When you investigate and research the energy transition that is underway, the higher focus to date has been on the progress to replace fossil fuel with renewable power generation technologies. As crucial renewable energy solutions (wind, solar) are falling in price comparison, we are beginning to see clean energy solutions for industry, for the environment, and society, as a whole. Energy transition and moving to renewable power generation, though, it is not happening fast enough.
We need to focus more on the active implementation of renewable energy solutions sooner than later. We are in an increasing race to work towards achievable goals to reduce global warming in the very ambitious time scales of the UN Paris climate agreement in 2016. This comprehensive agreement is to keep the global average temperature rise remaining below the two-degree Celsius agreed by 2050.
Presently we are failing behind this “two-degree pathway” deemed as essential, and we are currently forecasted to release more carbon and gases into the atmosphere, and that has severe repercussions for our planet. Governments will need to introduce more substantive policies to meet the emission targets they signed up too and society, industry and us, as individuals will have to undergo adjustments to accommodate this in our habits, consumption, and usage.
It is not just replacing energy sources; it is all about solution renewal end-to-end
We also have to focus on the broader aspects of “energy transition” by re-engineering much of the existing infrastructure to create smart grids, the electrification of many industries and the ability to introduce e-mobility across the transport sector.
The nature of the energy landscape will require the transformation of businesses, the push to find and develop new market dynamics and embrace government policy and regulations in an orderly and planned way. This “transformational mix” gives rise to different innovation dimensions to explore, be these enabling technologies, new business models, different market designs, and changes in the methods of system operation that make up a broader innovation ecosystem of solutions.
Innovation can accelerate progress, especially at the user-end point.
A very critical piece of the energy transition puzzle is the necessary focus on the end-user sectors of transport, industry, and buildings. Here, it is the combination of new system designs and ways to operate, combined with technological innovation. We need to achieve the most pressing need to undertake greater energy efficiency and effectiveness at the consumption end of energy.
The increased electrification of these end-user sectors of transport, buildings, and industry are providing new designs for energy systems to operate. The solutions offered are placing increased emphasis on digitalization so that the system design is managed on a more decentralized and democratized participation. These solutions are breaking up previous monopolistic providers in power generation. The changes are transforming energy management.
The end-user market of transport, buildings, and industry must shift their primary energy supply from the present 15% of renewable energy to 65% by 2050. The share of Renewable power is expected to rise to 85% by 2050 (source: Irena 2018 “Global energy transformation report”)
The role of innovation within these end-user sectors of transport, buildings, and industry will involve changes in system designs to digitalize grid services, build more local and grid-scale energy storage, deploy significant charging solutions for electric vehicles. The design of energy systems needs to bring closer to the end-user the utilization of mini-grids to enable greater flexibility and participation in energy co-operation between transmission and distribution system operators. These designs are building the two-way flow where excess energy can be delivered back to the grid.
These innovations are galvanizing change, but the vital part of any innovation change is managing the lifecycle design and transition, innovating end-to-end.
The level of investments in the existing energy system needs staging for significant change.
There is a compelling need to design a roadmap for changing the energy system in nearly all cases. Each energy roadmap needs to build a business case, one that starts by asking where are the efficiency increases going to come from to pay for any change? Why are these changes needed, and what advantages will be achieved from undergoing these changes? How long would any orderly transformation take?
Where are the opportunities to invest when we undertake system design shifts that capitalize on all the leading practices taking place around energy consumption? Where can any design accommodate to take advantage of a mix of fuels (hybridization)? How will it be designed and operated, to help in gaining from the new innovative solutions emerging, ones that utilize and deploy decentralized storage, smart grid designs in transmission, in distribution, to advance commercial and industrial solutions that can lead to new energy solutions that provide increased flexibility, agility, and adaptability.
Critical industrial users of fossil fuels need extra special attention
Most of the energy change is through the greater electrification of these end-use sectors, to gain the value of moving to variable renewable energies as prices of alternative energy become increasingly attractive in price and supply.
Equally, as fossil fuel usage becomes increasingly unattractive, both politically and by society concerned with global warming, each industry user will need to find alternative energy sources. The most significant problems presently are in the end-user industry of iron and steel making, cement production and chemical and petrochemical production, as well as aviation. They are currently highly reliant on fossil fuel. Innovative solutions here will require far more government intervention and incentive shifts and significant research and development to find solutions that are both competitive and compelling enough to make the change.
The answer, it seems, that can change the reliance on fossil fuels is a balanced reliance on bioenergy for process-heat generation and a mix of on-site and grid electricity solutions. Relocating industry will also be part of the solution over time and incentive design. Tackling these industry-specific problems is critical for reducing global carbon emissions and pollutants by offering solutions that are attractive as alternatives, as these industries contribute critically to our present solution needs of their end-product output.
The increasing investment in Bioenergy
I have been focusing on wind and solar mostly for renewables, but the focus on bioenergy comes more into solution focus for end-use applications. I want to investigate this more but in summary here:
The ability to accelerate solutions in bioenergy, in improving heat pumps and focus more innovative solutions on managing the need for high-temperature heat keeps this energy source as key for many of the end-user sectors.
Bioenergy is a versatile resource that can be converted into the final energy for heat, power, and transport fuels. Bioenergy also can be stored in the form of solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels. The solutions through bioenergy are a real source of renewable energy solutions for modern buildings, industry, transport and power and district heating, but the challenges and solutions will come from technology innovation and increased R&D.
In many developing countries, the source of energy for cooking and partial heating needs changing. The use of coal, gas, or wood needs replacing. The application of Bioenergy solutions can make a significant contribution here, although Hydrogen solutions seem to be receiving the current publicity and are suggested as quickly approaching economic competitiveness. I think by all accounts both Bioenergy and Hydrogen are complementary solutions but can target specific application, important to consider.
Buildings have a significant potential for redesigning based on renewable energy
Buildings have a huge potential to be a substantial part of the energy transition story. We cannot expect new buildings, designed for the need for energy efficiency to simply replace the old; we must look increasingly to be retrofitting the old, or renovating existing buildings in transiting them through imaginative, innovative solutions. To facilitate this, the innovation options will be highly variable to the “state of the building” and the ability and economic returns. I feel those within building solution redesign need to be far more imaginative and offer a more coherent story to convert commercial and residential buildings to a higher renewable energy share.
The “ solution fit” needs a reasonably comprehensive solution portfolio, in my opinion. What solutions can be achieved in retrofitting or renovating buildings over a building roadmap design concept? Can district heating and cooling be part of the building solution, can hydrogen or further bioenergy as heating fuels, what and how can seasonal heat storage come into play? The solution mix around heat pumps, solar-assisted water/ space heating, the ability to clad a building (the envelope solution), the application of more efficient appliances, the ability to heat and cook from renewable energy all needs imaginative design and solutions.
The building re-design for renewable solutions is a massive test for the energy transition we are undertaking. The energy-related Co2 emissions from building need a dramatic shift. In 2015 building energy consumption was 36% from renewables. Presently estimates are that three-quarters of energy consumption in buildings could be supplied by renewables with solutions in hand or solution design by 2050.
It is going to be the solution that can expand the biomass use, combined with electricity usage based on power generated from renewables, that will combine up with innovative solutions inside and alongside buildings, to deliver on the need to reduce buildings’ carbon footprint dramatically.
Are we up to the job of renewing buildings today at an accelerated pace?
I do not think so; we need a more comprehensive overall system solution design and operation approach, that continues to accelerate the uptake of solution designs by the infusion of technology innovation. Today we are not telling that compelling story.
We have many exciting ways to accelerate the energy transition through innovative design. Today I do not see the compelling case that this is being well-communicated in solving the growing gaps in designing the end-user markets of industry, building, and transport in cohesive ways.
The building solution story of renewable energy solutions within buildings, is, in my opinion, underbaked, we do need to turn up the renewable-heat story. It requires a more comprehensive storyline that achieves the changes we need and demonstrates energy efficiency but increasingly in location-specific ways
We need a robust design of the end-user market for the energy transition, in my opinion; that comes from telling the emerging innovating story for energy solutions in exciting and effective ways based on offering clear roadmaps of energy design.