Demand for energy is unrelenting, and will only increase as populations grow. But coupled with the desire for affordable, endless energy is the need to reduce the harmful resulting emissions as well, and this is where harnessing renewable technology will be paramount.
Innovation in the renewable energy technology field is truly non-stop. Whether through solar, wind, hydro, wave, heat-exchange, tidal, wave or bioenergy, renewable energy technologies allow the creation of heat, fuel and electricity from renewable sources. As exciting new energy technologies continue to emerge, with advances in areas including lithium-ion battery storage and energy blockchains, the future in this field continues to shine bright.
The energy sector is changing rapidly, with governments around the world embracing new and ground-breaking technologies that will benefit both the planet and people. From passing important legislation to incorporating sustainable energy sources into the practices of manufacturing companies, advancements are continually being made that will make a positive difference.
Energy industry trends can be categorized into three concepts:
1. Decarbonization – a transition toward a clean, carbon-free economy through the integration and increased shares of renewable energy sources.
2. Decentralization – electricity with a large number of multi-level producers and consumers distributed geographically, allowing lower energy intensity while providing prospects for developing renewable sources of energy.
3. Digitization – indicates the widespread use of digital machines and devices at all levels of the power system, from production and infrastructure to end-user devices.
Something new under the sun
It’s impossible to talk about renewable energy without considering environmental issues and how they affect our daily lives. Discovering and then embracing renewable clean energy sources remains a goal for all involved in the industry in an effort to embrace innovations that not only meet the world’s unending need for power, but also conserve the planet and our future in the process.
Solar power, for instance, has been around and utilized in various technologies for years – everyone has a neighbour with solar panels installed on their roof, for instance – but now that technology is reaching more impressive heights. A solar-powered train in Australia can complete a three-kilometer trip with 100 passengers on board in 10 minutes. It boasts zero emissions and is housed in its own powered shed for cloudy days.
As an ultimate source of clean energy, photosynthesis, with its by-product of hydrogen, remains a clear leader. Emulating the process plants use to generate energy, this energy source boasts zero emissions, but is difficult to replicate artificially. Now scientists from the University of Cambridge and Ruhr University Bochum have successfully found a way to split water molecules into individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms, opening the path to a future free of fossil fuels.
The power of water
Sunlight and the world’s water supply provide the most stable sources of energy. The unrealized energy potential of our oceans is a vital area of study for scientists learning how best to harness the tidal energy in massive bodies of water. The process of utilizing tidal stream generators to power turbines and harvest this invaluable resource will only continue to grow.
Along with water, solar power remains a great source of renewable energy. There is enough sunlight falling on the Sahara Desert every day to power the entire planet, but the challenge is considerable: at present, in practical terms, solar power can only be captured as a charge in a battery and not as a fuel. A new liquid, however, has been developed that is able to store solar power for up to 18 years and could soon make its indelible mark on the world.
We’re all familiar by now with the concept of 3D printing, but you may not yet have heard of 3D-printed solar-energy trees. This incredible innovation, which is exactly what it sounds like, can harness solar power through tiny synthetic leaves made of flexible organic solar cells.
Each leaf sports its own power converter and can also collect both heat and kinetic power (from temperature changes and wind movement) when used in the open air. The “tree” trunks are made of wood-based biocomposites and don’t resemble the traditional solar panels found on rooftops — in fact, they look a lot like real trees.
Other amazing innovations include electric tires that harness power from the heat generated by road friction to pass electricity to your car, and carbon nanotube electricity. These are tiny structures made of carbon that link together in a honeycomb pattern to create tubes of amazing tensile strength with the potential to generate surprising amounts of electricity under certain conditions of twisting and stretching. Down the road these tubes could possibly power small electrical appliances.
All of these innovations are geared toward achieving the same goal: providing clean energy to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and stop global warming, a worldwide concern that continues to escalate as demands for energy grow.
Other technological innovations can be found in marine solar with floating solar arrays, in floating offshore wind harnessing, and in molten salt reactors which could provide carbon-free electricity in the future with fewer radiation risks than nuclear. Green hydrogen is described as renewably-produced hydrogen with extremely low emissions that could potentially overtake the traditional oil and gas industries.
Along with all of these amazing advances, we should remember that huge parts of the world still lack access to very basic energy services at all, in which case renewable energy should be considered in a very different way: as an energy source that can be made more accessible and available to remote or disadvantaged populations. In order to slow and eventually halt global warming, more countries need to embrace the shift from fossil fuel usage to renewable energy sources. This requires large-scale accessibility in all countries, not just in the developed parts of the world. Unfortunately, clean energy technologies like wind, solar, electric vehicles, smart grids, and energy storage are generally still more costly than conventional sources, so making them available around the world is a challenge, particularly in developing counties.
Wind and solar power are expensive due to the additional cost of the batteries required to store generated energy, and thus, innovative means of energy storage are expected to be at the forefront of emerging technologies and efforts to make power more accessible and affordable. Energy storage innovation includes, for instance, using old electric car batteries to provide grid energy storage, as seen on Barbados, while community-based microgrids can save energy while providing energy independence, efficiency and protection against failure.
Blockchain technology, meanwhile, offers an incorruptible peer-to-peer network that eliminates the need for middlemen for electricity suppliers. Blockchain technology aims to unite all energy stakeholders under a single decentralized network. Electricity producers, distribution network operators, metering operators, providers of financial services, and traders will benefit from utilizing ‘smart contracts’.
These contracts ensure that all energy-related transactions pass through a secure, fixed network, eliminating potential losses. Blockchain also can potentially achieve a level of equality between energy producers and consumers by making electricity affordable for a larger population.
As these technologies continue to grow and develop, they’ll help make renewable energy more affordable and desirable around the world.
Facing the future
The demand for energy on our planet is not going to decrease any time soon. It will continue to rise with improving standards of living, so developing innovative technology for clean renewable energy is imperative.
Political and industrial leaders need to work more closely and intensively with scientific and technological innovators and developers to not only facilitate the generation of more (and more sustainable) energy, but to make it accessible around the world. Manufacturers and leaders can make the difference in reducing emissions and safeguarding the health of the planet through a host of exciting choices and pioneering possibilities. By embracing renewable technology and making the switch to a greener lifestyle, we’ll save the environment, and ultimately save ourselves.