It is not uncommon to hear the term alternative energies as a synonym for renewables. In contrast, humans use conventional power to signify energy production from fossil fuels such as coal, lignite, oil, or gas. This is a heritage from a past when all the energy was produced by burning fossil fuels and other energy tech like wind and solar, that were either non-existent or not economically viable (Ritchie, 2021). This article will rate new renewable technologies.
Why New Renewable Technologies?
Renewables have become cheaper and more predictable, driven by technological advancements and economies of scale (Roser, M., 2020). Onshore wind and solar PV are considered mature technologies with a proven track record regarding performance and reliability. New renewable technologies have witnessed rapid cost reduction, outpacing traditional sources, and enhancing their competitiveness in the last decade.
According to BloombergNEF (2023), the energy produced by newly constructed wind or solar facilities is cheaper compared to that from new coal or gas-fired power plants. Their Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE), which measures the cost to produce 1 MWh of electricity, is 35-40% lower. However, it’s worth noting that manufacturing costs for Photovoltaic (PV) modules and wind turbines have increased due to the pandemic. This increase is attributed to rising raw material and shipping costs, as well as worsened financing conditions resulting from central banks’ efforts to curb inflationary dynamics (BloombergNEF, 2022).
Such competitiveness is a key driver behind the significant deployment of new energy technologies like wind and solar projects. Over the last decade, renewables have experienced unprecedented growth in terms of global installed capacity. For instance, solar PV capacity increased almost 16-fold, reaching 630 GW in 2020, up from 40 GW in 2010. This trend shows no signs of slowing down; in 2021, there were another record 183 GW of new additions. It was expected to, and did, surpass the 200 GW mark for the first time in 2022. Global wind capacity also saw a record increase of 94 GW in 2021. Indeed, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), wind installations will continue growing at a yearly rate of 6.6%.
New Renewable Technologies: Battery Systems
In addition, it is becoming more common to couple new renewable technologies with battery energy storage systems (BESS). For example, in the United States, around one-third of the large-scale solar projects under development includes battery. The electric grid must always be in balance: the amount of energy injected into the grid must be equal to the amount of energy consumed. Indeed, when energy demand is low, reducing or curtailing energy production is vital to maintain the system. As a consequence, if there is not enough demand, these systems lose energy (Fraser, P., 2019). Fortunately, you can partially overcome this issue by charging a battery with excess energy by storing wind and solar energy as electricity.
Another benefit provided by the BESS is network stability services. The power grid requires precise operation within a narrow frequency range. Frequency constantly varies due to a change in demand or production (Drax, 2018). As an example, think about switching on or off the lights in your apartment or a cloud covering the sun. Renewables, with their intermittent nature, can affect this equilibrium. Instead, batteries can help flatten these fluctuations by ramping up or ramping down (i.e. by absorbing or injecting energy into the grid) thus stabilising the grid (Bangash et al., 2019).
Challenges of New Renewable Technologies
Renewables are often blamed by the sceptics for their intermittent and not programmable nature, allegedly causing grid faults and blackouts. However, their output has become more predictable thanks to improved weather and wind speed forecasting. Machine learning and data analytics are fostering the transition toward a carbon-free electric grid (Lago, A., 2023). Power systems running almost 100% on renewables are now a reality. California has recently set a new record with over 97% of electricity on the grid coming from renewable energy.
New technologies are continuously being developed, like solar perovskite solar cells and new storage technologies. In fact, we will outline some of the most recent developments later in this article.
The European Challenge
In February 2022, after a long period of peace and stability, a conflict exploded in Europe. In fact, the Russian invasion of Ukraine awakened the fear of a war in the old continent. Moreover, this event brought back concerns that seemed to belong to a faraway past (IEA, 2022). Europe is facing a great challenge, and it must ensure energy security. Europe is highly dependent on Russian gas necessary for power and heating. Indeed, over 40% of total EU imports come from Russia. Furthermore, the action to interrupt the supply of natural gas, oil, etc., has put immense pressure on the energy grid. Due to conflict and sanctions, oil and gas prices have surged, prompting EU governments to aid households and businesses.
Resolutions Using New Renewable Technologies
Measures like fiscal support and tax relief are being implemented to lower energy costs. European countries are also working to reduce reliance on Russian gas by diversifying supplies and shifting to cleaner energy sources.
The European Commission’s REPowrEU plan aims to achieve complete independence from Russian gas imports through supply diversification, demand reduction, energy efficiency, and increased clean energy production by the end of the decade (International Energy Agency, 2023).
Germany has halted the final authorization for Nord Stream 2, a 1,200 km pipeline connecting St. Petersburg and Lubmin. Intended to transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas annually, it equals 25% of the EU’s consumption. The project faced opposition from various parties, including the US government, making it unlikely to gain new supporters. However, the possibility remains that it could stay unfinished (Marsh, S. and Chambers, M., 2022). Indeed, the Ukrainian war’s long-term consequences remain uncertain. New renewable energy could thrive as countries accelerate their transition. Germany aims for 100% renewable electricity by 2035, while France may support new nuclear plants to meet future energy demands (Reuters, 2022).
Can We Ensure Access to New Renewable Tech for Everyone?
- access to energy: ensure universal access to energy services;
- renewable energy: increase the share of renewables in the global energy mix;
- energy efficiency: improve the use of energy by reducing the energy intensity (i.e. the amount of energy required for a given output or service).
Access to affordable and reliable energy brings socio-economic benefits, such as enabling education, information access, and income generation. However, the gap remains substantial, with over 750 million people lacking electricity, primarily in rural Sub-Saharan regions. This represents approximately 10% of the global population.
Greenhouse gases (GHG) drive climate change. In fact, the energy sector contributes to 73% of human-caused GHG emissions. Expanding energy access and increasing clean sources in the energy mix are crucial. Renewables make up only 11.5% of total energy consumption (17% with traditional biomass). The electricity sector leads with renewables at 25%, while heat and transport lag at 9% and 3% respectively. These sectors require faster adoption of low-carbon technologies. Indeed, accelerating this transition to new renewable technologies is vital to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as pledged at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
Projections fall short of Paris Agreement requirements. Indeed, while the IEA estimates that we will reach 18% of modern renewables by 2030, achieving the Net Zero Emission target by 2050 requires us to reach 32%.
New Renewable Technologies in Australia
In a globalised economy, even countries far from the war in Europe, like Australia, face consequences such as high oil and gas prices. In fact, this conflict increased the inflation rate by 5.1%. As a result, this impacted households and small businesses. Indeed, if prices remain high, some small businesses may be forced to close.
Australia must reduce reliance on fossil fuels and shift to green energy to achieve energy independence. Mining Magnate Andrew Forrest calls for faster adoption of renewables and new technologies to lower carbon emissions. A federal energy policy is necessary to diversify the energy mix and establish a clear path towards cleaner sources. Australia is committed to net zero emissions by 2050. However, concerns arise due to the lack of clear policy support.
The states and territories are continuing to drive the energy transition by defining new frameworks and setting new records. For instance, the New South Wales government formally declared the first renewable energy zone in 2021, which will host 3 GW of new renewable capacity. The State of Victoria launched the second round of its renewable tender (VRET 2) aimed at bringing online at least 600 MW of new renewable energy capacity. In late November 2021, South Australia was powered entirely by wind and solar for 93 hours.
Australia’s energy tech strategy includes hydrogen, obtained through water electrolysis, splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen. Green hydrogen sourced from clean energies like wind and solar, different from brown hydrogen (from fossil fuel) and grey hydrogen (from natural gas), can replace fossil fuels in electricity and heat production, aiding decarbonisation. It also stabilizes the grid, supporting higher variable renewable energy penetration. Indeed, grid-connected electrolysers offer flexible load management for grid stability.
New Renewable Tech on the Horizon
The clean energy sector attracts large investments every year, with billions of dollars spent on research, innovation and new technologies to accelerate the energy transition.
Solar perovskite, for instance, is an energy tech that might bring the next breakthrough in the energy sector. Perovskite is a mineral, discovered by the Russian mineralogist Perovski, with a crystal structure and high conducting properties. It has been used to manufacture solar cells providing efficiency comparable to the traditional silicon cells. Perovskite presents some important advantages:
- it is cheap to produce;
- it needs only a very thin layer to manufacture a solar cell;
- the material can be deposited with a simple process that does not require expensive equipment;
- it doesn’t need high temperatures to make it malleable, reducing manufacturing costs (unlike silicon crystals, which require temperatures above 1,600 degrees Celsius).
However, perovskite cells present one major limit related to their stability and degradation. Solar panels made of silicon last up to 30 years or more. In contrast, perovskite tends to degrade quickly when exposed to atmospheric agents. Additional research and experiments will be needed before reaching full commercialization.
A Chinese-Swedish team has developed a promising new energy tech to integrate solar systems that can store energy for up to 18 years. Known as MOST (Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage System), it converts solar energy into chemical energy, releasing it as heat. However, widespread adoption may take time as improvements are needed to enhance its energy extraction capabilities and cost-effectiveness. Kasper Moth-Poulsen, the research leader, explains that they are working to streamline the system and make it more efficient. Despite using basic materials, further adaptation is necessary to ensure broader feasibility (News.cision, 2022).
Making Energy Cuts at the Ground Level
Making a shift to new renewable technologies won’t be enough to ensure the achievement of net zero emissions targets by 2050. Indeed, countries, organisations, and individuals will have to adopt strategies and behaviours aimed at reducing their “energy footprint“. Energy efficiency moves in this direction by enabling the generation of the same output while using less energy.
There is no doubt that renewables generate significant benefits in terms of CO₂ emissions, lower energy bills, and higher energy security by reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports. Energy efficiency may be the most immediate response as well as the cheapest. In addition, energy-efficient solutions are often scalable, meaning they can be implemented at the individual level and extended to a larger scale with a significant impact at the macro level.
In this regard, the initiative launched by the IEA (playing my part) is a demonstration of the large impact that individual actions can have. The agency identified 9 behaviours that, if implemented, can reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian gas while mitigating climate change. In fact, if all EU citizens were to follow the recommendations, it would save 220 million barrels of oil a year and around 17 billion cubic metres of gas, the IEA estimates.
Making More of What We Have
Energy efficiency finds applications in every sector, not just in power generation. Also, the construction, transportation, manufacturing, and IT industries present untapped opportunities ready to be exploited. As an example, new buildings or renovated ones can have higher insulation, install heat pumps and digital thermostats, and use more efficient construction materials.
In the transportation sector, Electric Vehicles (EVs) are a prominent example. EVs are known for their high efficiency, converting over 77% of electrical energy from the grid into power at the wheels. Furthermore, they emit lower CO₂ compared to combustion engine cars, even when accounting for all the emissions generated in the process. Indeed, a recent study conducted by Bloomberg showed that EVs are cleaner even when powered by coal, with fewer greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
However, while some solutions are quick wins, short-term actions should never come at the expense of longer-term goals. Consumers should be guided and supported consistently over time. Create the basis for a continuous and repeated adoption of best practices. Governments should implement appropriate incentives for households and businesses to avoid disappointing results and accelerate energy efficiency and sustainable actions.
What is the Best New Renewable Tech?
In the fight against climate change, there is no magic wand or a one-size-fits-all solution. No single technology can put the world in line with the objective of the Paris Agreement. The objective of the Paris Agreement is to “limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C“. To achieve the Net Zero Emission target, we will be required to implement all possible solutions. We need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by improving efficiency while reducing demand for fossil fuels and adopting more sustainable behaviours.
To borrow the words of the IEA Executive Director, Fatih Birol: “The social and economic benefits of accelerating clean energy transitions are huge, and the costs of inaction are immense“. e
why Is it essential that we focus on this issue?
Last year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a comprehensive report (The World Energy Transitions Outlook). It outlines a pathway to achieve the Paris Agreement goals and halt the pace of climate change. In essence, the report sets an accelerated trajectory until 2030 and a continuous downward trajectory thereafter, reaching net zero by 2050. This will require a 30% increase in investment, reaching a total of USD 131 trillion between now and 2050. IRENA’s energy transition components are renewable capacity, electrification, energy efficiency, green hydrogen, and bioenergy with carbon capture (BECCS).
Decisions, at all levels, should be made to achieve the sustainable future we all look forward to. Governments can incentivise new renewable technology investments through policies like tax credits, subsidies, feed-in tariffs, and financial incentives. Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) can reward and verify renewable energy generation, enabling companies and individuals to claim environmental benefits.
achieving the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs)
Building generation facilities, promoting clean energy, and exploring new power resources are vital for advancing Sustainable Development Goal 9. SDG 9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, foster inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and promote innovation.
Moreover, new renewable technologies enable inclusive access to energy. Renewable off-grid solutions empower remote areas, granting electricity access, and catalyzing educational, healthcare, and economic advancements for communities. Energy tech innovation fosters accessible and clean energy solutions, aligning with SDG 7, which promotes equitable access to energy resources.
A Thrivable Framework
Thrivability transcends sustainability, reaching far beyond mere survival. While sustainability aims to sustain, thrivability envisions a world of abundance. Here at THRIVE, we firmly embrace the infinite potential of humanity. Our mission is to ignite the awareness of implementing sustainable solutions. By not only preventing catastrophe and nurturing societies to thrive and blossom, we unlock their true potential for prosperity and growth.
The energy sector stands as the lifeblood that powers the world’s every endeavour. The urgent need to transition towards clean and alternative energy sources has reached a paramount level. While some nations lead the way as pioneers in this shift, others may still be catching up to the realization of this fruitful transformation.
Within THRIVE’s Systemic Holistic Model (SHM) a framework unveils four key focal points. One of these is Significance. The recognition of an entity’s material-level importance and the embrace of a multi-capital and multi-material approach hold the utmost significance. To effectively mitigate the impact of various situations, it becomes imperative to ensure comprehensive coverage across all areas of interest, harmoniously weaving together a coherent and structured tapestry of solutions.
To learn more about how The THRIVE Project is researching, educating and advocating for political and economic equality and trying to create a future beyond sustainability, visit our website. THRIVE has its own set of publications as a guide for anyone wanting to run or support sustainable business practices. You can follow our informative, diverse blog and podcast series, and learn more about our regular live webinars. Sign up for our newsletter to receive regular updates.