The Evolution of Renewable Energy

Phil Simmonds – Group Managing Director, EC Electronics

We all know fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are not sustainable energy sources. For many years now, governments and companies within the sector have been looking for new ways to generate clean, renewable energy. However, there is still a lot more work to be done in this area.

A third (33%) of the UK’s electricity generation came from renewable sources (mostly wind and solar farms) in 2018. But gas continued to be the main source of power, with just over 40% of the UK’s energy in Q2 of 2018 coming from gas-fired plants. That being said, recent developments hint at a positive future ahead for the energy sector in the UK.

Plans for Cleve Hill solar farm, the largest ever proposed in the UK, were set out in July 2018. If built, the solar power plant would occupy 1,000 acres on the north coast of Kent and provide up to 350MW (megawatts) of generating capacity. The plant would also include battery storage – giving operators the option of storing energy when the price of electricity is low and selling when it’s more favourable.

More recently in February 2019, Danish developer Ørsted also unveiled plans to build an offshore wind farm on the Yorkshire coast, in a bid to fill the gap left by failed nuclear power schemes. Once completed in the second half of the year, the farm will power one million homes – making it twice as powerful as the current largest offshore wind farm located off the Cumbrian coast.

With developments like these, it is clear that wind and solar power are at the forefront of renewable energy sources. But what are the other alternatives? Nuclear power, biomass fuel, geothermal energy and hydropower are all possibilities – but they are not without their own problems. Nuclear power leaves behind highly-radioactive waste, for example. While the dams used to generate hydropower threaten terrestrial and aquatic species.

A promising future

Unfortunately, a world that relies solely on clean and renewable energy is not right around the corner. Studies indicate that we will still be relying on fossil fuels for decades to come. However, it is important to remember that the way to renewable energy is evolution: not revolution.

But despite uncertainty in the short term, the long-term renewable energy market looks promising. There are a number of technological advancements which are helping to make the dream of widespread renewable energy use a reality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these focus mainly on wind and solar power.

While solar and wind energy are both viable replacements for traditional fuel sources, they do require adequate storage solutions – which can be incredibly costly. However, advancements in lithium-ion batteries meant costs decreased by more than 70% from 2012 to 2018. As a result, energy storage deployment in many countries has increased and predictions indicate that it may even become cost-competitive with grid electricity by 2020.

Digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI) are also enabling renewable energy integration. For example, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US has developed AI software to improve wind forecasting and is now working on the same for solar forecasting. Thus, helping to improve the reliability of wind and solar as energy sources.