As the world shifts to address Global Climate Change, here are a growing number of opportunities that range from conservation to transportation. This month we are focused on this topic, and I’ll highlight a number of the opportunities that are emerging in Central Oregon.
Solar power generation is not only the largest potential market, it is the one that is best addressed. However, what is being under addressed is both business and home energy storage and tracking technology. Energy storage is the bane of both solar and wind power because neither of these technologies work 24/7. Both will typically be shut down in the case of an outage. The problem is that solar and wind power storage technology is in short supply thanks to the ramp up of electric cars, and at the front end of a massive change that will make it both cheaper and better for this use. I’ve been waiting for my own household Tesla-based battery technology for two years, and I’m told others have been waiting even longer due to supply shortages. But energy storage is critical given that our aging grid is ever more vulnerable due to devastating weather events, equipment failures, sabotage (people have been shooting transformers) and building mistakes. Once this technology advances and supply shortages are mitigated, this will be a huge potential market for energy storage.
Solar panel tracking technology that allows the panels to adjust for the sun’s position can significantly increase energy yield. However, putting tracking on the roof is both unsightly and excessively expensive. Tracking panels on the ground are also unsightly and can make that land unusable for anything else. One interesting technology is the Smartflower. This is a standalone, attractive solution for tracking solar. The unit folds up during heavy weather or at night to protect the panels. It follows the sun for higher yield in a smaller footprint, and it has optional battery storage to handle power outages. Yet, to date, there is no installer for Central Oregon for this technology (otherwise I would have bought it), which means there’s an opportunity for a forward-looking solar company to step in with a better looking, safer-to-install (no working on roofs) solution that has an unusual amount of wow factor because it is arguably the coolest solar technology.
Wind power has a number of problems. One is that traditional windmills kill a lot of birds. Another is that you generally need prevailing winds of 10 mph or more, and until recently, large windmills couldn’t be recycled when their blades wear out. While there are some interesting small-form products that can be used on skyscrapers, few have been adopted, and Central Oregon has few buildings that could use them. There are newer designs coming that work at lower wind speeds and that don’t harm birds, but they are too new to assess reliability or recommend yet. So, for now, I don’t yet see wind as a real opportunity in Central Oregon.
We remain under severe drought, so making use of the water we have has never been more important. In other regions of the world, aggressive use of recycled water and advanced rain capture and storage is far more common. While this hasn’t resulted in significant cost increases outside of agriculture yet, there is an emerging opportunity, particularly for new construction, to provide integrated water conservation technologies to both reuse (for landscaping) wastewater and for capture and use of rainwater to reduce run-off waste.
In addition, there are a number of technologies that can pull water out of the air, but humidity is relatively low in Central Oregon, making this technology less cost-effective than it would be in more humid areas. So, I don’t expect this technology is that useful yet.
The low hanging fruit is help for our farming community in terms of services that can replace wasteful irrigation methods with more efficient methods, as well as introducing advanced technologies for insect mitigation and fertilization that reduce the contamination of existing water supplies. Most of these technologies are presented separately here and not as a comprehensive solution, suggesting an opportunity for sustainable comprehensive agricultural solutions that improve irrigation efficiency and cost-effectively reduce the amount of pollution that farms create.
Sustainability is important to all of us. We are dealing with unprecedented weather events that impact both quality of life and our finances. Services in Central Oregon that address these needs aren’t yet where they need to be, creating an opportunity for innovations that lead to new services that can help both homes and businesses become more sustainable, better able to stay in operation during outages, and better protect the remaining resources we have.