A supercharged transition: We’ll need to double-down on renewable energy production and grid integration

Renewable energy uptake will need to significantly ramp-up, while balancing the realities of what’s possible and affordable, on our global quest to “electrify everything” this coming decade.

This is a crucial decade for ramping up renewables. While large and small-scale renewable energy generation is readily available now, it is not being deployed at the level needed to achieve net zero emissions. Not by a long shot. Storage and grid-firming measures must be prioritised to allow that to happen. Widely available and grid-integrated renewables will be vitally important to achieving the vast majority of our global decarbonisation ambitions through the 2020s and beyond.

Reaching net zero fast has to be underpinned by decarbonising our existing electricity systems as quickly as possible, followed closely by electrifying as many of our other energy requirements as we can. Once the renewables deployment momentum is in full swing it will also support the rapid expansion of green hydrogen (hydrogen produced from renewable energy). This will be another driver for the rapid increase in renewables. We see the next five to 10 years being a truly transformative period for the production and storage of green hydrogen, which will require enormous amounts of renewable energy to feed it.

Rapidly decarbonising the grid

The importance of coal and other carbon-emitting energy sources in certain regions to deliver secure and affordable power is well understood. But finding affordable and reliable alternatives is a pressing global challenge that we must all be engaged in.

The good news is, many global fossil fuel players – not just coal, but oil and gas majors too – are increasingly motivated and ready to step up and play a bigger role in decarbonisation. Indeed, as these industries still supply approximately 80 percent of global energy needs, they can and will have an enormous impact on how rapidly we decarbonise. These sectors are not strangers to complex adaptation and delivering ‘mega scale’ solutions. Partnerships between governments and industry leaders will have a better chance of realising the world’s net zero ambitions.

While challenges still exist, progress in the last five years has closed significant technical gaps and solutions are emerging rapidly. All the while, in parallel we must remain focused on resolving barriers and bottlenecks to renewable power deployment and integration. We believe policy makers, developers and decision-makers can accelerate renewables to substitute environmentally ‘unfriendly’ energy at a much faster rate. Indeed, they must.

Engineers, technologists and even artists will help shape the vision

Smart, science-based affordable technical solutions supported by equally smart policy, regulations and creativity will empower the transition. As the grid moves away from a one-way ‘push’ system towards a smarter grid that integrates renewable and distributed energy, each of the many energy ‘actors’ in the system will be increasingly leveraged to meet growing consumer demand for clean energy options, particularly as we enter the era of the electric vehicle.

Clever approaches to decarbonising gas supplies with biogas and hydrogen and making use of existing infrastructure will come to the fore. Power grids and gas networks will take advantage of new ways to move energy in multiple directions.

Investing in large-scale storage, creating a resilient and dynamic grid, and aligning regulations for renewables will be the key to rapid deployment over the next 10 years. We may even see emerging economies – countries that aren’t burdened with existing fossil-fuel reliant energy infrastructure – leapfrog developed countries if they embrace faster innovation.

Doubling down on our efforts to generate, integrate and distribute green energy, and electrify everything, will put us in the best possible position to progress down the path to a decarbonised future. There has to be a balance of components – political will, investor appetite, community demand and industry innovation – to transition worldwide renewable power generation in the timeframe we have remaining.

Authors:
Malcolm Rushin, Future Energy– Hydrogen Lead Australia, GHD
Suna Taymaz, Market Development Leader – GHD Digital, GHD
Jason Fonti, Leader – Origination and Value Chain, GHD

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