A glimpse of what the energy industry might look like in the future was caught this spring, when COVID-19 lockdown measures resulted in the share of renewables used in the energy mix soaring because of depressed electricity demand, low operating costs, and priority access to the grid through regulation.
In Europe, there were instances of renewables surpassing 50% of the continent’s total generation during lockdown. And across the Atlantic, in the US, renewables consumption passed coal for the first time in 130 years.
The pandemic and its impact on economics across the globe seem to have accelerated the drive to net zero and refocused investors’ minds on the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) agenda and resilience in their investment portfolio, as evidenced by ESG fund assets (pdf) surging to an all-time high of more than US$1t in June. At the same time, economic recovery rhetoric from global leaders has a consistent and prevailing theme around green growth. For the low-carbon transition to be accelerated, renewables must stay at the top of the global agenda once the world comes out the other side of the pandemic.
At a policy level, commitment to reach carbon neutrality is growing. Last December, the EU Green Deal was presented, aiming to make Europe climate neutral by 2050, and, in September, China – the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – made a landmark announcement that it will become a net-zero emitter of carbon by 2060. In total, under the Climate Ambition Alliance, 120 markets have committed to net zero by 2050.
Reaching a net-zero future will require obstacles to be overcome, however. A coordinated effort across all industries will be needed and technological innovations must be leveraged. Specifically, an exponential increase in intermittent renewable energy will require technologies to be used to ensure a secure, reliable, and well-balanced grid.
This issue touches on two enablers – hydrogen and artificial intelligence (AI) – that look set to play critical roles in stabilizing grids as renewables are scaled up. The ability to convert renewable energy into hydrogen and create a chemical battery with greater long-term storage than utility battery storage could be a game-changer. While batteries are best suited to discharge times of four hours or less, hydrogen energy storage can be used for discharge times of days, or even weeks.
Meanwhile, AI algorithms – with their use of the internet of things, sensors and big data – can help stabilize central grids with improved prediction capability through demand forecasting and asset management, and, consequently, increase dispatch efficiency.
Both of our deep-dive articles, focusing on Australia and Ireland, highlight the tremendous growth and potential for renewables, while acknowledging the barrier currently posed by grid stability.
The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to build back better. Certainly, there will be headwinds in the short term, but renewables are well equipped to seize the opportunity and face the challenges ahead. Read on to discover the innovative ways to meet their renewable energy targets and secure a net-zero future.