Renewable energy solutions – from a wave of future to global reality
Imagine a world with globally accessible, cheap and reliable, clean energy. Although it sounds a bit utopian, every day we’re getting a little closer to the life fueled by renewable power. It becomes possible due to the latest technology advancements form the past few decades and ongoing acceleration of technology development. As the main driver of the energy sector transition to clean energy, technology takes a significant part in the development and introduction of renewable energy solutions.
Along with the start of the great industrial revolution back in the XVII century, people also started deeply impacting the environment and triggered the acceleration of climate changes we can observe today. Now, we’re facing not only these severe environmental changes but also a huge demand for energy growing with the human population.
The old formula of energy generation occurred to be quite deteriorated, very harmful to its own users but above all – ineffective.
“If you think about it, power plants burn three times the amount of fuel energy needed to produce their energy output,”said Willett Kempton, a professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware and a co-author of the renewable energy research from the University of Delaware.“You burn three units of coal to get one unit of electricity.”
Considering the financial and environmental costs and the rapidly growing power demand of the global population, it’s a system without a future. It has to be replaced with a new one based on reliable, scalable, and clean energy. And this is precisely why achieving ultimate, sustainable energy efficiency by the global transition to renewable energy is no longer an option. It’s a necessity.
The energy and utilities market knows its weaknesses, as much as the urgency to evolve. The business, engineering, and technology efforts to reach the state of maximizing the energy potential are growing yearly. It seems that we’re getting closer thanks to the advancements of renewable energy solutions.
They are solutions with a key focus on delivering high energy efficiency but without a high environmental price, as the sources of clean energy are renewable and don’t emit carbon emissions or reduce it to the absolute minimum. Energy generation-oriented solutions that deliver clean energy are based on a particular source of renewable energy like solar power, wind energy, hydropower (including tidal/wave power), geothermal, biomass, and hydrogen.
Although generating renewable energy is absolutely fundamental, it requires further technology advancements to introduce it to power consumers and ensure its actual share in the local, national, and international energy mix. The solutions listed below are possible to implement with the use of advanced technologies, like artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, big data, advanced analytics and forecasting, the Internet of things, cloud solutions, and business intelligence.
The energy market is diverse and offers multiple energy systems focused on energy generation, storage, management, and distribution. However, there are several main areas that constitute a key focus for renewable energy systems.Distributed Energy Systems (DER) and Demand-Response (DR)
DER and DR are two closely related terms with prosumer as a common thread. Starting with the more basic term, Distributed Energy Resources means any electricity-producing or storing device connected to a distribution system, mainly on a small, local scale. It can be solar PV rooftop installation, residential energy storage like smart batteries, EVs or heat pumps, and other enabling technologies such as behind-the-meter batteries, EVs, residential heat pumps, or HVAC devices interconnected within the program or local mini-grid.
DERs are often connected within Demand-Response programs that balance grids during the high demand periods (peaks), delivering additional and clean energy coming from renewable sources. Prosumers may offer generated energy surplus in response to time-based rates. Apart from balancing the demand and supporting grids, DR programs can lower the costs of retail energy rates, making green energy more accessible and affordable.
Combining it all together, DERs are often parts of Demand-Response programs, providing access to additional energy resources and introducing clean energy to the local energy mix.Electric Vehicles (EV)
Although Tesla is breaking records for most wanted electric cars, EVs are, in fact, more than an alternative to fuel-driven cars. They are energy storage on wheels, meaning EVs can serve as a backup or additional clean power source, for instance, for VPPs, smart grids, or local DR programs.Energy storage and management
Renewable energy is quite easy to obtain; however, the challenge is to store it once it’s generated, which is much more simplified on a residential rather than a commercial scale.
Residential and small commercial energy producers often combine solar PV systems with small energy storage and management systems, like smart batteries and management platforms. The generated energy can be partially distributed with a household or other entity, but usually, there’s no demand high enough to use it all at once. These are the situations when home energy storage systems come in handy. A smart battery can accumulate generated energy and store it for later use or serve as a connection within a DR program or a local smart-grid and administrate certain amounts on energy surplus to cover local demand.
Nonetheless, energy storage is much simpler on a smaller scale. Industrial storage systems are quite hard to run and require significant financial resources to maintain, so there’s still a lot to improve in that field.
Energy generation and storage solutions are very often connected within small energy management systems that administrate the whole energy flow within a particular entity like a household or commercial facility. Platforms dedicated to that purpose enable effective energy management and distribution between all devices connected within the platform account. Basically, they ensure that no generated energy goes to waste, that it is used with a maximum value.Virtual Power Plants
VPP is a digitized version of standard power plants to some extent, although it operates mainly on individual and distributed renewable energy resources, like photovoltaic panels, micro-wind farms, smart batteries, or electric vehicles. It combines all distributed entities into one energy network.
Virtual power plants enable planning, scheduling, and bidding of distributed energy resources to ensure a stable and reliable source of clean energy. It is possible due to bi-directional energy flow within a VPP. As energy prosumers emerge numerously, they become both producers and consumers of renewable power, sharing the energy surplus within a VPP but also bid and buy energy within that network.Smart grids
Another one of the renewable energy solutions, smart grids, use advanced technology achievements in the field of analytics and telemetry and combine it with both renewable and traditional energy resources.
The main purpose of smart grids is overall control over production and distribution of energy and monitoring over the stability of the connected energy sources. It’s crucial for this type of energy management system because of its distributed character. Smart grids combine many small and distributed energy producers into bi-directional electricity and data flow, creating a network interconnected with an advanced communication system. This ensures a high level of flexibility, scalability, and, most of all – efficiency for the grid.
In order to provide those high standards, smart grids are known for using advanced analytics solutions and smart-metering infrastructure to collect and analyze the data. This approach enables easy detection of malfunctions and swift reaction to the identified issues.
That depends on various aspects, starting with geographic conditions, demography, technology advancement, and last but not least, the type of renewable energy resources available in particular locations. It’s hard to imagine inland countries like Switzerland or Austria to decide on using tidal hydropower generation, even though the rest of the conditions wouldn’t be a problem. But, they can bet, for instance, on wind or solar power installations instead.
It is also hard to indicate the most efficient renewable resource, especially considering the fact that technologies dedicated to each of them vary a lot and changes almost year-to-year. However, one thing is certain: humankind has to switch to renewable energy solutions as soon as possible to reverse the environmental damage, prosper and evolve in a sustainable way.