7 Energy Predictions for 2024 with Peter Kelly-Detwiler

We recently had energy thought leader Peter Kelly-Detwiler back on the Bigger Than Us podcast for the third time to review energy events and trends of the year past and share his predictions for the year ahead. In the forecast: offshore wind, energy storage, virtual power plants, AI, solar, and salt.

This transcript has been edited for readability and brevity. Listen to the full podcast here

1. The comeback of offshore wind

[28:37] “I think we’ve seen the worst of the announcements and it was sort of a shock and awe thing when Empire Wind [projects] were canceled, and a few others. 

“Nonetheless, South Fork has delivered its first electricity to Long Island. [Vineyard Wind] is going to be delivering by the end of [2023].

“Dominion’s 2.6-gigawatt project: They’re actually coming in and they say we’re going to be delivering under cost relative to original projections. That’s because they got their ship, they built their own, and they ordered their equipment when they needed to. 

“New York has signaled they’re going to do new solicitations and they’re going to reset prices. They’re not going to retrofit retroactively compensate original developers for inflationary costs, but they’re going to build it into new solicitations and they’re going to go out and reoffer some of these same leases. Meanwhile, the offshore ships will be built.

“More infrastructure comes online. The supply chain gets built. I think we’re going to see a delay of a couple of years overall relative to what could have been, and I think we’re going to see higher prices, but I’m beginning to be encouraged about offshore wind. The news is never as great as it appears or as bad as it appears when you take it within the longer frame context.”

2. More virtual power plants

[30:05] “I’m really excited about the growth of distributed energy resources, the number of companies offering virtual power plants, whether it’s Tesla and the initial 80-megawatt pilot and ERCOT, or the number of virtual power plants going on in places like California and Hawaii is pretty interesting.

3. More vehicle-to-grid pilots and electric school bus groundwork

[30:23] “I think we’re going to see more announcements from electric school buses, which are perfectly suited for vehicle-to-grid distributed energy resource activity. I think in 2024 we’re going to see more announcements on pilots around vehicle-to-grid and more companies saying they’re going to build vehicle-to-grid platforms. 

“I don’t think we’re going to see maturity in that industry for, for years and years and years and meaningful participation, but the groundwork’s being set for that.”

4. The announcement of more long-duration storage projects

[30:58] “We just saw Dome Energy announce their 20-hour project in Sardinia. It’s funded partly by Bill Gates’s group and they liquefy CO₂, and then when it expands, it spins a turbine and they’ve done scale projects. And these are like going to give them 10, 12 hours of duration. 

“We’ve got a couple of flow battery projects, some interesting ones. So now we’re starting to see long-duration storage anywhere from 10 hours and 12 hours to hundreds of hours of duration begin to creep into the field and make its presence known. 

“Now, the markets still have to figure out how to compensate for that long duration. We’re really good at paying for frequency regulation, 10-minute spinning reserve, all the ancillaries, and capacity. We’re not yet good at paying for resource adequacy, longer-duration stuff. But I think the market will start to go in that direction.”

5. The diversification of battery minerals

[32:47] “You’re starting to see now in the lithium space, some diversification away from just lithium-ion batteries, which first was nickel manganese cobalt, nickel cobalt aluminum, then lithium iron phosphate came into the mix.

“But what’s really exciting to me is sodium. You’ll see companies like Northvolt and Contemporary Amperex Technology and others announce they have functioning sodium batteries and the first of those going into vehicles they have similar densities to lithium iron phosphate and there’s no cobalt and there’s no lithium, it’s table salt.

“If society can figure out a salt-based battery, salt is everywhere. I mean, for goodness sake, where are we storing natural gas in this country? And where are we going to find the hydrogen? It’s all salt caverns. What do they do? They take high-pressure water hoses into salt domes and dissolve the salt.

“The world has tons of salt. I’m looking right now at the ocean. I can tell you, there’s a lot of salt I’m looking at. So I’m really cautiously optimistic that salt’s going to solve some of these issues. 

“Wood Mackenzie, I just looked at the forecast, and by 2050, they still see it as a sliver, but I take every forecast or any forecast for something 27 years out and say that forecast probably isn’t worth the paper on it and it’s not their fault. It’s just because the future changes so much.”

6. Heterojunction cells in the marketplace

[34:39] “On solar, I’m hoping 2024 will be the year that we start to see heterojunction cells come into the marketplace.”

What’s a heterojunction cell? 

“The typical cell that you look at in a solar cell right now is a crystal silicon polysilicon or monos silicon cell, or a thin film like First Solar makes.

“Well, the hetero junction cells are basically like if you had a peanut butter sandwich where the jelly absorbs some of the sun’s rays. The peanut butter absorbed some others and the bread did others. So basically you can go past the Shockley Kweister limit, the theoretical limit of what a solar panel can absorb, because you’re layering the panel with different elements that can absorb different spectra of the sunlight.

“From the labs, we’ve now seen 42 percent conversion efficiency of photons into electrons. And we’re starting to see some Chinese companies say, “Oh, we can put a panel out there into the market that’s…somewhere close to 25 percent conversion efficiency.”

“Most of what’s in the market right now is like 21, 20, 18, maybe 22 on the high side for a monocrystal silicon. If you just jump from 22% to 24%, you get a 10% total increase of output from the cell. Whether it’s battery chemistry or solar chemistries, those aren’t done yet. There’s still a lot of potential improvement.”

7. AI-supported advancement of materials science

[36:12] “When you bring in artificial intelligence (generative AI) to the game, now you create this opportunity to accelerate the process of inquisition into material science. I just read an article the other day that hundreds of new materials, new compounds, new molecules that have never existed before in the history of mankind have been discovered by artificial intelligence. That tends to hold the promise for speeding up material science. 

“At the end of the day, fundamentally, the grid is about what production, transmission and consumption of electricity, and all of that is governed by the laws of thermodynamics. And it’s essentially a question of physics and chemistry, which is where material science is perfect. I think we’re not going to see these massive breakthroughs, but I think we will see incremental improvements in a whole lot of different chemistries and technologies that we look at because of AI.”

The Energy Switch by Peter Kelly-Detwiler

About Peter Kelly-Detwiler

Peter Kelly-Detwiler has 30 years of experience in the electric energy arena. He writes for Forbes.com and other publications on topics related to disruptive innovation and its impact on the electricity infrastructure. He provides strategic advice to clients and investors, helping them to navigate this transitional period. Peter is also the author of The Energy Switch — a book about how companies and customers are transforming the electrical grid and the future of power.

Hear more insights in the full interview with Peter Kelly-Detwiler on episode #234 of the Bigger Than Us Podcast.

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