As we look to the future and consider how we can build a better world for generations to come, one of the biggest questions we ask ourselves is: where will we get our energy from? Innovations in deep tech are revolutionising nearly every aspect of our daily lives, and the energy sector is no exception. Whether it be optimising existing renewable energy solutions or developing new ones, deep tech is fuelling progress in this crucial area of sustainability.
It’s clear that we must reduce carbon emissions if we hope for the planet to heal. Yet how to go about that is the tricky part. Among the biggest players we find are hydropower, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy and bio-power. All of these renewable energy types have been – and continue to be – driven by innovations in deep tech.
To understand where the energy sector is headed, let’s take a look at the latest deep-tech developments in each of these five categories.
While it’s not the biggest buzzword on this list, hydropower – the energy harvested from water – is actually our primary source of renewable energy. In fact, on a global level, it makes up 54% of all renewable-power generation capacity, more than all the others combined. This figure sits at about 70% in the US.
In recent years, the focus has been placed on high-efficiency WECs (Wave Energy Converters), which convert the kinetic energy found in rushing water. In 2019, for example, renewable energy company CorPower Ocean received a new round of funding for their WEC that uses deep tech to mimic the pumping system of the human heart. They are resistant to even the harshest ocean conditions, are cost efficient, and hold promise for the future of hydropower.
Recent innovations in wind energy have focused on making off-shore wind farms more efficient using AI and robotics. For example, advanced drones have been developed to deliver spare parts to farms for repair.
One company leading the pack in this arena is ORE Catapult, who have created projects such as MIMRee (Multi-Platform Inspection Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments). The project uses cross-sector robotics and AI expertise to show that the maintenance of wind farms can be carried out by autonomous robots.
While solar power may seem like the most straightforward of the renewable energies, there’s always room for technological advancement. One recent innovation in solar thin-film technology, for example, led to the creation of solar thin-film strips: semiconductors that can be easily applied to a wide range of surfaces (like metal, glass or plastic), reducing costs and opening up endless possibilities for solar power generation.
These innovations could very well lead to the widespread use of solar thin-film panels by the public, as they are more accessible and affordable than any other renewable energy. Many people are already using solar-paneled roofs on their homes to save on electricity costs.
Geothermal power involves extracting energy – typically heat – from deep within the Earth by drilling. The biggest obstacle with this type of renewable energy is the high costs associated with the equipment involved. One project called GeoDrill has responded to this challenge with the development of their own Down-The-Hole (DTH) hammer, which improves drill monitoring through low-cost and robust 3D-printed sensors, and increases the tool’s life cycle by integrating technologically advanced materials and coatings.
While geothermal drilling has been around for centuries, deep tech and 3D printing has made it a more viable and cost-effective solution in the renewables sector.
Bio-power is defined as any form of energy—typically heat and electricity—derived from organic plant and animal material, such as biofuels, wood chips, or agricultural byproducts (such as crop waste). The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects its use to grow, predicting that by 2050, biomass will go from 7% of all energy used in industry to 19%. The sector also has room for innovation, hence the 9% increase in investment seen in 2019.
One organisation making strides in bio-power technology is Phoenix Biopower, who has developed a biomass gasification technology that generates energy twice as efficiently as the traditional steam-cycle technologies.
The future of the energy sector holds much promise thanks to advances in deep tech. As deep tech continues to drive innovations and make scientific breakthroughs, renewable energy is set to become increasingly affordable and accessible for companies, governments and individuals around the world.