Renewable energy is becoming more prominent in the electricity (and eventually overall energy) supply of more cities and countries worldwide.
There are challenges and problems with transitioning to renewable energy.
But, there are also solutions and strategies involved in that transition, and that is what we have outlined in this guide.
Summary – Solutions & Strategies For Transitioning Towards Renewable Energy
Ultimately, every city, State and country’s energy mix and energy system is different.
So each will have it’s own individual solutions and strategies (short and long term) when trying to integrate and transition to a higher share of renewables.
These solutions and strategies should be based around the factors and variables that make up that place’s local energy situation/scenario.
Ultimately, a transition towards an increased use of renewable energy worldwide will require a balancing of various social, economic, environmental, and other types of priorities and factors.
It will involve possible breakthroughs in aspects like energy storage and back up dispatchable energy sources.
And, while it’s clear there are problems like variability/intermittency of renewable energy, and inadequacies of existing grids and infrastructure, it’s also clear that it’s likely solutions to the current problems of renewable energy can be developed in the future.
In any transition, a hybrid flexible energy system that composes of different types of energy (fossil fuels, nuclear, conventional renewables, and modern renewables) might be required as a bridging system.
It’s possible short terms costs and drawbacks might need to be tolerated, in order to receive the big picture, and mid to long term benefits that cleaner energy forms will deliver
Some of the solutions listed below are:
Have diversified, flexible energy systems
Upgrade existing power grids and infrastructure, and build new support infrastructure
Government action and support
Provide more certainty for leaders and investors
Consider the makeup of existing markets, and market entry for new clean energy competitors
Continued technological research and development
Electric cars, and electrifying fossil fuel dominated industries and sectors
Greater awareness and education for the public and government with transparent, independent and non partisan data
Have Diversified, Flexible Energy Systems
One of the big criticisms of renewable energy sources like wind and solar is that they can be variable and intermittent (creating numerous problems for power grids and meeting demand consistently).
In cities, States or countries where the variability of renewable energy has lead to problems, sometimes the fact that the energy system isn’t diversified or flexible enough is one of the major causes.
A diversified and flexible energy system might have:
A range of renewable energy sources in the mix (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal etc.)
Dispatchable energy sources (that can ramp up and down quickly)
Energy storage (in the form of batteries, or pump storage hydro)
Although not ideal, a diversified and flexible energy system may also have coal, natural gas, nuclear, and conventional (as opposed to modern) renewables like bioenergy providing energy in small amounts, to provide complimentary power where required in the short term.
Less desirable energy sources can be phased out as required over the mid to long term as renewables and clean energy become cheaper, more competitive and more reliable to run by themselves.
If we use South Australia as one example, when they had their power black out, the State was using primarily wind, solar and combined cycle gas energy sources.
They did not have large scale energy storage in place (to store energy from solar and wind sources), but have recently had a large scale battery built to store energy.
Latest reports indicate it has prevented further blackouts.
About.bnef.com optimistically reports that energy storage installations will increase exponentially up to 2040 for stationary storage and electric vehicles – and, this will come mainly as a result of sharp declines in the cost of lithium-ion batteries.
Upgrade Existing Power Grids & Infrastructure, & Build New Support Infrastructure
Existing power grids and energy infrastructure are generally designed and built for fossil fuels and existing energy sources.
Power grids can be upgraded to handle fluctuating and increased loads, along with the ability to handle different types of energy requirements.
Existing infrastructure can be upgraded, as well as new infrastructure built, to cater to renewable energy.
Transmission lines, interconnectors, convertors, and other infrastructure can be built new for renewables.
For example, transmission lines are needed to get power from solar and wind farms to where it is required – these farms can be far from where the energy is required.
Interconnectors (used as a transmission link) can be used between States and countries if a particular place is exporting excess/surplus power to another.
Germany has done this with Poland and the Czech Republic, and Australia does it between some of it’s States, just as two examples.
Upgrades and investing in transmission infrastructure can be expensive though.
Government support for renewables helps, but ultimately, renewable energy needs to be something that is in demand by the market, is competitive by itself, and supported by customers.
Demand drives investment and development, economies of scale, and long term cheaper prices and better products and services.
If the public wants more renewable energy in their energy mix, they should be willing to purchase electricity from renewable energy suppliers (over fossil fuels and other energy sources).
Some onus is on producers and companies to offer an appealing product/service that consumers will respond to.
Government Action & Support
Over the long run, renewable energy is expected to continue to become cheaper, and competitive enough to be equal with, and even out compete fossil fuels from a price perspective (renewably sourced electricity is already contributing to lower electricity prices in some places).
Because renewable energy is still establishing itself in many markets, it needs short to mid term support from governments.
There’s a few ways this can happen:
Like Portfolios that specify the minimum amount of each renewable energy source that must be used for a State’s electricity
Like licenses for power plants that stipulate emission and pollution standards
Subsidies, tax breaks, concessions, credits, and other incentives for the development or use of renewables
Carbon taxes, polluters taxes, and other penalties that discourage dirty forms of energy production (coal and gas plants have traditionally never paid a price for their negative environmental and social impact – but, this is slowly changing with how expensive new coal and gas plant technology is becoming which minimises pollution and emissions)
Something that has to be noted is that government action and support has the potential to destroy a competitive market and specific parts of the energy sector if not used properly.
There needs be be a balance between supporting new clean energy technology, whilst still supporting competitive, reliable energy sources that meet a natural need and demand.
Subsidies and government help for renewables should be compared to the subsidies and help by the government given to fossil fuels and other energy types in the past.
Additionally, the question should be asked – what benefits are we getting out of renewable energy that we aren’t or weren’t from other energy sources like fossil fuels to justify subsidisation and regulatory assistance.
Provide More Certainty For Lenders & Investors
Risk of technology or projects, uncertainty in the future, and questionable profits and returns can all lead to less lending and investing in renewables.
Government support in the form of direct investment for research and development, loan assistance, and Portfolio Standards (guaranteeing a minimum amount of supply from renewables) can be a start.
But, there can be more done to provide certainty and favorable conditions for investors and lenders.
Consider The Makeup Of Existing Energy Markets, & Market Entry For New Clean Energy Competitors
In some countries and States, the energy market has been established for a long time now to cater to fossil fuel energy.
There can be many powerful fossil fuel related companies and organisations (mining companies, utilities and power plants, etc.) that can have an immense amount of control and success in the energy sector.
These things can make it hard for renewables in general, and new clean energy competitors to gain market entry and compete, without the necessary support.
Greater understanding of how the market functions, and changing it to allow better communication between energy providers, and between suppliers and the end user (as well as the power grid and transmission operators), can help.
Additionally, support for those trying to enter and compete in the market with certain types of clean technology, in the form of subsidies, grants and concessions, may help.
What most people don’t realise is that fossil fuels have historically been subsidised, and continue to be subsidised heavily to this day (so, it’s not like fossil fuels are always cost competitive) in many countries.
Consider this from Cleantechnica.com: “fossil fuels have received government subsidies for 100 or so years. These days, fossil fuel subsidies reportedly total approximately $5 trillion globally each year. Despite tremendous health costs, climate costs, and countless premature deaths caused by pollution … . Renewable energy also receives subsidies, but not to the same degree.”
Continued Technological Research & Development
Renewable technology, especially hydropower, solar and wind, has progressed rapidly over the last few decades.
But, continued technological research and development can lead to even better performance, better capacity, new capabilities, cheaper prices, and more.
This may not be limited to just renewables either.
Cleaner energy in general, such as nuclear, may benefit us in the future with further technological breakthroughs.
Public and private investment can play a big role in research and development, as well as consumer demand.
Electric Cars, & Electrifying Fossil Fuel Dominated Industries & Sectors
Renewable energy has penetrated the power sector (electricity generation) far more than any other sector.
But, other industries like transport, and heating and cooling, are still very energy reliant on fossil fuels.
A continued switching to electric and hybrid cars could help in the transport sector.
In heating and cooling, district heating or electrification of heat might help (swecourbaninsight.com).
Greater Awareness & Education For The Public & Government With Transparent, Independent & Non Partisan Data
It’s argued that the barriers to transitioning to renewable energy aren’t economic or technological, but social/cultural, political and institutional (with major points being that government officials don’t understand how important renewables are in addressing environmental and social issues, and the general public doesn’t know how reliable and beneficial they can be in the right energy systems).
Data and information that is independent, objective and non partisan being spread to government representatives and the general public can provide an accurate view of renewable energy to these groups.
Digitalisation is the use of digital technologies to make things better.
The energy sector lags behind other industries in terms of digitalisation.
Digitalisation in the energy sector:
… will go beyond the installation of “smart” electricity meters connected to the internet, or being able to remote-control household heaters with a mobile phone
… [it will include things like the] exchange of surplus power generation among neighbours and the activation of flexibility on smaller scales
Creating demand flexibility can only work via communication. This is where digitalisation can show its strengths
[Digitalisation can be vital in allowing renewable energy to penetrate the transport and heating sectors]
Other Resources On Transitioning Towards Renewable Energy