Although the growing awareness of governments and societies due to the climate crisis has played an undeniable role in creating the right conditions for the development of renewable energies, it should not be forgotten that their spectacular growth in recent years would not have been possible without the great technological improvements that have boosted its competitiveness.
In particular, this technological development has been very notable in the case of wind energy and photovoltaic solar energy, catapulting them until today, they become the cheapest ways to produce electricity.
The good news is that both technologies still have a long way to go to continue improving their efficiency and reducing costs, so in the coming years we will continue to see important innovations, as we will see very briefly in this article, which will consolidate them in their preponderant role. in the energy sector of the future.
Onshore wind energy
• The main driver for making onshore wind energy even more competitive will continue to be the increase in the size of wind turbines, which will allow further progress in reducing costs and increasing production per installed kW, since taller machines They take advantage of the increase that occurs in wind speed as the height above ground level increases.
• This increase in size will imply that components such as the blades and the tower reach dimensions that will require the application of new solutions to make their transport and installation viable, with the use of split blades for hybrid concrete-steel towers becoming widespread.
• There will also be important advances in the use of lighter and more resistant materials for the blades, which will reduce the loads on the rest of the structural elements, allowing in turn to reduce their weight and the cost of the entire assembly.
• The figures forecast for the next few years of annual installed power, also concentrated in a few dominant technologists, will mean component manufacturing volumes that will favor the development of standardization and modularity strategies, which will make it possible to optimize costs.
• The size of the wind turbines will allow increasing investment in more sophisticated and powerful instrumentation equipment, control systems and drives. These will be able to optimize the behavior of the turbines in the face of complex interactions with the wind, reducing the loads on the structural components (and therefore their cost) and increasing energy use. For example, the use of LIDAR will become widespread, an instrument that makes it possible to detect in advance the gusts of wind that are approaching the wind turbine, so that its operating parameters are adjusted to avoid load peaks that can reduce the useful life of the components.
• Lastly, new solutions will be developed and others that are already beginning to be applied will be improved, in order to optimize the installation and maintenance of these giants, such as car systems, cranes that “climb” the towers, robots and drones that do inspection and maintenance of towers and blades, etc.
Offshore wind energy
In addition to benefiting from all the advances mentioned for onshore wind, we will see specific technological developments in this type of facilities, such as:
• Advanced floating solutions, which will allow the installation of wind farms in deep waters, such as those of the Spanish coasts, considerably increasing the number of potential sites.
• Optimization of the installation of wind turbines and their foundations, a much more important chapter in the overall cost of this type of project than in onshore wind power.
• Development of advanced predictive maintenance solutions and reduction of corrective maintenance needs, since technicians’ access to these facilities is much more complicated than on land, and may even be impossible during certain times of the year.
Photovoltaic Solar Energy
• The technology of bifacial panels will be consolidated, which is already showing to increase production by more than 10%, and up to 35% in installations with tracking on one axis, taking advantage of the radiation reflected by the ground (albedo).
• Efficiency will also be improved by increasing the size of the cells and advances in the connection between cells (tiling ribbon technology, shingle panels, etc.).
• In the medium term, more disruptive technologies such as perovskite cells are generating much expectation, which use a family of materials other than silicon but also abundant, and which are already achieving very high efficiencies at an experimental level, with the advantage of being able to manufacture cells solar on flexible materials, which would allow multiplying their applications. A particularly interesting option is to create “tandem cells”, in which a perovskite cell is placed on top of a silicon cell, which makes it possible to take advantage of a greater range of the wavelength of light, which would significantly increase the efficiency of the modules.
All these advances will make solar photovoltaic and wind energy even more competitive in the coming years, increasing its advantage over other generation options. If we add to this the abundance of the resource they use and its renewable nature, it seems clear that these energy sources will dominate the electricity production of the future.
However, there are still challenges that will also require developments in other energy technologies:
On the one hand, it must be taken into account that, currently, electricity accounts for only around 20% of energy consumption, a great advance in electrification being necessary to achieve a future of sustainable and affordable energy for the planet, particularly in the sector. of transport, but also in industrial, commercial and residential uses.
On the other hand, despite the high degree of complementarity between solar and wind energy, its intermittent and unmanageable nature makes it essential to have complementary energy alternatives to ensure supply at all times. To respond to this last challenge, it will be key to advance in energy storage technologies, which will be precisely the theme of our blog in the year that we are about to start.