CleanTech IQ recently caught up with Dan Spitzer, a partner at law firm Hodgson Russ, to discuss advancements in distributed energy resource (DER) technologies. Spitzer leads the firm’s clean technology practice, and represents municipalities, developers, land owners, and financing entities.
We touched on CHP and microgrids, opportunities for global cleantech companies seeking U.S. projects, and his key policy concerns for 2018.
What are the Key Trends in Combined Heat and Power (CHP)?
“My take is that CHP is an outstanding technology that fits well with what we are doing in U.S. regarding the decentralization of our energy system and development of distributed energy resources (DER.)
The reality of DER today is that you have to have reliable backup and fuel supply. And natural gas powered micro CHP systems have demonstrated that they provide a cost saving and efficient backbone for a microgrid system in urban areas. There’s been a lot of technology advancement in small micro CHP solutions over the past few years.
And the increasing use of natural gas is what has led the U.S. to lowering its CO2 emissions.
So, I believe the use of this (CHP) technology is a trend that is going to continue and utilities are promoting it.”
Natural Gas vs. Battery-Based Microgrids?
“Right now, the backbone of every successful microgrid is using natural gas as the backup power supply.
I don’t think that stand alone battery storage has reached the point yet where you can have the ability to develop a stand-alone microgrid where battery storage backup is all you can rely on to deal with the intermittency of renewable energy. But we are moving towards that point as there are great strides being made in batteries.
However, if you combine battery storage with energy efficiency measures, we can reach a point where you can have a fully renewable-based microgrid system (without the use of natural gas.)
When thinking about natural gas versus battery-based systems, you also need to consider the different types of customers. For hospitals and first responders, you need a very dependable backup and natural gas is more reliable. Other types of customers will put more faith in battery storage as the backup supply.
What Are the Key U.S. Policy Issues for Clean Tech Companies?
“Cleantech startups seeking projects in the U.S. need to be focused at the state level, as U.S. states are pushing greater de-carbonization and are decentralizing their energy system.
And startups need to understand the economic impact of their projects on a state-by-state basis in order to decide where to focus. For example, there are opportunities for implementing clean energy technologies in New York and California because their electricity rates are very high. However, the cost dynamic varies by state so the opportunity for different types of technologies is different.
The U.S. energy market is increasingly opening up to European clean tech companies as it increasingly moves to a decentralized energy system. In fact, there’s never been a better time for innovative startups globally to get into the U.S. market and pair up with large company partners, who are increasingly investing in innovative clean technologies.
However, when pursuing corporate partnerships, global cleantech startups need to focus on protecting their intellectual property (IP) both in the U.S. and in their home country. They need to look carefully at their technology transfer agreements and how their IP is structured to ensure they are protected.
Startups should also find partners who know how to identify projects and are familiar with the key players in various states. Most countries have a chamber of commerce that can put you in touch with these types of organizations in the U.S.
And they should contact industry trade associations, such as the Solar Energy Industries Association, and state agencies that are focused on bringing in energy improvements into their local economies, such as NYSERDA in New York.”
What Are Your Key U.S. Federal Policy Concerns?
“One of my policy concerns is that lowering corporate tax rates in the U.S. brought about the tax reform bill will reduce the appetite for tax equity investment from banks and insurance companies, which are a key financing source for wind and solar projects.
Another concern is the possible elimination of electric vehicle subsidies by this administration. EVs are a technology that the U.S. can be a leader in. If these subsidies are eliminated, we are handing the future of the most important change in transport in modern history over to foreign countries.
Another area of focus is the potential rewriting of the wind production tax credit (PTC) safe harbor provisions and an early phase out. However, this proposal will have difficulty getting through senate as most wind manufacturing jobs are in Republican states.”
Are you Seeing Opportunities in the Circular Economy?
“Waste reduction is a big trend among U.S. companies as more and more of them are adopting the cradle-to-cradle approach to avoiding waste altogether. For example, there are a number of US auto manufacturing plants that produce zero landfill waste.
Large corporations are increasingly seeing value through both the reduction of their waste streams and by creating more sustainable products from waste.
A key driver of this trend is that consumers are now demanding more sustainable products. And U.S. states are creating policies that incentivize companies to re-use their waste rather than dumping it in landfills.
So, there are big opportunities for innovators that can bring in the ability to reuse resources or reduce waste. This includes waste reduction and re-use at large companies and at the household level, such as in more environmentally friendly consumer product packaging.”