National Renewable Energy Laboratory
University of Maryland
Power consumption is a good proxy for quality of life, and societies around the world currently consume about 18 terawatts (TW) globally. Greater than 60 percent of that power is derived from fossil fuels. In many countries, there has been increasing use of renewable energy, due to both declining costs of renewable energy and national policies that seek to increase energy security and decrease the environmental footprint of the energy sector. This session aimed to address the question, “how will we power our future?” Answers were multifaceted and involved not only power generation and storage but also new grid technologies and transportation electrification.
Over the next few decades, new power generation technologies will be deployed at a large scale to match power demand with the lowest cost and environmental impact. As a resource, solar power is abundant (>105 TW at Earth’s surface), although it makes up only about 1 percent of US electricity generation. Challenges to widespread adoption include the need for reduced cost, improved efficiency, and storage solutions over a range of time scales (hourly to seasonal). For wind energy, a substantial US market has developed and wind now supplies nearly 6 percent of US electricity demand. However, the complexity of mesoscale flow as it makes its way down and through the plant, transforming into electricity as it goes, involves many open research challenges.
Both solar and wind energy promise to become prominent sources of electricity generation. But their variable nature means that the current grid system needs to be flexible in order to adapt as solar and wind energy are added. Such adaptability necessitates substantial technology innovation to transform the grid to support high levels of variable generation.
Furthermore, the grid of the future is likely to support a significant amount of electric transportation on the distribution side. The transportation sector consumes nearly 30 percent of US energy production, with 90 percent from fossil fuels. While electrification could significantly reduce petroleum use, it affects the grid in terms of power generation and distribution. Concurrently, new opportunities are emerging in storage and new grid technologies, with high renewable penetration and dynamic distribution systems.
The first speaker, Tim Heidel (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association), set the stage by discussing “deep decarbonization” and what it will take to move from a carbon-rich energy system to one dominated by renewable energy, a transition that will require substantial changes to how electric power systems are planned and operated. He described technologies emerging from the research community that promise to improve real-time grid state awareness, achieve more robust control over power flows, and enable comprehensive approaches to power system optimization. Next, Bouchra Bouqata (GE Global Research Center) discussed how the merger of advanced physical models for wind energy with big data and analytics will enable a new generation of wind plants with substantially reduced energy costs, increasing the competitiveness of wind with fossil fuels even at very low cost levels. Mariana Bertoni (Arizona State University) explained how imaging and machine learning will help design tomorrow’s energy conversion devices. Khurram Afridi (University of Colorado Boulder) discussed wireless power transfer that allows self-driving vehicles to be fully autonomous. He described the state of the art for stationary and dynamic wireless power transfer for electric vehicles, and identified performance, cost, and safety challenges that need to be overcome for wireless power transfer systems to be widely adopted.