The Hidden Revolution

Ever wonder about the billions of dollars of equipment and infrastructure needed for you to be able to turn on your bedroom light, wash the laundry, or perform any of the hundreds of daily tasks one does that require steady, reliable electricity?   As the Director of Commercial Clean technology here at the Innovation Center Denmark, I think about it all the time.  I think about it because there is a mostly hidden revolution happening around the world with Denmark and California leading the cause.

At the Innovation Center Denmark, Silicon Valley, we recognize the unique bridge we form between these two innovative Smart Grid economies.  In 2013, we will therefore launch the Smart Grid Advisory Group to bring together experienced operators, researchers, and entrepreneurs from both Denmark and California Smart Grid sectors to foster partnerships, transactions, and to push the state of the art in grid technologies and operations.

We want to change the fact that most people have little idea of what makes the power grid tick or how dependent their lifestyles are on it.  However, when you experience a prolonged power outage, you soon realize how important a reliable power supply is, how quickly it can be interrupted, and how long – and frustrating – it can be to get it back.  Part of the reason for all of this is that we are dealing with electricity and it cannot (yet) be efficiently collected for example, on a sunny day and stored for a rainy one.  Instead, engineers, utilities, regulators, and entrepreneurs have had to build a machine so vast and so complex that it can generate electricity virtually at the instant when you turn on a light switch or plug your phone into its charger.  Multiply that responsiveness across billions of devices demanding electricity, hundreds of power plants producing the electricity, and thousands of miles of wires transmitting the electricity, and it’s pretty close to a miracle that the machine works at all, never mind that it works steadily and constantly throughout the day and year.

In addition, demand is anything but steady – people turn on and turn off devices throughout the day.   This unsteady demand requires electricity supply and generation that can meet it even at the busiest ‘peak’ times, and quickly ramp down when it slows.  Fortunately, for the incredible people who work in the power supply field, there is a lot of historical data and hard lessons learned such as the great Northeast blackout of 2003 that enable operators to pretty accurately predict what the demand will be and when, and how much power they will need to meet it.

Adapting big changes to this equation is extremely challenging. Failure to adequately adjust can be catastrophic, which is one big reason why the utility industry tends to be so conservative – when power goes out, people don’t just lose money, they can lose life and limb.

It is incredible then to consider that grids around the world are experiencing just such rapid change right now with the push for electric vehicles, solar power, wind farms, iPhones, and the mammoth data centers to power all of our Google searches and Facebook posts.

Meeting the entire unprecedented surge in electricity demand is a rapid increase in the proportion of renewable energy making up the supply.  That renewable energy, often sourced from wind and solar energy, is relatively unpredictable.  This unpredictable supply or intermittency effectively adds yet another challenge to keeping the power demand and supply of the power grid in balance.

With a goal of moving from 30% today to 100% renewable electricity generation by 2050, Denmark is arguably the most experienced market in the world with balancing these new electricity supply and demand dynamics.  California also has ambitions goals too increase the share of renewable generated electricity in its energy mix, but on a far larger scale than even Denmark due to the relative sizes of the two economies.

Viva la Revolución Oculto!!

By Patrick Stanton

US Military’s Green Push

Maneuvers aboard the Riverine Command Boat (RCB-X) at Naval Station Norfolk. The RCB-X is powered by an alternative fuel blend of 50% algae-based fuel.

Maneuvers aboard the Riverine Command Boat (RCB-X) at Naval Station Norfolk. The RCB-X is powered by an alternative fuel blend of 50% algae-based fuel.MarketWatch‘s Steve Gelsi just wrote an interesting article about how the US military has set very aggressive goals to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Last year, the US military spent as much as $13 billion on petroleum for its ships, planes, and combat vehicles alone! On top of that, energy dependence and supply reliability makes the military’s energy mix a priority, says Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Govenor Ray Mabus.

The military is looking at solar, wind, and improved batteries in order to minimize risk for its troops, and this may well be in favor of companies that can help the military cut costs over the next decade.

Read the article here.

From Denmark to California on Renewable Energy


Students from Danish and Californian universities have been keeping themselves busy over the summer. They all just spent three weeks in California attending lectures, visiting companies, working on renewable energy projects and discussing future solutions for the road towards clean energy. I went with them for the opening ‘the Road to 100% Clean Energy Workshop’ and on a few of the visits and tried to figure out what they got out of the summer program and what they might take back home with them.

This year’s Denmark-California Summer Workshop, the fourth of its kind,  brought together students from 5 different universities (the Technical University of Denmark, Aalborg University, and University of California in Santa Cruz, Merced, and Davis) and countries such as India, Malaysia, the US, and Denmark. They all came from different backgrounds and with different ideas for how to tackle the challenges of renewable energy systems. The final presentations held at UC Davis reflected this diversity as one group discussed how to build a decentralized residential energy system in a village in rural Tanzania; another how to sustainably preserve the Wharf in Santa Cruz; and the last one focusing on the construction of a new campus building at UC Davis.

Despite this diversity, most of the students came from a technical background. And though all of the final projects – and most of the presentations throughout the program – was about sustainability, the key point was about economic sustainability. There seem to be no doubt that renewable energy is the future, but if you can’t come up with a business model that makes renewable energy economically attractive, there’s no point.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the three final projects presented some very interesting solutions. But for next year’s DK-CA Summer Workshop in Denmark, it might be interesting to include students from across the pond, in business, natural sciences, and so on.

The workshop has been no walkover and the three weeks have been more than packed events. The students had barely time to work on their projects, let alone enjoy the beautiful surroundings of especially UC Santa Cruz. Instead they went through a tightly packed schedule of lectures, presentations and group work at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis, as well as a long list of company visits including Tesla MotorsMakani Power, Rio Vista Wind Farm, SolyndraNASA Ames, and many more – all of which obviously impressed and inspired both students, professors, and a certain Innovation Center Denmark intern.

The Denmark-California Summer Workshop has been about getting a little taste of everything that has to do with renewable energy. Students and professors discussed theoretical and practical solutions to international and local scale, and got to meet some of the leading renewable energy players firsthand.

Next year, the summer school will be in Denmark. We will make sure to give you updates on the progress and registration when we get a little closer.


Apply Now: Summer School on Renewable Energy in California

Summer is approaching and so is our annual summer school on renewable energy. Right now, we are looking for the next batch of energy-conscious students to spend 3 weeks in California this August.

Danish-Californian collaboration
The Denmark-California Summer Program on Renewable Energy is a unique educational initiative developed by leading universities in Denmark and California. Students and researchers from the UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Merced, Technical University of Denmark and Aalborg University will meet in California for a 3-week renewable energy summer school program. Participants learn about the economics, politics, science and technology behind RE implementation from leading experts, while exploring communities and relevant energy sites where similar technology is in place or currently being implemented.

A multi disciplinary approach
The program is intended for students of all disciplines, chosen on the basis of their academic qualifications, creativity and commitment to RE. Each year, selected students from engineering, business, environmental studies, political science, geography, economics and other fields are grouped together across disciplines and national ties to form project-based teams that throughout the program investigate the opportunities and challenges facing RE implementation

Join us this summer!
The Summer Program is 4-weeks long – including a first week of online course. The
 3-week program in California consists of classroom lectures, seminars and field trips to relevant energy sites and facilities all around Northern California. In addition to lectures and visits, participants will develop a problem-oriented research project, which represents a fundamental part of the overall learning experience. Upon conclusion of the program, a final written report and a presentation are completed by student teams, including analyses of the identified problem, possible solutions and suggested recommendations.

Read more about the summer school and apply here. The application deadline is May 16th, 2011.

For further information please contact Lars Beer Nielsen, Research and Development Attaché at Innovation Center Denmark.

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