The 2020s will be a defining decade for alternative energy. Over the last decade, renewable energy costs dropped due to advancements in technology due to innovation and design, materials and manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels.
What will the next 10 years bring for alternative energy? Here are three trends that will define the 2020s.
Renewables Will Outpace Oil
In the past decade, U.S. non-hydro renewables in the U.S. has grown as a percentage share of electricity generation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects this trend to continue. Growth of an additional 60 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in power generation will come from non-hydro renewables in 2020.
Until now, that growth has been steady. Much of the electricity generation from coal has been replaced over the past decade by natural gas, as opposed to renewables. But over the next decade, we expect to see higher growth in renewables. The low cost of renewable energy as compared to gas-powered generators is a major driver as municipalities and governments switch to renewable energy. This is independent of the growing societal pressure to “go green”. As old infrastructure reaches the end of its lifecycle, renewables will replace it.
At the same time, we’ll see new forms of alternative energy that are in the nascent stages of development. Last month, U.K. scientists in claimed to have successfully created nuclear fusion for the first time. It will be a long road to commercial use of these technologies, but it’s promising that these technological advancements are being made.
Weather Conditions Will Matter More
The rise of extreme weather events, caused by climate change, will increase the need for power systems to be resilient in all conditions. In 2019 we saw numerous power outages across the U.S. that were caused by hurricanes and wildfires. That trend is only set to intensify over the next decade.
Whereas historically wind and solar power had a reputation for being unreliable, today large coal and gas-fired stations are increasingly recognized as the more vulnerable and aging behemoths. It only takes one event – weather or human-inflicted – to cause a significant outage to a large area.
By comparison, distributed networks powered by smaller solar and wind will reduce reliance on a single, vulnerable source of power. In California, the recent outages of PG&E caused by wildfires is driving interest in microgrids and solar power, and the state has also set a target of 60% renewable energy in the power grid by 2030.
This will invariably make power more readily available, and therefore cheaper. And efficiencies will also have an impact, currently, inefficiencies and losses will be reduced. This will enable the emergence of new, power-dependent technologies, such as drones, autonomous EVs, and 5G.
AI Will Create Greater Efficiencies
Beyond distributed networks, we will also need to get better at predicting weather and managing our power accordingly.
Artificial intelligence (AI) will, for the first time, enable us to manage power to a high degree of efficiency. It will be possible to control, manage and store power more effectively, meaning it will take less energy to generate the same amount of power.
Already in 2020, the impact of client change is forcing countries and their people to recognize the impact. Australia’s recent fires have forced its Prime Minister to acknowledge climate change — a marked change in his politics. The next decade will definitively change the trajectory of concern and initiatives driven by climate change and rising temperatures. Technology is at the heart of how we tackle this grave threat to our society. The adoption of new technologies always starts slowly before gathering pace – but AI, renewable energy, and distributed power networks are not new.
As we move into the New Year, we’re now at a hockey-stick moment in terms of transforming the way we power our homes, businesses, and cars. This reality will be rapidly realized over the next decade as the economic, social and political factors collide.