Now the energy industry has turned its face to the sun and wind, and is embracing alternatives to fossil fuels, what’s next for renewables?
We spoke to two alumni and a current Cambridge MBA candidate about their experience with alternative energies and their predictions for trends to watch.
Thomas Grant (MBA 2014), co-founder of Cambridge Energy Partners.
Cambridge Energy Partners is a solar energy company which has developed the world’s first all-in-one solar generator that is modular, mobile, and tracks the sun, offering even remote locations cost-effective and low-risk solar power.
For Thomas, energy trends to watch, for entrepreneurs especially, are:
Re-deployability allied to emerging economies. Solar and wind energies are set to be big in developing economies. They are the ultimate wireless technologies and are likely to mirror telecoms like mobile and wireless, which have been an enormous success in these economies. It’s a growing trend to finance small generative units in places like Africa, but the re-deployability of the assets is key for cash-strapped emerging economies. The opportunities lie in getting renewable energy into remote areas via special re-deployable equipment that can be moved on to another site when the need arises.
Rental fleets. These allow customers to rent infrastructure instead of having to fund the up-front cost of buying it. This asset-as-a-service, or ‘power by the hour’, model is set to grow and could be especially attractive to emerging economies.
Bi-facial solar panels. These are being developed to produce energy from both front and back and will increase panel output by 30 per cent, especially when used with trackers. This is very new – they have only gone into production this year (2018) but they are set to transform the industry.
Gunnar Herzig (MBA 2015), founder of CLIFI.
CLIFI is a financial advisory firm specialising in investment opportunities in offshore wind energy.
Gunnar’s trends to keep an eye on are:
Offshore wind investment opportunities. There is substantial and growing interest in this form of energy among institutional investors and this means there are opportunities in the finance advisory space. These institutions have deep pockets but are not so knowledgeable about the industry yet, so they need help to make the right investments. Many are looking to ally with the big utilities who can’t fund from the balance sheet and are seeking co-investors. Over the past five years this trend has been developing and is set to keep on growing.
Technology/market match. Returns from onshore wind and photovoltaic have reduced in the more mature markets like the UK, Denmark, Germany and Holland. So investors have two choices – they can either look at traditional established technologies like onshore wind and solar in new, emerging markets, or they can consider less traditional technologies such as offshore wind in the established European markets.
Floating foundation offshore wind. An exciting new development to watch. Instead of bottom-fixed foundations, floating foundations support turbines via mooring lines connected to the seabed. This means they are independent of water depth – currently a limiting factor for conventional foundations. Deep-water coastal regions like the US west coast, Japan, Portugal and Spain, will be able to take advantage of floating foundation offshore wind. There are lots of opportunities here for entrepreneurs – especially those with an engineering background.
Tadashi Kubo, current MBA student.
Tadashi is getting ready for the post-MBA launch of H24E Innova – a power generating and storage system which uses a patented ultra-short pulse laser (USPL) to split water and seawater into hydrogen and oxygen to generate and store renewable electricity.
Tadashi’s trend tips centre on hydrogen:
Hydrogen is the renewable of the future. It is superior to battery life as hydrogen energy density is higher than battery – it allows cars a range of around 500 kilometres where batteries can only give 100-200 kilometres before they need recharging. Charging time is also a lot faster, less than five minutes, while charging batteries takes hours. Toyota has already commercialised hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, called Mirai, from 2014. H2-powered vehicles can complement electric vehicles to achieve a broad decarbonization of the transport industry.
Hydrogen storage. Hydrogen is very scalable, and storage can be less expensive than for batteries. However effective storage is not easy so there are entrepreneurial opportunities in developing ideas for this. Storage of the excess power generated by renewables is a big trend too – using hydrogen storage to balance out supply and demand makes sense so this could be big. The UK, Germany, Japan, China, South Korea, and the USA are the main countries looking at investing in hydrogen development.
Hydrogen-powered drones. The range of drones is currently limited by battery power. With hydrogen power they would have a much longer range – two to three hours flying time – and this could be a game-changer for the delivery industry, surveillance, inspections, and for large farming operations. Hydrogen is especially suitable for vehicles with higher frequency usage with little downtime, such as in fork-lifts, boats and ships, trucks, drones, trains, and more. Amazon is already using hydrogen for its forklifts in its enormous warehouses so a big corporate move to hydrogen could be revolutionary in coming years.
In a power-hungry but carbon-weary world, the opportunities in the renewable energy sector are only set to keep on coming, and for entrepreneurs it’s an exciting time to make a difference to the world.