Five clean energy innovations that could transform our world
By Zainab Calcuttawala
web posted May 15, 2017
Innovations in energy storage, smart grid, and electricity generation technologies will affect every part of the source-to-consumer supply chain for powering the planet. Energy storage tech improves the viabilities of wind and solar power – two energy sources that remain cost prohibitive due to expenses related to batteries that would store generated energy. Smart grids will regulate the movement of energy throughout a city or state, insuring the areas from crippling blackouts. Developments in electricity generation make sure we make the most out of fossil fuels and other energy sources to improve efficiency.
What follows is a survey of progress in the development of five different technologies that promise to change the face of the energy industry in the next 20 years.
1. Fuel Cell: Truck manufacturers Kenworth, Toyota, and UPS have begun investing in fuel cell technologies, which would allow transport vehicles to run on hydrogen and oxygen, releasing only heat and water as emissions. Modern hydrogen production still requires copious fossil fuel use, but the process could soon be powered by renewable energies, making fuel cell vehicles extremely clean alternatives to current trucking solutions.
In Europe, fuel cell production facilities will begin pumping out 50,000 fuel cell stacks by the year 2020, making United Kingdom-based Intelligent Energy the market leader in bringing the green technology to the masses. "Hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles are available now, but to continue to drive customer adoption, we need to ensure future fuel cell stacks are robustly industrialised and remain cost competitive in the future," said the company’s Manufacturing Head Richard Peart.
2. Lithium-air batteries: These storage units, also known as Lithium-oxygen fuel cells, have been gestating in scientific labs all over the world since the beginning of electric vehicles. Science Daily says two instabilities in the technology’s current form have prevented it from hitting mass markets: unpredictable short circuiting and speedy loss of battery power. Cornell University recently tackled the second capacity face problem, meaning we could be just one witty solution away from long-range electric cars.
3. First Generation Smart Grid: The first step in making a reliable and responsive smart grid system requires the installation of smart meters in every household and building. The new meters will send usage information in real time to your energy provider, allowing adjustments in availability to fluctuate according to the area’s latest needs. So far, countries like the United Kingdom are having trouble adjusting the technology to fit the national infrastructure and business norms. The United States jumped on the smart grid bandwagon in 2007 and set up a taskforce to ensure a synchronized adoption of the new technology. The process has been slow, but small communities have begun "microgrid" projects that will allow consumer demand to drive implementation.
4. Tidal turbines: Much like wind turbines, these underwater pinwheels harness energy from wave movement. This green energy has had small-scale success so far, but objections from fishermen, as well as accidents, have set the technology back in California – tidal energy Ground Zero – in recent months. But the science behind tidal energy continues its march forward. Scotrenewables Tidal Power announced the launch of a new low-cost turbine off the coast of Scotland. It’s also the "largest and most powerful" turbine of its kind in the world with a power generation capacity of two megawatts, according to its manufacturers. A retractable arm gives the facility a separate transport mode and an operation mode, which allows easy portability and an impermanence that would please local fishing industries.
5. Space-based Solar Power: Solar power captured from-the-beyond has been a sci-fi concept since the 1970s. The high cost of transporting the panels and other equipment into space has prevented the idea from becoming fruitful for commercial energy production. In addition, the transfer of generated energy back to Earth has been a concern. Solar power panels installed on the ground connect to the local power grid to deliver their harnessed goods, but it is comical to imagine a satellite in space hooked to the planet via cable for efficient energy delivery, prompting scientists to develop wireless energy transfer technologies akin to the iPhone 8’s anticipated wireless charging feature. None of the existing methods have proven to be feasible on a massive scale. Suggestions are welcome.
The advances mentioned above are inter-related: progress in the lithium-air battery efforts will pave the way for the success of electric cars, which could be recharged with energy hardheaded from the tides or space-based solar power. It's one small step for science, one giant leap for green energy-kind.
Zainab Calcuttawala is a writer for Oilprice.com where this originally appeared.