Which trends are driving innovation in energy, natural resources, and environmental services? With this overview of the challenges and opportunities affecting this industry, Supertrends can help you anticipate and monitor them to keep your business always one step ahead.
The energy, natural resources, and enviro-services sector has already begun a journey of transformation that poses a number of key challenges – but also technological opportunities, for those who know how to seize them – for companies and multiple players directly or indirectly involved in this sector. These challenges can be summarized in three main areas:
Uncertainty about the long-term future of fossil fuels and the parallel growth of investment and legislation toward green energy is forcing this sector to face the lack of structural preparedness to meet the growing demand for renewable energy. In this context, clean energy technologies are becoming more and more imperative, also considering that their manufacturing and installation are easily expandable in all places where the natural resources required to power them are available. Inaction by governments and businesses in exploring these technologies and the related energy policies could add new dependence on international markets – primarily on OPEC for fossil fuels, and potentially on China, which is the leading manufacturer and exporter of cleantech hardware – and increase potential risks related to price volatility and supply chain disruption.
Electricity and energy infrastructures are increasingly exposed to climate change vulnerabilities: severe weather conditions – such as wildfires, heat waves, deep freezes, intense storms, floods – will continue to challenge the stability and resilience of energy systems. Therefore, in addition to infrastructure strengthening, direct action on climate change mitigation and decarbonization is necessary to break this vicious cycle. As the sector approaches clean energy in the coming years, the challenge is to integrate new green technologies into existing systems as quickly as possible while continuing to ensure their reliability and affordability. In this scenario, the pain points for this transformation remain the need for large investments and the high costs that some utilities may face in order to retire fossil fuel-based generation earlier than planned.
The other side of the coin to ensure stability and resilience of energy systems lies in direct infrastructure-strengthening interventions, aimed at protecting plants at a physical and digital level from climate change-related extreme weather conditions in the first place, but also from additional external vulnerabilities such as cyberattacks or acts of terrorism. Resilience planning is necessary, but it is also a major challenge for electric utilities, due to the multi-million dollar cost of resiliency investments and the need for wide-ranging partnerships involving multiple public and private entities to implement projects.
The cost of building new solar photovoltaic and wind-powered plants is far lower than equivalent fossil-fuel power plants. Moreover, low-cost renewable technologies that are likely to disrupt energy industries in the next two decades, with improved perovskite solar cells (PSC) leading the way, are continuing to see promising advances in terms of efficiency, energy production, and cost reduction.
In addition to cost-effectiveness, other advances such as offshore wind technology also allow for more electricity to be generated per installed capacity by taking advantage of higher wind speeds at sea than on land. This is expected to foster the deployment of lower-cost offshore wind projects worldwide.
Several companies worldwide have already begun to develop nuclear technologies that can meet the growing need for clean, low-cost energy while simultaneously ensuring greater safety and stability. One promising example of these technologies is that of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which are about one-third the size of traditional nuclear reactors and might be better accepted by traditionally nuclear-averse countries.
Green Hydrogen is a technology still in its infancy, but already considered the most promising way to decarbonize heavily polluting industries and contribute to the target of a net-zero economy. Through a clean electrolysis process, it can store solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy. In parallel with the progressive decline in the cost of solar and wind power, global interest in the viability of green hydrogen continues to increase, particularly in countries with high availability of renewable resources.
Advanced energy storage
These are long-duration energy storage systems, which could enable renewable energy to be stored and fed back into the grid system, as well as supporting broad deployment of electric vehicles. The development of these storage technologies is continuing in a direction that integrates batteries – including lithium-ion batteries, but also promising alternatives that are potentially safer, cheaper, more powerful, and with a longer duration – and renewable power sources. The goal for the future is to have electric grids, residential areas, and manufacturing plants that are fully autonomous, decentralized, and potentially have no need for backup from fossil fuels.
A technology designed to change the thermal capacity of an overhead transmission or distribution power line dynamically in real time, depending on varying environmental conditions, such as ambient temperature, solar radiation, and wind speed and direction. It is not a new technology, with prototyping having started in the 1990s, but it is attracting increasing interest from scientists and key players in the industry in conjunction with the development of smart grids, resiliency plans, and efficient integration of renewable energy projects.
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What technologies and innovations you can rely upon to meet the decarbonization goals of your organization? Where do resilience plans stand and in what direction are they heading to ensure the stability of power grids and their decentralization in an increasingly energy-needy world? Find the answers you seek, all at your fingertips.
What technologies and innovations can you rely upon to meet the decarbonization goals of your organization? Where do resilience plans stand, and in what direction are they heading to ensure the stability of power grids and their decentralization in an increasingly energy-needy world? Find all the answers you seek at your fingertips.