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Emerging climate-friendly technologies for the energy sector

Emerging energy technologies are identified that need rapid development to test their long term investment viability.

The goal is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the power sector as the largest contributor is at the centre of efforts with the wide range of decarbonisation technologies at its behest.

Core technologies such as wind and solar are now widely commercialised but new clean energy technologies are continually in development and emerging. Given the commitments to meet the Paris Agreement and the pressure to get the technologies out, the question is which of those emerging need the R&D focus to determine their long term investment potential.

With this in mind, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Technology Executive Committee has identified six emerging technologies that are likely to provide benefits on a global scale and it says need to be brought to market as soon as possible.

These are as follows.
Primary energy supply technologies
Floating solar PV is not a new technology but fully commercialised high technology readiness level technologies are being combined in new ways, says the Committee. An example is moored flat-bottom boats and solar PV systems, including panels, transmission and inverters.

Two classes of opportunities are indicated, i.e. when the floating solar field is stand-alone and when it is retrofitted to or built with a hydroelectric facility as a hybrid. Floating solar also can be designed for tracking at limited additional cost but up to 25% additional energy gain.
Floating wind offers the potential to exploit wind energy resources found in much deeper waters than fixed offshore wind towers, which are typically in water 50m or less in depth, and in regions with near coastal deep seafloors. The main challenge is the anchoring system, with two main design types receiving investment, either submersible or anchored to the seabed and both with pros and cons.

The Committee says that floating wind designs are at a variety of technology readiness levels, with floating horizontal axis turbines more advanced than vertical axis turbines.
Enabling technologies
Green hydrogen is very much the topic of the day with opportunities for use for heating, in industry and as a fuel. However, how the hydrogen is made, however, is critical to its emissions impact, the TEC notes.

The costs are dependent on two factors – that of the electricity and more critically that of the electrolysers, which should be driven by economies of scale.

Next generation batteries for behind the meter and utility-scale storage such as solid-state lithium-metal are emerging offering large non-marginal improvements over existing battery technology in terms of energy density, battery durability and safety, while also enabling more rapid charging times, says the Committee.

If production can be successfully scaled, their use could be transformative, particularly for the automotive market, as it potentially enables the development of electric vehicles with batteries with lifetimes and driving ranges comparable to today’s traditional vehicles.

Thermal energy storage for heating or cooling can be delivered with many different materials with different thermal capacities and costs, with its biggest contribution likely to be in buildings and light industry, according to the Committee.

Residential thermal energy systems could have a very large impact in cold, low humidity regions where heat pumps are less effective, while another key area for future research is in developing and newly industrialised country “cold chains”.

Heat pumps are a well-established technology, but also one where innovations continue to be made in areas like improved refrigerants, compressors, heat exchangers and control systems to bring performance and efficiency gains.

Studies consistently show that heat pumps, powered by low-greenhouse gas electricity, are a core strategy for heating and cooling needs, the Committee says.

Other emerging technologies
Other technologies reviewed are airborne wind and the marine wave, tidal and ocean thermal energy conversion systems, which may be critical to some countries’ or subregions’ efforts but until the engineering and business case challenges are overcome are unlikely to provide benefits at the global scale, the Committee comments.

A further emerging technology of interest is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which is just moving past the demonstration stage towards limited commercial deployment. Owing to relatively high costs compared with other mitigation options, the uptake would need to be driven mainly by climate policy initiatives, with widespread real-world deployment potentially involving a mixture of different fuel types, CCS approaches and target industries.

—By Jonathan Spencer Jones

Post time: Jan-14-2022