The future of renewables
Following the UK’s achievement earlier this month in generating more than half of the country’s energy requirements from renewables, let’s take stock of what the future for renewables might look like
Renewable sources of energy generating more electricity than traditional fossil fuels, such as coal or gas, for the first time in the UK. The National Grid reported that power generating from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied a record 50.7 per cent of the country’s energy. If nuclear energy is added to this mix, not a renewable energy source, but sometimes considered an alternative to fossil fuels, this number reaches 72.1 per cent.
So with that in mind let’s look at some of the more interesting sources of power in the future might be (thanks go to Futurism for their great infographic that I sourced some of this material from):
- Space-based solar power: Much of incoming solar energy never makes it through Earth’s atmosphere. A space-based solar power system would use fleets of satellites in orbit to absorb the unfiltered sun’s energy and beam it down with microwaves to power-stations on earth – and yes sending power over distances is technically possible.
- Human power: This one’s simple – why don’t we just use the power that our bodies generate through movement. Some products have come out that already aim to take advantage of this – which have not always been successful.
- Wave power: A technology which until recently may have been considered an underdog in energy generation in comparison to its solar and wind brethren. Tidal power is really a form of stored energy. Coastline is measured by how much energy it could produce – with the US coastline estimated at a potential of 252 billion KWh.
- Hydrogen power: At this point it feels like hydrogen fuel cells have been constantly around the corner for decades with the promise of high energy yields and no pollution. It seems that only time will tell if this energy solution will every become viable.
- Embedded solar power: Rather than a new technology, this is an offshoot of solar power. New manufacturing processes will allow the embedding of solar panels in windows. Imagine a skyscraper where every window was itself a solar panel, generating electricity for the entire building.
- Flying wind power: Again, like our example above this harnesses an existing technology and improves upon it. A flying wind farm would seek to float turbines as high as skyscrapers in order to take advantage of the much stronger winds that can be found at these heights.
- Nuclear fusion: Finally, another technology that I’ve been reading about for years that still hasn’t got off the ground. If successful nuclear fusion might hold the key to powering our society for centuries. By harnessing the fusion process, the same power that fuels the sun, unlimited power is possible without any pollution or greenhouse gases, or even nuclear waste as is the case with our current nuclear fission reactors. Despite decades of research a reactor has still not been built that has been able to generate more power than it takes to turn on due to the incredibly intense power required to achieve fusion – although the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being built in France and estimated to be completed by 2027 might challenge that.