Thank you for sending me so many nominations for this list! Given the proliferation of innovation in DERs, it’s no surprise that I received many times more than I could include. Narrowing the list to 10 was painful. I gravitated toward projects that were grand in scale, unusual, challenging, focused on equity or could herald significant change.
We’ll follow these projects and many other nominations throughout the year, so stay tuned.
This year’s list focused on our core EnergyChangemakers.com topics: distributed generation, energy efficiency, energy storage, EVs and virtual power plants.
Distributed energy allows us to rethink energy wealth and place more of it in the hands of individuals and communities. The Living EmPower House, a multi-family, multi-use green community in Santa Ana, California, transforms tenants into prosumers participating in a transactive energy program that applies energy savings to reduce rent. The project has won funding from California’s EPIC program.
The military is the US’ largest energy user, so it’s always looking for technologies that can create greater efficiency and lower emissions. But good technology only gets you so far. The right business model is crucial to create scale. The energy-as-a-service model has encouraged businesses and institutions to pursue clean energy because it spares building owners from capital investment and operation and maintenance costs. Now, for the first time, the US government will try energy-as-a-service through a $10 million Air Force contract with Massachusetts-based Ameresco.
Wireless EV chargers may not be as efficient as plugs. But when embedded in roads and parking spaces, they can offer EVs an extra boost, extending range, reducing recharge time, and perhaps eventually allowing for smaller truck batteries. Several states are testing the technology. Pennsylvania sees it as a possible source of revenue.
We can list the practical reasons for EV ownership until the cows come home. But Americans want to fall in love with their cars. Witness the buzz over Volkswagen’s decision to resurrect its iconic hippie bus. Or consider the quick uptake of the Ford F-150 Lightning, which clearly was about more than its V2G capabilities. So Ontario-based Arc Motor Company is on to something. The start-up is converting classic cars into EVs, beginning with the beloved 1974 Ford Bronco.
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Either virtual power plants (VPPs) are inevitable or we are dumb. Today’s proliferation of solar panels, batteries, EVs, smart thermostats, and other distributed energy resources beg for aggregation. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) plans to combine 510 MW of otherwise scattered consumer energy generation and storage into a VPP, including rooftop solar, car batteries, pool pumps and hot water systems.
This project promises scale, VPP adoption, and attention to low-income communities. With a $3 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy — the agency’s largest yet for solar and first for virtual power — Sunnova plans to install 568 MW of rooftop solar, battery storage, and VPP software to serve 75,000 to 115,000 households. Project Hestia focuses on households in disadvantaged communities across the US, including in Puerto Rico. At least 20% of loans will go to customers with FICO credit scores of 680 or less.
Google’s Nest Renew service and OhmConnect have formed a new company, Renew Home, to build virtual power plants with home devices, backed by $100 million from Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners.
How do you manage the proliferation of distributed energy resources so that they are used to their maximum and provide homeowners, businesses and communities with fair compensation? Maine is taking a page from wholesale market management and applying it to distributed energy as it takes the first tentative steps toward creating a DSO. It may become the first US state to adopt the model.
This isn’t exactly one project to watch, but one state. New York is all in on community solar, so much so that it is the top community solar market in the country with 2 GW, part of 5 GW of distributed solar across the state, with a goal of 10 GW by 2030. The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority is currently accepting applications for its Inclusive Community Solar program.
In the US, energy innovation tends to center along the coasts, most notably California and the Northeast, so kudos to CPower for its work advocating for more favorable policies in the middle of the country, including recently in Missouri. Again, this is not a project per se but an effort likely to lead to many.
“In 2024 we’re likely to see a domino effect of states in the West and Midwest beginning to allow VPP providers to participate in wholesale markets. This will be driven by growing energy reliability concerns, and regulators’ desire to give customers the ability to benefit from the massive innovation that is happening with VPPs in other parts of the U.S. The approaching deadline for FERC Order 2222 compliance and the examples set by Michigan and Missouri to open their markets to VPP providers are also driving states to revisit exclusively relying upon utilities to develop VPPs. Indiana and Colorado are likely to be the next states to pass policies to this effect: Indiana will be able to better leverage its strong manufacturing base; Colorado will be able to tap into its rapid growth in distributed solar,” said Kenneth Schisler, CPower’s senior vice president, regulatory & government affairs.
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