Renewable energy technologies are showing great promise to change how energy is produced around the globe, while addressing basic human needs. In 2015, Caterpillar launched a number of initiatives that will provide reliable, cost-effective and sustainable energy wherever it is needed.
For example, microgrid technologies that couple renewable energy generation with traditional generators and energy storage systems can be deployed to places where the grid is weak, or does not reach. In 2015, Caterpillar entered a strategic alliance with solar industry leader First Solar to develop and distribute Cat branded photovoltaic modules for incorporation into microgrid systems that can be utilized anywhere from remote villages to mining operations. Caterpillar will distribute this innovative technology through our global network of dealers, providing value to our customers by integrating solar energy systems with Caterpillar’s trusted expertise in distributed power generation technologies.
Caterpillar is also leveraging the advanced thin film solar panel technology for our traditional commercial and industrial customer’s energy needs in more developed markets such as the United States and China. The thin film solar panel technology has higher energy capture characteristics than traditional solar panels, yielding increased annual energy production for our customers. Integration of these products with traditional standby generator sets allows customers to leverage the benefits of renewable energy even if the grid goes down, providing an even higher level of energy independence.
Another important technology that is rapidly progressing is energy storage systems, which allow customers to capture surplus renewable energy and store it for later use. Caterpillar, leveraging our bi-directional inverter technology developed for mining trucks and hybrid tractors, offers a full range of energy storage technologies, ranging from ultracapacitors for short duration storage to long duration metal-air energy storage products. Recognizing the benefit that energy storage technology can offer our customers, in 2015 Caterpillar invested in Fluidic Energy, the makers of metal-air energy storage technologies. We chose Fluidic Energy for this endeavor because the company’s technology offers potentially significant advantages in terms of energy storage cost, depth of discharge, cycle life and safety over some traditional energy storage products.
Leading by example, Caterpillar is first deploying world-class microgrid technologies at some of its own facilities. Many Caterpillar operations resemble the commercial/industrial operations of our customers, so microgrid installations at Caterpillar facilities provide a hands-on educational and training experience for customers and dealers while simultaneously providing cost and emission reductions for the company. A prime example is the Caterpillar Tucson Proving Ground facility located in Arizona. Caterpillar performs validation testing of its mining equipment at this site, which is comprised of an office building, shop areas and large open-air test areas. Existing Cat® C15 diesel generator sets operate continuously to provide approximately 400kW of electricity to the site, consuming approximately 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year. Extending the local utility grid to this remote location is cost-prohibitive, but microgrid technology is now a cost-effective complement to diesel generators alone. We are installing 500kW of solar panels, 500kW of energy storage and a microgrid controller to seamlessly integrate these sources with the existing diesel generators. The system will carry the site load during daylight hours, enabling the diesel generators to reduce power output and shut down. Fuel consumption and exhaust emissions are expected to be reduced by 33 percent and generator maintenance is expected to be reduced by 25 percent, with the resulting cost reductions providing an attractive return on the investment in the microgrid. Real-time performance of the system will be monitored remotely, and will be available for viewing online by select Cat® dealers.
Moving forward, we intend to deploy similar microgrid systems, solar panels and energy storage systems to customers throughout the world – whether in remote villages, mining sites, islands, military installations, telecommunications facilities, or commercial/industrial facilities. By expanding Caterpillar’s broad power generation portfolio and solutions, we are reducing customer costs and site emissions, while expanding access to electricity to those in the greatest need. Our goal is simple – to provide our customers and the communities where they work and live a brighter future no matter where they are in the world.