We are witnessing an energy revolution. The question is, how far can this revolution go towards changing the face of the energy industry and as a result, the social and economic complexion of the world around us?
Technological innovation is central to answering that question. And in an era when technological innovation is fundamental to addressing modern day challenges, sustainable energy must be a part of that solution.
The current trend of innovation within the energy sector is propelling the goals set in the COP21 agreement to the status of attainability. Development in energy technology is heralding the dawn of a sustainable future that was once consigned to the fringes of our imagination.
This new era of technological innovation is being driven by plummeting costs, with solar energy prices dropping around 70% since 2009 - a trend that is seeing no sign of abating. According to German Think Tank Agora Energiewende, solar power is set to become the cheapest source of energy in many regions by 2025. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in energy - from the former, centralized fossil fuel energy system to a decarbonized, cleaner, self-sufficient energy infrastructure.
It is a paradigm shift underlined by the predicament of the energy world; as oil prices are kept artificially low in order to appease geopolitical and market volatility, the economies of scale within the realm of solar energy are spawning record low prices.
The defining achievement of the energy revolution is perhaps the transformation in energy storage. Once a persistent thorn in the side of solar energy, developments in storage render problems associated with harnessing solar energy when there is no sunlight practically irrelevant. This brings the functionality of solar for ordinary residential consumers on par with its more traditional fossil fuel counterparts.
And although investment costs do not always start low, the rewards subsequently reaped from leveraging technical expertise can pay big dividends. Morocco has pursued the expensive procedure of Concentrating Solar Power technology - but crucially through integrating solar energy storage, has advanced its operational output hugely. Morocco now has the largest solar farm in the world.
Whilst such developments may once upon a time have been consigned to niche high end industrial sector, this is clearly no longer the case with there now being storage units in mainstream commercial sale. But technological integration goes way beyond this. 'Smart' data is also being integrated into the new energy future, making household energy systems reflective of the usage habits of users. That means a new level of household integration for solar power where a user's habits can be used to predict consumption patterns and continually provide energy efficiency recommendations.
Advancements in solar storage also facilitate the decentralization of energy production, where power is produced and controlled at the point of consumption. We may well be witnessing the seeding of an "off grid economy", where customers are simultaneously both energy producers and consumers.
Then there is the more visible side to solar energy innovation which has the potential to really capture the imagination of the public. Innovation in mobility has long been at the centre of our futurist conceptions, but while we are some time off an urban landscape that resembles Ridley Scott's Bladerunner - we are beginning to see significant changes.
Take for example, the smart car, which is fast becoming an ubiquitous feature of the urban landscape. Urban mobility and transportation accounts greatly for global energy consumption. The ramifications of a credible clean transformation in this area will reverberate throughout the world, representing a sea change in the way we consume our energy. Again functionality is the pivotal factor and once again, solar energy is proving to have the answers.
The development of production hubs for electronic cars, in area such as California, China, and Norway - and the rapid rise of manufacturing in these areas, complimented by the swift take up of electric cars will drive costs down - ensuring this localised phenomenon turns into a bigger global one.
This inspiring synergy between the renewable and tech worlds has also spawned the 'smart grid'. The smart grid essentially computerises our existing grid which is being pushed to capacity, allowing for two-way interactivity that ensures greater energy security than ever before. On top of this, integration of renewable energy sources, including solar and electric car charging will be easy.
With the ability to monitor and analyse real-time data comes more efficient energy consumption patterns from utility providers, which in turn staves off problems such as transformer overloading, overheating, outages, unpredictable demand spikes.
This, along with the decentralisation of the grid, facilitates renewable integration while also improving functionality. It is the duality of these factors; functionality and accessibility, which is proving key. The smart city will encapsulate this duality on a grand scale - empowering the consumer and citizen through cleaner technologies via the digital realm. The smart city harnesses technological advancements - through integrated resource systems, data and accessibility, with the aim of fostering a sustainable, innovative thriving economy.
Today, in the age of big data, we monitor a range of variables on a real time basis. The smart city is the next logical step in the energy revolution. By integrating all facets of the producing economy we can look forward to a cleaner future, with a better quality of life. While we are just on the cusp of many of these changes; from smart cities, to electric vehicles, and a decentralised grid - the trajectory of these changes are heading in only one direction. Up. To the sun and back.
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