Selecting the optimal clean energy mix

The challenge
Embarking upon the momentous journey to transform your energy system to one powered solely by clean energy raises questions of which inputs should be employed to secure an energy system that is based on renewables, yet simultaneously is reliable and affordable. Are some sources better at providing this or cleaner than others? Should there be a specific baseload power source to step in when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine and are today’s power grids able to cope with fluctuating renewable sources

 

 

The future
Previously, we saw a tendency to focus on one particular technology or energy source as the answer to clean energy challenges. Today, it is increasingly accepted that there is not a  single energy source that is powerful enough to do the job alone. Instead, emphasis is on how to integrate a variety of clean energy sources that can work in tandem to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable energy system. In addition, efforts should be made to realise the full potential of each source. Renewable energy hybrid solutions that combine two or more clean energy sources to not only generate energy, but also store it, will be increasingly used to ensure a stable, efficient, low-cost energy supply that can switch smoothly between different clean sources.

Explore associated sectors

Increasingly, we are seeing the effects of climate change on a global scale. Adverse weather events, growing pollution, rapidly eroding supplies of fossil fuels – all this is helping drive a switch to clean energy. Moreover, continuous technological evolution and research breakthroughs mean previously unconsidered resources are now being exploited to produce clean energy. The cost of many new renewable projects are decreasing, making clean sources the cheapest and most stable option for even the poorest regions of the world.

Production of wind energy dates back to the 17 century, where windmills were used to grind corn. Continuous technological optimisation has allowed windmills to evolve into modern day wind turbines that produce energy that is sustainable both economically and environmentally. Trend analysis reveals that wind energy prices are cost-competitive with non-renewable energy prices. Currently, attention is focussed on making turbines even more efficient onshore and offshore, to a point where it is economically feasible in low wind areas.

Renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal and wave power are valuable alternative sources with the potential to contribute to a future clean energy system. Advantages of solar power are that it requires low maintenance, suits both small and large-scale operations and can be installed at the source where power is needed. Similarly to wind, solar power is cheaper than coal in many areas and when combined with battery technology, it can provide power even on cloudy days. Currently, more work is required to make wave power viable on a commercial scale.

Our expectation as consumers is that energy should be available nonstop. This presents a challenge for incorporating fluctuating clean energy sources into the power grid. Therefore, transitioning to an energy supply based on renewables is often accompanied by grid optimisation and the use of weather forecasting to ensure optimal integration of clean energy sources into the grid.

In this context, bioenergy plays an important role in stabilising the grid and in the energy systems of the future. It can function as a backup power source in times of limited wind or solar power production. However, widespread use of biomass resources will need to be accompanied by global regulations that set environmental standards for the biomass source and ensure that biomass resources are not used unsustainably.

Like all clean energy sources, an energy system should not be built solely around bioenergy. Instead, bioenergy is the preferred option for sectors such as heavy transport, where there are no other viable fossil-free alternatives yet. Depending on the geographical setting and climactic context, the need for energy sources will differ. Therefore, rather than relying on one source or prioritising a certain method based on political preferences, all sources should be examined and assessed according to the ease with which they can be brought into play at the lowest cost, yet provide the highest stability, as well as how they can complement each other.

Connect with us: Imke Ernst, Project Manager, ier@stateofgreen.com