A Brief History of Time (and Energy)
At the risk of reading like the intro of a Michael Crichton novel…
It’s worthwhile to take a step back and look at humankind’s time here on Earth and realize the importance of energy and how it enabled us to create the fantastic world in which we live.
Since our ancestors first shaped rock and wood into basic tools, we have also made use of natural energy sources to subsist. From the use of basic cooking/heating wood fires 10,000 years ago to the use of nuclear power in recent decades, we depend on energy for our daily ways of life.
As history has shown, we are constantly improving how we live, work and play… and by extension we are constantly cultivating new energy resources to meet our needs.
The Current Phase
Given the billions of years the Earth has supported life, and the thousands of years we have been around, it can be argued that mankind has only recently (and temporarily) harvested several carbon-based fuels… coal, petroleum, and gas. These, like many other historical precedents, have a limited lifespan. History will record their use as very short chapters in the overall evolution of human activity. Carbon-based fuels will be phased out in favor of newer, cleaner and smarter forms of energy out of both necessity and cost. This is already happening all around us.
For example, renewable energy resources, hydrogen, kinetic energy harvesting, and others are becoming increasingly common as we transition to the next evolution of energy that fuels our life here on earth. Long-term energy prospects include things like advanced magnetics and even the much-debated cold fusion, which unlock the potential for abundant, clean and cheap energy for all mankind.
The Immediate Future– “Hybrid”
Even though our focus always seems to be on “the future of energy”, we do still depend on traditional fuels like petroleum and other carbon-based fuels to power our daily lives. Petroleum, for all of the love/hate relationships with it, is still one of the most energy dense and plentiful resources available. We have built a massive worldwide infrastructure around its use, making it inexpensive and widely available almost anywhere on the planet.
Ironically, petroleum can serve as a springboard for decreasing our dependence on carbon-based energy by using it in concert with younger technologies and resources that will eventually replace it.
This transition phase is called hybridization and is the bridge from legacy carbon-based energy sources to clean, renewable energy and beyond. The hybrid power model allows for multiple technologies to be used in concert, and it maximizes efficiencies in energy conversion, reducing waste and perpetuating positive change in how we use energy. For example, clean, renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics (solar) and wind can be used in concert with carbon-based fuels to provide power for many applications, spreading the reliance across multiple forms of energy rather than just one. This meets the goal of mitigating fuel use where necessary while promoting the use of more desirable energy sources in accordance with the application. This is also known as power surety.
In addition to the immediate benefits for a specific application, the adoption of hybrid power models will also spur industry investment and adoption of advanced technologies that power our lives in positive, healthy ways.
The “Infrastrastructure” Challenge
As the world transitions toward newer advanced energy resources, much of the existing infrastructure that was used to support legacy energy types will need to be replaced. Replacing older technologies with new ones that align with cleaner energy sources will come with significant costs, but these costs can be absorbed over time in the normal cycles of budgets and investment with the right conditions. Using the hybrid model ensures a return on investment (ROI) by allowing older technologies to continue operating (albeit in a much more efficient manner), which in turn allows investments in the future of energy to be made in a more targeted way.
For example, most institutions or companies that employ legacy carbon-based energy systems (fleet vehicles, power generation, etc.) would have difficulty affording a new fleet without some sort of transition plan executed over time. Adoption of policies that promote the use of hybrid models would allow them to amortize the cost of change over a period of time rather than up front.
“Low Hanging Fruit”
One of the most immediate impacts we can make in propagating the shift away from petroleum-based energy is in the portable power generation space. The use of fuel-driven power generation remains the most widely used form of “spot” power in the world, and despite nearly 100 years of technological improvements in how we use petroleum, it is still one of the most inefficient forms of converting energy into a usable form.
Additionally, spot-power applications often require logistics and support that exacerbate the dependence on fuel resources. It is a compound problem that only becomes more expensive and complex over time. Energy storage modules (batteries) are key to enabling the hybrid model. They can store energy from a wide range of generation technologies, including fuel-driven generators and renewables. Hybridizing spot power applications only requires the introduction of energy storage and a power management device.
Once a generator has been hybridized, there are two immediate benefits:
- The efficiency of fuel-to-electricity conversion is maximized.
- The power system architecture is opened, allowing integration of additional, diverse power sources.
In spot-power applications, hybridization is the ONLY way to modernize the way generator engines burn fuel. It provides us with the continued power surety of the mature fuel-driven generator, but it makes them work smarter, cleaner and more efficiently. In addition to maximizing the fuel-to-electricity conversion of the generator, hybridization provides the user with OPTIONS… energy resources can be selected based on availability, geographic location (if using renewables), and the amount of autonomy desired.
A Conclusion… (but not really)
The future of energy is being pioneered every day. Entrepreneurs, industries, academics and institutions are all playing a role in shaping the energy landscape.
As future energy technologies continue to mature and evolve into our way of life, hybridization allows a smooth transition from existing stable power sources to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.
Hybridization also promotes the investment, development and adoption of newer energy technologies that will usher in the next generation of energy creation. It is a “bridge” that leads to others, and the repetitive cycle of innovation and creation will be brought full circle.
And that is exciting!