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Renewable energy tops the UK Government’s to-do list

Renewable energy tops the UK Government’s to-do list

The UK Government recently published The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. In this detailed document – setting out Britain’s ‘green recovery’ – the first two points highlight the importance of renewable energy generation; with a focus on advancing offshore wind and driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen.

The paper’s introduction declares:

“We will generate new clean power with offshore wind farms, nuclear plants and by investing up to half a billion pounds in new hydrogen technologies. We will use this energy to carry on living our lives, running our cars, buses, trucks and trains, ships and planes, and heating our homes while keeping bills low.”

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledging to cut carbon emissions 68% by the end of the decade – based on 1990 levels – and the UK joining Sweden, France, Denmark and New Zealand in a legal commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, this push to limit global warming through energy transitions is gathering steam. But while renewable energy’s share of UK electricity generation reached almost 37% last year, there is still a long road ahead. A large amount of electricity is generated using biomass – technically a renewable energy source. However, as carbon dioxide is released during the burning process, biomass is not as clean as wind and solar, and requires carbon capture and storage solutions to limit emissions.

The 10-point plan also includes a section on green finance and innovation, announcing the launch of the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio – a £1 billion fund to accelerate the commercialisation of innovative low-carbon technologies, systems and processes that are vital to reducing emissions and tackling climate change. With that in mind, here are some of the clean power options currently available, along with a few of the disruptive technologies currently making waves in the renewable energy market.

Gone with the wind

As a clean, free and readily available source of renewable power, wind is an ideal way to generate electricity without directly emitting carbon dioxide. Wind turbines can be installed onshore or offshore and, because they use a limitless local resource, they provide a valuable domestic renewable energy source for many countries.

The UK is a world leader in wind generation, particularly offshore wind, with the three largest offshore sites being Hornsea One, Walney Extension and London Array. The success of wind power in the UK is partially due to favourable wind speeds, which are considerably higher than the global average. In January 2019 Scottish Power became the first integrated energy company to produce 100% green electricity from its wind farms. This year was expected to be a record one for wind energy, with the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) forecasting 76 GW of new capacity across the world. But the pandemic will inevitably have had some impact on wind energy installations.

There is continuous technological innovation in wind power, with a particular focus on floating offshore wind, which the UK Government intends to scale twelvefold by 2030. Cleantech companies such as US-based Principle Power are assisting sustainable development in this area through the development of deep-water offshore floating wind foundation systems.

Another recent innovation in wind energy is the exploration of bladeless turbines by Vortex Bladeless, which could enable installation in locations where traditional turbines aren’t feasible. What’s more, companies such as GE are collecting operational data from wind turbines and turning it into valuable insight to improve efficiency, cybersecurity, reliability and profitability for operators.

Let the sunshine in

Solar power currently accounts for around 6% of electricity generation in the UK. While our unpredictable weather may not seem well suited to this, only some level of daylight is required to extract the sun’s energy, making solar a viable alternative to fossil fuels even in less sunny climates. Sustainable energy is generated by capturing photons from sunlight using photovoltaic (PV) panels, and then using an inverter to convert this into electricity.

Solar panels can be placed on the south-facing roof of a home or building to provide energy to that premises. In addition to limiting carbon emissions, these panels reduce energy bills and can pay for themselves after a period of time, especially if unused electricity is fed back into the National Grid. Power can also be generated at scale by solar farms, which are large areas of land housing interconnected panels.

Continuous improvements in technology are making solar energy infrastructure cheaper and more efficient, which will in turn increase adoption rates. These developments include tandem solar cells from companies such as Oxford Photovoltaics, which integrate photovoltaic technology with standard silicon solar cells to deliver more power per square metre than conventional silicon solar technology.

An added benefit of solar power is that it makes electricity accessible to people living in remote, off-grid areas. Cleantech providers such as Azuri Technologies supply solar units to locations in rural Africa through a sustainable business model, and use machine learning technology to adapt to changing climatic conditions and maximise energy storage.

Using the H in H20

In the 1800s, author Jules Verne wrote about a world where “water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light”. And as many countries begin to explore the potential of hydrogen as a renewable energy source it seems that world is not so very far away.

Hydrogen is high in energy but emits zero carbon when it burns, and liquid hydrogen has been used to launch spacecraft since the 1970s. Now, creating green hydrogen from water – by splitting hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis – looks to be a promising source of clean energy. Fuel cells turn hydrogen into electricity and can be likened to batteries that never lose their charge, as long as they have a continuous hydrogen supply. They can be used as a source of heat and electricity for buildings, or as an energy system for electric vehicles.

Shell is working on the REFHYNE electrolyser in Germany and the NortH2 project in the Netherlands, while the EU has set out a hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe. Earlier this year over 40 companies in the UK wrote an open letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for a country-wide hydrogen strategy, and stating they were willing to invest £1.5 billion in related projects.

As with wind and solar, there are a variety of technologies being explored to further the development of hydrogen energy. In the US, Ecolectro is using alkaline exchange materials to replace perfluoro-sulfonic acid polymers in fuel cells and hydrogen generation, making these materials more affordable. In addition, Enapter is producing a scalable and affordable electrolyser to make hydrogen power more accessible.

The 2020s will be a definitive decade for renewable energy, and with continued technological development we can all look forward to cleaner, greener power by 2030. To find out more about the PR services GingerMay delivers to technology companies within the renewable energy sector, please get in touch at hello@teamgingermay.com.

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