Tapping into the Grid
Wyoming and California may have more in common than they imagine when it comes to the future of their energy resources, according to Richard Horner, director of emerging technology at University of Wyoming’s Energy Innovation Center. As states like California up their reliance on renewable energy and electric and hybrid cars, Horner believes Wyoming is poised to profit as an alternative provider of clean energy.
“We need to start thinking laterally when it comes to investing in energy, regardless of your particular posture,” Horner said at the sixth annual WBR Energy Summit in Gillette last Wednesday. “Whether you are in the oil and gas crowd, renewables, or nuclear energy. The future is electric vehicles, and this disruption is going to affect everybody.”
Markets are driven by the next disruption, he noted, and success requires getting ahead of the curve.
Much like the other speakers during the two-day summit, Horner echoed the predominant sentiment that the future of Wyoming’s energy sector is being heavily driven by interests outside of the state. Increasingly, Horner pointed out, states like California and Colorado are becoming invested in renewables due to consumer demand, which is supported by those respective state’s legislative policies.
Though some might be mourning the decline of traditional coal, others like Horner see it as a giant opportunity to reshape the state’s stance on energy and reinvent itself as a major provider of clean energy to feed the grid.
“In the past, the U.S. electric grid was structured to meet the demands of the nation’s energy,” he said. “Energy efficiency has become a very important feature in how we see energy markets. If the market continues to lean toward EVs (electric vehicles), the grid would have to change faster to meet the demands of those vehicles.”
The top five states with EVs currently in operation are California, Georgia, Washington, Florida, and Texas, according to Horner, with other states like Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Arizona projected to be in the top 10 for EV growth.
And while solar is a viable energy source, he noted, renewables alone are not going to meet the increased demand for EVs, as consumer behavior dictates the need to be plugged in.
“When we start thinking about renewable energy in terms of people’s habits, what’s the last thing people do at the end of the day? They plug in their phones. That will be the same with their cars,” he said. “The sun doesn’t shine at night, and in some of those areas, like New York, renewable energy is not really suited to those areas.”
The grid is already stressed in some of these states where EVs are taking off, he added. Charging cars overnight adds about 50 percent more consumption per house, he said, given that solar and wind power are either ineffective or inefficient at night. Therefore, this accelerated demand for electric vehicles will also require reliable and high-volume, base-load electricity generation sources that can operate at night, and base-load electricity 24/7 will become increasingly more important.
Wyoming is geographically poised, he believes, to step in to fill this supply by having the right integration to tie into these electrical supply networks to take advantage of the increased demand.
“Suffice it to say, it is a good opportunity for Wyoming to start to see EVs as their friend,” he said. “And to think about what we need to do from a supply capacity to meet that demand.”
Likewise, he concluded, Wyoming is equally blessed when it comes to renewables like solar thermal, which hasn’t caught on to the same degree as wind.
“We get fixated in Wyoming with wind,” he said. “Solar might have better implications when it comes to leveraging renewables to fill in some of those gaps.”
Ultimately, he said, we need to start thinking about the possibility of hybrid renewables.
“People don’t want to think that way because either you are pro coal, pro wind, or pro solar,” he said. “It’s not one or the other, but it is finding a way to integrate all of them together.”
Basically, he concluded, the need to generate clean electricity will not go away, and Wyoming stands to benefit if it focuses on producing renewables and clean coal, invests in high-volume energy storage solutions, while ensuring that the integration of the state’s electricity supply taps into the wider U.S. energy distribution infrastructures.