A pivotal year for renewables and clean energy
It wasn’t too long ago that big organisations, both corporate and governmental, appeared to be blind to the case for renewables and clean energy adoption. Going into 2018, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The rise of renewables and clean energy options are a force to be reckoned with, impacting the strategies of governing bodies and businesses alike. Official commitment to renewable options like wind and solar isn’t just hot air. In 2017, the UK generated almost 30 per cent of all energy from clean sources. This gradual, positive transition sits alongside a plethora of ambitious claims made by national governments, not least of all Denmark, which plans to completely abandon non-renewable energy by 2050. Now, the task is to build the necessary infrastructure to make these bold goals a reality. Where is the market for renewables and clean energy, what challenges does it face, and which trends will emerge over the next twelve months?
The renewable revolution
In recent years, countless transformative developments have been made in the real world application of clean energy. One of the most notable advancements has been the creation of economically viable electric vehicles (EVs). This has had knock on effects in terms of legislation, causing governments to take EVs seriously. France, for instance, has made an open commitment to eliminate all petrol and diesel cars from the roads by 2040.
In part, clean energy has become economically viable due to improved energy storage solutions. New materials and chemical compounds have contributed to novel battery technologies designed to support renewable power. The flow battery developed at Purdue University, for example, stores energy as a liquid that doesn’t need to be recharged. Storedot’s FlashBattery charges in less than five minutes. For the most part, lithium ion remains dominant, but is also fuelling the renewable revolution. Last year, Tesla Motors pledged to fix the energy blackouts of South Australia. Using a giant 100 megawatt lithium ion battery, the company is coming good on its promise.
Another key trend has been the expansion of reuse and recycling, as well as the extension of product life cycles through the application of circular economy values. This approach to manufacturing has additionally been driven by the entirely justified demonisation of plastics in the global media, and the discovery of alternative materials that don’t harm the environment. All of these changes have been encouraged by consumers, thus motivating businesses to respond to customer preferences. Renewables and clean energy have finally reached their inevitable tipping point, but taking the next vital steps will be easier said than done.
Creating a clean energy culture
While many big businesses have made a public commitment to supporting sustainability, more organisations need to recognise the importance of adopting this mindset. Low interest means lower investment, and a lack of funding has always hindered sustainable solutions. This is due to their risky, unpredictable nature. Major corporations like Ford are paving the way with large investments in EVs, but this also needs to become the responsibility of governments. In the same vein, legislators will be relied upon to allow innovation to thrive. As is often the case, positive disruption hinges on a battle of attitudes – those who accept the rise of renewables and clean energy, and those who cling on to existing, outdated models. On a practical level, these outdated models themselves challenge the adoption curve of renewables. An entirely new infrastructure is needed to support sustainability, which requires the reimagination, or even the complete overhaul, of the systems in place today. Although this has already begun to happen, it will be no mean feat.
A whole new renewable world
Once renewables and clean energy reach their tipping point, we will enter a transitional stage in which outdated infrastructure will be replaced. In many cases, the disruption will be clear to see through physical changes. One of the most obvious is and will continue to be the replacement of petrol and diesel pumps with electric car charging points. More solar panels, solar farms, wind turbines, and the construction of facilities like vertical farms will alter landscapes. Less obvious, initially, will be an ongoing change in social attitudes leading to the conversion of conspicuous consumption. This mentality will be recognised and reflected in the policies and strategies of organisations as they shift their focus towards renewable options. Competition will blossom between companies as they search for the most efficient ways to harvest and deliver sustainable power and resources.
The gradual climb towards a renewable world will be an uphill struggle. In previous years, a stream of big companies and ambitious governments have joined the cause, creating a fertile business landscape. Thanks to the calculated risks of pioneering businesses like Tesla Motors, Shell, BP, and a long list of sustainable startups, we’re now entering a transformative phase. 2017 heard a number of plans for accelerating renewable and clean energy options, and while 2018 may not see them fully materialise, it will host the all important transitional stage. The most daunting obstacle comes in the form of reluctance. Instead of shying away from risky investment, companies, countries, and consumers alike should consider the state of a world in which those risks are never taken – that is, if there is to be a world at all.
Have renewables and clean energy reached their tipping point? What else needs to happen to facilitate the transition to sustainable sources? Are the clean energy agendas of national governments realistic? Comment below with your thoughts and opinions.