So the climate negotiations last year did not yield much by way of a binding, emissions-cutting agreement. And rainforests around the world saw unprecedented logging in 2013. Not to mention, the many natural calamities and storms, the falling numbers of tigers in the wild and the rising pollution levels in our air and water. But let us not despair. There is some good news on the renewable energy front. In fact, if a report by the German origin Duestche Bank is to be believed, then in 2013, parts of India saw grid parity between coal power and solar. The bank predicts a bright future for the global solar market in 2014. Going so far as to declare solar power may not require any subsidies to make it more affordable to all consumers! Could it be that renewable energy could break free from the shackles of high cost of technology and staggering competition from fossil fuels, to become the next big fuel of the future? If these innovations deliver their promise, then the answer could be a resounding ‘Yes!’.
Falling costs, technology innovations and increasing accessibility is improving the lot of renewable energy around the world. Here are some clean energy milestones all of us must make a note of:
Salt replaces the sun
Well, truth be told, we still need the sun to produce energy using photovoltaic cells, but US-based Solana solar plant has one unique distinction. They will use a salt battery to continue generating electricity when the sun goes down. Incidentally, Solana’s 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant in Arizona, is the world’s largest plant to use parabolic troughs to concentrate the energy of the sun’s rays towards the cells. More power to photovoltaics we say!
Vehicle to building battery
So when the electric cars are parked in the basements of office buildings, they are idling, right? Nissan decided to change that. Their Vehicle-to-Building technology helps organisations harness the battery power of the EVs during peak demand. When demand is low, electricity flows back to charge the vehicles for the ride back home. Up to six cars can be plugged into a building at a time, using this technology. Multi-tasking renewable energy, if you will.
Talk to the wind turbine
That’s right! Thanks to General Electric’s new line of wind turbines, now, grid operators on offshore turbines, can be contacted with important information such as wind availability and power over what GE calls an ‘industrial Internet’. This would help them position turbines better to generate more energy. Combine this with a grid-scale battery, installed in the turbine, to store power when the wind is blowing but there is no demand, and you have a smoothly functioning wind turbine. This innovation might straighten out the one ruffle in wind energy’s coat – intermittency.
Stay afloat with the wind
Normally, building an offshore wind turbine farm is a construction heavy process. And can be built only in water 60 meters deep or less. Norwegian-based oil and gas company, Statoil, have developed a hub of floating wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. These simply need some cables to anchor them and hold them up. They can be set up in water 700 meters deep or more. This innovation, essentially, means that offshore wind power can be built anywhere on the ocean, wherever it is economical and practical to do so, of course. Apart from the one in Scotland, two other floating wind farms are planned off the coast of Fukushima, Japan.
Size zero solar
A solar cell usually has the conversion efficiency of about 18.7 percent and 24 percent. What is conversion efficiency? It is the amount of sunlight hitting the cell that is converted into actual electricity. Silicon Valley-based solar manufacturer Alta Devices, set a new record in 2013 with ultra-thin solar cells with a record 30.8 percent conversion efficiency. Though making these cells is an expensive affair, they can generate a lot more electricity from a smaller surface area. Stick ‘em on and solar power up!
Secure my storage
Achieving energy security with renewable energy would all depend on one factor – storage. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US used nanotechnology to create a new lithium-ion battery technology that cuts the size, but ups the power of a battery. This technology combines an ultra-thin, porous electrolyte with lithium-sulfur battery technology. It can store far more power in a much smaller size. Finally! Electric vehicles can run longer distances, at a faster pace, without adding to cost and bulk.
What is grid parity?
Also known as socket parity. It means that an alternative source of energy (as opposed to traditional fossil fuel based sources) can now supply electricity for the same price that is charged for say, coal power. For example, when you pay Rs 7 a unit for coal-based electricity and the same Rs 7 per unit for solar power from the national transmission grid, you can declare that solar power has reached grid parity. Grid parity differs from location to location because it depends on costs, time periods and power source.
What is subsidy?
Subsidy is money given to an industry by the government to keep the cost of the commodity or service provided low.