While it’s hard to believe that more than a month has passed since the 2019 Power & Renewables Summit in Austin, Texas, the Duane Morris Green IP Blog wanted to make sure to share some of the key intellectual property takeaways from that conference. The conference organizers put together a rigorous and thought-provoking agenda that covered a lot of ground in just two days. The Greentech Media team and their colleagues at Wood Mackenzie also provided deep dives into their data, analytics, and forecasting for renewables.
Here, in no particular order, are four IP takeaways:
- Energy storage will be a dominant sector of renewable IP growth in the next decade. Energy storage is the missing link to a 100% renewable grid. There are a host of technologies under development, including next generation NMC and Lithium ion batteries, flow batteries, compressed air, pumped hydro, and block stacking. Since storage is a net drain on the grid (round trip transmission losses incurred to and from storage), the market needs energy storage that can demonstrate real business value. Significant research and development is still needed to create cost-effective storage solutions and to master grid implementation.
- Solar will continue to grow commercially – is there more innovation to be had? The solar analysts presenting at the conference seemed uniformly bullish on the future of solar in the United States, even in the face of Trump’s solar module tariffs (see our article here). The price of solar PPAs now consistently beat gas peakers, and inexpensive solar installations are driving down energy prices across the grid. Photovoltaic technology is fairly mature from an innovation standpoint; although incremental improvements are possible to photovoltaic module efficiency, look for the next solar innovations to come in bifacial modules, improved inverters, and solar tracking arrays. (Read our previous coverage on some patent litigation involving solar tracking array technology here).
- European –style wind technology is coming to the U.S. Low energy prices in the U.S. are making it harder to squeeze profits from new wind installations. Expect European-style wind turbines (think: far taller towers, segmented blades, stackable and/or modular towers) to find their way into new U.S. projects. European development may continue to lead the U.S. in wind industry innovations.
- Significant regulatory work and innovation are required to meet the promise of a future smart grid. Perhaps an undue amount of attention was given at the conference to water heaters. But the promise of widespread deployment of smart water heaters that will better manage energy usage and allow utilities to shave a few percentage points off peak demand is a good illustration of the promise of the smart grid. Although smart devices are already in use, the transition toward a decentralized, distributed, and transactive electric grid will require a tremendous amount of regulatory and technological innovation. The current regulatory framework for electric distribution is being strained by disruptive technologies, while new and yet better technologies are still needed to move to the smart grid of the future. Along with energy storage, expect significant IP growth in this area.