To cope with changes in climate energy solutions will become even more innovative in years to come. But many of the solutions are already being developed. Here are the most important

Climate Solutions 2122 is going to blow your mind. Coming to you from 100 years into the future, the podcast tells you about the new technologies that are going to make it possible to beat climate change. And they’re already being developed as you listen to this podcast. Subscribe to Climate Solutions 2122 on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and all other major podcast platforms. Find out how you’re going to survive.

How will the energy sector change in the decades ahead? Do you just need to build the same kind of renewable energy technologies you have now, but much, much more of it? Lots of wind farms, say. Or are there entirely new technologies in the renewables sector coming down the line?

The bottom line is that you need to electrify the economy. There’s the technology to get moving on this right now. There are electric vehicles. There’s electric heating and heat pumps. There is hydrogen. You need to do this in the extreme.

You have to build as much renewable energy capacity as possible. The bulk of that is solar energy and onshore and offshore wind. To halt climate change, you’re going to have to build everything that's possible. Before long, solar panels will be an integral part of every building. …Because people object to onshore wind (they don’t like giant turbines in their backyard), you’ll have to build a lot of offshore wind farms. They also generate more electricity, more constantly. It will dwarf anything you’ve seen so far.

The technologies already exist. The revolution will be in making them more efficient and cheaper. Look what’s happened in solar power over the last decade. Between 2010 and 2020, the cost of solar panels dropped 93%. In future, you’ll see photovoltaic capabilities integrated into the building itself, so that the window shades, for example, generate electricity when the sun shines on them. Bottom line: As technologies develop, they become cheaper and widespread; also business model innovation is key to finding new solutions to the problems of the old, thermal based electricity system.

A wave of climate energy solutions

And there are some new technologies being developed, even in your time. One of the most important is floating offshore wind turbines. The European Investment Bank has financed the development of floating wind turbines off the coast of Portugal.

Why is that important?

Offshore wind farms are usually fixed to the bottom of the sea. That works well in the North Sea, off the coast of Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, because the North Sea is shallow. But offshore wind turbines that stand on the bottom of the sea are limited to depths of 60 metres. 

Floating offshore wind turbines don’t stand on the sea bottom. They’re anchored to it. So they can be further out at sea. They can be bigger; generate even more power. They can also be assembled in a harbour and floated out, which is simpler in terms of the engineering. This technology is a game changer.

Climate energy solutions that aren’t hot air

Let’s turn to another subject we’ve discussed throughout this series. Hydrogen. It has a big role to play in hard-to-decarbonise sectors, such as air travel.

The key with hydrogen is price. It’s been possible to make hydrogen for a century. But it’s expensive. There are innovations coming along that make it cheaper.

Green hydrogen—that’s hydrogen produced with renewable power—has the advantage that you can ship it from place to place, and you can store it more easily than electricity. This is an opportunity for regions of the planet like North Africa, the Middle East and South America, where you have vast amounts of land with great conditions for renewable energy—in other words, lot of wind and sun. Those countries will produce electricity from renewable sources and use it to make hydrogen. Then they can ship it to Europe (which has less wind and a lot less sun). Hydrogen then will be used in industries like chemical manufacturing, the steel industry and aviation.

Minigrid climate energy solutions

In developing countries, there are some specific innovations that will be very significant. One is minigrids. That’s where the electricity is generated on a small scale and distributed locally, rather than hooking up to a big, national grid. You can see how this is going to work in remote areas of Africa.

Which brings us to the question of how the renewable energy that you generate with your floating wind farms is distributed—to energy networks.

You’ll see digital solutions taking over to help manage the millions of distributed generation plants and consumption appliances. It’s starting already with what experts call a virtual power plant. It’s not actually a power plant as you know it; it’s a combination of many small users and connected electricity generators bundled together by software.

It exists in the cloud, switching from one source of electricity to another based on the conditions for production. It’s already under way on a small scale in Germany. Don’t be surprised when it spreads like the use of internet and mobile phones have in the past. Some people have called it “the Internet of Energy.”

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