Want Innovation to Move Faster? This Needs to Come Together First.

September 8, 2023

Why does technology seem to move so fast, yet so slow at the same time? At this point, you’ve probably seen articles hyping up how tomorrow’s technology is being innovated at lighting speeds. If you have, it always seems like new technology is on track to disrupt and transform your life as you know it, yet you feel like you only experience a slight impact in your day-to-day life.

The reason for this is because of the relationship between technology and regulation. Here’s how it usually breaks down:

  • Technology moves quickly; regulation moves slowly
  • Technology innovates; regulation standardizes
  • Technology is private; regulation is public
  • Technology makes things cheaper; regulation makes things more expensive

The bottom line is this – we need to get technology and regulation to cohesively come together, and we need to understand that we’ll be met with errors along the way. Sure, technology evolves to make our lives better, but anything new always comes with risk. Regulation steps in to help new technologies progress, but with concern for public safety taken into consideration.

This push and pull between technology and regulation is simply the price of human progress. Even though sometimes our innovations get ahead of us from a regulatory standpoint, we need to bridge this gap to usher in the sparkling promises of the future.

Technologists and Regulators Need to Learn Together

The first step is to understand that everything is always a learning process. As new technologies make it to market, we learn how they work and what causes them to fail. Even though learning is essential, we start running into problems when these failures cause the loss of life or property. And when this happens, regulators (understandably) get more involved.

Let’s take lithium batteries for example. Although there are several benefits of these batteries, we’ve also learned that they can cause scooters to explode in people’s apartments, reignite automotive fires, and lead to lung damage. But technology isn’t the only risk-generating component; regulators make their own mistakes as well.

For instance, the lack of differentiation between regulatory bodies leads to both over and under-regulation of key risks. To give you an example, failure to distinguish between toxic and non-toxic chemicals in different flow battery chemistries can cause less expensive technologies to become more expensive. Without cohesive regulatory standards in place, we risk driving up cost with no added benefit to public health or safety.

When you consider both sides, it becomes apparent that we need a balance between technological innovation and regulatory standards.

How We’ve Solved Real-World Regulation Challenges

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that we have first-hand experience with this balancing act. In the early 2010s, we were hired to electrify a rental car company’s fleet at a prominent east coast airport. Because SepiSolar was one of the first to permit a grid-connected lithium battery system, we knew that obtaining that permit was going to be tough.

The reason was because we were installing batteries to add to the site’s electrical capacity. With this airport, we had to factor in the 100-year-old copper wires underneath the city. And as you can imagine, ripping them all out wasn’t an option.

By using a solar battery, we were able to charge the airport’s EVs without adding strain on the grid. However, the regulations for the time didn’t mention anything about lithium batteries. At that moment, we knew that regulators and code books had a lot of catching up to do.

Yes, we successfully electrified the car company’s fleet, but a lot of learning took place in the process.

In this case, our system included a main service panel with a 400 Amp (A) service feed from the utility company into a 400 A service and distribution panel. To electrify the fleet, we needed to add an additional 100 A to charge all the EV chargers.

Since we couldn’t increase the 400 A service from the utility company (without setting the city on fire, apparently), we increased the panel from 400 to 600 A and added a new 100 A circuit breaker from a battery to supply the new EVs. Now to charge the battery, we also had to install a 100 A solar photovoltaic (PV) system.

At this point, we had a 600 A service panel, 500 A of load, 100 A of battery and 100 A of PV, which became a lot of power flowing in different directions. If you’ve ever worked with regulators before, it definitely raises an inspector’s eyebrows to see 600 A worth of load and 600 A worth of supply all being controlled by a computer. They start asking the big questions, like what happens if the energy management system gets hacked? And what happens if the PV and battery fail?

To make this work, we teamed up with city regulators to design and build the lithium battery containerized product. We also tailored the entire project to the relevant standards and intentions behind the health and safety codes that existed at this time. The end result was an out-of-the-box approach to code and standards development that ensured all project requirements and stakeholder concerns were properly addressed.

To learn more about we’ve closed gaps between regulations and new battery technology, check out our Net Energy Metering white paper.

How We’re Preparing for Tomorrow’s Regulations

As we mentioned a previous blog we’re seeing the next phase of infrastructure planning start to take shape when it comes to Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles. Heliports might not be new, but landing a flying car on them most definitely is.

Regarding eVTOLs, SepiSolar led the development of the first skyport permit application in the US. Throughout the process, we learned about Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations, heliport construction processes, and best practices, which increased our appreciation for the role that regulators play. Regulators come armed with knowledge of the prevailing local, state, and federal codes. Not only that, but their technical competency also allows them to address risks and weigh them against the benefits eVTOL consumers will enjoy.

Because of this combined, mutual effort between technology and regulation, we can look forward to the future that eVTOLs will unveil. In a few years, a two-hour commute can turn into a five-minute ride, after permitting and siting considerations are accounted for.

For projects bringing innovation and safety together, SepiSolar has the creative engineers from Silicon Valley (and the licensed professional engineers who govern safety) who know how to get it done.

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