The renewable energy sector incorporates a range of technologies from battery storage, wind turbines and solar panels to hydroelectric plants, biomass power stations and anaerobic digestion systems to name just a few.
Whilst these renewable energy technologies are relatively ‘established’, along with wave and tidal power generators, ground source heat pumps and hydrogen cells there’s continued technical innovation in the sector.
Energy storage developments
The Government recently announced plans to relax planning legislation to make it easier to construct large batteries to store renewable energy from solar and wind farms across the UK.1 The move could triple the number of battery storage projects on the grid according to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).2
In light of the Governments recent announcement, we thought we’d list some of the top developments in renewable energy storage technologies3:
- Skeleton Technologies’ SkelGrid Omni – a modular platform (similar to Tesla’s Powerwall) designed for microgrids and industrial applications. It relies on ultracapacitors designed with curved graphene that can charge and discharge rapidly.
- Teraloop’s Kinetic Energy Storage System – an alternative to batteries, this kinetic energy storage system utilises MAGLEV technology derived from magnetic levitation), brushless motors, and flywheels in a vacuum environment. When surplus energy is provided, the platform engages a magnetically levitated thin-ringed hubless rotor, which is charged and accelerated, and discharged back into the grid when needed.
- Malta’s Electro-Thermal Energy Storage System - uses a heat pump to convert electrical energy into thermal and stores that energy in large tanks of molten salt. Or it’s cooled and stored in containers of chilled antifreeze. It then converts the stored energy using a heat engine back into electricity to feed into the grid on-demand when it’s needed.
Solar technology advancements
One of the most established renewable energy technologies, solar panels have been around for a while, and the technology is continuing to be developed through:
- Solar skin design – a concept of aesthetic enhancement that allows solar panels to have a customised look so that they match the appearance of a roof without interfering with panel efficiency or production4.
- Solar powered roads – used in bike lanes and roadways, they generate clean energy through modular solar panels, and they also include LED bulbs that can light roads at night and have a thermal heating capacity that can melt snow during winter weather. The most famous one is located in Krommenie, Netherlands.
- Wearable solar – this new textile concept makes it possible for tiny solar panels to be stitched into the fabric of clothing.
- Solar tracking mounts – this allows solar panels to maximise electricity production by following the sun as it moves across the sky. The systems tilt and shift the angle of a solar array as the day goes by to best match the sun’s position.
- Floating solar - panels are placed on a buoyant structure to keep them above the water's surface. They’re usually located on calmer bodies of water such as ponds, lakes and man-made dam reservoirs5. But floating solar developers are paddling toward the open ocean amid growing interest in offshore solar with plans for sites in the Arabian Gulf, the coast of Scheveningen in the Netherlands and the Strait of Johor in Singapore6.
Electrical vehicle technology growth
The transport sector is observing a sharp upward trend in the uptake of electric vehicles (EV). In the UK there are 315,200 ‘plug in’ cars, 10,200 ‘plug in’ vans, 200 ‘plug in’ models and 32,390 charging points7. And this is only going to increase with the UK government committing to electric mobility with a ban on internal combustion engine vehicle sales by 2030 whilst also providing consumer subsidies for charge points8. Given the speed at which the EV market is evolving, what technological developments are in the pipeline?
- Improved batteries
New battery technology could give electric cars more than 200 miles of charge in as little as 10 minutes, according to new research9. For example, manufacturers are looking at solid-state batteries which use graphene to improve battery range. A development in the current graphene/lithium-ion hybrids being used today. These efficiencies in battery design are likely to be matched by improvements to charging points, enabling more voltage to be run from the charge point.
- Diversification of power sources
To help keep EVs going longer between stops at charge points means diversifying the sources of power. Solar panels on the roofs of EVs, development of our roads and charge-and-drive solutions, e.g. for buses providing a small amount of charge at each stop to keep EV buses operating their entire route without having to plug in are in development10.
- Contactless charging
Trials of cutting-edge induction pads will take place on residential streets, car parks and taxi ranks across Greater London, the Midlands and Scotland in 2020. The pads, which are sunk into the ground, pump out an alternating electromagnetic field which can be converted into electricity when a vehicle is parked on top11.
- Charge point design
Although not a new technology, the design of charging points are becoming more varied. There’s an increasing amount of design choice for businesses, from functional, utilitarian charge points to more aesthetically-pleasing options which are far more attractive to businesses where aesthetics are important e.g. for luxury hotels and golf clubs.
If countries are to achieve their ambitious renewable energy targets, implantation of such technology could contribute to a greener and healthier world far quicker. Technology is moving at such a rapid pace that these developments in renewable energy could quickly find their way into your business. As ever, new technologies brings new risks. If you’re an early adopter, are you prepared?
10. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/30/electric-cars-could-be-charged-in-10-minutes-in-future-finds-research#:~:text=New battery technology could give,be recharged again and again.