The steady march of renewable energy sources

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Renewable energy sources to consider for a sustainable future.

The need to combat man-made climate change has been well-publicized. This is a big and complex problem, the solution to which will need to take several forms. There will need to be political change, in the form of accords like the Paris Climate Agreement. There will need to be incentives set by national governments, in the form of the right regulatory environment. Then there’s the behavior of consumers themselves.

One huge factor here is the impact of new technologies. The more attractive that new renewable technologies become, the more that providers will be tempted to switch away from them, and to shun fossil-fuel based alternatives like oil, gas, and coal.

Renewables are the Future

By definition, renewables represent the future of energy production on Planet Earth. This is almost a matter of definition: non-renewables will eventually run out, leaving us with no choice to turn to renewables. In practice, it’s not quite that simple—oil and gas will last for several decades at the very least, and uranium for much longer. But before the cut-off point arrives, the raw materials might end up becoming inaccessible, as we have to dig deeper and deeper to reach those remaining deposits.

Governments around the world are committed to making the switch well before this deadline arrives, however. In the UK, Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently took to Twitter to celebrate the milestone of renewable energy being the UK’s biggest source of energy for the first time in 2020.

Declining Costs

In 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency released its report on renewable power generation costs. They reported year-on-year declines in the cost of several renewable energy services, including onshore and offshore wind, and solar photovoltaic. In the case of offshore wind, according to the report’s authors, this represented a significant improvement compared with the previous year (8.8 percent against 3 percent). This was driven by falls in the price of turbines and in plant costs. In the case of photovoltaic solar cells, the 13 percent year-on-year improvement amounts to an 82 percent decline over the entire decade.

Were the 500 gigawatts of existing coal capacity to be replaced with solar and wind alternatives, annual CO2 emissions could be reduced by around 5 percent, and yield a stimulus of around $940 billion, or around 1 percent of global GDP.

Among the factors making renewables more cost-effective is the improvement in solenoid valve technology. These devices are a means of controlling flow in motors. They’re used in hydroelectric stations and wind turbines. When an electromagnetic coil is energized, the coil opens up, and flow is allowed.

The environment in a hydroelectric station is often extremely harsh, and devices of this kind, therefore, need to be able to withstand extremes of temperature, pressure, and moisture. Lowering the failure rate helps to reduce downtime, lower the cost of replacement components, and ultimately to improve the efficacy of renewables.

What about Nuclear?

In December, a government energy white paper noted that renewables accounted for a third of power generated in the UK, up from 7 percent in 2010, but that to continue this trend would mean that the country “needs to go further.”

Alongside offshore wind, green public transport, and hydrogen, the paper announced a pursuit of ‘large-scale nuclear’ as well as further investment in smaller modular reactors. There are even plans to build a fusion reactor on the site of a coal power station in Nottinghamshire.

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