5 Recent Innovations in Renewable Energy and 4 Predictions for 2024
Renewable energy has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many countries pouring funding into wind and solar power.
It’s no secret why. Renewable energy is abundant, easy to harness, and creates no carbon emissions. How has the technology advanced since its inception, and how will the industry look a few months from now?
Recent Innovations in Renewables
Renewable energy is one of the fastest-growing technology sectors in the world. Here’s a peek at some of the coolest new uses for renewables.
- Solar Roof Tiles
Solar panels may be highly efficient, but their appearance gives some people pause. That’s especially true when historians are tasked with maintaining the original look of historic buildings while bringing them in line with modern energy needs. You can’t just install solar panels on the Sistine Chapel’s roof and call it a day.
However, tiny solar panels that look and function like shingles are now a reality. Solar manufacturer Dyaqua creates tiles that imitate concrete, stone, ceramic, wood and brick. Designers have already implemented them at the Pompeii Archeological Park in Italy and visitors are none the wiser. Solar tiles could one day be the future of home energy.
- Electric Thermal Energy Storage
One challenge of making renewable energy widespread is you almost always have to pair it with a storage system of some kind. Put simply, the sun and wind aren’t as reliable as, say, a factory that burns consistent amounts of coal. The sun goes down at night and some days are windier than others.
That’s why solar panels and wind turbines must have an energy storage system — you can store excess energy on very sunny or windy days. You can also tap into the energy reserve on days with higher electricity demand.
When wind turbines or solar panels generate excess electricity, an electric thermal energy storage (TES) system stores it in the form of ice, hot bricks, heated sand or some other medium. With the same principle that keeps a thermos of coffee hot for hours, a TES system keeps a much larger container hot or cold for long periods.
When people need to use more electricity than normal — such as during a particularly chilly winter day — the TES converts the stored energy back into usable electricity. TES systems typically last longer than batteries, which are another common form of energy storage. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that by 2030, global energy storage markets will grow by 2.5 to 4 terawatt-hours annually.
- Pairing Solar and Wind Power
French energy company Unéole has devised a way to combine wind and solar energy in one spot. It created units composed of solar panels with tiny wind turbines positioned underneath them, with the turbines forming a layer between the solar panels and the roof.
Unéole designed the units for use on flat rooftops on offices and apartment buildings. They make no noise and can generate power practically around the clock. If you’re pressed for space, these are certainly a better option than traditional full-sized wind turbines.
- Green Hydrogen
Many people have touted hydrogen as the clean energy source of the future. It’s lightweight, compact and incredibly energy dense, making it a great way to power planes, ships and trucks. The catch is it doesn’t occur on its own in the environment. Although it’s the most abundant element in the universe, it’s almost always paired up with other molecules.
As a result, you have to manufacture hydrogen. Most of it is currently made by steam reforming methane — a fossil fuel that must be extracted from deep underground. The steam-reforming process creates carbon monoxide as a byproduct. Manufacturers either bury this noxious gas in the ground or release it into the air.
Now, however, there’s an environmentally friendly alternative. Electrolysis sends an electric current through water, splitting water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. The result is so-called green hydrogen because its production creates no harmful emissions. In fact, wind and solar energy can actually power the process, making it emission free from start to finish. As the cost of electrolysis falls, green hydrogen could become a valuable, economically viable resource.
- Drone-Based Turbine Diagnostics
Wind turbine blades occasionally suffer problems, but it’s not exactly convenient to climb hundreds of feet up frequently to check on them. Thankfully, drones are making it easier to detect problems with turbine blades.
French startup SupAirVision uses drones equipped with artificial intelligence to diagnose blade defects — inside and outside of them. This process saves money by reducing downtime and staffing requirements.
Predictions for 2024
Looking ahead, the future of renewable energy will likely involve high-capacity storage solutions, greater digitalization and incorporation of renewables into new locations. But what can you expect to happen in the next few months? Here are some predictions for the coming year.
1. New Solar Canals in California
The premise behind a solar canal is simple — install solar panels above irrigation canals. The panels prevent algae growth in the water and reduce evaporation, which is critical as the climate heats up. They’re also situated above a space that can’t otherwise be used for urban development or growing crops, making it a truly win-win situation.
California’s Project Nexus is planning to install solar panels above Turlock Irrigation District’s irrigation channels starting this fall. Officials predict the project will be completed in 2024.
2. Slowing Wind Installation Rates
According to a new report from the International Energy Agency, experts predict global onshore wind additions will fall by around 5% in 2024 compared to their 2023 levels. Just because the installation rate is slowing, however, doesn’t mean it’s grinding to a halt. Wind power is still one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world.
3. China’s Rise as an Energy Leader
By next year, China will be responsible for building almost 70% of new offshore wind farms globally. It will also make 50% of the world’s new solar projects and 60% of onshore wind projects, positioning itself as a global leader in renewable energy.
4. Renewables Supply Over a Third of Global Energy
The world’s energy needs are surging as the population grows. In 2024, renewable energy will make up more than one-third of the global energy supply for the first time. Simultaneously, fossil-fuel-generated electricity will likely continue to fall in popularity, although people will still rely on it heavily to meet their remaining energy needs.
A Bright Future
There’s a lot in store for renewable energy. It’s clean, environmentally friendly and accessible, and it can empower governments to become energy independent. The world is ready for change — the stage is now set for renewable energy to shine.