Renewable energy is hot news today.
In the past few years, investments in renewable energy are actually outpacing investments into conventional and fossil fuel sectors.
With such tremendous momentum, one would think that renewable energy such as solar and wind energy already contribute a significant portion of our electricity needs.
In fact, if you leave out large hydro power (which has been there for a long, long time by the way), renewable sources contribute less than 5% to the world’s electricity demand.
Less than 5%! That’s much less than what you would have expected, correct?
There are many reasons for this, technology being key among them. So, a question arises: What technology component can make the entire world run on renewable energy sources alone?
Whew. That is a tough question.
Is there one technology that can enable the world to run entirely on renewable energy?
Well, let me think…for a while.
Well, er, not really.
I doubt there is any one technology, a silver bullet, that can run the entire world on renewable energy.
But if you still insist, I can say that the technology that comes closest is – Energy Storage. Be it in the form of batteries, or in other forms.
If we can figure out a much more economical way to store energy (especially electricity), we would have done the world of renewable energy a big, big service.
Why is energy storage the key technology to watch out for? Because, if the world needs to run on renewable energy, most of which are intermittent (think solar, wind…), then we need to somehow make the power from these sources intermittent sources more reliable. Without such reliability, it will be hard for solar or wind power to start contributing a large share of the total electricity demand.
(To visualise the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources, just imagine the ceiling fan in your room running based on solar power alone – a cloud cover and it almost stops running and the next moment a sudden burst of sunshine and the fan runs superfast – chaos, right?)
How do we address such intermittent effects and subsequent unreliability: this is where batteries come in. By enabling storage of electricity, which can then be used at the time of need, batteries smooth out the intermittency and infirmness. Without storage technology incorporated in some form on a large scale, I cannot imagine a word that runs on wind or solar power alone.
If you are keen on keeping track of disruptive ideas in the cleantech space, batteries in specific and energy storage in general are two domains you should keep an eye on. Any significant decrease in costs or increases in efficiency/performance in this domain will have significant impact on the world of renewables.