Slowly but surely, the world is finding ways to become more energy efficient. From smart metering to the expanding presence of solar photovoltaic power, here are six energy solution trends that are helping businesses, municipalities and consumers pave the way to a cleaner, greener and more efficient future.
The growth of the solar energy market is allowing businesses to budget and plan for the future.
As installation prices drop, solar shows no signs of slowing. While the bulk of installations are residential, solar continues to rapidly expand beyond the residential market. The number of commercial installations was at its second highest in 2018, with 1,144 megawatts in capacity installed.
The total installed solar capacity in the United States is increasing exponentially and is expected to double by 2021, with cumulative deployment surpassing 100 gigawatts. By the end of 2020, the Energy Information Administration expects 24 gigawatts of solar to be installed, surpassing the growth record set in 2016. The boom is driven in part by lower costs and increased efficiency. While the very first PV cells were approximately 14 percent efficient, PV cells today can achieve up to 30 percent efficiency, delivering better payback for commercial applications.
For commercial clients, installing solar does more than benefit the bottom line. With more than 250,000 Americans working in solar according to the National 2019 National Solar Jobs Census, including Americans in every state, solar serves as a major job creator, improves corporate identity, and is good for the planet, to boot.
Smart buildings leverage automation and IoT technologies to save energy. Advanced lighting controls, also known as networked lighting controls, are playing an increasingly important role. They allow a building owner to conserve energy by programming and controlling lighting fixtures through mobile applications or web-based user interfaces. They’re made possible in large part by sensors mounted in luminaires, or connected to them, which provide all manner of data, including data on light level, room occupancy and vacancy.
Advanced lighting controls enable daylight harvesting, automatic load shedding during times of peak demand, time scheduling and task tuning, sometimes called high-end trim, in which the level of light emitted is adjusted depending on how a workspace is used.
Smart lighting systems are being used in even more novel ways, including for asset tracking. For example, hospitals are experimenting with using network-connected chips in luminaires to keep track of portable equipment, from blood pressure monitors to wheelchairs, fitted with radio tags. Sensors in lights are also providing data on space usage, which is valuable for office layout planning.
Keep track of your energy consumption by relying on smart meters for concurrent data and notifications.
By giving building owners and residents access to the same real-time usage information that’s wirelessly transmitted to energy providers, smart meters can help them make decisions that save money and energy. But smart meters go far beyond gas and electric meters.
Smart buildings rely on smart meters. Deployed throughout a building and connected to advanced lighting controls, they provide data on all manner of environmental conditions, such as temperature, relative humidity and even the number of times the air moves in and out of room — useful for operating rooms, for example. Data collected from smart meters is even helping manufacturers identify and optimize inefficient operations and production lines.
According to a 2020 report published by Wood McKenzie Power & Renewables, the global investment in smart meter solutions over the next five years is forecasted to top $300 billion as 300 million new smart meters are installed and brought online.
The adoption of smart streetlights can reduce energy costs while improving public safety and efficiently managing electricity.
Cities across the United States are replacing incandescent streetlights with LEDs to save energy. As they make those upgrades, they are adding technology, including connected sensors. These allow officials to control the brightness, dimming the lights when less illumination is needed. They improve public safety by alerting officials when a light is out and helping them better allocate lighting.
Image, sound and other sensors in lights, along with cameras, also help cities improve public safety and public health in other ways. They can measure snow accumulation as well as noise and pollution levels, for instance. They can monitor traffic and pedestrian patterns. They can locate a lost child using facial recognition technology. They can even detect gunshots. By changing color, smart street lights could be used to indicate evacuation paths during an emergency.
It’s no wonder the smart lighting market, valued at $14.24 billion in 2019, is expected to reach $58.64 billion by 2025.
Preserving water protects the environment and can provide significant savings in energy and expenses.
Pumping water to homes and businesses, sometimes from great distances, and then treating it after it’s used requires a great deal of energy. That’s why reducing water usage delivers significant energy savings. Water conservation technologies such as low-flow toilets, sensor-equipped urinals, automatic shut-off nozzles and low-flow faucet aerators have become more commonplace over the past decade.
The move to conserve water is aided by new, web-connected tools and apps — Phyn, Pani, and Flo by Moen, for example — that help homeowners and businesses monitor real-time water usage data, detect leaks and irregular usage, and make adjustments as needed.
Other trending popular water conservation methods include greener landscaping practices such as xeriscaping (using native, drought-resistant plants in a way that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation) and rainwater harvesting. Bigger-picture trends include desalination, utility-scale water recycling and the imposing of water overuse fines.
By maintaining control of energy supply, microgrids save on costs, and generate revenue.
While they generate less than 0.2 percent of electricity in the United States according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, microgrids are being introduced with increased frequency due to demands for energy resiliency, energy security, and power for remote, previously off-grid locales.
Growth in the microgrid market is largely driven by renewable energy integration. Microgrids generate power via an interconnected group of localized, predominantly renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind power, biomass and geothermal. They function together with a larger grid network, or macrogrid, but can disconnect when necessary, supplying power during outages. Microgrids generally aren’t in “island mode” most of the time, but in emergency situations, they can save the day.
Military, commercial, and industrial applications of microgrids are on the rise. In 2019, the international microgrid market was valued at $10 billion, and it’s forecasted to expand at an annual compound growth rate of 23 percent between 2020 and 2026. Energy server solutions provider Bloom Energy called microgrid adoption a top energy trend in 2020 due to grid vulnerabilities exposed by recent extreme weather events and wildfires.