With the cost-of-living crisis being felt around the world and oil and gas prices at record highs, there has never been more focus and attention given to our fragile energy networks.
We hear almost daily reports about gas pipelines being switched on and off and our electricity supply being dependent on factors which we cannot influence. This culminates in an ever-increasing cost base for our energy bills because of our reliance on fossil fuels for power.
In addition to this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that around 3.5 billion people around the world already live in environments that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Some are already experiencing the devastating effects of natural disasters with floods, wildfires and intensifying storms.
As a matter of urgency, we need to change how we provide energy for people, communities, and businesses worldwide – and we need to do it now.
What is the renewable energy transition?
The International Renewable Energy Agency defines the renewable energy transition as “the pathway towards a transformation of the global energy sector from fossil fuels based to renewable ‘net zero carbon’ energy by 2050.”
At its core is the urgent need to reduce energy-related carbon emissions to limit climate change. Decarbonization of the global energy sector will require an urgent, concerted, and sustained effort on a global scale to have any effect and give our planet a chance to heal itself.
Why is the renewable energy transition important today?
In his now famous “Highway to Climate Hell” speech, United Nations Secretary-General Mr António Guterres gave a stark warning that the world is driving down the highway to climate hell, with our foot still on the accelerator.
Surely this cannot be true, can it?
In terms of pumping carbon into our atmosphere, he is absolutely correct. Climate scientists have stacks of evidence with the same conclusion: We desperately need to change our mindset and infrastructure to reduce our reliance on traditional sources of energy.
The terrifying truth is that we have lots of work ahead of us in order to achieve this. For example, as the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, we increased our global energy demand by around 4.5%. Logically, this demand could have been dealt with easily by renewables, especially since policy support and deployment of renewables had never been stronger. Unbelievably, we responded to the increased demand by mainly reverting to fossil fuels, and this surge in global energy demand actually increased our global carbon emissions to record levels, according to some analysts.
In short, we need to make significant changes to our mindset before we can successfully transition to renewable energy.
Can we learn from our own history?
We have already seen how resilient our planet can be when the world makes a united, concerted effort. In the 1980s, when scientists realized that we were destroying the Earth’s ozone layer, countries around the world acted in tandem to stop pumping CFC gases into the atmosphere. The signing and global adoption of the Montreal protocol gave our planet the opportunity to heal itself.
If we can do it once, we can do it again. It may take decades to see the positive (or negative) effects of what we do today, and the lack of immediate consequences can – and has – resulted in less urgency despite its devastating impacts.
Nevertheless, scientists agree that we must start now before we reach the point of no return or what has been dubbed as the ‘Tipping Point’, where no matter what we do, the damage can no longer be reversed.
The truth is that we don’t really know the full extent to which we can reverse the damage caused, but regardless, it is clear we must take action to avoid irreversible damages. Doing nothing is not an option going forward.
With the world’s leading economies now actively leading the charge to set global climate policies to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, we can give ourselves a fighting chance of reaching our targets of coal burning being reduced by 95%, oil by 60% and gas by 45% compared to 2019.
What are the challenges of the energy transition?
It’s clear that a fundamental shift in the structure of the global energy system is becoming increasingly urgent. Transitioning away from a fossil-fuel based energy system to an energy efficient and renewables-based economy will equal a resilient, low-cost, and sustainable energy future for all.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) (government advisors on energy policy), investment in renewable energy will need to triple by the end of this decade to meet the world's climate pledges.
Clearly, not enough is being done to transition to renewable energy sources.
Why is there a slow reported uptake in renewable energy to meet the demand?
Some reasons for slow uptake of renewables meeting global energy demand include:
- Climate change denial even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.
- Climate change delayers that prioritize other issues above global warming, even if they accept that climate change is happening.
- Fossil-fuel lobbying and political inaction, leading to continued use of and investment in new fossil fuel initiatives – particularly coal.
- Unsustainable energy consumption, as seen from the consistent increase in global energy demand.
- Insufficient policy support in buildings, agriculture & transport sectors.
- Adoption of fossil fuels to replace the declining use of traditional biomass in developing economies.
- Outdated energy infrastructure.
Financial constraints with lower incentives.
What are the solutions for the energy transition?
Energy storage, solar and wind energy comprise the bulk of added renewables, driven by supportive government policies and lowering costs. These markets saw significant growth in 2021 with solar energy up 26% and wind energy up 7%. A record 175 GW of solar was installed, accounting for well over half of the renewable additions.
Energy storage is key for increased renewable energy adoption
Renewable energy storage will be central in the energy transition and could solve many of the production problems that green energy technologies face. Battery energy storage in particular has a critical role to play in ensuring homes and businesses can be powered by the increased adoption of green energy, because it ensures a constant power supply even when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing.
The challenge remains that electricity grids worldwide must match supply and demand with renewable power. Managing these peaks and troughs becomes more challenging when the target is to achieve net zero carbon production by phasing out fossil fuel plants which have traditionally been used as a back-up to provide a reliable, steady supply of energy.
The Director of Energy at National Grid Renewables, Ken-Ichi Hino, spoke of this challenge by saying: “energy storage enables further renewable generation, both from an operational and reliability perspective. It’s also a key piece of our utility customers’ ongoing evolution and transition to renewables. We see significant opportunities for pairing energy storage with our solar projects moving forward.”
Long seen as the missing link between intermittent renewable energy and constant reliability, energy storage has begun playing a broader role in the energy transition, with the potential to enable the eventual decarbonization of our energy systems. As costs reduce, renewable energy storage has the potential for broad use beyond the niche markets in which it is currently employed.
Trina Storage is at the forefront of Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) technology and continues to implement large utility-scale and commercial storage systems, like microgrids, in order to overcome the challenges presented by the renewable energy transition.
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