After a year of unprecedented growth in 2020, 2021 is set to be another massive year for the renewable energy industry. We take a look at some of the industry trends that have changed dramatically in the last year and the new technologies that will be disrupting the industry even further.
2020: How it changed green energy for the better
Earlier this month, World Oil’s Brian Eckhouse, reported on some remarkable industry trends that are largely a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and shifts in our energy demands.
For example, residential installations in the United States dropped nearly 20% in the second quarter of 2020 from the first—the most ever—as the pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders. However, the sector bounced back and the country added 19 gigawatts of total solar power to the country’s energy grid, which is roughly the size of the power capacity for the entire country of Colombia. Furthermore, new battery-storage capacity in the U.S. more than doubled in the third quarter of 2020 from the second
China, meanwhile, doubled its installations of renewable energy sources in 2020, largely a consequence of President Xi’s pledge in September to zero out carbon emissions by 2060. In Europe, renewable energies overtook fossil fuels, as demand dropped during the pandemic, taking a 40% share of the electricity supply in the first half of 2020 compared to renewables’ 34% share of the European power grid. Spain also became an industry leader over the course of the year and has increased its renewables capacity to a third of the levels of Europe’s leader, Germany, and set to grow at twice the rate of their counterparts over the next two years.
A 67-day period also became Britain’s longest stretch without coal since the Industrial Revolution and helped make 2020 the country’s greenest year yet for its power grid. However, a 72% drop in solar installations in India and the slowest addition of wind power in more than a decade, as well as the surge in prices of polysilicon, a crucial material for photovoltaic cells, due to an explosion and floods in Chinese factories did put a black mark on what was almost a perfect year for our continued battle against climate change. Another positive sign was the drop-off in power demand in Australia, due to the fact that 29% of households are now outfitted with panels.
Renewable energy technologies set to emerge in 2021
The Motley Fool points towards three ways in which the renewable energy market could change dramatically over the next year. Firstly, they point to the accelerated adoption of renewable energy that’s been on the rise. Secondly, they discuss leading developers of renewable energy like utility Xcel Energy and several companies like Brookfield Renewable and Plug Power, who are looking to use green hydrogen projects – a “technology [that] uses renewable energy to power an electrolysis system that produces hydrogen that can, for example, replace natural gas in a power plant.” Many projects like this are getting the green light from regulators and we’re likely to see major growth for these technologies and wider adaptation. Finally, they point to the continued improvements made in solar energy, and more specifically battery storage.
“The cost of battery storage has fallen dramatically over the years. A decade ago, it cost between $71 to $81 per megawatt-hour (MWh) for a four-hour battery storage adder to a wind or solar energy project. But by 2020, the cost of adding a battery storage component had plummeted to between $6 to $12 per MWh. And it’s currently on track to fall to a range of $4 to $9 per MWh by 2022.”
These sentiments are echoed by Engineering News, reporting on The annual Africa Energy Indaba 2021’s planned panel discussion which will cover the topic ‘Is energy storage the key to energy access?’
“Energy storage technologies are viewed as a potential game-changer for widespread adoption of renewable energy generation throughout Africa,” the report states. “They facilitate the management of renewable power intermittency, demand response services and the dispatchability of stable, clean and sustainable power into the local or national grid system.”
The emerging technologies are all proving to be exceptionally promising and will serve as a catalyst to the changes that need to be made, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and radical shifts in our power demand.
In addition to this, innovations with regards to autonomous vehicles, shared mobility, materials Informatics, precision agriculture, synthetic biology, bioinformatics and plastic recycling are bound to make a positive impact on consumer behaviour and reduce our carbon footprints incrementally.
A very positive outlook
Nobody can truly predict what the year 2021 has in store for the renewable energy industry, but it’s clear to see that we have a lot to be excited about. And this is even without mentioning that the world’s most powerful market, the United States, will be ushering in a new President, Joe Biden, who has pledged to reverse countless policies that were enacted by his predecessor, Donald Trump, such as pulling out of the Paris Agreement.
Climate change policies are very much making their way up the list of priorities for governments around the world. The year 2020 did, crazily enough, bring a lot of positive change in our battle against the fossil fuel industry and the challenges we’re facing with our environment. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of the same in 2021.