2019 could be a big year in renewable energy. As renewable technology and efficiency improves, developers at the utility scale and distribution level will continue to roll out new projects, with solar and wind taking the lead in most areas. Adding to this momentum are the “smart city plans” that many municipalities are adopting, as well as “community energy” projects that allow relatively small groups of energy consumers to benefit from renewable energy systems.
While it may seem that wind, solar and fuel cell technology has been around a long time, these energy sources have only gone “mainstream” in recent years.
Here are 4 renewable energy trends to look for in 2019.
- Energy Storage
Energy storage is the trend to watch in 2019. It is the key to truly unlocking renewable energy’s full potential. The one major challenge solar and wind energy systems face is intermittency, that is the lack of energy production when the sun isn’t out or the wind isn’t blowing, or the inability for an energy system to meet demand during high consumption periods.
Pairing a renewable energy system with reliable energy storage ensures a smooth and steady power supply, even when weather conditions are not optimal for energy production. Batteries are the most common method of storage for renewable energy systems. However, battery technology has not made any real advancements in over 3 decades, and batteries are primed for a breakthrough soon.
Energy storage will be a key component of all energy technologies of the future.
- Grid Parity
Grid parity refers to when a renewable energy source can generate power at a cost that is less than or equal to the price of power from an existing electricity grid. Solar and wind have reached parity in both price and performance in many regions. The question of renewable energy is changing from one about the environment, to one about financial efficiency.
The traditional model of large, top-down, centrally distributed energy production is being replaced by smaller, evenly distributed , consumer-driven power generation. The number of locations where it makes more financial sense to build a new solar facility or wind farm rather than a traditional electricity plant will continue to grow in 2019.
Grid parity has two components, the cost of constructing a renewable energy system, and the local price of electricity. High energy costs have already resulted with grid parity in places like the northeast and west coast. In general, solar and wind facilities are more cost-efficient to build than coal-powered plants, and new technologies like utility blockchain, artificial intelligence, and automation will continue to make renewable energy the smart option.
Materials costs have also been trending down for several years, and despite the Trump trade war with China, costs are projected to continue to fall. China currently has a large oversupply of solar panels that will drive costs down in solar, and domestic production and expertise in renewable energy continues to improve.
- Big Projects
Big corporations, cities and many countries are making emissions reduction a priority. Over 100 cities report that at least 70% of their energy comes from renewables, and more than 40 are currently operating at 100% renewable energy. In addition, 162 corporations have pledged to transition to 100% renewable energy in the coming years.
- Renewable Energy in Developing Countries
When we talk about advancements in renewable energy, we often think about the US, China and other countries modernizing their existing utility grids. However, roughly 1 billion people still live without electricity in the world, and renewable energy will have a major impact in these places as well. It’s becoming the go-to choice for providing access to electricity in developing nations. Small community-based micro-grids are a very cost-effective way to deliver affordable and reliable power in places that have never had electricity before.
Helping renewable energy’s penetration into developing nations is its relatively low amount of ongoing maintenance. For example, a solar facility requires very little maintenance or expertise to operate once constructed, and will produce reliable electricity for 20 years or more.
Achieving universal access to energy is a critical component for improving the standard of living in third-world countries. The introduction of electricity to places that have never had it before creates new markets and has a major impact on local economies. Several international groups like the World Bank and SEforAll are supporting the introduction of renewable energy to developing nations.
The renewable energy revolution has arrived, and in 2019 we will see it continue to improve on existing technologies and penetrate new markets.