Energy, the world’s largest industry, is currently undergoing a revolution. A switch towards renewable energy sources from the traditional fossil fuels we have relied upon to advance industrial and economic growth is underway.
Chris Goodall is a writer on new energy technologies. His book, The Switch, focuses on a global transition to an energy system based entirely on solar power. At the Reinventing Energy Summit Chris will share expertise on candidate technologies, most of which involve microbial transformations of simple molecules into energy-carrying gases and liquids. Taking illustrations from around the world, he’ll show that we are much closer than we might imagine to solving the long-term storage problem.
“Solar power is going to get cheaper every year. Across almost all of the world it will be the obvious choice for power generation within ten years. Overnight storage will generally be provided by batteries, which are also falling sharply in price every year. But what about countries like the UK, with very little solar energy to tap in winter? The urgent need for northern countries is to find ways of storing energy for several months in massive quantities.”
I asked him a few questions ahead of the summit to learn more about his work and the future of energy.
What started your work in renewable energy?
My long term concern about the impact of climate change on human society. I became interested in climate change ten years ago. Initially, I worked on how developed countries, and the individuals within them, could reduce emissions. I focused on issues such as encouraging a switch to plant-based diets and reducing air travel. Eventually I concluded that society probably didn’t want to cut greenhouse gases by changing lifestyles. So I moved on to thinking about how we could live our current lives without causing so much damage and I started writing books on renewable energy and investing in companies which have a reasonable prospect of making a difference to CO2 emissions. But, by the way, I still think it would be a good idea if we all moved to diets based on plants and only flew when absolutely necessary!
What are the key factors that have enabled recent advancements in renewables?
A growing sense that the world is hesitantly but inevitably shifting away from fossil fuels. This makes investment in renewables R&D seem less risky and more necessary. What are the main transformative technologies that will increase renewable technology useage? The single most important technologies are those that will transform energy from the sun into either electrons (electricity) or directly upgrade simple molecules into fuels (artificial photosynthesis).
What are the key challenges in long-term energy storage?
Energy storage in renewable gases (power to gas) or liquids (power to liquids) requires inputs of electricity to make possible. That is, when we make methane from spare electricity via hydrogen, we will lose half the energy value of the power. Only when that energy becomes very cheap does this become economically feasible. Paradoxically, the key challenge in energy storage is not storage at all, it is forcing down the price of solar PV to deliver cheap electricity.I put forward the case that the route is surprisingly clear and uncomplicated. The world will store surplus power, such as we might get on a sunny day in June in the northern hemisphere, by converting it into natural gas or liquid fuels similar to petrol. The chemistry is simple and well-understood. We can easily store these energy sources in existing pipelines and storage tanks for months on end.
What areas of renewable energy will see the biggest investment in the next 5 years?
Solar power will increasingly dominate as it becomes obvious that it is the best energy source of the future, almost everywhere.
Learn more about emerging technologies are impacting the future of energy at the Reinventing Energy Summit, on 25 November in London.Other speakers include Mustafa Suleyman, Co-Founder, DeepMind; Molly Webb, Founder of Energy Unlocked; Neal Coady, Head of Innovation, British Gas; and Howard Porter, CEO, BEAMA. View more here.
You can get 20% off tickets to the summit. Enter ENERGY20 at the checkout for your discount. For more information and to register, visit the event website here.