Editorial Feature

Top Renewable Energy Trends of 2018


2018 is off to a record start with 70% of net global power capacity additions attributed to renewables.

According to the 2018 Global Status Report (GSR) by REN21:

  • A fifth of the world’s energy consumption is supplied by renewables.
  • The world’s renewable power capacity could supply an estimated 26% of global electricity.
  • 55% of new renewable power installations were solar photovoltaics (PV) and these accounted for more than the combined additions of fossil fuel and nuclear in 2017.

Fossil fuels still contribute towards the majority of global total final energy consumption (TFEC) but the renewable energy revolution is real and the leaders in business and technology are onboard. Microsoft, Intel, Apple and Google are all at 100% renewable energy status, thanks to on-site production and purchasing of green power and the RE100 lists further companies that have pledged to follow suit. The global renewable energy market is set to reach $777.3 billion in value by 2019, driven, in part, by international climate incentives.

To fulfill the global targets set by the Paris agreement substantial drive towards low-carbon emission investments is needed. Leading scientific journal Nature has even published an article on the current “investment-gap”. With the prices of utility-solar and wind at record low and the market value forecast to soar, renewables are a very attractive area for investment. The question is, where will investment drive and global targets take renewable energy in 2018?

Here are the top trends in renewable energy set to impact the world in the year ahead.

Energy Storage

Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford’s atmosphere and energy program, foresees the world reaching 100% renewable energy status by 2050, run on wind, solar and water. However, for renewable energy to become a reliable and realistic energy source, the intermittent nature needs to be overcome. The answer is in energy storage!

For years focus has been on how to create green energy through conversion; now it is all about how to store it. High capacity storage is the key to making renewable energy comparable to the fossil fuel based utilities that are embedded in the world’s current TFEC footprint.

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. The 100-megawatt battery was built in 100 days with the purpose of relieving the country’s infamous power outage problem. The battery has an impressive response of 0.14 seconds, and stores energy from a wind farm run by the French company Neoen.

In the U.S., the energy storage market is forecast to be worth over $3 billion by 2022, according to research by GTM published by the Energy States Alliance (CESA). This equates to 2,533-megawatts of energy storage that will need to be deployed, half of which is estimated to be for behind-the-meter storage systems.

With the declining cost of storage technologies such as lithium-ion and flow batteries and the demand for electric vehicles, aircrafts and large-scale businesses to run on 100% renewable sources all over the world, expect to see exponential growth in research, knowledge and deployment of energy storage throughout 2018.

Smart Micro-Grids

The decentralization of energy makes energy affordable and accessible to people that need it. At the core is the concept of distributed energy resources (DER) made up of micro-grids. Solar energy is the star of this trend, with wind also playing a part.

Companies like SteamaCo, are making micro-grids a commercially viable option across Africa, Asia and Latin America, where national-grid utilities are not sufficiently far-reaching. Establishing micro-grids in off-grid areas reduces costs and enables any remote area to be supplied with electricity from solar power, wind and alternative renewable energy sources; making use of the locality and climate.

An energy revolution requires a revolutionized way to distribute energy. Decentralizing from the typical generation-transmission-distribution (GTD) model, incorporating smart data handling and near real-time quantitative data acquisition, via the internet of things (IoT), gives control back to the consumer. The small-scale and autonomous nature of these grids, in tandem with the capability of the IoT provides unique versatility. Micro-grids can be adapted to the environmental requirements of the local region and customer needs; something traditional GTD models fall short of.

The era of industry 4.0 will see smart grids eventually displace the current GTD model in built up cities but micro-grids should not be overlooked. With the price of wind and solar rapidly declining, 2018 will see a steady increase in the global roll out of micro-grids, powered by renewable sources.

Electric Vehicles

The EV30@30 campaign aims for electric vehicles (EV) to reach 30% market share by 2030. Currently the transport sector makes up a third of the TFEC, according to the GSR by REN21, and of that 3.1% is from renewables and only 1.3% is from electricity. Although there is some way to go, demand is growing and companies like Tesla, BMW, Nissan and Chevrolet are working hard to meet it.

Worldwide, 312, 400 units of plug-in EV and “light” vehicles were sold in the first quarter of 2018, 59% higher than in 2017. In China alone, EV sales have risen by 142% in 2018. Rise in demand has pushed down current lithium-ion battery costs and attracted a rush of energy providers, such as BP, to invest in electric charging ports. Such investments will go towards establishing charging infrastructure networks necessary to upscale EV.

One major engineering challenge is making an affordable car with a high mile range per charge and this is being answered in the development of solid state batteries (SSB). SSBs offer higher capacity within a smaller architecture, improving upon EV range achieved by lithium-ion batteries by 2-3 times. Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Panasonic have teamed up to compete with individuals such as Fisker, Dyson and BMW (in collaboration with Solid Power) in the race to showcase their SSB technologies. All have a similar timeframe, aiming for a 2020 launch.

Porsche aims to make 50% of their cars electric by 2023, Jaguar Land Rover wants to produce only hybrid and electric vehicles by 2020 and many car manufactures, such as General Motors, have pledged a one million EV sales target by 2025. Norway is aiming for all short-haul flights to be electric by 2040 and other countries are following suit, extending the EV market to aircrafts. As engineering advances and demand continues to grow, backed by the manufactures, EV will be pivotal in reducing the transport sector’s energy consumption. The EV trend can only grow throughout 2018.

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