energycioinsights

Making the Connection Between Hurricane Season and Renewable Energy

By Jeffrey Howell, President, Panasonic Industrial Devices Sales Company of America

Jeffrey Howell, President, Panasonic Industrial Devices Sales Company of America

Hurricane season begins in June, and hope is that it pales in comparison to 2017 when megastorms such as Hurricane Irma and Harvey pummeled the country. The storms helped to make last year a record for insurance payouts—about $135 billion--linked to natural disasters and other catastrophes, according to global reinsurer Munich RE.

Unfortunately, hope may fail to carry us through the year. Colorado State University hurricane researchers predict a slightly-above average Atlantic hurricane season for 2018. In April they forecast 14 named storms—half of which are expected to become hurricanes. Meteorologists warn three of those could reach major hurricane strength. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Responding to megastorms, other structural trends and societal challenges, cities and states have made changes to their pension investments. Earlier this year New York City announced its goal of divesting its $5 billion holdings in oil companies from its pension funds. The announcement follows California, Texas and New England and other parts of the country that have either divested in fossil fuel makers, written policy that promotes renewable energy or done both. Furthermore, one of the world’s most powerful investors called on some of the largest companies to do more to “respond to broader societal challenges.” In his 2018 corporate letter, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink warned companies to understand the ways structural trends, including climate change, would affect company growth potential.

"The increase in deadly and expensive natural disasters and the dramatic cost reductions of renewable power, batteries and electric vehicles accelerate a move to a new system for energy"

Can there be a better time to invest in renewable energy?

Turning point for renewables

We are at a turning point as the devastation wrought by natural disasters and the dramatic cost reductions of renewable power, batteries and electric vehicle fleets are accelerating a move to a new system for energy.

Promising innovations point to a path forward. In “The Sunny Optimism of Clean Energy Shines Through Tech’s Gloom,” Wired Magazine highlights innovations such as microgrids, solar + storage tech and renewable energy calling clean power “the new Silicon Valley—filled with giddy, breathtaking ingenuity and good news.”

One example of innovation being used to help in the aftermath of a natural disaster is in Puerto Rico. According to Tesla’s official Twitter account, the company has more than 1,000 Tesla batteries in 662 locations so far. Tesla said it is working around the clock to build more projects to support the island.

What’s really interesting is to think about how to use renewables with other disruptive technologies to create entirely new experiences. Panasonic Corp. of North America recently commissioned a research series, Moving Forward, on how CTOs and other decision makers see the impact of disruptive technologies. Three in five respondents are using the Internet of Things in their companies. Renewable energy, advanced materials, energy storage and artificial intelligence are each expected to be a near-term investment for two in five companies.

Advances in manufacturing are very important to the falling prices and improving performance of a number of these disruptive technologies including renewable energy, such as solar power generation, batteries used in both vehicles and for power storage and electrified driving. We may be best known for lithium-ion batteries powering the world’s best known electric vehicle brands. In EVs, we are applying manufacturing scale and technology improvements to the dramatic cost reduction in cylindrical battery cells. We’re making similar progress with prismatic batteries.

Manufacturing solar roof tiles with Tesla

Solar technology and manufacturing developments show promise in their ability to power the new energy future as battery tech. For instance, in Buffalo, New York, Panasonic is collaborating with Tesla in the production of solar cells for building roof tiles—a product that integrates high-efficiency photovoltaics with roofing materials.

We’re also working with Toyota Motors on solar tiles for autos. Last year the global vehicle maker began using our HIT Photovoltaics for autos on Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid vehicles. These auto roof panels have a high output (approx.180 Watts) enabling them to charge the car’s lithium-ion batteries and 12 V batteries, resulting in a possible extension in travel distance and increased fuel economy.

Building energy diversity

Diversification of sources is critical to the sustainability and security of a new energy system. Hydrogen is drawing attention as an alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power. It is the most abundant element in the universe and reacts with oxygen to generate electricity. And because the only substance created during this process is water, it is very clean. There are commercial projects in Japan and Europe using hydrogen and promise for the technology in North America.

These are just a few examples of promising renewable energy technologies.

In their recent report, Colorado researchers predicted the probability of major hurricanes making landfall this year. It’s 63% for the entire U.S. coastline (Compare that to the 52% average for the last century). As meteorologists and public officials work to raise awareness in preparing for storm systems, it’s equally important to raise awareness for renewable energy solutions.

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