Building on last week’s discussion of clean technology trends that will surely unfold during the coming year, we’re continuing the discussion on what we think TriplePundit readers should watch out for as governments and the private sector scramble to decarbonize the economy. Read on for the top trends in renewable energy.
Wind and solar, perfect together
One strategy for overcoming the site selection bottleneck challenge as renewables scale up is to make the most of one site: for example, by combining both wind turbines and solar panels within a hybrid renewable energy system.
The basic idea is to manage peaks and valleys in the output of wind turbines and solar panels to provide for greater overall reliability. That’s a much more complicated engineering feat than it may sound, but at least one hybrid wind-solar plant is already in the works in Minnesota.
With the addition of energy storage, wind-solar hybrid plants have the potential to replace gas power plants. Look for more activity in this area as states and local jurisdictions — and business stakeholders — ramp up the demand for 24/7 renewable energy.
The U.S. offshore wind industry: It floats!
After years of kicking around in the doldrums, the U.S. offshore wind sector saw a veritable tsunami of new projects come into the pipeline for several key Atlantic coast states last year, including New York and New Jersey.
From here on out, it’s almost a matter of routine. Globally, offshore wind is a mature industry well suited to the relatively shallow waters that characterize much of the Atlantic coast.
The problem now is to introduce offshore wind into deeper and more challenging areas, including parts of the Atlantic coast as well as along the Pacific shores. The answer is floating offshore wind farms.
California and Maine are in a race to see who can get there first. So far, it looks like the Granite State is inching ahead with an anchor buyer already lined up for a project based on research and development driven by the University of Maine, but look for activity in California as well.
Wind-friendly Texas is another state to watch. Earlier this fall, the University of Texas won a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop a low-cost “vertical axis” system for floating wind turbines, most likely with an eye on providing renewable energy for offshore industries.
Making new space for solar arrays
In terms of accelerating the renewable energy revolution, local opposition to new wind farms and solar arrays is a key obstacle. Two approaches could help open up that bottleneck by expanding the range of potential sites for solar panels.
One is floating solar panels, a trend that has emerged globally. Here in the U.S., the focus is on using human-built ponds and reservoirs rather than interfering with natural water bodies.
For farmers, the side benefit is that the panels reduce evaporation, making more water available for agricultural use. Several wineries in California have already latched on to the idea, and look for it to catch on elsewhere.
The other approach is the burgeoning field of agrivoltaics, in which solar panels are raised high off the ground in areas primarily devoted to the production of food.
The added height provides room for grazing livestock and establishing pollinator fields. Growing crops under the panels is another option, though it looks like a few more years of research and development are needed in that area.
As with floating solar panels, another side benefit of agrivoltaics involves water resources, because the raised panels help reduce evaporation from the soil below.
Image credit: Pixabay
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.