Renewable resources generated around 29% of global electricity in 2020. The use of renewable technology has increased massively in recent years.
This is largely due to increased concerns about the environmental state of the planet. Fossil fuels contribute heavily to pollution. The improvement of renewable technology is helping to lessen our impact on the environment.
For 5 advancements in renewable technology to look out for, keep reading.
What Is Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy (also known as green energy or clean energy) is energy generated from natural sources or through sustainable processes. The most popular renewable energy sources globally are:
- Solar energy
- Wind energy
- Geothermal energy
All of these are essentially unlimited in supply. When properly harnessed, we can use these to generate electricity with little to no environmental impact.
Why We Need Renewable Energy
In recent centuries humanity has made huge advancements in technology. With this, our need for fuel has also increased, though many of these fuel sources are not ideal.
Fossil fuels are burned all over the world in large amounts. While this has long been the most effective way of producing energy, it releases harmful gases into the atmosphere. The threat of climate change grows closer each year, and the emission of greenhouse gases is quickly accelerating it.
Using more renewable resources to produce energy reduces the amount of pollution created. Many businesses and industries are focussing more on this to reduce their carbon footprint.
5 Advances in Renewable Technology
Renewable technology, like all technology, is constantly advancing. There are various renewable resources we’re able to use for energy production, but some are not efficient enough to be a viable option.
In today’s world, multiple technologies serve as suitable replacements for traditional energy sources. As these advancements continue, we can keep implementing them in new ways to reduce our impact on the environment.
1. Advanced Photovoltaics
Solar energy is one of the most popular types of green technology on the planet. It’s widely used in various commercial applications, and more people are using it residentially every year.
It’s well suited to homes as solar panels can be easily fitted on roofs, providing clean energy to a home while causing essentially no disruption. Most solar panels come with a 25-year warranty and may last even longer. Not only do they provide people with clean energy, but they generate savings over their entire lifecycle.
The technology behind PV (photovoltaics) is quickly improving not just in terms of efficiency, but also in functionality. Various companies are working to develop cells that are lightweight and flexible, making them more versatile. They’re also becoming more cost-effective with time.
Some companies are even working on using mirrors and lenses to improve the effectiveness of solar panels. One of the only drawbacks of solar energy systems is that they can only generate energy from sunlight. When there is cloud cover or during the night, energy production will stop.
To assist with this, many companies offer solar batteries. These will charge during the day, then continue to power homes when there’s no sunlight. Effective solar systems can support sustainable homes that have complete energy independence.
If you’re installing a solar energy system, you may want to know beforehand how much you’ll be saving on bills, and how long it will take to recoup the cost of the system. If this is the case, you should go with a company that offers complete transaction transparency, as they will tell you everything you need to know.
2. Artificial Intelligence and Big Data
The energy grid is a huge, complicated system. It involves a lot of decision-making, and AI algorithms allow for this to happen rapidly. Within the energy grid, AI can help with a range of tasks, including:
- Grid analytics
- Grid management
- Power consumption forecasting
- Predictive maintenance
- Autonomous trading and pricing
Big data is also used to help with all of this, and many smaller, newer companies make use of machine learning and data analytics. With this, they can analyze performance and design improved energy models.
An example of this in the energy industry is Optiwise, the machine learning software developed by German startup Likewatt. It presents data on real-time energy consumption patterns through a range of means. This involves calculating historical energy consumption, auditing renewable energy, and weather forecasting.
Other companies have developed programs with similar functions. They allow people to view market price indicators, accounting data, production forecasts, and more. This way, market participants can make informed decisions about sustainable energy to improve their returns.
3. Distributed Energy Storage Systems
As mentioned above, many solar energy companies also offer solar batteries as a means of storing renewable energy. Various companies have developed different DESS (distributed energy storage systems) with similar purposes.
Different types of batteries are available. Flow batteries produce a low, but consistent energy supply. Solid-state batteries are known for being lightweight and have a very high energy density.
There are concerns around batteries due to a range of factors like safety and environmental impact. This has led to several startups working on other DESS solutions, such as compressed air and pumped hydro technologies. Through these, energy can be stored as heat or methane rather than electricity, then converted when needed via P2X (Power-to-X) technology.
Such solutions may be suitable for both domestic and commercial use. Compressed air energy storage is fully sustainable, as the only fluids used are water and air. The energy is typically stored in commercial pressure tanks, which are generally inexpensive.
Amongst renewable energy sources, hydropower is one of the oldest used. The first hydroelectric dam was built over a century ago, and they provide several advantages.
Solar and wind energy are very popular, but hydro energy is significantly more reliable. It’s possible to observe tides and currents, meaning companies can assess energy generation with ease. Tidal barrages and hydroelectric dams can generate decentralized energy effectively and consistently.
OETC (ocean thermal energy conversion) takes advantage of the thermal change between the surface and depths of bodies of water. This can be more effective in warmer climates where the sun heats the surface of the water more.
WEC (wave energy conversion) systems are made up of a buoy on the surface of the water, and a generator on the seabed. The current sends power from the generator to the buoy, which then transfers it to the grid. WECs can function in harsh conditions, which allows them to be very efficient and flexible.
Microturbines are another technology that are small enough to be used in streams and rivers. A waterwheel is held in place with cables or arms and generates power as water flows through it. This is an inexpensive solution, making it suitable for underdeveloped areas.
5. Wind Energy
The use of wind energy has changed significantly over the years. Some of the earliest uses were for sails in ships, or to operate windmills. These were simply to power these devices directly, but we now use wind energy to generate electricity for the grid.
Wind turbines are a common source of renewable energy and are used all over the world. Advancements continue to be made in terms of things like the aerodynamics of the blades and the overall energy conversion.
While wind energy itself is fully sustainable, wind turbines may not be. The materials needed have raised some challenges in this way, and as such several companies are working on alternative solutions.
One such example is the use of recyclable thermoplastics to manufacture wind turbines. Another is bladeless technologies to generate power. Some less conventional designs are also in development, such as airborne and offshore wind turbines to reduce land usage.
As wind energy isn’t always reliable, some have developed solutions that use more than one renewable resource to generate energy. An example of this is a system that uses offshore kites or wind rotors to generate wind energy in conjunction with a subsea system that generates power from oceanic pressure. This allows for increased reliability while still being cost-efficient.
The Future of Renewable Technology
Despite the advancements that have been made in recent years, the demand for renewable energy is still increasing. It’s essential for the usage of clean energy to increase so that the use of traditional energy sources decreases.
It’s safe to say that in the coming years, new companies will continue to develop more effective renewable technology in a bid to reduce harm to the environment and increase our overall sustainability.
For more tech articles, check out some of our other blog posts.