Its existence has been denied for years. But today, climate change has become a global concern. Citizens are asking their elected officials for concrete solutions to fight pollution and rising temperatures.
In 2015, 195 countries committed to reducing their CO2 emissions. At the end of the COP21 Conference, the new Energy Transition Initiatives were officially launched. The age of petroleum dominance is coming to an end. Green technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, will now find their place.
One object becomes a symbol of this new technological era – the electric car. As the energy transition challenges take us away from fossil fuel resources, it is already generating new environmental disasters. The dark side of green energies is often overlooked because the industrial and political challenges are numerous.
What if the promise of clean energy is only an illusion? Are the problem statement for renewable energy and green tech remedies worse than fossil fuels? This article will discuss renewable energy’s biggest problem and how to solve it.
What The Car Manufacturers And Green Industries Are Not Telling Us
What we hear from the automakers is that the electric car presents only advantages. On top of preserving the environment, it will create new jobs. So it would be a technological miracle. Shortly, hundreds of millions of electric vehicles will drive all over the planet.
But manufacturers know perfectly well that electric vehicles are not as clean as what they’re telling us. Yes, oil has been abandoned but other raw materials which have become essential have replaced it. These are rare metals.
Rare metals are already present everywhere in petrol-fuelled vehicles. Cerium, for example, allows windshields to filter out UV rays. Thanks to Europium and Indium, screens are coloured blue. But in an electric car, the role of rare metals is much more important. They even impact the vehicles’ vital functions. Without Neodymium, the electric car simply could not roll.
The battery is the heart of an electric car. It weighs up to half the weight of the vehicle, and would not function without rare metals. To produce maximum autonomy, an electric battery contains among other things, Cobalt or Graphite. But that’s not all.
The automobile industry has therefore become dependent on these unknown raw materials. Raw materials are also found in most green technologies. After oil dependence, we are in the process of setting up a new dependence.
So where do these essential resources come from? Why are manufacturers not communicating their importance? Perhaps because rare metals are extracted far from our cities and far from the site.
The Renewable Energy Storage Problem
While renewable energy has grown significantly in recent years, the sector faces some biggest challenges facing the energy industry if this rapid growth is to continue. The primary challenge in the wide-scale adoption of renewable energy is its variable or intermittent nature, as at times more energy is supplied than is demanded while at other times, there’s too little.
For instance, renewable output depends very much on seasonal and diurnal patterns, like wind power depends on air density and wind speeds, while solar energy depends on air density and wind speeds, and solar generation depends on how much sunlight falls on the panels at a certain time and place.
If renewable energy were to continue to provide an increasing part of the world’s energy requirements, more renewable capacity integration into the electricity markets and grid networks is crucial, especially if renewables must replace fossil-fuel baseload production.
To integrate solar capability into the grid, it’s crucial to differentiate between predictability and intermittency. While solar energy production is inevitable, it is also predictable. Forecasting solar on a day-head or hour-head basis can be carried out with accuracy if needed, allowing market operators to integrate solar capacity towards the grid within the future should infrastructure and market regulations exist.
Storing excess renewable power (or buying and storing when prices are cheap) for use when electricity demand exceeds supply is one way to resolve the intermittent nature of renewable energy. While energy storage comes in many forms, including pumped hydro, hydrogen and flywheels, batteries are the most common solution to renewable intermittency.
There are several batteries presently used and many more are being developed that can be integrated with renewable generation. Lithium-ion batteries are among the common rechargeable storage device types. The technology isn’t new and has been commercially used for nearly 30 years.
Also, the production profile of wind and solar are compatible, with solar at its peak during mid-day and wind generation climaxing during the afternoon. The compatible generation profile of solar and wind allows projects to continuously produce electricity.
With renewables representing at least a third (32%) of every installed energy capability by 2040, it’s obvious that innovative technologies are needed to make sure that clean energy is consistently delivered throughout the world.
However, storage and renewable assets should offer solutions towards the irregular nature of renewable energy to meet the demand and replace fossil-fuel generation.
Addressing The Renewable Energy Storage Problem
Recently, energy research has been focusing on harnessing renewable power and making the electric infrastructure as effective as possible. Energy storage systems are crucial to these areas of research.
Renewable energy has a passing nature – these are the major affordable and clean energy challenges. As the wind blows and the sun shines, the electricity being produced should be used or wasted. Otherwise, if it is cloudy and the wind is not blowing, there may not be enough power to satisfy the demand.
Energy storage tackles this problem by storing extra energy during productive periods and using it during unproductive times.
Also, there’s a fluctuation of demand during the day, throughout the week and the seasons. Energy storage technology enables us to satisfy demand by storing or releasing extra energy.
With these measures, energy storage will enable modern society to address some of the problems it is facing.
Making Renewable Energy More Cost-Effective
Since 20-25% of the total energy demand comes from renewable energy, as is the case in Denmark and Spain, grid operators must take measures to prevent high renewable energy volume from disrupting and congesting the grid. Steps must also be taken should production fall short and the demand increase.
To be efficient, energy storage should be integrated into the grid, cooling and heating networks and natural gas, as stated in the European Commission’s paper. Storage will also be integrated into the production, distribution and customer satisfaction among municipal electrical systems.
Combating Climate Change
Using energy storage can potentially reduce greenhouse gas production by allowing the adoption of renewable energy generation as it can lower the cost of connecting these materials towards the grid and directing the changeability of generation.
Energy storage can serve as a good alternative to natural gas in reducing the changing production of renewable sources for long periods and enabling these resources to be organized according to the daily demand fluctuations.
For example, using energy storage combined with wind power production may lead to a 56% drop in CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity compared to petrol turbines.
Another study reveals that in 20 years, a facility with 20 MW storage can reduce coal power plant carbon emissions by 67-89 per cent, according to the local news and coal power plant design.
Energy storage from low-carbon sources can also be utilized to remove fossil fuel production to even out periods of fluctuations in 15 minutes. Energy storage can decrease the amount of fossil fuels utilized by generators, reducing emissions.
Challenges of Renewable Energy in Developing Countries – Easing Transitions in Developing Nations
Highly populated countries such as India and China are progressing into economic powers as their people transfer to cities for better renewable energy challenges and opportunities. Such a transition is projected to add stress to the world’s resources.
Also, working-class individuals moving from rural to urban areas are expected to raise their standards of living. Experts estimate that at least 1 billion people are likely to move up the ladder within the next decade. Such a shift will put a strain on the present power structure.
Governments will probably depend on energy storage solutions to prepare for these transitions and make the technology a major humanitarian endeavour.
A More Robust Grid
Even in the most developed countries, the current electrical grid is unable to fail. During natural disasters and periods of very high demand, the grid can collapse, setting up countless life-and-death situations.
An electricity storage solution can be used to reduce or avoid adverse effects and costs linked with electrical service outages or poor-quality electrical power. During outages, the stored energy is used to deliver power based on a particular user’s electricity needs. This type of solution could also continuously filter and offset power quality defects.
Opportunities To Solve Renewable Energy’s Biggest Problem
The benefits created by renewable energy are numerous. They include reduced costs, the capacity to bring electricity to new remote locations, thus improving living standards and opportunities for renewable energy to new communities, the ability to increase security over energy generation and less dependence on geopolitical issues. Using renewable energy technologies reduces pollution and addresses climate change.
We Have Come A Long Way Already
Innovative analysis by Carbon Brief shows us how the UK has transformed its electricity supply in just a decade. In 2008, some 80% of the UK’s electricity came from fossil fuels, making a significant contribution to the country’s greenhouse gases.
Skip forward to 2019 and many things have changed: coal-based power has practically disappeared; petrol use has reduced and over half of electricity is powered by renewables and nuclear.
We have made a lot of progress in the last ten years in tackling climate change problems and coming up with potential renewable energy: challenges and solutions. Political will is also starting to shift towards implementing policies that help decarbonise our world.
Expand your understanding and explore further. Click here to learn more: 50 Ways To Reduce Climate Change