The coalescence of climate change, Covid-19, and economic catastrophe has caused a malaise that seems unbreachable. Uncertainty about national politics and questions about whether we’ll ever return to “normal” life permeates everyday conversations. Is there any hope?
Yes, in fact, there is hope. Cleantech has offered glimpses of the future that are downright cheerful. Stalwart legacy manufacturers are capitulating and introducing electric vehicles into their catalogs. Solar power has never been more affordable. Wind turbines dot the landscape in playful patterns. Battery storage systems are becoming more available for residential and business customers, easing the reliance on centralized energy distribution.
And these are only the bare surface of the cleantech innovations pointing to a brighter future. Let’s look at some of the most promising recent innovations and latch onto some of the bright hope of cleantech.
Heat pumps: These super-efficient electric technologies for heating and cooling homes and heating water are a core technology for reducing climate pollution. They also can improve air quality due to filters that clean the air of particulate matter from fires, mold, and allergens.
EV adoption: Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed climate modeling data to see how EVs impact people in the US and the US economy. The results? If EVs were to replace just 25% of gas and diesel vehicles that are on the road now, the US would save nearly $17 billion annually by avoiding damages of climate change and air pollution.
Machine learning: Artificial intelligence is an essential part of the toolkit for dealing with climate change. Tech solutions contain complex information. They’re able to create more accurate coastal elevation maps. To separate waste streams into high-value and disposable elements with high accuracy. To improve water quality. To guide a vehicle on a highway. And so much more…
Wind farms: Here’s an example of the capacity for wind that’s happening right now. The Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has 2 new projects. 1) Viking Wind Farm in the Shetland Islands, with 1-3 Vestas V117-4.2 MW turbines in 4.3 MW Power Optimized Mode — expected to generate a maximum out of 443 MW of electricity. 2) Lincoln Gap in South Australia will be supplied by Vestas with 24 V135-3.45 MW turbines in 3.6 MW power Optimized Mode to developer Nexif Energy to power an 86 MW expanse.
Microgrids: 2 US military facilities will be participating in a new microgrid project, which will get battery storage facilities on site. The project is a partnership between the Department of Defense, the US Department of Energy, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Kirtland Air Force Base already has a single-bus, ten-node 250 kW DC microgrid.
Solar panels on new, non-residential buildings: The German state of Baden-Wurttenberg is now requiring that all new non-residential buildings have solar panels on them starting in 2022. This is part of Germany’s overarching plan to have renewable sources supply 65% of electricity by 2030. No longer will Germany’s biggest cities squander vast renewable energy generation opportunities by leaving their rooftops empty.
Tesla Powerwall and solar roof system: California power outages aren’t as stressful for homeowners with Tesla Powerwalls that store excess power produced by a Tesla Solar Roof system. An automatic transfer switch detects outages and disconnects the home from the grid. The home continues to be powered by the rooftop solar system, with excess power still getting pushed to the Powerwall. Owners can continue daily connected life, which is especially important with entire families now working and learning from home.
Energy efficient homes: The Moonstone House is an enormous testbed that uses the newest tech innovations to pilot future scaled down mass applications. Massive amounts of insulation keep the thermal energy in the house, minimizing the amount of external energy required to keep it warm or cool. Ground-source heat pumps pull energy from the stable temperatures down in the earth up into the house. Solar panels on the roof and constant updates to home energy management system optimize the various oversized energy generation and storage systems in the house.
Final Thoughts on the Hope of Cleantech
The economic lockdown resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic had an immediate halting impact on renewable energy projects and electric vehicles sales. That being said, sustainable patterns of energy continue to expand and are strengthened by both visionaries and practical planners over the longer term. By 2030, cleantech jobs are expected to exceed 24 million worldwide. For each new job added, we can stop 12,436 metric tons of CO2 from being released into our atmosphere.
Instead of perseverating about how little time remains to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, cleantech has the potential to forecast a better future. We have many reasons to be optimistic about humanity’s future on planet Earth when we look to cleantech for answers.