Competitive tension is inspiring innovation across the clean energy spectrum.
As more renewable energy technologies develop, companies are investing to deliver a more reliable system, improve operational efficiency and address intermittent supply.
The three core renewable technologies of onshore and offshore wind and solar power are changing the way energy markets behave and electricity systems work.
These technologies continue to evolve, as evidenced by GE’s new offshore wind turbine, which produces 45 per cent more energy than existing turbines.
“Technology and process efficiencies are making wind turbines much more powerful and solar panels much cheaper,” says Chris Archer, Macquarie Capital’s Head of Green Energy for the Americas.
“That is really the revolution going on and what’s driving the growth in renewables.”
For a world quickly turning to green energy, supply security has become a major issue. Reliable storage methods are necessary for times when renewable energy can’t be generated, and to maintain system stability as fossil fuel power stations retire.
Innovative storage technologies and the proliferation of storage batteries are part of the next phase of the evolution of the renewables sector.
“The rise of battery storage is probably the biggest technological opportunity at the moment,” says Archer, who believes storage solutions are leading the way in technological innovation.
According to Archer, on a typical Californian summer day, the state’s grid can add the equivalent of half of the UK’s daily power generation over a four-hour period.
“Clean energy has become cheap – so the challenge for renewables is no longer generating the electricity, but having it available when you want to use it,” he says.
Projects of this nature are advancing renewables as a flexible energy alternative. Advanced Microgrid Solutions (AMS) is one company leading such projects, providing batteries to power businesses and communities off-grid.
“Grid operators need resources that can start and stop multiple times a day,” says AMS Founder and CEO, Susan Kennedy. “The resources need to be able to change direction in micro-seconds, modify the load and demand, create transparency in voltage and inject reactive power into the grid. The only technology that has these attributes is storage with the right software technology.”
In 2016 Macquarie Capital acquired a 50-megawatt portfolio of distributed battery storage systems from AMS over approximately 100 sites in the Los Angeles area. The batteries assist the local grid in supplying large load commercial and industrial customers.
Innovation in storage to improve power reliability is being matched by technological improvements in generation.
This is allowing newer segments of the clean energy market to expand, such as tidal and biomass power, and driving new efficiencies in more established areas.
Improved technology enables offshore wind to be harnessed in deeper water and more challenging environments. Norway’s Equinor operates the world’s first floating wind farm off the eastern coast of Scotland, powering 20,000 households.
Turbine technology is being taken underwater to capture the world’s inexhaustible reserves of tidal energy. Atlantis Resources operates the largest project of this nature, with the potential to power 175,000 homes in northern Scotland.
Atlantis Resources CEO Tim Cornelius expects significant growth in tidal power over the next decade, offering a more predictable source of power than wind and solar power.
“The ocean covers 75 per cent of the earth’s surface so there is a vast amount of resource,” he says. “There is a real opportunity for tidal to become disruptive.”
Biomass energy is gaining popularity in some markets, sharing much of the same technology used by traditional power stations. Chris Archer says biomass energy offers the flexibility and stability of fossil fuel plants, with the potential to help retire coal.
MGT Teesside is building the world’s largest dedicated biomass plant in northern England. Due for completion in 2020, the Tees Renewable Energy Plant will power 600,000 homes.