Is Renewable Energy the Future? – This is a critical and very debatable question that we are going to discuss in this post. Fossil fuels meet resource reduction, climate change problems, and supply security; renewable energy (RE) may propose the best candidates for their long-term replacement. Nevertheless, RE sources vary in many fundamental ways from fossil fuels, especially in that they are energy streams rather than stocks. The most major RE sources, solar and wind energy, are also occasional, necessitating significant energy storage as these sources develop their share of the total energy supply.
Before discussing the capacity of renewable energies as the primary sources in the future, that would be interesting to talk a bit about the best renewable energy source of the future.
The Best Energy Sources for The Future
The two cleanest energy production sources are wind energy and solar power, both of which increase demand in production for the national grid and residences.
These renewable options are up-and-coming in what they’ll be able to do for us in the future, not only in the clean and zero-emissions energy they offer but also in what they can do for regional economies.
Wind power offers a massive expansion in local vocation and funding. Solar panels carry a potential long-term option obtainable to anyone with a rooftop, but installation costs remain strangely high. Renewable power capacity is set to develop by 50% over the next four years, led by hydropower, wind power, and solar power. To explore more on the best energy sources of the future, watch this video.
Five Technologies Shaping the Future of Renewable Energy
In what follows, we are going to take a look at five of the most prominent technologies and trends in renewable energy. Some of these sources have entirely re-shaped the energy market over the last decade, while others are set to make changes in the years to come.
Wind and Solar Energy
These are two power sources of renewable energies that are apparent in many rural regions and have converted the market of renewable energies.
According to the statement of Petteri Laaksonen, Research Director at the School of Energy Systems at Finland’s Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT), “The biggest impact has been wind and solar technologies leading to a very rapid drop in the production costs of electricity”. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy is anticipated to make up 30 percent of the world’s energy by 2024. Most of this is handled by solar and wind projects that proceed to be rolled out at an incredible pace. This is an extension in the application of solar panels, which made up 60 percent of the renewable energy capacity established in 2019. Even technology monsters like Google, Apple, and Amazon have financed solar technology.
Experts acknowledge that the progress of electrification in the upcoming decades will super-charge the transformation to renewable energies. According to some predictions, the renewables-based electrification of European industry, transport, and buildings will enable the continent to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent by 2050.
This trend is now apparent. For example, Wärtsilä and Pivot Power are establishing a world-first 100 MW of utility-scale transmission-connected energy storage beside high-volume power connections that will contribute essential capacity for a national network of rapid electric vehicle charging stations. The project is supposed to play a significant role in accelerating the UK’s energy transformation push towards net-zero emissions by 2050.
Laaksonen shows that there will also be unique uses for electricity, including hydrogen production from the water via electrolysis, recycling carbon dioxide by taking it from the air. At the same time, nitrogen for fertilizers will also be obtained by taking it from the air. He foretells that, ultimately, electricity demand could rise as much as 3-4 times in European countries, and the price will drop. Shifting to electricity is key to reaching the de-carbonization of economies. Still, there are other less noticeable benefits, including better urban air quality and enhanced energy security.
Dispersed generation is one of the leading revolutions arisen from the introduction of renewable energies. This means an individual like a private home or a small factory long far from the national grid can readily access power through renewable sources. This can be achieved by popular solar panels or even more fascinating systems such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) or Combined Cooling, Heat, and Power (CCHP) systems.
There are infinite advantages to the scaling up of dispersed generation, from diminishing dependence on centralized power sources to improving grid security and making small-scale renewable power sources viable. When linked with smart grids, which are controlled by computers to fine-tune transmission, dispersed generation is even more efficient. There has been a speedy growth in dispersed generation in recent years, which is anticipated to continue. According to one estimate, the dispersed generation market will be worth USD 1700 billion by 2026.
One of the cutting-edge modern technologies, Power-to-X, is a parasol term covering several processes that convert electricity into hydrogen, heat, or renewable synthetic fuels. It proposes a meaningful opportunity to speed up the switch to renewable energies by ramping up artificial fuel production and swiftly diminishing fossil fuel emissions in sectors varying from the food production and steel industry to the fertilizers and chemical industry. The technology can also perform a pivotal role in solving long-term energy storage difficulties, controlling the ups and downs in stock from renewable sources. “Power-to-X is required because re-investing in whole infrastructures and technologies is not probable in the coming two decades during which we demand to accomplish the transition,” says Laaksonen.
The potential of energy storage to expedite the switch to renewables has been extensively debated in scientific circles and looks critical in the years to come. Energy storage will be required in the system due to unsteady wind and solar production. There are various energy storage technologies, and the profession is to combine them in a system.
Some of the solutions that are anticipated to develop in the coming years include batteries, hydro-reservoirs, Power-to-X fuels, and seasonal thermal energy storage. These similar technologies will also be helpful for countries with significant nuclear power industries. Above all, energy storage provides an efficient flow of power to be preserved despite the fickle nature of wind or solar sources. Storage technologies will emerge within the energy system along with the extended use of renewable energies.
Three Limitations Toward the Future of Renewable Energies
The future of renewables is not that bright, and still, there are some concerns that should be taken into account carefully. In what follows, we are discussing three of these limitations.
Conflicting Announced Estimates for RE potential
Proclaimed estimates for individual RE technical potentials present a broad range of values, excluding hydropower, where most estimations are around 30–50 EJ. For combined RE sources, the above limit is often present energy consumption, implying no constraints on future energy usage. Exceptionally high estimates (each over 1500 EJ) have been reported for geothermal heat, solar energy, and bioenergy. These high estimations are now increasingly being disputed as unreliable. A survey of the evidence for tight constraints on RE is provided below.
First, geographical restrictions may be more limiting than ordinarily considered. Areas inappropriate for solar and wind energy include the deep sea, high mountains, ice caps, and forests. But models for geographical constraints are not implemented consistently over various RE sources: hydroelectric dams have submerged forests, and in some states, whole cities have been relocated. Restrictions on wind energy, for instance, are much more limiting. An additional geographical constraint on future RE output, expressly for wind energy, is the public opponent.
Such opposition is previously notable in many Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, not only because of observed effects on visual comfort and property costs but also because of matter for bird and bat deaths.
Second, the energy account on energy invested (EROI) may demonstrate too low for viability as an energy source. The EROI of any energy conversion device is the ratio of gross output energy to the energy inputs required for erection, manufacture, maintenance, decommissioning, and operation with both inputs and outputs measured incomparable energy terms. The difference between input and output energy is called net energy; only net energy can power the non-energy economic sectors.
For example, the world’s hot deserts cover more than 10 million km2, giving rise to calls for huge solar energy farms there: the Desertec proposal plans to transmit solar and wind electricity from the Middle East and North Africa and up to 5000 km to central and northern Europe. The solar farms would need ample fresh water supplies piped in for washing, providing water to the necessary workforce settlements, and probably, coolant for solar thermal electricity conversion (STEC) plants. For the major output of electricity from Desertec, energy storage would be demanded. If hydrogen were used as the energy carrier, further vast amounts of water would be required. All these factors would significantly reduce EROI.
Third, energy preservation concerns are an additional limitation on RE potential. Although two-thirds of crude oil and products pass international borders, only 1.4% of global electricity produced does so, ordinarily to a neighboring country; countries may be hesitant to become massively dependent on imported electricity, such as with Desertec.
Fourth, estimates of RE output/m2 are often optimistic. For solar energy, this can happen because the total area required for existing PV/STEC farms is much greater than that employed by the solar arrays themselves. For bioenergy, although reported estimates show a potential range up to 1500 EJ, the whole terrestrial net primary generation is only around 2000 EJ annually. Recent analysis has found that real field yields fall far short of those from test plots for bioenergy plantations. The lower yields are due to biomass declines with drying, harvesting inefficiency under real-world conditions, and edge effects in small fields.
Declining EROI Restricts RE Potential
For RE project viability, a strong restriction is that EROI41.0, and ideally should be much more significant, if only because EROI estimations are uncertain. Despite the uncertainty, it is still the case that ceteris paribus, EROI for solar is more incredible in higher insolation areas and wind in high wind speed zones.
The EROI for any RE class will drop as its annual output increases for various reasons. First, resource quality will diminish with output as premium sites are used up. Even for a given wind turbine, EROI will decrease as the turbine ages: in Europe, average output drops of 12% over a 20-year lifetime have been reported. Also, EROI could well vary over the project’s life (25–30 years for most RE systems and much more for hydro) because of unfavorable ongoing land use and climate variations. For example, the Amazon basin hydro potential could be diminished to 25% of maximum plant capacity if 40% of the forest is missed.
Second, fossil fuel EROIs are regularly much higher than those for RE, giving a hidden energy subsidy to RE inputs that decline as fossil fuel usage drops. Third, as previously remarked, for Group I RE, the demand for massive energy storage systems will progressively arise as grid invasion advances.
Fourth, for bioenergy, the EROI will decrease as a community, agriculture, and forestry biomass wastes are fully utilized, and it converts crucial to rely more on lower EROI bioenergy farms. Moreover, to avoid competition with food stock, bioenergy should be built on the marginal field. The resulting greater demand for energy-intensive water and fertilizer inputs will notably diminish EROI.
This example proves that the input energy prices for bioenergy cannot be counted in isolation from those for food. A system approach must examine inputs and outputs from the whole biomass system food, fiber, energy, forestry, and forage. If all people chose a vegetarian diet, bioenergy potential could consequently be significantly increased.
Maintaining Ecosystem Services Further Restricts RE Potential
An essential reason for substituting fossil fuels with RE is to improve ecological sustainability, mainly, to minimize further climate variation. The natural world presents many ecosystem services, such as food preparation, climate regulation, and freshwater, but land-intensive RE systems, especially hydroelectricity and bioenergy, unavoidably diminish such service provision. Further, several essential ecosystem services, such as food, livestock pastures, and forestry products, can compete with bioenergy. Significant expansion of bioenergy could reduce their output.
In some cases, ecosystem services could be sustained by redirecting some of the RE energy output, further diminishing the economy’s net output. An example would be decent treatment and disposal of toxic wastes from PV cell manufacture. RE installations can also directly cause greenhouse gas emissions, as with CO2 from geothermal plants and both CO2 and CH4 from tropical hydro dams. High-latitude bioenergy plantations could produce even lower local albedo. Offsetting the climate forcing from this albedo variation could include air capture of CO2, with its heavy energy costs. In other cases, some areas otherwise geographically suitable for RE may have to be excluded, again decreasing net RE output. This is expressly true for maintaining biodiversity, given that the existing rate of global species loss is approximately 100–1000 times the natural background rate.
Energy inputs for the manufacture and erection of RE installations must be performed before any energy output can be obtained and so are visible and widely accepted. In contrast, energy redirected for ecosystem maintenance is not so necessary; such energy costs can be delayed in some cases for many decades if they are recognized at all. These costs are not negligible (for hydropower estimate is six times conventional inputs). Thus, there is a danger of RE overshoot of producing short-term net energy, but with further energy debts in the more extended term.
We have reported some benefits and technologies that could shape the future of renewable energies. This includes a considerable potential for renewable sources, especially wind and solar, the progress of electrification in the upcoming decades, the capability of dispersed generation, power-to-X technology, and progressing energy storage systems.
However, there are still some concerns regarding the implementation of renewables as a complete replacement for fossil fuels.
Because of the many problems confronting continued fossil fuel use, RE is frequently seen as giving the best prospects for their long-term replacement. The most important RE sources, wind and solar energy, are irregular, necessitating significant energy storage if these sources are to dominate the total energy supply in the future.
Literature estimates for RE technical potential alter by two orders of magnitude; values at the lower end of the range must be thoughtfully considered because their energy return on energy spent falls as cumulative output increases.
Furthermore, the energy costs for maintaining ecosystem services also improve with RE output, expressly for bio and hydro energy. Further, most future RE output will be electric, so radical reconfiguration of existing grids will be required to supply alternate RE to consumers.
Therefore, in meeting the challenges of the 21st century, the world now confronts a triple question: in the timing and severity of climate change, in the future stock of fossil fuels, and future RE availability. Fossil fuel use may have to be diminished to near zero in the following decades, and future RE output could be far below current energy use. Thus, a reasonable course would involve significant energy reductions. Not only will we require to maximize the energy services received from each unit of energy, but we will likely also demand to re-evaluate all energy-consuming assignments, dismissing those that are less significant.