The energy industry is being reshaped by decentralization, digitization, technologies, changes in demand for renewables, prices and greater sustainability as a matter of public policy. As risks change, so do opportunities.
Lately the energy industry is more volatile than ever and we are no longer just talking about prices, which is normal, interesting things are happening around the world and today it is time to review them in summary form.
The first mobile nuclear power plant
The first floating and mobile nuclear power plant already moves around the world install on a ship and is in Russia. The plant known as “Akademik Lomonosov” will become the northernmost nuclear power plant on Earth to replace an old coal-fired power plant that supplies electricity to more than 50,000 people in Chukotka.
The estimates of this mobile nuclear plant installed on a ship is that it can operate without the need to refuel for more than 3 years. Its facilities (the ship’s crew is 70) will have enough energy to illuminate and heat a city of approximately 100,000 inhabitants.
Of course, Greenpeace already warned that this is directly crazy if we look at the history of nuclear accidents in Russia without counting that it will move in waters very difficult to access in the event of an accident.
Generating energy in the dark
An engineer at the University of California (Los Angeles) has developed a device that generates energy in conditions of total darkness. The prototype, published in Joule magazine, works under the concept of the radioactive cooling of the sky to keep the cold side of a thermoelectric generator several degrees below the ambient temperature.
The concept seeks to harness the energy generated after sunset, when the temperature of the building’s structure drops to be cooler than the surrounding air.
Although the demonstration implemented was low cost and only enough energy was produced to illuminate an LED, obviously, there is a long way to go if it is to be used as a battery storage option for solar cells but, this is a new avenue of research to generate light from the dark.
More work in the renewable sector
The rise of renewable energy technologies creates employment opportunities throughout the global supply chain. By the end of 2018, the sector employed 11 million people worldwide, according to the recent report published by IREAN from Renewable Energy and Jobs.
More countries are manufacturing, marketing and installing renewable energy technologies. While leading markets such as the United States, China and the European Union welcomed the largest concentration of jobs, other Asian countries have emerged as exporters of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, the report says.
Solar PV remains the largest employer of renewable energy technologies in 2018, accounting for one-third of the industry’s workflow.
Asia was home to more than 3 million jobs in the world’s energy industry. Latin American countries also experienced growth, in line with increased regional demand for photovoltaics.
While China was ahead of Europe in offshore wind investment in 2018, U.S. and North African markets have also begun to turn oil and gas expertise into offshore wind jobs. Off-grid renewables, along with expanded access to electricity, have contributed to job creation across Africa and Asia.
Many governments have prioritized, within the energy industry, the development of renewable energy, first and foremost to reduce emissions and meet international climate targets, but also for broader socio-economic benefits.
Lithium drops 30% in price
One of the main and most expensive components of rechargeable batteries is lithium, so the final price of a battery will depend in part on this wonderful metal.
Some years ago the automotive industry was preaching that the shortage of this material was a difficulty for the advancement of the electric car. Well, this year the value of lithium has fallen by 30% and it is not because of a divine appearance, they have simply opened new mines in Australia.
For now! another excuse less that prevents the advancement of the electric car.
Harnessing the energy of subway tunnels
Researchers at L’Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have calculated that they can recover the heat that accumulates in subway tunnels. The heat from metro brakes, motors, people and the heat from the ground in general should be used to heat thousands of homes.
According to the research, the system should work similar to a refrigerator, with a network of pipes containing a special fluid or simply water to transfer heat inside the tunnel walls and connect them to heat pumps.
In winter, the pipes would be bombarded with cold water and the surface would be warmed up, the other way around, in summer. According to the researchers, it would be an economical and very efficient system with a useful life of more than 50 years (heat pumps would be replaced every 25 years).
In fact, energy could even be extracted, although the investment in the facilities would be much greater, but it is a viable option.
Artificial intelligence jumps to renewables
New technologies are providing palpable efficiency benefits in the renewable sector, but as noted, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are taking them to a new level.
To give just a few examples:
The UK is using artificial intelligence (AI) and automatic learning to help predict how much energy its turbines and solar panels will harvest when the wind blows or the sun shines brighter.
“Improved solar forecasts will help us run the system more efficiently, which ultimately means lower bills for consumers.
Google revealed this year that thanks to Artificial Intelligence it can predict the production of its wind farms 36 hours in advance, allowing the technology giant to bid to supply power to the grid ahead of time and at lower values.
The world of batteries is not far behind. Here scientists have been observing how AI can more accurately predict how many cycles a battery can have (how many months or years it will last before it begins to degrade). Better life cycle prediction could help identify why some batteries fail earlier and others don’t, or predict those needed in a fleet of trucks, for example.
Electric buses will triple
The electric automotive sector is booming and not everything is electric cars. Recently electric public transport, mainly buses, are taking to the streets of many cities.
According to the latest Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables report on the international electric bus landscape… “Globally, electric buses will triple by 2025”. Although we are not all going at the same pace – we can see the following graphs – there is an upward trend at the international level that will benefit us all.
Of course, and as we already counted in this article, China is leading the way in representing a huge 98% of the world market in the adoption of electric buses on its streets. The Chinese market, the most promising in the sector, will exceed one million electric buses by 2023 and reach 1.3 million by 2025, according to the report.
To support this high concentration of e-buses, a total of more than 50,000 e-bus charging points will be installed by the end of 2019. This figure will more than double by the end of 2025.
How dependent we are on oil imports
Eurostat has recently published a rather interesting graph on the dependence of EU countries on oil imports and thus on a dependence on the external energy industry that can lead to major disruptions negatively affecting the country’s economy.
Spain is one of the European Union countries that is most exposed to more expensive oil, since 74% of the total energy consumed has to be imported from abroad and 97.9% of it is oil, according to recently published Eurostat energy dependency statistics.
EU member states, levels of net oil imports approached their levels of oil consumption, with dependency rates ranging from 96% to 104%. Dependency ratios above 100% indicate an accumulation of oil reserves, while negative dependency ratios indicate a net exporting country.
Renewables continue to rise
According to the Global State of the Renewables 2019 report (published by the UN together with the Frankfurt School and Bloomberg New Energy Finance), in 2018, global investment in renewable energy reached US$ 288.9 billion and funding for new capacity was almost three times higher than in the coal and gas sector.
The energy capacity of renewables – excluding large hydroelectric plants – has risen from 414 gigawatts in 2009 to 1,650 gigawatts by the end of this year. The most notable increase, solar energy, which at the beginning of 2010 stood at 25 gigawatts and this year will reach 638 gigawatts.
In the energy industry, renewable energies are increasingly preferred for new electricity generation. In 2018, about 181 GW of renewable energy capacity was added, a new record slightly higher than the previous year.
Renewable energy has been established globally as a major source of electricity generation for several years and the estimated share of renewables in global electricity generation was more than 26% by the end of 2018, so the energy industry is on track.