Green energy - the three barriers we need to overcome

  • 31 August 2022
  • Blog | Green Finance | Blog

The climate emergency is at an extremely pivotal point. Here, we highlight the major problems that we need to solve so that we can speed up the switch to clean energy.

We know that a swift energy transition is imperative to limit global warming. But given that fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas currently supply about 80% of the world’s energy, it’s clear that we still have a long road ahead. So, what needs to change for us to make much-needed progress, and fast?

1) Variability

Nature is extremely changeable: output from wind turbines varies because wind speeds fluctuate, while output from solar cells goes up and down according to cloud cover and other such factors. This is known as variability. 

We might, however, already be making headway here. Owing to the work of a clean-tech research programme called Mission Innovation (MI), a group of 23 leading nations – including the US, UK, the EU and China – have committed to investing $248 million to solving the issue. 

Solutions could include energy storage, advanced controls and artificial intelligence. Those behind IM believe that much of what needs to be achieved depends on technologies that exist today, but are at demonstration or prototype phase, such as hydrogen power, advanced battery storage and zero-emission fuels.

Each member of the partnership has agreed to open three clusters of industries powered by clean hydrogen fuel, known as hydrogen valleys. The project has also said it aims to help develop ships capable of running on zero-emission fuels such as green hydrogen, green ammonia, green methanol, and advanced biofuels.

2) Solar Panel Efficiency

At present, solar panels are able to process between 15% and 22% of solar power collected into usable energy, dependant on factors such as placement, orientation and weather conditions. Coming up with a method to increase that limit would mean that we can greater harness the energy striking the panels and therefore allow for dramatic increases in the future potential of solar power.

Panels have largely been made from silicon-based cells since they were introduced in 1954, but next-generation materials have recently been approved. This includes perovskites, which have been trialled for some time but have so far failed to reach their full potential. However, recent developments in the design of perovskite cells mean that their overall efficiency has been boosted to 25.2%.

Clearly, there is still a long way to go in this department but we’re certainly heading in the right direction.

3) Storage

Year-round supply has long been considered one of the major challenges that we need to tackle to make significant progress in the green energy space. How do we, for example, store it for use during periods when we’re without sun or wind (such as winter), when demand is even higher?

There are hopes that the answer is just around the corner.

New technology has been devised by young Finnish engineers Tommi Eronen and Markku Ylönen, founders of Polar Night Energy, that could be used worldwide. Polar Night Energy have partnered with green energy supplier Vatajankoski to build the world's first operational ‘sand battery’. Using low-grade sand, the device is charged up via heat made from cheap solar or wind electricity. It is installed at Vatajankoski's power plant in the town of Kankaanpää, where it is plugged into the local district heating network, servicing around 10,000 people.

The process is said to be low cost - sand is inexpensive, so the main expenses are related to equipment and construction of the steel storage tank - and low-impact.