Next-Generation Renewable Energy Technologies

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research


What it is

Next-generation renewable energy technologies encompass a range of innovative concepts and approaches that go beyond traditional solar and wind power, exploring novel ways to harness renewable energy sources and address the limitations of existing technologies.

Impact on climate action

Next-Generation Renewable Energy Technologies as a Moonshot innovation can revolutionize climate action by scaling up renewable energy sources like fusion, advancing energy storage efficiency, and reducing carbon footprint drastically. These innovations promise to decarbonize energy production, mitigating climate change impacts and fostering sustainable global development.

Underlying
Technology

  • Advanced Materials: Innovations in materials science, such as perovskite solar cells and high-temperature superconducting magnets, are enhancing the efficiency and affordability of renewable energy technologies.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI and machine learning are being utilized to optimize renewable energy systems, improve forecasting accuracy, and enhance grid integration.
  • Biomimicry: Scientists and engineers are drawing inspiration from nature to develop renewable energy solutions, such as artificial photosynthesis and bio-inspired solar cells.
  • Nanotechnology: Nanomaterials and nanoscale engineering are being used to create more efficient solar cells, batteries, and energy storage systems.
  • Ocean Energy Harvesting: Harnessing the immense power of ocean waves, tides, and currents is a growing area of research and development, with startups developing innovative technologies to capture this energy.

TRL : Varies significantly depending on the specific technology, ranging from 2-3 for early-stage concepts like artificial photosynthesis to 5-6 for more mature technologies like advanced geothermal systems.

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Artificial Photosynthesis: Mimicking the natural process of photosynthesis, scientists are working to develop artificial systems that use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into fuels and chemicals.
  • Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) with Thermal Storage: CSP systems use mirrors to concentrate sunlight and generate heat, which can be stored in molten salt or other materials and used to generate electricity even when the sun isn’t shining.
  • Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS): EGS techniques enhance the permeability of geothermal reservoirs, allowing for greater heat extraction and expanding the potential for geothermal energy production.
  • Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting: Materials that generate electricity when subjected to mechanical stress, such as piezoelectric materials, can be used to capture energy from vibrations and movement, potentially powering small devices or sensors.
  • Airborne Wind Energy (AWE): AWE systems utilize tethered kites or drones to capture wind energy at higher altitudes, where wind speeds are stronger and more consistent.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Perovskite Solar Cells Advancements
  • High-Temperature Superconducting Magnets
  • AI Optimization of Renewable Energy Systems
  • Bio-Inspired Solar Cell Development
  • Nanomaterials for Energy Efficiency
  • Ocean Wave Energy Harvesting Technologies
  • Tidal Energy Extraction Innovations
  • Biomimetic Solar Technologies
  • Artificial Photosynthesis Systems
  • Thermal Storage Solutions for CSP
  • Enhanced Geothermal Reservoir Techniques
  • Piezoelectric Energy Capture
  • AWE Systems Development
  • Floating Offshore Wind Farms
  • Hydrogen Energy Storage Solutions
  • Advanced Biomass Conversion Processes
  • Smart Grid Integration of Renewable Energy
  • Electrification of Transport Systems
  • Blockchain Applications in Energy Trading

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Heliogen:
    • Technology Focus: Heliogen is known for its concentrated solar power technology, which uses advanced computer vision software to enhance the efficiency of solar plants. They focus on achieving high-temperature solar heat for industrial processes.
    • Uniqueness: Heliogen’s technology stands out for its ability to generate extremely high temperatures using mirrors and AI-driven control systems, enabling applications like industrial heat, cement production, and other high-temperature industrial processes.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions are particularly relevant for heavy industries requiring high-temperature heat, such as cement, steel, mining, and chemical manufacturing.
  • Fervo Energy:
    • Technology Focus: Fervo Energy specializes in geothermal energy, aiming to enhance the efficiency and accessibility of geothermal power generation through advanced drilling techniques and data analytics.
    • Uniqueness: Fervo Energy is unique for its focus on unlocking the potential of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) by optimizing drilling processes and using advanced analytics to maximize energy output.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include regions with geothermal potential and industries seeking reliable, low-carbon energy sources such as utilities, industrial processes, and district heating.
  • Makani Technologies:
    • Technology Focus: Makani Technologies (formerly Makani Power) develops airborne wind turbines (AWT) that harness wind energy at higher altitudes where wind speeds are more consistent and stronger.
    • Uniqueness: Makani’s AWTs are unique for their airborne deployment, which reduces material use compared to traditional turbines and enables access to stronger winds at higher altitudes, potentially increasing energy output.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions target renewable energy developers and utilities seeking innovative approaches to wind energy generation, particularly in offshore and remote locations where traditional turbines may be impractical.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech):
    • Technology Enhancements: Caltech researchers are focused on advancing next-generation renewable energy technologies such as advanced solar photovoltaics (PV), artificial photosynthesis, and novel energy storage solutions. They are exploring new materials, device architectures, and manufacturing techniques to improve efficiency and scalability.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Caltech’s approach often involves interdisciplinary collaboration between materials scientists, physicists, and engineers to tackle key challenges in renewable energy. They are pioneering innovations in quantum materials, nanotechnology, and catalysis for more sustainable and efficient energy conversion and storage.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Caltech spans applications across grid-scale renewable energy deployment, portable energy solutions, and integrated renewable energy systems for urban environments. Their innovations aim to drive down costs and increase the reliability of renewable energy sources.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Technology Enhancements: MIT researchers are at the forefront of developing advanced renewable energy technologies, including high-efficiency solar cells, grid-scale energy storage systems, and smart grid technologies. They are integrating data analytics, machine learning, and optimization algorithms to enhance the performance and reliability of renewable energy systems.
    • Uniqueness of Research: MIT’s approach emphasizes scalable solutions and technology integration across energy sectors. They are investigating new materials for energy conversion, advanced control systems for energy networks, and innovative financing models to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy.
    • End-use Applications: MIT’s research impacts various sectors, including transportation electrification, industrial decarbonization, and resilient energy infrastructure for developing regions. Their innovations aim to address global energy challenges while promoting sustainability and economic growth.
  • Stanford University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Stanford researchers are exploring advanced technologies such as next-generation solar cells (perovskites, tandem cells), advanced wind turbine designs, and grid integration solutions for intermittent renewable sources. They are leveraging computational modeling, materials science, and systems engineering to improve the efficiency and reliability of renewable energy systems.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Stanford’s research often integrates policy analysis and socio-economic impacts with technical advancements in renewable energy. They are pioneering approaches to enhance energy storage capabilities, optimize energy distribution networks, and facilitate the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.
    • End-use Applications: Stanford’s innovations are applicable to diverse sectors, including agriculture, water management, and urban planning. They are developing scalable solutions for renewable energy deployment in both developed and developing regions, aiming to achieve sustainable development goals while mitigating climate change impacts.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

The commercial implementation of next-generation renewable energy technologies is still in its early stages. However, some technologies, such as concentrated solar power with thermal storage and enhanced geothermal systems, are already being deployed in pilot projects and demonstration plants.