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Innovative sustainable development uses renewable energy and hydrogen

The report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and entitled Renewables 2020 – analysis and forecast to 2025 showed that although the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the energy industry, it is not halting the global renewable energy growth, as renewable markets have already shown their resilience to the crisis.

In October the shares of solar companies worldwide had more than doubled in value from December 2019. Moreover, renewable capacity additions are on track for a record expansion of nearly 10 per cent in 2021 and it seems that Europe and India will lead a renewables surge. Further growth in renewables is expected for 2025, also leading the global electricity sector by the overtaking coal.

According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), renewables are essential to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

“We’re working to scale the use of solutions that allow companies to go low-carbon today by increasing demand for new energy solutions, facilitating the development of innovative business models as well as raising awareness with investors,” stated the WBCSD. “These activities build on the cross-sectoral collaboration across the energy value chain that this project has already established.”

According to the IEA’s report Energy Technology Perspectives 2020, the world’s guidebook on clean energy technologies, if humanity wants to avoid the worst scenario of climate change, the global energy system must reduce its emissions, which requires a radical transformation in the way we supply, transform and use energy. Spreading the use of electricity into more parts of the economy is the single largest contributor to reaching net-zero emissions, but transforming the power sector alone would only get the world one-third of the way to net-zero emissions.

New ways of energy storing

Storing the energy coming from renewables is as important as the way we produce it. There is a rapid rise in battery innovation, which is playing a key role in clean energy transitions. A new joint study by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the IEA pointed out that electricity storage inventions have grown 14 per cent a year over the past decade. The report shows that batteries account for nearly 90 per cent of all patenting activity in the area of electricity storage and that the rise in innovation is chiefly driven by advances in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronic devices and electric cars.

“IEA projections make it clear that energy storage will need to grow exponentially in the coming decades to enable the world to meet international climate and sustainable energy goals. Accelerated innovation will be essential for achieving that growth,” said Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director.

“Electricity storage technology is critical when it comes to meeting the demand for electric mobility and achieving the shift towards renewable energy that is needed if we are to mitigate climate change,” added António Campinos, EPO President. “The rapid and sustained rise in electricity storage innovation shows that inventors and businesses are tackling the challenge of the energy transition.”

The future’s number one: hydrogen

Besides renewables, hydrogen is enjoying a renewed and rapidly growing attention in Europe and around the world, mostly because it does not emit CO2 and almost no air pollution when used. Furthermore, hydrogen can replace fossil fuels in some carbon-intensive industries, such as steel or chemical sectors and it can also offer solutions for hard to abate parts of the transport system, with lowering greenhouse gas emissions. However, hydrogen should be produced from renewable energy. This so-called green hydrogen is expected to play a key role in the decarbonisation of sectors where other alternatives might not be feasible or be more expensive.

The EU’s hydrogen strategy for energy system integration outlined a vision to create a smarter, more integrated and optimised energy system, in which all sectors can fully contribute to decarbonisation. With the assistance of the EU some organisations have already been established including the Hydrogen Energy Network, a group of experts with the aim to support national authorities; HyENet, an informal platform of exchange for information and sharing experiences; and the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, which brings together industry, national and local public authorities, civil society and other stakeholders.

Circling back to storing energy, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH), published a study which analyses the role of hydrogen in the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) and identifies opportunities for hydrogen technologies to contribute to effective and efficient achievement of the 2030 climate and energy targets of the EU and its Member States.

“Most national energy and climate plans acknowledge the role of hydrogen in the energy transition,” highlighted European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson in a recent interview with CEENERGYNEWS. “Half of the plans mention concrete hydrogen-related objectives for the domestic generation of renewable or low-carbon hydrogen, for end-use in industry and hard-to-electrify transport sectors. An illustration of this are Greece and Portugal’s plans to build hydrogen infrastructure on former lignite mining sites.”

The CEE region is worth a particular mention

While on the Western edge Austria has the ambition to become a European leader in the deployment of hydrogen, on the North-Eastern part, Estonia has established a hydrogen working group which intends to issue a Hydrogen Roadmap. The annual costs to produce green hydrogen, to develop the transport infrastructure and end-user applications would cost approximately between 4 and 20 million euros for the country.

Poland is preparing a Hydrogen Technology Development Programme with the aim to deploy hydrogen applications in the power, transport and gas sectors while reducing the use of conventional fossil fuels. The programme addresses hydrogen generation, transport, storage, distribution and end-use.

Poland’s southern neighbour, the Czech Republic considers using hydrogen for decarbonising its transport sector mainly, replacing partially fossil fuels by renewable hydrogen. The country’s National Action Plan on Clean Mobility targets to install 80 hydrogen refuelling stations and to operate 40,000 to 50,000 fuel cell cars and 870 fuel cell buses by 2030.

Slovakia considers the use of decarbonised gases and hydrogen as a way to ensure environmental sustainability, considering hydrogen as a good option to replace natural gas on the one hand and fossil fuels in the transport sector. The country estimates that by 2030 around 1 per cent of its Renewable Energy Systems target for the transport sector will be covered by the direct use of hydrogen.

Hungary intends to enable the integration of hydrogen in its mobility, industry, building, gas and power systems. The NECP states that “hydrogen can play a significant role in integrating renewable electricity generation, strengthening domestic security of supply and achieving Hungary’s decarbonisation goals”.

In Croatia, the role of hydrogen in the country’s energy and transport systems is expected to gradually uptake by 2030. A hydrogen technology platform will be set up with national stakeholders.

Last but not least, in Slovenia the first hydrogen refuelling station in was commissioned quite early in 2013. Then, in 2017, the Government announced its commitment to stimulate alternative fuels, among which hydrogen, to stop the sales of new gasoline and diesel motor cars by 2030.

These are all necessary steps to bring closer carbon neutrality. The Hydrogen Europe’s Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda declares that alongside electricity, hydrogen will become the main energy vector that enables a zero-emission Europe. It will play a necessary role in integrating large amounts of renewable power in the transport, industrial processes and heating and cooling sectors, which are today hard to decarbonise.

There is one more statement, which stands above all: as Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD said, the race for global climate leadership gathers pace. But only together can we win.

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