Climate change is a global emergency, it is a problem that requires coordinated solutions at all levels and international cooperation to help countries move towards an economy with low carbon emissions. To address this issue and its negative impacts, world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) made significant progress on December 12, 2015 with the historic Paris Agreement.
To date, 193 countries plus the European Union have signed this alliance for a greener future and have set their carbon neutrality targets. This means achieving energy transformation and zero-carbon development as soon as possible, using more renewable resources, changing the way energy is used, and using new technologies to reduce emissions. Science tells us that unless we reduce fossil fuel production by 6% each year between now and 2030, things will only get worse.
This panorama brings with it new opportunities and new challenges for renewable energies. In the next 5 years, the world will incorporate as much renewable energy as in the last 20 years. According to data from Renewables 2022, the latest edition of the IEA’s annual report on the sector, global renewable energy capacity is expected to increase by 2,400 gigawatts (GW) over the period 2022-2027, an amount equivalent to the entire power capacity of China today.
The enormous increase projected throughout this five-year period is 30% higher than the growth forecast just a year ago, which shows the speed with which governments have given greater political weight to renewable energies. According to the report, renewables will account for more than 90% of global electricity growth in the next five years, surpassing coal to become the world’s largest source of electricity by early 2025.
According to the report, the top 10 digital energy trends for a greener future are:
Trend 1: PV+ESS integration
As more renewables feed power grids, several complex technical issues arise in terms of system stability, power balance, and power quality. Therefore, a new control mode is needed to increase the controllability and response of active/reactive power and actively mitigate frequency and voltage fluctuations. With the integration of PV and Energy Storage Systems, as well as Grid Forming technology, we can build ‘Smart PV+ESS Generators’ that use voltage source control instead of current source control, provide strong power support, inertia, transient voltage stabilization and fault handling capability. This will transform PV power from grid tracking to grid formation, which will help to increase PV power.
Trend 2: High density and reliability
The high power and reliability of the equipment in photovoltaic plants will be the trend. Let’s take photovoltaic inverters as an example; today, the DC voltage of inverters increases from 1100 V to 1500 V. With the application of new materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN), as well as the integration of digital technologies, power electronics and thermal management, it is estimated that the power density of inverters will increase by about 50% in the next five years, and the high reliability can be maintained.
Trend 3: Module Level Power Electronics (MLPE)
Driven by industry policies and technological advances, distributed photovoltaics has witnessed vigorous development in recent years. We are faced with challenges such as how to improve rooftop resource utilization, ensure high energy performance and the safety of the PV+ESS system. Therefore, more refined management is a must.
Trend 4: Modular energy storage
Compared with traditional centralized ESS solutions, the Smart String ESS solution adopts distributed architecture and modular design. It uses innovative technologies and intelligent digital management to optimize power at the battery pack level and control power at the rack level. This results in higher energy discharge, optimal investment, easy operations and maintenance, as well as safety and reliability throughout the entire life cycle of the ESS.
Trend 5: Improved management at the cell level
Like PV systems moving towards MLPE, lithium BESSs will evolve towards a lower management level. Only refined management at the battery cell level can better address efficiency and safety issues. Currently, the traditional battery management system (BMS) can only summarize and analyze limited data, and it is almost impossible to detect faults and generate alerts at the early stage. Therefore, the BMS must be more sensitive, intelligent and even predictive. This depends on the collection, calculation and processing of a large amount of data and AI technologies to find the optimal operating mode and make preventions.
Trend 6: PV+ESS+Grid integration
Regarding power generation, we see more and more practices of construction of PV+ESS clean energy bases that supply electricity to load centers through UHV transmission lines. With regard to energy consumption, virtual power plants (VPPs) are becoming more and more popular in many countries. VPPs combine massive distributed PV, ESS and controllable loads, and implement flexible scheduling for power generation units and storage units to achieve peak clipping etc. Therefore, building a stable power system integrating PV+ESS+Grid to support PV power supply and grid feed will become a key measure to ensure energy security.
Trend 7: Enhanced security
Safety is the cornerstone of the development of the photovoltaic and ESS industry. This requires us to systematically consider all scenarios and links and fully integrate power electronics, electrochemistry, thermal management and digital technologies to enhance system security. In a PV plant, failures caused by the DC side account for more than 70% of all failures. Therefore, the inverter must support intelligent string disconnection and automatic connector detection. In the distributed PV scenario, the AFCI (Arc Fault Protection) function will become a standard configuration, and the module-level rapid shutdown function will ensure the safety of maintenance personnel and firefighters. In the ESS scenario, multiple technologies such as power electronics, cloud, and AI must be used to implement refined ESS management from battery cells to the complete system. The traditional protection mode based on passive response and physical isolation is changed to active automatic protection, implementing multi-dimensional security design from hardware to software and from structure to algorithm.
Trend 8: Security and reliability
In addition to bringing benefits, PV systems also have various risks, including equipment security and information security. The safety risks of the equipment refer mainly to the stoppage caused by breakdowns. Information security risks refer to attacks on external networks. To address these challenges and threats, businesses and organizations must establish a comprehensive set of “safety and reliability” management mechanisms, including the reliability, availability, security, and resiliency of systems and devices. We must also put in place the protection of personal and environmental safety, as well as data privacy.
Trend 9: Digitization
Conventional PV plants have a large amount of equipment and lack information gathering and information channels. Most teams cannot ‘talk’ to each other, which is very difficult to implement for sophisticated management. With the introduction of advanced digital technologies such as 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, sensing technologies, and big data, PV plants can send and receive information, using “bits” (information streams) to manage “watts”. (energy flows). The entire generation-transmission-storage-distribution-consumption link is visible, manageable and controllable.
Trend 10: AI application
As the energy industry moves into an age of data, how to best collect, use, and maximize the value of data has become a top industry-wide concern. AI technologies can be widely applied to renewable energy fields and play an indispensable role in the entire PV+ESS life cycle, including manufacturing, construction, O&M, optimization, and operation. The convergence of AI and technologies such as cloud computing and big data is deepening, and the toolchain that focuses on data processing, training, deployment, and security monitoring will be enriched. In the field of renewable energy, AI, like power electronics and digital technologies, will drive a profound transformation of the industry.
These smart energy trends that will shift the world towards a greener future are a reality. According to the preview of the World Energy Transitions Outlook from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), proven technologies for a net-zero energy system are largely already in place. Renewable energy, green hydrogen and modern bioenergy will dominate the energy world in the future to contain the temperature rise to 1.5°C and stop irreversible global warming.
90% of all decarbonization solutions in 2050 will go through renewable energy through direct supply of electricity at low cost, efficiency, electrification driven by renewable energy in end use, as well as green hydrogen. Carbon capture and removal technologies, combined with bioenergy, will provide the “last mile” CO₂ reductions towards a net zero energy system.