Power Up: Is Clean Energy Finally Reaching Its Crucial Tipping Point?

It seems clean energy has finally hit its tipping point.

* By Sarah B. Hood *

It seems clean energy has finally hit its tipping point. The University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems finds that about 800 U.S. utilities offer renewable-energy options, and in April 2019, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that, for the first time, more electricity was generated in the U.S. through renewable sources (23%) than through coal (20%). Also, the most recent figures from reports conducted by the World Wildlife Federation, Calvert Investments, CDP and Ceres found that just under half of Fortune 500 companies had set climate or clean energy targets, and the numbers continue to grow. More than 100 North American cities have adopted ambitious clean energy goals, including Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Orlando, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and St. Louis.

With increasing demand have come cost reductions, and sustainable power sources like solar and wind are reaching parity with conventional power sources in terms of both price and performance. In addition, new technologies are improving efficiency and affordability.

New Energy Technologies

Advances in energy storage were among the hot topics at recent event like ProMat 2019. For example MHI member Plug Power Inc.’s GenDrive hydrogen fuel cells—a clean, efficient, cost-effective drop-in replacement for forklift batteries that can increase facility efficiency and productivity by up to 15%.

Additionally, Soteria Battery Innovation Group is an Industry Consortium dedicated to enabling portable electric power without the risk of fires. In June, Soteria received $750,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy through the Office of Technology Transitions Technology Commercialization Fund for Li-ion batteries with safer current collectors.

MHI member Navitas Systems highlighted its Starlifter Lithium Forklift Battery, first introduced about three years ago, which is the industry’s only UL-listed family of lithium forklift batteries, available in all three voltages for lift truck classes 1, 2 and 3.

“We stand on the shoulders of our predecessors,” said Navitas president and CMO Mil Ovan. “Tesla proved that you could put a really big lithium battery into a car, and not only would it run reliably and safely, but it would also do things that an internal-combustion engine couldn’t, like instant-on torque and fast acceleration.”

He noted that “the Starlifter takes 25% less energy to charge. You don’t have to water the battery or equalize it every week, because it’s a sealed battery and there’s no sulphuric acid in it. But the biggest ‘aha!’ moment is that in comparison to lead-acid, you can find anywhere from a 10% to 20% increase in the number of pallets you can move per shift.”

This is, according to Ovan, because the Starlifter starts out at a higher voltage and maintains it throughout the shift, he said, allowing for a two-year payback. “Lead-acid batteries still have a strong use in one- to two-shift applications,” he said, but for three-shift operations or special applications like food or medicine handing, where there is a concern about introducing lead-acid into the environment, lithium batteries can present clear advantages.

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