Moving to 100% renewable energy over the next 20 to 30 years is feasible but will depend on technology advancements in several areas. Green Development LLC is committed to helping the country’s aggressive net-zero carbon emissions goal become a reality. Highlighted below are six technologies that promise to put our renewable energy aims within reach.
The persistent challenge of renewable energy is variability. The sun doesn’t always shine. The wind doesn’t always blow. Battery storage technologies are used to offset the challenges of variable renewable energy (VRE) sources.
Due to their capability to quickly absorb and hold electricity, batteries are the ideal companion to VRE systems. The back and forth movement of lithium ions from positive to negative via an electrolyte are how lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries store and release energy. Current Li-ion technology is presumed to reach an energy limit within the next few years.
Advances in Li-ion technology can be expected to fill the gap while scientists perfect the technologies needed to support solid-state batteries. Solid electrolytes are non-flammable when heated and therefore offer significant battery safety improvements. Solid-state batteries hold a promise of lighter batteries with a longer shelf life. The high power-to-weight ratio will make these new power cells ideal for electric vehicles.
2. Smart Microgrids
Microgrids are local energy grids that, while generally connected to the larger traditional grid, can be disconnected from the power grid and operate autonomously. This ability to disconnect is beneficial if a storm causes a widespread power outage, for example.
Recent advances in technology allow microgrids to use controllers that harness the power of machine learning. These smart microgrids continuously adapt to improve the local energy production systems’ operational aspects.
As these smaller and smarter grids gain popularity, the deployment of microgrids is becoming more agile. It can take as little as a single day for engineers to complete a microgrid design using the latest software.
3. Repowering Old Turbines
Innovations in wind turbine technology have dramatically increased the power output of new turbines compared with their predecessors. Replacing older smaller wind turbines with newer, more efficient models — called repowering — is one-way wind farm operators increase their capacity.
Many older turbines were built in the 1980s with 50-100 kW capacity. This output is 10-40x smaller than the capability of modern wind turbines. While the industry has exhibited some hesitancy to invest in turbine upgrades, modern turbines’ superior capacity is expected to spur a renewed interest over the next decade.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells turn energy from the sun into electricity. The current PV market is dominated by wafer-based photovoltaic technology, with over 90% of the current market share. Solar panels using wafer-based PV cells are limited by the physical characteristics of the materials that make up the panels.
PV technology of the future will rely on advanced materials, such as perovskite. Perovskite is a calcium titanium oxide mineral composed of calcium titanate. Still being developed, perovskite PV technology is expected to produce semi-transparent and flexible solar cells.
5. Concentrated Solar Power
Simultaneous with researchers developing more efficient photovoltaic materials to convert solar energy directly into electricity, other scientists find better ways to convert heat from sunlight into electricity or fuels.
Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies even further reduce solar energy costs. Some implementations of CSP technologies utilize solar energy to heat thermal fluids, such as oil or molten salt. These fluids are then used to generate electricity by running a turbine or stored for later use. CSP has historically been cost-prohibitive, but recent technological advances have brought it in line with other renewable energy forms.
Newer CSP technology uses solar energy to split water and make 100% green hydrogen. Hydrogen can be easily transported, used to power vehicles, or used in various industrial applications, such as food processing, chemical production, water desalination, and mineral processing.
6. Advances in Wind Turbine Technology, Operations, and Maintenance
Today’s modern wind turbines generate nearly 180 times more electricity than their predecessors of 20 years ago. This exponential increase in production is accomplished at less than half the cost as well.
The biggest strides in wind turbine production have historically come from taller towers, better blade design, and lighter-stronger materials. More recent technological advances include smart sensors and precision controller systems.
Today’s turbines constantly adjust the blade position and orientation to take advantage of wind direction changes and velocity changes. Sophisticated sensors feed detailed information about output, speed, blade angle, and other statistics to wind farm operators so that they can quickly and remotely identify potential issues.
Drones, in conjunction with AI and machine learning, are increasingly used to automatically inspect and identify surface damage to wind turbine towers and blades, while infrared thermographic imaging can be used to detect any internal abnormalities, such as components that are in danger of failing.
About Green Development
Green Development LLC is the leading developer of utility-scale renewable energy projects in Rhode Island, specializing in wind, solar, and battery storage. The company delivers significant energy savings to municipalities, quasi-public entities, nonprofits, and other qualified entities through the virtual net metering program while providing long-term lease payments to landowners and farmers.
Since 2009, Green Development has been instrumental in transforming the energy mix in Rhode Island to clean, reliable energy. The company has developed more than 70 MW in solar and wind capacity, with plans to add 111 MW in 2021. Green Development is devoted to preserving farmland, reducing water and air pollution, increasing energy security, and creating local jobs. Current wind and solar sites reduce carbon emissions equivalent to using 8,091,141 gallons of gas each year.