Innovation is essential to develop new clean sources of energy generation that will decarbonize the economy by 2050.
The energy of coal was a revolution, opened a range of economic possibilities that boosted the welfare state. However, the coin, just as it had a face, had a cross, the pollution of the environment. The climate change that we have been experiencing in recent years is palpable proof of the wear and tear that the environment has been suffering since then and now it is obligatory to stop damaging the health of the world that surrounds us while maintaining our lifestyle. To achieve this, renewable energies have been developed, which a little more than a decade ago were seen as an alternative source and have now become a reference. Moreover, the future is in the hands of this technology. To delve deeper into this sense, LA RAZÓN convened the debate “The renewables that are coming: innovation for the transition to a decarbonized economy”, in which Belén Linares, director of Energy Innovation at Acciona; María Luisa Castaño, director of the Energy department of the Centre for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research (Ciemat); Fernando Martínez, project technician at the Renewable Foundation and Pablo Ayesa, director general of the National Centre for Renewable Energies (CENER) participated.
Ayesa itself began by warning that “renewables have become, since their birth more than 30 years ago, the most installed technology in the world. And it meets the conditions for it to continue growing even more, because as Ayesa added, “it works, it doesn’t give problems, its level of penetration in society is enormous, there is a serious industry behind it and the financial sector is betting on it for the future of its investments.
However, there is still room for improvement, and both the centres and the companies dedicated to renewables are aware of this, so they invest money and effort in R+D. There are several strategic lines of innovation in the sector, Linares explained. Firstly, it is necessary to extend the useful life of the technology used through engineering; secondly, the benefits must be extended, such as facing the challenge of intermittence through the hybridization of various renewable technologies so that when one (photovoltaic, for example) cannot provide supply, another (the tidal wave) does.
The development of new products and designs continues, i.e. photovoltaic panels contain silicon, which is the material that allows sunlight to be converted into energy. However, if you investigate, you may find other materials that also perform this task and are even more profitable. Innovation will also seek to carry out faster and cheaper management and seek new processes, such as cleaning solar panels, because the dirtier they are, the less they produce. Finally, we must innovate in sustainability. In the case of Acciona, they have studied how wind farms affect birds in order to reduce their impact, or they have a satellite asset control system to monitor the development of flora and fauna in their farms.
The strategy is clear. However, companies are calling for an increased connection between private innovation and that of technology centres and universities. In this respect, Ayesa confessed that “R&D does not work if research is not applied”, so they need the collaboration of different actors who can refute with experimentation what others study in laboratories.
Innovation should not be directed only at the generation of energy for the electrical system, as the transition in which we are immersed goes much further. Castaño assures that he does not know “if society is fully aware of what the decarbonized economy is, which is expected to reach in 2050. One part, as we have said, is oriented to the electrical system, but another is not, and is focused on transport, building or waste management. Each one of us creates 400 kg of rubbish a year, because a quarter of it can be recycled. For example, the landfill in Valdemingómez (Madrid) is the only one in Spain where waste is biomethanised, not burned. And that biomethane is part of the gas consumed in the capital.
In Martínez’s opinion, the sectors that will be most affected by decarbonization will be residential and mobility, which tend to electrification because it “facilitates the penetration of the demand for renewables. Thus, he stressed that it is necessary to renovate the housing stock, since most of them are built with standards prior to the 80s and, therefore, consume a lot of energy.
The more we adapt our environment to greater energy sustainability, the more benefits we will obtain. Not only environmental, but also employability, because, as Ayesa said, “the intensity of job creation with renewable energy is higher than that of fossil fuels. Specifically, Martínez added, one out of every three jobs created in the sector will end up in photovoltaics. We will see if they are capable of covering so much demand because, in the case of wind power, “it is increasingly difficult for them to find top professionals,” said Castaño.
Part of the blame lies with the education system, which is unable to respond to the demands of the sector. Castaño admitted that “the needs of the labor market go faster than the university’s ability to adapt its degrees. In addition, not only are there deficiencies in higher education, the intermediate is also unprepared. “With Vocational Training in Spain we have two shortcomings. On the one hand, it has not had any cache and very slow steps are being taken. On the other hand, it is very theoretical and the dual must be revitalized,” he said.
It is necessary to alleviate these deficiencies to take advantage of all the potential that our country has in this transition. In fact, it is one of the European states most dependent on energy, above 70%. Therefore, decarbonization “is a great economic opportunity for Spain,” Martínez said.
The challenge is unprecedented. Castaño recalled that “the paradigm is of such magnitude as the entry into the euro, and will affect all sectors of the economy. However, he confirmed that our country is on the right track: “Spain is prepared internally, abroad recognize our work and we have industrial giants that compete in the international market.
And it is that we can highlight different cases of success “renewable” in our country. The biggest, according to Castaño, is “the dominance of the wind. There are days when the highest energy production in our country is wind. But he does not forget that in terms of thermosolar, “we are still the nation that has more installed power, important because its storage allows it to operate 24 hours without stopping and with low costs.
For his part, Linares pointed out two aspects in which we have been pioneers. “In storage despite the regulation, because in this regard has been legislated does nothing,” and added the “new solar technologies beyond silicon, which we have placed in wind towers, something that gives you the ability to hybridize both energies. In general, said Ayesa, “we have installed an enormous amount of renewable power and there has been no failure. In short, we can rely on the renewable energy sector because we leave our future in good hands.