Clean tech innovations and advancements in 2018

Technologies you may have missed and what they mean for NH

2018 was ripe with a variety of hugely exciting and promising innovations in the clean tech industry. As a global, $228.3 billion industry in 2018 alone and growing, according to Forbes, here are some of the top clean tech advancements from the past year, and what they could mean for the Granite State if they achieve mass-market scale.

First, we dive into two new forms of energy storage that have the potential to transform the way we efficiently use the energy we generate. Currently, energy generated by all fuels must be consumed immediately, or go to waste. While energy storage, particularly in the form of giant lithium-ion batteries, is growing in adoption and decreasing in price, there were two new developments in storage tech in 2018 that could propel energy storage forward even faster.

One form shows us that new ideas can actually be low-tech. Developed by Energy Vault, our first innovation uses basic physics as a utility-scale storage solution. Using a tower, excess energy from wind or solar systems is used to hoist massive 35-ton bricks into the air. Later when the energy is needed, the bricks are lowered, using the kinetic energy to charge a generator. Sounds simple, yet incredibly effective. The technology is currently being built at several sites around the world.

Another storage innovation came from right in our backyard at MIT. The “sun in a box” system uses silicon to store excess energy as heat, a much cheaper way to store energy than as electricity. Think concentrated solar power (using thousands of mirrors to heat salt) without the hassle. This form of storage is anticipated to cost half as much as pumped hydroelectric storage, to date considered the cheapest form of grid-scale storage. 

The result for New Hampshire if these innovations move forward? Storing excess energy for use during periods when the grid is stressed (i.e. peak events) can have significant peak-shaving effects, during which we can avoid firing up expensive power plants. This in turn saves money for the utilities and ratepayers, especially for businesses whose costs are highly dependent on energy.

New solar panel tech may be a key to generating more clean energy to meet our needs and store using these new systems. Most solar panels average 15-17 percent efficiency, with the most efficient on the market 22 percent efficient. In 2018, NovaSolix released their plans to use carbon nanotubes to capture more of the sun’s energy — at a fraction of the cost. This new tech could lead to 90 percent efficient solar panels, creating a dramatic increase in the amount each panel produces, shorter payback periods, and more opportunity for businesses to produce energy on-site and control costs.

Also pushing the boundaries of scale is the 10MW offshore wind turbine. Newly released and available for sale in 2018, this turbine by MHI Vestas is the first to reach double-digits production levels. As New Hampshire is in the middle of a region poised to invest heavily in offshore wind capacity, our state could play a crucial role in the offshore wind supply chain by building a new industry and attracting new workers, regardless if we build off NH’s coastline. To further explore this potential, the NH Clean Tech Council conducted a trade delegation to Denmark, a global leader in clean tech, in October 2019. 

These innovations and investments represent a fraction of the research and development behind the rapidly growing clean tech industry. By encouraging the growth of our own domestic clean tech industry, we can foster a thriving innovation economy and control energy costs for businesses and their employees at work and at home.

Brianna Brand is senior program director at Clean Energy NH.

Categories: Technology