The effects of climate change appear in many forms. These include rising global temperatures, more frequent and severe heat waves, and negative impacts on human health and the global ecosystem.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the urgent need to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C from pre-industrial levels, targeting 1.5°C, to combat these effects. The IPCC states that achieving this ambitious goal will require a rapid, cohesive global effort to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases (GHG). Fossil fuels are a significant contributor to GHGs.
There are significant barriers to an entire shift to a clean energy future. For example, there is a high technology and infrastructure cost, a need to integrate and expand the electrical grid, inconsistent or delayed regulation timescales, and public resistance to a new way of living. In addition, technical challenges like efficiency, scalability, and balancing renewable power intermittency through energy storage remain.
Despite these challenges, implementing clean energy is imperative to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. This article reviews the leading renewable energy sources, implementation strategies and remaining challenges, and the role of rugged technology in enabling the clean energy revolution.
Types of Renewable Energy Sources
Wind turbines and solar power dominate the news in the energy transition. However, despite the rapid gains since 2000, hydropower still occupies the highest renewable share of global energy, more than wind and solar combined as of 2022 (Figure 1 below).
Solar energy, the common name for photovoltaic (PV) clean energy, accepts sunlight onto solar panels composed of cells containing silicon-based semiconductor material to absorb the light’s photons. These particles energise electrons from the silicon atoms, creating a direct current (DC) that flows in the direction the solar cells prescribe. An inverter converts the DC energy to alternating current (AC) for use in residential and domestic buildings. Solar panels provide around 15-20% efficiency and integrate with the electrical grid bi-directionally to create electricity and balance intermittent energy and power generation elsewhere.
Wind and Hydropower
One technology that benefits from higher atmospheric energy is wind energy. On-shore wind energy is more variable but takes advantage of open, flat land areas, like the central US. Conversely, offshore wind power is more consistent due to the compound effect of having fewer obstructions than on-shore and experiencing a more significant temperature gradient between land and the ocean.
Hydropower takes advantage of hydroelectric energy from the large percentage of water on Earth, using the inherent kinetic energy of water to spin a turbine to drive a generator for electricity generation.
Energy Storage Technology
Source power intermittency is one of the biggest challenges to clean energy. The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow [enough to produce electricity], leading to energy production peaks and troughs. As a result, maintaining resilience and generating electricity through energy storage when the energy is available is the next hurdle to clear. In addition, the cost of renewable energy technologies continues to decline, further elevating demand for energy storage.
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the predominant battery chemistry for renewable energy storage at over 90% of the global grid market. Lithium emerged as the dominant chemistry due to a rapidly-falling cost curve around 2015—just as Tesla was ramping up—due to its relatively minimal self-discharge rate and range performance. Other battery chemistries like nickel metal hydride (NMH) and lead acid exist but are less robust than Li-ion for energy storage.
Rivian is turning to lithium iron phosphate (LFP) across its fleet beginning this year. Solid-state batteries are the future, as they address the flammability concern of Li-ion and provide faster charging and extended range capabilities. Cost is a current barrier, and material durability remains an opportunity.
Other Clean Energy Storage Media
Three other technologies are thermal batteries, pumped storage hydropower, and hydrogen, which aim to store energy in different forms (heat, potential energy, and molecular, respectively) for ease of transport.
Thermal storage is modular, capturing other renewable energy resources, geothermal energy, in cement bricks or sand as conductive heat. Pumped storage hydropower stores water at different elevations, leveraging the potential power of the higher-elevation liquid to spin a turbine on its way down before being pumped back to the top. Hydrogen, conversely, uses excess renewable energy to power an electrolyser to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen can be transported and used in many gas, fuel, industrial, or chemical applications.
The Role of Smart Grids for Renewable Energy Integration
With energy entering the grid from increasing sources, it is vital to coordinate these streams to maximise output, stability, and resiliency while keeping costs and environmental impact low. These grids are the connective tissue that absorbs the inconsistency of renewable energy and always delivers consistent, reliable output energy.
Key Steps to Implementing Clean Energy
Even with the expansion of smart grids and downward cost curves of many renewable energy sources, additional steps are needed to ensure you have clean energy where it is most needed. The first of these is conducting an energy audit. Reviewing a breakdown of the types of current energy used (gas, electric, etc.), their respective kilowatt hour usages and respective carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) allows you to create a Pareto assessment to rank opportunities to maximise the impact of clean energy. Addressing the top 20% of carbon emitters can significantly improve their carbon emissions footprint.
In addition, setting clear sustainability goals and targets provides an upper limit on the degree of renewable energy implementation you need to achieve the desired impact. And as the suitability of different clean energy technology differs by application, factors like transportability, conversion loss, scalability, and capital cost can determine the best approach.
Rugged Solutions for Effective Implementation
Rugged, durable technology is a primary enabler for implementing clean, green energy everywhere, especially in field services. These solutions transform operations, moving from a pen-and-paper approach to a fully digital one, increasing productivity in 75% of field service businesses.
These devices also offer predictive maintenance to minimise critically resilient and energy-efficient technology downtime. Finally, they enable remote employee monitoring to provide consumers peace of mind in knowing where the technicians are while allowing providers to maximise the number of daily jobs.
Providing field service support is easier with rugged solutions like the Getac V110, which enhances field services. It enables access to Cloud data, remote device management, and long battery life to ensure it lasts through an 8-hour shift – in any environment and is readable in direct sunlight. Getac’s ZX70 (7”) and ZX10 (10”) fully rugged Android tablets offer real-time digital access to facilitate clean energy implementation.
Overcoming implementation challenges
Grid infrastructure quickly becomes a limitation in realising the benefits of renewable resources. Despite significant disagreement on the scale, method, and mechanisms to deliver renewable energy to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases, governments are implementing transformational regulations. The US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the EU Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E) policy are two examples.
With these massive initiatives, standardisation and permitting processes are barriers to integrating renewable energy into the grid. Both major US political parties agree that the biomass energy permitting process should be reformed. An example is that 79% of planned wind energy projects have yet to begin. It will take federal, state, and local governments working in concert to employ common-sense modifications to kickstart these wind turbine projects faster to achieve net-zero decarbonisation goals by 2050.
Raising public awareness can help drive governments to act, and non-government organistions and activist groups are forming to increase the urgency of implementing clean energy. Instituting a carbon tax would bring the issue to the voters, forcing them to assess how they use energy daily. Finally, creating public-private partnerships brings innovation and current hurdles directly to the public, raising awareness.
Case Studies and Success Stories
Despite the technical and regulatory challenges and obstacles, many companies are now urgently grasping the importance of moving to renewable and natural energy sources. Below are three case studies highlighting real-world clean energy implementation aided by Getac F110 rugged devices in field services.
Romania Delgaz Grid
Opportunity: Field service operators in Delgaz address maintenance issues in gas and electrical services. While remaining on-site, they must transmit the leak information to test labs in real-time. These leaks lead to performance loss, inefficiency, downtime, and potential hazards.
Solution: The operators employed the Getac F110 tablet, which is durable against weather and extreme temperature while maintaining resistance to drops.
Result: The F110 was the perfect choice. It provided real-time information from the field to the lab and resolved the issues quickly and thoroughly.
Netzgesellschaft Berlin Brandenburg (NBB)
Opportunity: NBB’s extensive pipeline network is essential to generate electricity and deliver gas. The expansiveness of the pipeline creates frequent maintenance opportunities, all requiring surveying and documenting.
Solution: The F110 provided fast, reliable data to customers and delivered work order information directly on the technicians’ devices.
Result: The data transmission speed decreased maintenance cycles and increased energy consumption efficiency. These advantages increased the pipeline’s overall lifecycle climate performance through added energy efficiency. The solution also added energy security as an additional benefit.
Oil Rig Emergency Protocol
Opportunity: Accounting for everyone onboard an oil rig is essential to safety; the legacy methods of either paper or phone systems introduce human error into the process and take a long time. Both of these issues carry high risks during an emergency.
Solution: The F110 is highly configurable to meet the demands of explosive environments like oil rigs.
Result: The F110 offered more excellent response times and visibility in rugged environments, removed human error from the process, and created 25% muster times, improving both energy consumption and energy efficiency.
These case studies confirm that rugged, digital tools like the Getac F110 can significantly increase the data transfer rate in field services. The efficiency gained translates to higher uptime and better quality data, increasing process efficiency and carbon footprint.
Society must prioritise clean energy implementation daily to decarbonise the world by 2050. Infrastructure cost, regulatory alignment, public awareness, and priority will enable the transition.
Rugged solutions have their place in the decarbonisation effort for field services, increasing the efficiency of energy infrastructure and transport media. And as energy equipment maintenance does its part to improve efficiency, you can continue researching the trends and technology advancements in this article to spread awareness of where we are, where we need to go, and the best ways to get there.