2020 will be laid down as the year of technology consolidation rather than breakthrough innovation in the energy industry.
FREMONT, CA: New technologies like the offshore wind and lithium-ion battery storage have gone from strength to strength. Also, more novel technologies like energy blockchains and flow batteries have been relatively inactive this year. If viewed from another perspective, this is not a bad thing. It shows that many low-carbon grid technologies are maturing and achieving the scale required to compete with fossil-fuel generation. It also indicates that there is still plenty of scope for innovation in the maturing sector.
It is important to keep an eye on emerging technologies while entering a new decade.
Sailing towards the growing popularity of floating solar arrays on freshwater bodies, 2019 saw a spate of announcements concerning sea-based PV projects. But if this concept will go mainstream remains open to doubt, however.
Offshore floating solar can be the next frontier, but there are still challenges to overcome within the inland floating solar arena.
While they might not have garnered much mainstream attention, the static compensators are a technology to watch out for as grids attempt to integrate growing amounts of renewable energy.
Their job is to copy the action of rotating masses formerly supplied by thermal turbines, thus maintaining a constant frequency throughout the electricity network. Renewable-heavy grids might lack this natural frequency-response mechanism, requiring compensators instead.
Molten salt reactors
Naming nuclear energy technology to watch is fraught for various reasons.
Surpassing the debate over the extent to which nuclear qualifies to be a clean energy source, the sector’s traditional approach faces ongoing problems in the U.S. and Europe, and alternatives like the fusion and small modular reactors remain frustratingly far from commercialization.
Nevertheless, advocates say one emerging technology, the molten salt reactor, could provide carbon-free electricity with fewer radiation risks than traditional nuclear.
Renewably produced hydrogen moving fast from the category “emerging” to “established.” At least ten countries have already jostled for leadership positions in what some see as the next big energy thing. In addition to its use as a source of energy for the grid, green hydrogen has ample potential to help decarbonize industrial processes, gas heating, and heavy transport.