The Rise of Renewable Energy

Can innovative technology accelerate the adoption of clean energy?

At long last society is demonstrating strong support for renewable energy. Investment in renewables is strong, sitting at $286 billion USD last year. But despite this, a 2016 report by REN21 (Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century) has stated that under 20% of human global energy actually comes from sustainable sources. As well as this, new surveys suggest that global businesses are failing to conform to the United Nation’s sustainability goals. As much as people seem to be getting behind solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power, there’s still resistance. As well as calling for a change in mentalities, commentators are looking to innovative technology to accelerate development.

Innovative leaders have been very open about the need to make sure humanity can sustain itself. Elon Musk, for example, has said that the development of electric cars was the first step towards achieving his ultimate goal of sustainability. The merging of his companies Tesla Motors and SolarCity (and the consequent release of integrated solar powered roofing) demonstrates a key way in which tech can advance sustainability. Basically, electric cars and domestic-purpose batteries are making renewable energy available to the public. The interest in electric vehicles is absolutely huge – you only have to look at Tesla’s track record to see that. Once electric cars are common, there will be far less of a drain on finite oil reserves. There’s only so much that technology can achieve, however. The real barriers to the adoption of renewable energy aren’t actually related to technology at all. For the most part, they’re political. The ‘fossil fuels lobby’ refers to representatives paid by the oil, gas, coal and electric industries to influence government policy. Often, politicians are funded by these companies and don’t want to risk losing their support. There’s also still a blatant denial of climate change. On top of that, there are movements like NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) that obstruct the construction of wind and solar farms because they’re a bit of an eyesore. On a more technological note, there’s also the fact that many energy infrastructures are outdated, which makes it difficult for them to adapt to new methods. These issues explain why the global use of renewable energy is as small as 20%, but this is constantly improving. While it’s true that technology can’t solve these problems, finding innovative new ways to create energy will encourage adoption. It’s not all about the wind, the tides and the sun either. There are a number of new options that are being explored too, including marine energy, geothermal power and even algae. The more ways that can be found to create renewable energy, the better.

How will the rise of renewables cause disruption?
An increase in the use of renewable energy is obviously going to cause huge changes. There will be new ways of finding energy, storing energy and distributing energy. . . In short, energy supply as a whole will totally transform – and it will have to, because the majority of consumers will demand it. More often than not, disruption to one industry will affect another. For instance, altering the way that a household receives energy means that the houses themselves will have to be built with this in mind – look at SolarCity’s integrated roof tiles. The construction industry will have to meet consumer demand for domestic renewable solutions. In the long run, existing infrastructures will need to change, unless innovators can come up with a solution like Otto’s retro-fit kit. There’s a political angle here, too. The electorate is becoming more concerned with politicians’ stance on fossil fuels, which is changing the way that MPs campaign. Ultimately, the most positive disruption that could come from the rise of renewables is the fall of fossil fuels. . . In other words, an assurance that humanity won’t experience the biggest power-cut in the history of the world.

The business perspective
For businesses, the growing support for sustainable energy is a consumer trend that they must be aware of while altering their strategies in response. The rise of renewables has created a whole new market for consumer products that has already been taken advantage of by SolarCity and Tesla. The popularity of their affordable solar solutions will determine whether or not companies will race to offer alternatives. It’s pretty clear that renewable energy will impact businesses across the spectrum, but it’s the current leaders in energy supply that face the most immediate challenge in the form of competition. Energy giants are now faced with the decision of upping their investment in sustainability, or risk watching new companies overtake them.

In short, renewable energy is a growing market that is supported by governments, businesses and consumers alike. There are clearly still a number of barriers to overcome, and continued efforts are needed to do this. Fortunately, there’s a big enough chunk of the global population with enough influence to ensure that this will happen. The adoption of renewables will undoubtedly cause mass disruption in the next few decades, obviously to energy supply, but also to other industries and the political agenda. If executives, politicians and commentators believe that they won’t be hugely affected by energy changes, they should bear in mind that Denmark has pledged to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050, and they’re not the only ones. In a world that runs on power, the disruption caused by changing the power supply will affect the whole infrastructure. The challenge now is to work out how to deal with these changes.

Does your business use sustainable energy? What is the biggest barrier to the wider adoption of renewables? Share your thoughts and experiences.