for example, Hawaii lawmakers began debating a bill that would "authorize $100 million in special purpose revenue bonds to build and operate solar-powered saltwater desalination plants on Hawaii Island."

Image result for hawaii desalination

Generating hydrogen for home heating

Back to hydrogen, an emerging technology is making headlines recently from Belgium where scientists have announced a new solar panel that makes hydrogen fuel. The technological breakthrough is able to make hydrogen from the moisture in the air and product up to 250 liters of hydrogen gas a day. While still a long way from commercial production, scientists see that the living lab they've created on one home is able to produce enough hydrogen to heat the homes of 39 neighbors, with excess hydrogen being stored and used the following winter-- thus ensuring there's always a use for solar power even if the direct electricity demand is not there at a given moment. 

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