The clean energy industry faced no shortage of challenges in 2022.
Sure, the year will be remembered for the passage of a transformational federal policy to support clean energy deployment and climate change mitigation.
But trade disputes, supply chain constraints, and macroeconomic trends quickly dimmed the glow of the Inflation Reduction Act. The solar industry was especially hard hit last year with installations declining 23%.
So, why is this clean energy CEO so optimistic about 2023?
Raphael Declercq is watching the evolution in corporate demand for clean energy up close.
No longer are companies only interested in matching their energy consumption with clean electrons generated by far-away solar and wind farms. They're looking for onsite solar, storage, and EV charging operations that not only support day-to-day operations but contribute to deeper decarbonization.
"I'm very optimistic," Declercq said on the Factor This! podcast. "We have been able to rely on corporates that are real about their commitments."
The "we" in this scenario is PowerFlex, the C&I development arm of EDF Renewables.PowerFlex CEO Raphael Declercq
While the broader clean energy market sank in 2022, C&I grew. And PowerFlex was a big force behind the push higher, developing the second-most distributed commercial solar in the country, according to a recent market report.
Utility-scale solar installations reached 2.5 GW in Q4 of 2022, a 36% decrease over the same quarter last year, the report said. There were 340 MW of commercial solar installed, up 3% year-over-year.
The raising price of electricity is only strengthening the segment's value proposition. More and more corporations are seeking a pragmatic approach to limiting risk tied to energy price volatility— a challenge that is unlikely to subside anytime soon.
"We see a lot of corporates saying, okay, we need to take this seriously," Declercq said.No such thing as 'solar only'
C&I clean energy development has historically focused on solar. But Declercq said the days of "solar only" projects are gone.
To be sure, PowerFlex clients typically start with solar. But they often come back seeking storage and EV charging solutions to support resiliency goals and the electrification of transport.
That's what fuels Declercq's excitement about C&I clean energy development's potential.
"Everywhere we are, there are two conversations. A conversation about clean energy and a conversation about transportation," Declercq said. "Not a single one of our customers doesn't bring it up."
PowerFlex is investing heavily to cash in on the electrification of transport in the C&I space.
The company recently received a $100 million investment to expand PowerFlex X, the company's line of software and hardware that integrates and co-optimizes onsite energy assets, and centralizes control, data collection, and reporting into a digital platform.
The goal is to design and manage clean energy assets that meet a company's needs while still being "grid friendly," as Declercq describes.
"You can't ignore the impact that you're having if you're turning a whole fleet of light duty trucks into electric vehicles," he said. "The grid is not ready for this and you're going to really amplify the issues that we already have with more intermittency from renewables."
Adaptive load management allows PowerFlex to maximize the number of EV chargers any given site can support, which can also prevent or delay the need for costly interconnection upgrades.
Using an algorithm developed by the California Institute of Technology, the PowerFlex X platform aims to meet the daily needs of drivers, especially those using electrified fleets as part of their core business. The platform balances battery storage, solar power generation, and EV charging needs to maximize the level of user satisfaction.
PowerFlex opted to develop its own software platform over seeking a third-party solution. Declercq said no product in the market effectively addressed the needs of the C&I customer, presenting a valuable opportunity for PowerFlex to step in.
Today, nearly a quarter of the company's 200 employees work on PowerFlex X.
"With our institutional knowledge of the energy markets, we have the ability to build a product that's going to be differentiated and that's going to bring the grid-friendliness to charging that we're not seeing anywhere else," Declercq said.
PowerFlex CEO Raphael Declercq will join a panel discussion on system planning for fleet electrification at the GridTECH Connect Forum in San Diego, Calif. on Feb. 6. The event is bringing together DER developers, utilities, and regulators to take on the critical challenge of interconnection. Register to attend today.
Declercq recognizes that project developers, like PowerFlex, helped create some of the challenges of grid reliability.
In markets like California, high solar power penetration as created a duck curve that leaves the state reliant on fossil fuels when the sun isn't shining.
Creating what Declercq calls "grid-friendly" assets is crucial to addressing the overall needs to the system and climate goals. This approach anticipates the consequences of simply replicating the gas station model of fueling for electric vehicles.
"The thing that excites me most is the ability to use vehicles to solve the issues we created," Declercq said. "You are allowing the convergence of clean power and clean transportation and entering into a virtuous circle."
About the sponsor:
This episode of Factor This! is sponsored by Heila Technologies, a Kohler company. Heila is changing the way complex microgrids are managed and operated with its EDGE control and optimization platform, which makes each asset in a system smarter while making the whole microgrid more efficient and resilient.
The EDGE helps EPCs and developers simplify microgrid deployment through a flexible approach that ensures systems operate reliably while unlocking new revenue streams.
Heila is a proud sponsor of the 2023 GridTech Connect Forum. Register now at www.gridtechconnect.com to learn more about Heila and the EDGE platform.