There is a renewable wave that seems to have finally gained enough momentum to make it transformative. Every year, the portion of our electricity generated by clean energy continues to climb as the prices for renewable energy, such as solar and wind, decline with the help of ever more efficient technology. Perhaps Forbes put it best in an article last year when they wrote, “Renewable energy has been growing at a breakneck pace in the U.S. for several years. Solar and wind made up the largest share of new capacity additions in 2016 for the third year in a row, with nearly two-thirds of all new capacity.”
In the future, this wave will settle into electricity generated by a smart mix of all energy sources available in a specific geography, each working to complement the others to provide seamless power to our growing cities in the most efficient manner. In this future, centralized and decentralized electricity generation will work in concert, and the traditional “peaks” that utility grids have struggled to cope with will likely become a thing of the past in just a decade or two. This is the world of clean and smart electricity where everybody wins.
A wave of renewable energy is rapidly changing the grid landscape so that in the future, a city like Barcelona will not only be beautiful; it will be green.
Renewables on the Rise
A comprehensive study by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicated that the U.S. could generate 80% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050. Their projections are based on the current trends and did not factor in the technological improvements in key areas such as storage and energy generation efficiency that will happen between now and then. The trends stem mainly from projections of new power generating capacity. For instance, according to an article by Renewable Energy World, renewables accounted for two-thirds of new electrical generating capacity in 2015—a figure that is “3,500 times more than coal.” Wind, solar and biomass, in this order, accounted for most of this new capacity.
In its key findings, the NREL study indicated, “Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.” To the last point of meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis, they concluded, “Increased electric system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply and demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.”
A Mix of Smart Energy Powers the Future
Interestingly, the NREL study projections will only be met if current challenges from some renewables—specifically, variability and uncertainty in output—can be solved. As they put it, “At such high levels of renewable electricity generation, the unique characteristics of some renewable resources, specifically geographical distribution and variability, and uncertainty in output, pose challenges to the operability of the nation’s electric system.”
The electricity grid is a complex system. To take electricity to homes and businesses, utilities have to integrate different sources of energy, balance the load, and incorporate energy generated off-the-grid, such as that produced by solar panels in buildings. Further adding to this complexity is the fact that no solar energy is available at night and wind output is dependent on the weather. Therefore, for a renewable future to materialize, variable energy sources like these must be augmented by other renewable energies that can take over when they are unavailable. Today, this is mostly done by fossil fuels, such as coal.
One of these future energy sources could be Hydrogen 2.0. The technology that Joi Scientific is working to materialize here at the Kennedy Space Center could provide clean power, on and off the grid, to complement variable renewables. Hydrogen 2.0 is clean energy, produced from water, on-site and on-demand that can be incorporated into a smart mix of energy resources to help us get to a clean future without economic or environmental tradeoffs.
A Clean Future Requires Us to Keep Our Eyes On the Ball
Getting to the goal of 80% of all U.S. electricity coming from renewable energy by 2050 not only requires an orchestrated effort between complementary renewables. It is also necessary to ensure that the clean energy goals of hundreds of cities across the country, which will collectively get us there, are supported by sound policies at the local level that enables utility companies to build flexible systems and deliver clean energy on and off the grid.
The wave of renewable energy that is sweeping the landscape will produce the energy-smart future we need, provided that technological improvements, sound policies at the city level, and citizen engagement continue to power it.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.