The Role of Technology in the Energy Transitions

The energy transition is a changing tide for the world, one that is based on the abandonment of fossil fuels and replacing their use with renewable and low-carbon alternatives. The driving force for this change is emerging technology innovations, with a focus on combating both the spread and effects of climate change.

What are these emergent technologies and what exactly is the role that technology plays in energy transitions?

History of Transformative Technology

Before we can start talking about the future of technology in a widespread capacity, we must first look at the history of some of these advancements to see that the technologies that will lead the world into low-carbon energy have been around for decades. The start of renewable energy technology can be roughly traced to 200 BC in Europe, where waterwheels were being used to produce energy for irrigation and milling. Although this was a rather crude and basic version of hydropower, it served as a proof of concept for modern energy feats.

We can see another notable advancement in France in the 1860s when French investor Augustin Mouchot was able to produce the first solar energy system after he theorized that the world’s coal supply would run dry. Mouchot’s inventions served to both invest more resources into solar-powered systems and inspire others to try their hands at these innovations.

The past that transformative technology has shown to the world is one where advancements have created massive leaps in both complexity and efficiency for energy, and with the current global energy transition, we can see that the near future will see this growth accelerated.

Green Hydrogen: Zero-Emission Future

Meeting the demands of heavy-duty industries such as steel and chemical is not something that renewable-generated electricity and battery energy storage can readily meet, but this is where green hydrogen can show its true potential.

Green hydrogen is produced when hydrogen is extracted from water by an electrolyzer powered by electricity produced by renewable energy. This is a process that, aside from supporting infrastructure, produces no greenhouse gases (GHG), which makes it a good step for decarbonisation. This process is rather expensive due to the cost of electrolyzers, but recent mandates for the reduction of GHG have driven the costs of production to significant lows, and green hydrogen is projected to be cost-competitive by 2030.

Aside from the reduction of GHG produced, green hydrogen can serve economic sectors such as long-distance heavy-duty travel both in the air and ocean as an alternative synthetic fuel. The most advantageous aspect of this form of green energy would be that hydrogen can be the most flexible form to store the fuel for these applications compared to batteries.

Transmission Developments: Changing the Power Sector

Electric transmission lines are systems capable of transporting large amounts of energy over long distances, and although these systems do not get much attention compared to energy production, they are still vital to decarbonisation in power grids. The improvement of these lines serves to reduce congestion costs, which have been on the rise, and to help new renewable energy projects stuck in the interconnection queue join the power grid.

These transmission line improvements can take the form of new line designs, mandates, and expansions, but we will focus on software-based solutions. Examples of this are software systems that optimize transmission lines based on real-time factors such as internal thermals, climate, and overall temperature. This type of software would be able to oversee the power grid’s condition and improve the efficiency of electricity transmission by shifting the route of electricity from overloaded lines.