In the new round of industry revolution and the global consensus on climate change, the energy technology becomes the driving force to guide energy industry change and drive development via innovation. Major countries in the world consider energy technology the breakthrough of the new technological and industrial revolution, formulate technological plans strategically and take actions to expedite energy technology innovations, aiming to enhance their international competitiveness. Meanwhile, the dynamics of the technological development heralds the energy development tendency in the globe.
Trend analysis of the world’s energy technology
- Green and low-carbon energy technology is definitely the main direction of development.
Energy is being developed in the direction of low-carbon, green and efficiency. In the EU research and innovation funding scheme “Horizon 2020”, the “low-carbon and adaptation to climate change in future” domain will be granted a budget of EUR3.3 billion in the 2018 ~ 2020 expenditure plan. According to the plan, projects in four clean energy fields — renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, electric transport and storage — will acquire the grant money EUR2.2 billion. Russia’s energy ministry declared to support the setup of the renewable energy development fund in the far east federal district and will formulate the concrete suggestions. UK will invest GBP28 million in funding the innovations in renewable energy, intelligent energy system, low-carbon industry, nuclear energy and so on, as a part of the new energy innovation plan (2016 ~ 2021). Since the Trump administration announced USA’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the situation of global response to climate change has become confusing, but the transformation in the global energy field is an irresistible trend, and the green and low-carbon energy technology is the inevitable direction in the future.
- Small modular reactor unfolds a new era of nuclear energy
Thanks to its safety, operation flexibility and power grid adaptability, the small modular reactor (SMR) is attracting more and more attention. Nuclear powers in the world are pushing the SMR technology development and deployment. Nuscale Power in USA submitted the first certification audit application for its commercial SMR power plant design. Canadian regulatory body initiates the general site selection and discovery procedure for the first demonstrative SMR. Russia will help Philippine on the feasibility study of onshore or offshore SMR construction. The Ray Science & Production Company of Rosatom developed the SMR based on the principle of heat electron emission effect, featuring safety, reliability, free of maintenance and long-term operation, which can operate as standalone power supply for important infrastructure in remote area. The UK government promised exploring the potential of SMR via competition and evaluating the market benefit to develop, commercialize and fund SMR technology, and planned to develop the reactor model with advantages in safety, economy and mobility. In Japan, the SMR is an important option for the development in future.
- The prospects of energy blockchain are bright
The blockchain technology has advantages in decentralized storage and information transparency, enables digitized, distributed and precise management on energy and will produce great impact on the energy market in future. United States Department of Energy raised the new concept of blockchain based energy system and explored the application of blockchain technology in power grid management. A consortium led by BP and Shell will develop a blockchain digital platform for energy commodities trading. Australian government will fund AUD2.57 million to support a two-year trial solar and hydropower project with application of blockchain technology. A paper of McKinsey stated that blockchain had the most potential to be the core technology that may trigger the fifth disruptive revolutions, following the steam engine, electricity and information & internet technology. The golden time of blockchain technology is coming, within the territory of the distributed, complicated and vast oil and gas industry.
- Battery energy storage will play a vital role
As a supporting industry and key driver in the energy structure adjustment, the energy storage has broad prospects in traditional power generating, transmission and distribution, power demand, auxiliary service, new energy access and more domains. According to the Power Storage and Renewable Energy: Cost and Market Research Report (2030) published by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the global energy storage capacity will increase threefold if the portion of renewable energy doubles by 2030 in the energy system. In the basic prediction scenario, the report mentioned the global energy storage installed capacity would increase by 42% ~ 68% by 2030 in comparison with 2017, and might achieve 155% ~ 227% rise if the renewable energy has additionally a robust growth. Battery energy storage plays a vital role in changing the energy storage structure and functions as the power supply during the peak load period. The rapid development of energy storage technology brings about significant change to the energy system and certain impact on the demands for fossil fuels. Energy storage takes more and more places of thermal power and exerts strong power regulation ability in the electric energy system.
- Deep fusion between 5G and energy
Recently, the energy industry implements actively the Internet+ strategy and improves the overall information and intelligence level of the industry, making the best of modern information communication and control technology for intelligent equipment monitoring, information collection, new operation mode and utilization services. Along with the rapid growth of diversified energy services, the grid equipment, power terminals and electricity customers have urgent needs for the latest communication and system supports to suffice the explosive communication demand growth. The 5G technology supports energy infrastructure intelligentization, bidirectional energy distribution and new business model to improve efficiency in production, delivery, utilization and resource coordination. The renewable energy, grid communication, intelligent grid and other fields are the major application scenarios of 5G in the global energy industry. EU has paid special attention to the fusion between 5G and the energy industry. The whitepaper View on 5G Architecture states the 5G architecture should have the customization private networking ability for vertical industries including automobile, energy, food, agriculture, healthcare and education. The connection of 5G technology with the business ecosystem helps 5G network provide diversified and new service modes efficiently and at low cost.
- 3D printing technology is used in the manufacturing process of solar cells
The 3D printing technology is used on thin-film battery in addition to the crystalline silicon solar cell. Researchers in Oregon State University manufactured the Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin-film battery by using 3D printing technology and saved 90% raw materials. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) printed thin-film solar cell on paper through a dedicated 3D printer, and such cell has 1.5% ~ 2% efficiency. The 3D printing technology can print high-resolution, electrically conductive grid lines and save cost at the same time. It can be integrated perfectly with high sheet resistance emitter and applied in various new solar cell technologies. This technology is being actively studied and developed in China and abroad. Therefore, the 3D printing technology is irresistibly used in the manufacturing process of solar cells, and will lead to dramatic improvement of the quality and efficiency of solar cells.
Implications and suggestions
- Make breakthrough on core technology and build a new-generation electric system
Renewable energy sources substitute gradually the fossil energies so that it accounts for a larger portion in the primary energy production and consumption. The key goal of our energy revolution is to promote the energy transformation and construct clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient new generation energy system. In the primary energy consumption, non-fossil energy comes largely from the electric power. The important symbol of the electric system transformation is the dramatic increase of the proportion of non-fossil energy and the power supply structure dominated by non-fossil energy sources. Now, the key to the construction of new-generation electric system is to make breakthrough on the grid accesses from high-percentage renewable energy and power electronics equipment, build intelligent electric grid with deep fusion between multi-energy complement and information physics, and so on.
- Strengthen the clean energy industry and promote the development of clean energy
Clean energy is playing a dominant role in response to the climate change. It is extremely urgent to expedite the substitution of clean energies including hydro, nuclear, wind and solar. The International Energy Agency expected China would continue to lead the development of the global clean energies in future 5 years. Now China has become the largest country of renewable energy production and consumption, where the scale of hydro, wind and solar installations keep the leading positions for years, and nuclear power is in the first place. Green and low-carbon is the main direction of energy technology innovation, and the focuses are on the clean and efficient utilization of traditional fossil energy, scale development and utilization of new energy, safe utilization of nuclear energy, energy internet, massive energy storage, advanced energy equipment and critical materials.
- Boost the research efforts and establish incentive mechanism
Recent years have witnessed remarkable improvement on the energy technology innovation and technical equipment autonomy level and a bunch of internationally advanced major energy demonstration projects. Rapid growth of the intelligent grid and multiple energy storage technologies is accompanied by major breakthroughs on gordian technologies of onshore/offshore wind, solar power, solar thermal, cellulosic ethanol and so on. The achievements mark the great-leap-forward development of China’s energy technology level. However, in contrast to the world’s power in energy technology and the requirements for leading the energy revolution, the big gap is reflected by the lack of core technologies, dependence on imported high-end energy equipment, weak combination involving production, teaching and research, disengaged innovation activities and industrial demands, inadequate innovation system and mechanism, yet-to-be-improved talent education, management and incentive mechanism. In view of the urgent energy technology revolution, it is necessary to give great impetus to the energy technology innovation, narrow the gap to the international advanced level and emphasize the combination of independent research and development and technological import.
- Clarify the priority and route of energy technology development strategy
Energy technology is one of the important decisive factors of the global energy future and the development direction is the key in the overall energy strategy. Now it is time to master the green, low-carbon, intelligent, efficiency and diversified trend of the world’s energy technology, plan reasonable middle-/long-term vision and goals of the modern energy system, and establish stable policy environment. The strategy priorities are the clean and efficient utilization of fossil energy, distributed energy and intelligent power grid, advanced and safe nuclear energy, and scale deployment of renewable energy. The middle-/long-term development strategy and action plan shall be adapted timely, and technology and industry roadmap are used to guide the technology R&D and industrial innovation.
- Promote digital transformation of the energy industry in context of big data
In the time of “Intelligence+”, an intricate ecosystem comes into being from such technologies as cloud, IoT, data analysis, machine learning, AI, automation, intelligent terminal and AR. Technology is not only a tool to improve efficiency but also a cornerstone for the successful service strategy and future revenue growth of the energy industry. In the age of big data, the digital transformation of the energy industry is a general trend, which means developing the digital energy, or using digital technology to guide the orderly flow of energy and building a modern energy system with higher efficiency, cleanness, economy and safety.
- Strategic layout of energy technology development in major countries
EU: Upgraded strategic energy technology development plan for research and innovation priority
USA: Retain the world leading position in renewable energy industry and technology
Japan: Realize energy transformation from low carbon to decarbonization
Germany: Regard renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage and power grid technology as strategic priority promotion domains
Russia: Clarify fuel power complex development direction
France: Bring in climate expert and adopt clean energy to replace coal power
UK: Emphasize air pollution control and clarify schedule for phasing out coal power
South Korea: No to nuclear power becomes symbolic major adjustment.
Recent news on energy technology development
Electric power technology
NASA’s mini nuclear reactor “Kilopower” was tested successfully and will be used for living on the moon and mars.
Russia developed a method to get electric power from glucose in blood.
Energy storage technology
Singapore developed a new battery technology to restore 95% capacity in 10 hours.
A research team from Peking University, University of Surrey, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge developed inverted perovskite solar cell of the highest performance ever.
USA developed a new type of water-based zinc battery which is allegedly to replace the lithium battery.
South Korea developed a type of normal temperature liquid metal – air battery.
Researchers developed new biological solar cell technology which is usable even in rainy days.
In Switzerland, the direct methanation technology of biogas entered the practical stage.
UK scientists found a new way to kill water pollutant with solar energy.