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Q&A: Where is the energy sector headed next?

Having all electric homes, business, automobiles, and trucks will not have the desired effect if the electric utility uses any portion of diesel, fuel oil, coal, and natural gas to produce its electricity.

Bank of solar power panels in the UK. Image © Tim Sandle
Bank of solar power panels in the UK. Image © Tim Sandle

The energy sector has experienced considerable change, both technologically and in relation to environmental changes. In the context of change, how will the power solutions industry change over the short to medium term?

To discover more, Digital Journal spoke with Arthur Sams, CEO of Polar Power, a global provider of prime, backup, and solar hybrid power solutions.

Digital Journal: Can you provide a brief background on Polar Power?

Arthur Sams: Polar Power is a technology company listed on Nasdaq under POLA that designs and manufactures power and cooling systems based on direct current (DC) technology. This includes DC hybrid power systems and DC solar hybrid power systems for select markets and applications. Sectors served include telecommunications, military/defense, renewable energy, agriculture, EV charging, marine, automotive, industrial, nano/micro grid, recreational vehicle, and mining and oil field. We are a provider of reliable and high-quality products that can be configured to run on any fuel source from diesel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), to renewable fuels.

Our DC power solutions provide reliable and low-cost energy in markets and applications that lack access to the utility grid or need to operate in the case of utility grid failure. Polar Power is pioneering technological changes that radically change the production, consumption, and environmental impact of power generation.

The company was founded in 1979 and manufactured the first solar powered vaccine refrigerators. In the 1980s, we started to engineer and manufacture power and cooling systems for military missions. In the 1990s, we began to provide solar hybrid systems for home and telecom use. In the 2010s, we received production contracts from top 3 tier-1 telecom companies. We also began to produce mobile EV chargers for Ford, Chrysler/Fiat, Mazda, Volkswagen, Bosch. Then in 2016, we went public via an IPO, and expanded our solutions globally.

DJ: What type of power systems do you design and manufacture and what industries do you serve?

Sams: Our electric generating technology is built around using DC as opposed to using alternating current (AC). We integrate solar, energy storage, fuel cells, and multiple generators, all of which favor the use of DC over AC power. Our DC generators are more efficient, lighter in weight, more compact, and reduce the overall system cost. DC also allows control of output voltage and current facilitating direct charging of batteries, which is not possible with AC generators. The DC is the only technology optimum for robotics and hybrid specialty vehicles due to its light weight and compact size.

Electric power is typically required in all industries and applications.

DJ: You were recently awarded a contract from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide a nano grid for one of its offices in Africa. Can you share more information about the contract and discuss its significance?

Sams: Many cities in Africa and throughout the world are in bad-grid locations, which have power outages that occur daily or multiple times a week lasting as long as 24 hours. This is a setback for communications, data processing, food storage, water supply, air-conditioning, etc. During the loss of grid, there are huge numbers of generators automatically or manually starting to produce electricity, most at very low efficiencies. Diesel is considerably more expensive than energy derived from the grid, so the cost to operate organizations, businesses, farms, or homes increases greatly. Most generator operators/owners are not equipped to service their own equipment making their generators not very reliable. Typically, at an office or hotel, you can see a quantity of failed generators on the property.

The goal of our UNHCR contract is to improve the reliability of their backup power, reduce fuel consumption, and reduce CO2 emissions. To accomplish this task, Polar Power will supply a DC generator, battery storage, inverters, automated controls, and an option to connect solar photovoltaic (PV).

The significance of this project is that it demonstrates a nano/micro grid using a DC generator in place of an AC generator, storing energy from the grid to reduce fuel consumption, and raising level system integration to improve reliability and lowering OPEX and CAPEX costs.

DJ: How can the use of transition fuels reduce carbon dioxide?

Sams: Having all electric homes, business, automobiles, and trucks will not have the desired effect if the electric utility uses any portion of diesel, fuel oil, coal, and natural gas to produce its electricity. Note that even though the utilities have very efficient processes to convert fossil fuel into electricity, this is offset with the considerable power line losses in delivering the electricity to the application. Also, consider that the heat produced in the utility process is not used but waisted into the environment. Most environmentalists do not address the pollution produced by the electric utility when pushing for the all-electric home or business.

I have seen over the decades that the rising electric demand also increases the electric cost.

Most existing homes do not have sufficient electric service to fast charge an EV or operate as an all-electric facility. To increase power service to the home or business is typically very expensive to pay to the utility and the customers electrician.

The transitional fuels can support the grid until electric utilities can increase their capacity and move away from burning fossil fuels allowing the transition to renewable and nuclear energy. Many electric grids throughout the world have service degrading because of aging infrastructure, increased energy demand from air conditioning, EV charging, population increase, telecommunications, and data services. For over 50 years, I have seen New York and California suffer regular summer blackouts due to air conditioning. Over the past two summers in Los Angeles, I have received notifications not to charge my EVs due to grid power shortages. I feel safer with three energy sources servicing my home: solar PV, gas, and electric.

Engines built for operation on transitional fuels such as propane, butane, and natural gas can also be adjusted to operate on non-carbon producing fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia (as used for fertilizer), along with synthetic fuels that are carbon neutral.

Until “super” batteries can be developed and put into production with reasonable cost along with the grid having the capacity to charge the batteries while powering the load, transitional fuels are urgently needed to replace diesel generators in mobile, off-grid, and bad-grid applications. For example, telecommunications and data services are consuming tens of billions of liters of diesel each year throughout the world. A change to propane, natural gas, or LPG (mixture of propane and butane) would reduce the CO2 anywhere from 14% to 29%, and change to DC generators with solar PV can reduce emissions up to 90%. Changing an LPG fuel and system design can reduce their operating cost and lower their maintenance, while improving reliability.

Combining a transitional fuel with solar PV lowers both the CAPEX and OPEX costs as opposed to installing a 100% solar system for either an off-grid or backup applications. Large battery banks are required in a 100% solar system to stabilize array output during long periods of cloudy weather and the short days of winter. Batteries are not only the most expensive part of a solar system, but system efficiency is lost by as much as 30% due to charge/discharge losses. Batteries typically require replacement every three to six years. Incorporating a DC generator (using transitional fuel) with a solar PV system for applications in air-conditioning, cold storage, and water pumping applications stabilizes the PV and eliminates the battery requirement thereby making solar more affordable. And in other applications requiring power 24/7, the DC generator greatly reduces the battery requirement.

DC generators can provide fast EV charging in homes with limited grid service, and provide backup service to homes and businesses in bad-grid.

By reducing the cost of solar and backup systems and facilitating EV charging goes a long way to encourage the use of solar and EVs.

DJ: Where do you think the power solutions industry will go in the next five years?

Sams: My attention is focused on:

  • Micro/nano grids
  • Wireless telecommunications
  • Military
  • Solar Hybrid power systems
  • Mobile EV Charging

Over the next five years transition fuels will be picking up momentum over the use of diesel. It will take legislation or the removal of taxes from transitional fuels to move this CO2 reduction forward.

I do not see commercial availability of super batteries, yet.

I see U.S. grids degrading under the pressure of increasing HVAC, EV charging, broadband, and data services while power plants and transmission equipment fail to be upgraded.

I see permitting of solar for homes and business becoming more difficult and the utility purchase of net metering get further discounted. Utility companies will pressure homeowners to purchase battery storage for their grid tie PV systems and require the homeowner to provide the utility access to their energy storage.

The battle over the installation of new nuclear plants continues, which will cause delays in construction.  Transitional fuels will be more widely used in developing countries.

California electric utilities have not met the past demands for annual summertime air-conditioning loads and more recently summertime EV charging. Nano grids and combined heat and power (CHP) will prop up the grids both in the U.S. and overseas.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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