Over the past decade, renewable energy technologies have evolved at a rapid pace. Technology advancements and design innovations have been taking place continuously with the aim of increasing efficiencies and reducing the cost of producing renewable power. In the context of this dynamically changing scenario, Renewable Watch takes a look at the top technology trends and developments of the decade, some of which are likely to dominate in the next 10 years as well…
Monocrystalline cell-based solar panels are emerging as a strong choice of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology as compared to polycrystalline cell-based panels, primarily due to their higher efficiency over polycrystalline ones. Advanced passivated emitter and rear cell technology has further improved cell efficiency.
Bifacial solar modules are also gaining popularity, since they can produce power by absorbing sunlight on either side of the solar panel. Since 2018, larger PV modules and wafers have been entering the market. Besides giving customers the advantage of increased power output, the larger cell sizes also help save on balance of system and cell and module manufacturing costs.
Solar tracking systems maximise the intake of irradiation by solar arrays by allowing modules to move in such a way that they continuously face the sun. There are two types of solar trackers: single axis and dual axis. While solar trackers increase efficiency, their use remains limited due to cost implications. Nevertheless, India is witnessing an increasing uptake of solar trackers. Moreover, the growing popularity of bifacial modules, with higher power output, will help drive demand for trackers.
An emerging trend in solar operations and maintenance (O&M) is the increasing use of automation and digitalisation to reduce project downtime and improve plant performance. Artificial intelligence-enabled monitoring platforms are already in use for predictive O&M as well as for analysing project data from multiple projects to improve performance. Additionally, drones are being used for site assessment and O&M, providing greater detail than ground crews. Robotic module cleaning solutions are also gaining traction as they help decrease manual labour costs.
Floatovoltaics have rapidly gained popularity over the past two years. Recent months have witnessed a flurry of tenders in this space, especially for the reservoirs of thermal and hydropower plants that have power evacuation systems in place. Floating solar projects help save land for agriculture and housing. Moreover, they avoid land acquisition issues, which are a major concern for ground-mounted solar plants.
Hybridisation of wind and solar power can lead to cost and efficiency benefits due to the co-location and complementarity of the two sources. There is significant potential for the development of wind-solar hybrid projects in India, especially in states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana. Over the past three years, a national wind policy and three state-level policies have been formulated to promote hybrids, and there is currently a healthy pipeline of projects.
Hub heights for wind turbines have been increasing over the years. Most commercially available turbines across the world today are taller than 100 metres, with rotor diameters of over 120 metres. Blades too are becoming longer to capture more wind energy. Moreover, drivetrain designs are constantly being upgraded to make them lighter with fewer moving parts for higher efficiency. Recent advancements include new single-stage gearboxes, permanent magnet generators, high efficiency power electronics, direct drive systems and hybrid systems.
In the biomass space, incineration and gasification have so far been the most widely used methods of waste processing/waste-to-energy conversion. However, incineration plants have been attracting criticism owing to pollution concerns. The implementation of technologies such as pyrolysis is thus being preferred. Pyrolysis is a thermochemical process that produces bio-oil, bio-char and syngas. While gasification plants work well up to the 2 MW scale, pyrolysis plants usually work well beyond the 2 MW scale and are thus suitable for large plants.
The increasing deployment of renewables, growing penetration of electric vehicles, and changes in electricity demand patterns all call for greater flexibility in power supply. Despite most tenders for large-scale energy storage being technology-agnostic, battery storage is the most dominant choice, especially lithium-ion batteries. Owing to technological advancements, battery costs have fallen by over 80 per cent since 2010. Of late, there has also been a renewed focus on pumped storage to meet the rising need for grid balancing and peaking power reserves.
This versatile fuel is increasingly finding a business case, with renewable energy prices falling and growing awareness of its use in stabilising the grid by utilising excess renewable power. Hydrogen can, moreover, be used for energy storage as well as for power generation when solar or wind power is low in the grid. Although the current uptake of green hydrogen remains low – primarily due to cost considerations – several initiatives have been launched to increase its uptake. Moreover, the use of hydrogen fuel cells as a clean fuel alternative has increased over the years.
Till date, India does not have any commercial offshore wind power plants. However, in 2018, expressions of interest for an offshore wind project were invited for the first time and received a positive response. Tariffs remain high at present, especially when compared to Europe. However, rapid technological development, economies of scale, and a competitive market are expected to help bring tariffs down, as has been the case with onshore wind.
The way forward
The renewable energy sector has witnessed constant innovation and evolution in technology, with less efficient products becoming obsolete, and more advanced and cost-competitive solutions taking their place. Over the next 10 years, India’s focus is expected to be on hybridisation, maximising cost efficiencies and digitalisation, with increasing importance being given to grid stability and flexibility.