We have supported Cleantech Innovate for several years and it is always a date on the calendar that we await with much anticipation. It is always alarming to be reminded of the speed and impact that increasing CO2 and climate change are having on the world. It is, however, inspirational to hear from entrepreneurs with the passion, knowledge and drive to develop new projects to help solve these really big issues.
To succeed, innovation needs ideas and people, it needs businesses to solve societal challenges. Ideas are essential to rapidly decrease emissions and increase climate resilience, but things actually need to happen on the ground. With so many ideas out there, it is comforting to know that there are events such as Cleantech Innovate that showcase these emerging technologies.
At Cleantech Innovate 2019, we were privileged to witness some of the progress being made in the energy space.
Improving solar technology
Solar technology has 4.5 million years left to run as one presenter noted, so on that basis, we shouldn’t be surprised that there is considerable interest in improving existing solar technology. PV costs have already fallen by 200% but sourcing new materials and the application of coatings that are more effective at absorbing sunlight and cheaper than silicon have the potential to increase efficiency by 20% and to decrease costs significantly.
Given the number of solar panels already installed world-wide and a predicted rate of installation of 70,000 panels per hour per day for the next five years, solutions that can be retrofitted onto existing panels (Lambda Stretch) are very exciting. Making new panels more efficient (Oxford PV), however, also has a huge role to play in the future of solar PV. Either way, research to develop ways to harness a greater proportion of the sun’s rays and convert them into energy more cost-effectively is a very attractive option.
Developing battery storage
Improvements to energy storage in batteries is another area that generated a great deal of interest. Battery technology is still relatively young, but aspirations for the technology are extremely high. Batteries are the lynch pin that will allow the grid to accommodate increasing amounts of distributed and renewable generation, and they are fundamental to the success of electric transport. But there are numerous challenges surrounding the continued use of lithium-ion including concerns around safety, supply chain, environmental impact, price, duration, degradation and efficiencies.
Solutions using alternative materials to meet the battery demand featured in a number of presentations. Copper/zinc technology (Cumulus Energy) offers lower cost materials, discharge times of 4–6 hours and a battery life of 30 years. Flywheel technology (OXTO Energy) is climate agnostic, delivers very fast response times, a 25-year life time, no degradation and costs that are 25-30% cheaper than conventional batteries. Batteries using manganese, which is more abundant than lithium, and hydrogen (RFC Power) were also showcased as cheaper than the lithium-ion solution.
It is exciting to see options on the table that will help battery storage to take its much-anticipated place in the energy system at a cost that is both affordable financially and environmentally.
The elimination of carbon from future energy systems is essential, but we already have too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Technologies that actively remove CO2 have long been discussed as the answer, but few projects have achieved this aim, let alone cost-effectively. One presentation (Origen Power) tackled this area and it is encouraging to learn that it is possible to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for the affordable price of $15/tonne. Even better, however, was the news that captured, pure CO2 is a valuable product, retailing in some markets at $35 – $50/tonne.
So, it seems there is potential for carbon capture to finally take a seat at the solutions table in the not-too-distant future.
The bottom line
Ideas, research and solutions are only sustainable in the business world if they effectively solve a problem for business or save the consumer money. Ideas and innovations need to be matched closely with demand-side issues. Outcomes and impacts need to be demonstrated clearly and need to appeal to specific audiences.
But the real bottom line, is just that, the bottom line.
Innovation will only be successfully adopted into the mainstream if there is clear financial benefit to the businesses or individuals that are expected to use it. Make technology cheaper, better, more efficient and help companies or consumers to save or make money and the technology is in with a chance – a chance to gain seed funding to develop a demonstration project, to gain traction and access accelerator funding, to scale up and bring completed products to market.
It is a tough journey and not for the faint-hearted.
Each presenter at the event demonstrated detailed research and a passion to succeed and they all offered viable, efficient and lower cost solutions. But, one thing that resonated throughout the presentations was the willingness of the presenters to accept that there is room in the market for multiple technology solutions. The desire is there to collaborate, to work together to produce the best possible solutions to the biggest problems facing the world today.
We wish all the companies and individuals who presented at Cleantech Innovate 2019 success for their projects and we will be looking out for their products in the market soon.
We left Cleantech Innovate 2019 hopeful and inspired. It is good to know there is a raft of organisations engaged with entrepreneurs, actively seeking out and supporting the best projects to bring forward and liaising with government to ensure the best projects are supported at the highest level.