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The near future of renewables

The near future of renewables

Affordable and Clean Energy

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 SDGs integrate and recognize that action in one area affects outcomes in others, and development must balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

Affordable and Clean Energy is key to achieving SDG 7 by 2030. Between 2000 and 2018, the number of people with electricity increased from 78 to 90 per cent, while 789 million remained without access. The demand for Affordable and Clean Energy, coupled with reducing reliance on fossil fuels, is crucial to combat the drastic changes to our climate.

Investments in Affordable and Clean Energy sources like solar, wind, and thermal power, alongside improving energy productivity, are essential to ensure energy for all

Expanding infrastructure and upgrading technology to provide clean and more efficient energy in all countries will encourage growth and help the environment which includes:

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A symbolic clock was created 76 years ago by atomic scientists, including Albert Einstein. This Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a human-made global catastrophe, in the opinion of the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Maintained since 1947, the clock is a metaphor for threats to humanity from unchecked scientific and technological advances. A hypothetical global catastrophe is represented by midnight on the clock, with the Bulletin‘s opinion on how close the world is to one represented by a certain number of minutes or seconds to midnight, assessed in January of each year.

The main factors influencing the clock are nuclear risk and climate change. The Bulletin‘s Science and Security Board monitors new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.

Year after year, experts have measured humanity’s proximity to midnight — in other words, to self-destruction.  In 2023, they surveyed the state of the world — with the Russian [Federation] invasion of Ukraine, the runaway climate catastrophe, rising nuclear threats that are undermining global norms and institutions.  And they came to a clear conclusion. The Doomsday Clock is now 90 seconds to midnight, which means 90 seconds to total global catastrophe.  This is the closest the clock has ever stood to humanity’s darkest hour — and closer than even during the height of the cold war.  In truth, the Doomsday Clock is a global alarm clock.  We need to wake up — and get to work.

We have started 2023 staring down the barrel of a confluence of challenges unlike any other in our lifetimes.  Wars grind on.  The climate crisis burns on.  Extreme wealth and extreme poverty rage on.  The gulf between the haves and have nots is cleaving societies, countries and our wider world.  Epic geopolitical divisions are undermining global solidarity and trust.  This path is a dead end.  We need a course correction.

By 2024, almost 33 per cent of the world’s electricity is forecast to come from renewables, with solar photovoltaic (PV) accounting for almost 60 per cent or at least 697 gigawatts of expected growth, according to Renewables 2019, a report from the International Energy Agency published in November 2019. Onshore wind (309 GW), hydropower (121 GW), offshore wind (43 GW) and bioenergy follow (41 GW).

Drastically lower production costs, growing concern around climate change, evolving global energy policies and increased pressure from investors on companies to adopt environmental social governance (ESG) polices are pushing renewables into the mainstream. Renewables used to just be the more sustainable—if more expensive—option. By 2023, they will actually make good business sense.

Top predictions for global renewable market

  1. The future of solar: Although slowed slightly by geopolitical tension and trade uncertainty, solar capacity will continue to grow over the next several years — surpassing a terawatt of global solar power generation by 2023.
  2. Storage:  Storage will take its rightful place as a key grid asset by 2023, helping to increase the reliability and resilience of increasingly decentralized power systems. The adoption of diverse energy storage solutions, including long duration batteries for utility-scale renewable integration, will grow by at least 30 percent year-over-year leading up to 2023.
  3. Wind power: Wind power will continue to grow, with increased storage capabilities developed specifically for on and offshore wind, helping to improve the economics and productivity of such projects. Half of the 2023 global investments in wind will go towards offshore technology and projects.
  4. The energy convergence: Natural resources companies, from mining to oil and gas, will continue to invest in clean or renewable energy technology, including carbon capture, utilisation and sequestration — both to diversify their portfolios and reduce their corporate carbon footprints. By 2023, 20 oil and gas majors will have joined the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, up from 13.
  5. Cleantech investments: Following a cycle of disappointing returns, private equity and venture capital will return to the cleantech space in full force. Whether called cleantech or climate-tech, the regulatory, economic and scientific impetus for these technologies will see $600 billion dollars in global private investment by 2023.

Top 10 Renewable Energy Trends in 2023

Advanced Photovoltaics:  Solar companies are making strides in the realm of Affordable and Clean Energy by seamlessly integrating PV systems into our environments, reducing the need for land. Integrated PV, floatovoltaics, and agrivoltaics represent pivotal shifts in this trend. Further promoting Affordable and Clean Energy, startups are pioneering thin-film cells to craft solar panels that are flexible, cost-effective, lightweight, and eco-friendly. To bolster PV performance, these innovators are employing technologies that concentrate solar power through mirrors and lenses. Breakthroughs in PV materials, especially with the introduction of perovskite, are amplifying energy conversion rates. When combined with optimized photovoltaic designs, these advancements champion sustainability through recycling, minimal resource consumption, and the utilization of alternative materials

Artificial Intelligence and Big Data: The energy grid is one of the most complex infrastructures and requires quick decision-making in real-time, which big data and AI algorithms enable for utilities. Beyond grid analytics and management, AI’s applications in the renewables sector include power consumption forecasting and predictive maintenance of renewable energy sources.

It further enables the internet of energy applications that predict grid capacity levels and carry out time-based autonomous trading and pricing. With innovations in cloud computing, virtual power plants (VPP) supplement the power generation from utilities. In addition, startups utilize data analytics and machine learning for renewable energy model designing and performance analysis.

Distributed Energy Storage Systems: DESS localizes renewable energy generation and storage, overcoming irregularity in production. Based on economic and other requirements, startups offer a range of battery and batteryless solutions. For instance, flow batteries leverage low and consistent energy, whereas solid-state batteries are lightweight and provide high energy density. For applications that require large amounts of energy, in a short period of time, capacitors and supercapacitors are also used.

Due to concerns regarding discharging, safety, and environmental pollution, startups are devising batteryless storage alternatives such as pumped hydro and compressed air technologies. On the other hand, surplus energy is converted to other forms of energy such as heat or methane for storage and reconversion through Power-to-X (P2X) technology.

Hydro Power: Hydro power is the energy derived from moving water. Unlike solar and wind, hydro energy is predictable and, hence, more reliable. Besides, hydroelectric dams, as well as ocean-based energy harnessed from tides, currents, and waves, offer high energy density while reducing dependency on conventional sources.

The innovations in these renewable sources focus on energy converters and component improvements for harvesting energy more efficiently. Within hydro power, small-scale hydroelectric dams and tidal barrages enable decentralized energy generation. Ocean thermal energy conversion (OETC) harnesses energy through the thermal gradient created between the surface and deep water. Few startups are also converting the salinity gradient formed due to the osmotic pressure difference between seawater and river into usable energy.

Wind Energy: Despite being one of the oldest energy resources, the rapidly evolving nature of the wind energy sector makes it one of the major trends. Startups are devising offshore and airborne wind turbines to reduce the demand for land-based wind energy. Innovations in this field often integrate with other energy sources such as floating wind turbines, solar, or tidal energy.

To further improve efficiency, there are constant advances in the aerodynamic designs of the blades. Startups also develop efficient generators and turbines for high energy conversion. The sustainability of blade material is one of the challenges the industry faces today. To tackle this, startups are creating bladeless technologies and recyclable thermoplastic materials to manufacture blades.

Bioenergy: Bioenergy constitutes a type of renewable energy derived from biomass sources. Liquid biofuels with quality comparable to gasoline are directly blended for use in vehicles. To achieve this quality, companies improve biofuel processes and upgradation techniques. The majority of biofuel conversion processes like hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), pyrolysis, plasma technology, pulverization, and gasification use thermal conversion for obtaining biofuels. Furthermore, upgradation techniques like cryogenic, hydrate, in-situ, and membrane separation are used for removing sulfur and nitrogen content.

Similarly, the fermentation process produces bioethanol which is easy to blend directly with gasoline. Fermentation also has the ability to convert waste, food grains, and plants into bio-ethanol, thereby providing feedstock variability. On the other hand, energy-dense feedstocks result in optimum fuel quality. For this reason, startups and big companies consider algal and microalgal feedstocks for use in the aforementioned conversion processes.

Grid Integration: Grid integration technologies primarily include transmission, distribution, and stabilisation of renewable energy. Scaling up variable renewable energy generation is often far from demand centers which result in transmission and distribution losses. To overcome this, energy-efficient, grid electronic technologies such as Gallium Nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) semiconductors are leveraged.

The challenge of frequency and voltage fluctuation due to variable renewable energy generation is solved through microcontroller-based solutions. Despite these technologies, stabilization of the grid is a huge challenge due to intermittent energy usage. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology empowers stabilization of the grid during peak hours while grid-to-vehicle (G2V) solutions leverage the vehicle as a storage unit. As a result, both the energy and transportation industry benefits.

Advanced Robotics: Production and process efficiency proves to be a major hurdle in harnessing renewable energy. Robotics enables accuracy and optimum utilization of resources to overcome this challenge. For example, automated solar panels orient themselves to maximize energy conversion. Equipment automation also expedites the maintenance processes while reducing the need for human work.

Drone inspection and robotics-based automatic operations and maintenance (O&M) handle dangerous repetitive work, thereby improving safety and productivity. An example of this is the use of drones based on phased array ultrasonic imaging to hastily detect internal or external damages on large wind turbines. Drones further enable the creation of digital site twins and 3D maps through imaging and elevation data calculation.

Blockchain: Energy startups utilize blockchain technology to advance trusted transactions in the renewable energy sector. For instance, smart contracts advance peer-to-peer (P2P) electricity trading for transactive energy.

Grids are vulnerable to cyber threats and blockchain is used to encrypt the data associated with grid operations and monitoring. Through data encryption, blockchain facilitates digital transactions. Renewable energy providers are also taking advantage of blockchain to track the chain of custody of grid materials. Additionally, it allows regulators to easily access data for regulatory compliance.

Renewable Energy Technologies and Startups

To tackle climate change and meet environmental compliance, companies are turning to clean and sustainable energy. The challenge lies in making renewable energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels. While economies of scale solve the problem of cost, technologies like automation, blockchain, and machine learning improve O&M efficiency.

Further, hardware innovations like advanced photovoltaics such as nanofibers and mono-passive emitter real contact (PERC) based panels improve solar conversion efficiency. Within the wind energy sector, mini-wind turbines and buoyant airborne turbines are gaining popularity.

Advances in hydro power are facilitating the use of oscillating water columns and overstepping energy converters. Moreover, research on platinum-free catalysts, such as tin carbon, is enabling cheaper green hydrogen fuel cells. Efficient catalytic technologies are also facilitating the production of higher-quality fuels from varied feedstocks.

Advances in the hydrogen economy, data-driven solutions powered by AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics, along with improvements in renewable energy utilization, are steering the course towards Affordable and Clean Energy. These transformations will redefine the energy sector as we know it today. Identifying new opportunities and emerging technologies early on in the realm of Affordable and Clean Energy can provide your business with a competitive edge. Get in touch to comprehensively scout relevant technologies and startups that align with your goals

The author, Mr. Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger and motivational speaker. He writes articles on diversified topics. Mr. Shaikh can be contacted at

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