For centuries, materials like coal and oil have supplied the world with the bulk of its energy, whether for factories, automobiles or homes. Over the course of the last half-century, however, the downsides of fossil fuel use — mainly pollution and the resulting climate change — have become apparent.
The push to replace fossil fuels with cleaner, more reliable sources of renewable energy is ongoing. World Economic Forum contributor Tulsi Tanti writes, "In 2016, there were 160GW of clean energy installations globally. This is 10% more than in 2015, but they cost almost a quarter less."
While there is still a long way to go, innovations in renewable energy technology promise to help make renewables more affordable and efficient. Industries and governments are working together to facilitate the transition.
From Conversion to Storage
One of the biggest problems in renewable energy is storage. While the technology to harness solar, wind and water sources for usable energy has existed for years, effective storage of that energy has posed a larger problem. Madeline Howe, writing for AZo Cleantech, highlights Tesla for innovations in the renewable energy space. She writes, "In 2017, a brilliant feat of science and engineering by Elon Musk and his company Tesla saw the design and installation of the world's largest lithium-ion battery, the Hornsdale Power Reserve, in South Australia."
New energy-storage technology is shaping the way countries and industries are investing in solar and wind power. Renewable Energy World contributor Jennifer Delony writes about utilities and renewable energy developers in the U.S., France, Spain and Sweden announcing that, in 2017, they either started or have completed projects that integrate batteries with wind power projects. These initiatives are helping revamp older wind farms and make solar power cheaper for industrial and personal power consumption alike.
Power Through Waste
Another renewable energy innovation involves converting waste into usable energy. Delony points out that cities facing a waste management crisis, like New Delhi, are investing in plants that turn waste into energy, thereby reducing the burden on landfills.
Organizations like China Everbright International are moving to expand these programs. However, converting waste into energy can be hamstrung by politics. Delony writes, "There is a great deal of progress to be made in putting waste-to-energy policy in place, which in turn would drive the infrastructure buildout for this industry."
Electric vehicles, while not a particularly new concept, have become much more affordable and efficient in recent years. Initiatives are in place to push for more electric cars on the roads.
Currently, only 1.3% of transportation runs on electricity, but that will change in the future. As Howe writes, "Although there is some way to go, demand is growing and companies like Tesla, BMW, Nissan and Chevrolet are working hard to meet it." Fueling the demand is rising consumer preference for electric cars along with initiatives to make vehicle charging ports more ubiquitous.
For many electric car owners, charging at home is the best, and sometimes only, option. Potential buyers who worry about the range per charge of such cars hesitate to go electric. But some states are planning to change that. The Verge contributor Sean O'Kane writes, "In total, California, New York, and New Jersey will put $1.3 billion on the table in the coming years to help chip away at one of the biggest barriers standing in the way of widespread EV (electric vehicle) adoption."
One of the issues in developing nations is the limited reach of the national power grid. Micro-grids give smaller communities access to energy from solar and wind sources, reducing their dependence on the larger grid.
Howe writes, "The small-scale and autonomous nature of these grids, in tandem with the capability of the IoT (internet of things) provides unique versatility." These systems are adaptable to differing environments, based primarily on renewables and becoming cheaper.
Micro-grids are also proving useful in more developed areas, providing homeowners with energy through rooftop solar power systems. Having established itself in the electric car industry, Tesla is now leading the way with modern solar panels for homes.
The expansion of the renewable energy industry means an abundance of careers for qualified professionals. The knowledge and skills gained through a Bachelor of Applied Science program can prepare students for this exciting field, teaching them relevant managerial, leadership and communication techniques.
Sources:The Verge: Three US States Will Spend $1.3 Billion to Build More Electric Vehicle Charging