Google Continues its Renewable Energy Drive

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Our digital universe is expanding all the time. In fact, by 2020, there are expected to be 5 billion internet users, which means that the data that we create will reach 44 trillion gigbytes.[1] Storing this data is a power hungry business. Today, data centers account for 3% of total global electricity supply, equivalent to 2% of total greenhouse gases.[2] This means, from an energy management and climate change perspective, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to counter this growing consumption.

However, last week we saw that Google continuing in its ambition to become a 100% renewable energy-based organization. The tech giant announced the purchase of 236 MW of energy to come from two new wind farms in Norway and Sweden,[3] in a contract that secures access to the entire production of the wind farm energy. Google states that it is committed to enabling the building of more renewable energy facilities, rather than relying on existing infrastructure, as well as pointing out that its approach makes business sense and will help wind farm developers secure construction financing.

With investment deals on the table, you’d expect there to be a lot of innovation taking place in the energy sector and particularly in the renewable energy category. However, it seems that activity in the space has slowed somewhat, with the number of patents declining by 9% in 2015 compared to 2014.

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Part of the reason for this slow rate of innovation is due to market failure as far as renewable energy production is concerned. There is far less urgency to innovate when the price of fossil fuels does not reflect its true market value and we have seen the same trend continue into 2016:

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However, change is in sight. At the end of May, the G7 nations for the first time set a deadline for phasing out most fossil fuel subsidies, stating that government support for coal, oil and gas should finish by 2025. With the end of subsidies becoming real, combined with the backing of giants like Google, the trend of innovation in renewable energy and related industries, such as energy storage could become very interesting indeed.

One patent caught our eye last week when it featured in the trade publication Windpower Engineering & Development.[4] It comes from energy experts Powin. One of the problems with renewable energy is that it is an intermittent and fluctuating source of power, so developing ways of overcoming this issue will be a key focus. Powin’s patent offers its customers visibility into the health of their energy storage system, right down to the cell level. The storage system is scalable to meet the demands of any size project, from creating a localized microgrid to providing peak demand management and grid support services for utilities.

The combination of both energy management solutions and big data is likely to be a key area for forthcoming patents in the renewable sector to combat unpredictability. It’s certainly a sector that we’ll be keeping a close eye on at PatSnap.

Footnotes:

(1) http://minutehack.com/opinions/mining-the-data-universe-delivering-intelligence-from-chaos

(2) http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/global-warming-data-centres-to-consume-three-times-as-much-energy-in-next-decade-experts-warn-a6830086.html

(3) http://googlegreenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/more-nordic-wind-power-for-our-european.html

(4) http://www.windpowerengineering.com/dw-sync/powin-energy-earns-patent-battery-operating-system-energy-storage-ev-fast-charging/