Ensuring a just energy transition that benefits everyone

Matt Harper, chief commercial officer at Invinity, explains how the world can transition away from fossil fuels in a fair, just way where no one is left behind.

The world’s historic reliance on fossil fuels has come at a heavy price. The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is now higher than at any time in the past 400,000 years, significantly and perhaps irreparably changing the earth’s climate. Furthermore, our traditionally fossil-fuel based energy system been the root cause of significant geopolitical instability – the record-breaking high energy costs that many are currently dealing with being the latest example.

There is a way towards a cleaner and more sustainable future – by transitioning to renewable energy and away from the coal, oil and gas which fuelled many hundreds of years of global development. Our global energy systems must be upgraded to create a sustainable future for our planet. This can be achieved through the rapid deployment of both renewable generation and energy storage technologies which together, can provide the low-cost, low-carbon energy on-demand which the world needs.

However, we must not pursue this change at any cost. Our new energy system must not just be “green”, rather it needs to bring the social, environmental and economic benefits of clean energy to all, with no-one left behind.

Helpful policy is coming

To get more from renewables we also need to get more from the energy storage we deploy alongside it. Utility-scale long duration energy storage (LDES) infrastructure must operate flexibly and reliably, providing both high-throughput and longer-duration capabilities to counteract the intermittency issue, and it needs strong policy behind it too.

The EU‘s Green Deal Industrial Plan for the Net Zero age (its version of the U.S. IRA) aims to accelerate the deployment of renewables. The plan includes a new EU regulatory framework for batteries to ensure a competitive and resilient regional value chain. This is particularly important as the battery industry alone estimates it will need 800,000 additional workers by 2025.

The EU is also drafting policy to aid a more rapid deployment of energy storage. The current working paper looks at how to underpin a decarbonised and secure energy system by including the need for longer term financing – so that projects can have greater financial stability over the long term – as well as looking at how to reduce lengthy and complex permitting procedures by providing better guidance for developers.

Energy storage on the rise

The amount of energy storage serving the grid is set to grow by a third every year to 2030 as countries increasingly look to generate ‘dispatchable’ renewable energy to help meet ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Lithium-ion batteries are already helping to solve short-term power quality and supply challenges. However, the ongoing financial and environmental cost of deploying lithium batteries for baseload power is becoming increasingly prohibitive, and their limited charge-then-discharge “cycle life” limits their ability to accelerate the energy transition by delivering grid-scale, sustainable power on demand.

Beyond lithium – using proven alternatives

Grid-connected battery systems are being used harder than ever before, or were originally intended. Because it degrades and needs replacing, it is clear that lithium will not be the panacea, and that a multi-technology approach is required.

Vanadium flow batteries (VFBs) are recognised as the foremost alternative to lithium-ion for stationary energy storage, having already been deployed and operating in the UK, Asia and North America. They have an unmatched capability for multiple charge/discharge cycles during the day as well as providing power from two to more than 10 hours of energy on demand with no loss of capacity.

VFBs also present no fire risk, even in extreme environments, and can respond as quickly as lithium to the demand for power, allowing them to provide the same grid support services but doing so for 25 years or longer. A VFB’s electrolyte is also fully recyclable, an attribute that allies well with the ecological and economic demands of the Just Transition.

Change now – leave no one behind

The world is making incredible progress towards a just transition to renewable energy. Significant policy interventions that support the creation of green jobs and sustainable investments are shining examples our increased ambition and momentum towards decarbonisation.

The role that energy storage must play in that transition is becoming increasingly clear, with ten countries globally having now established targets for storage alongside renewables. Helping other countries to replicate these policies will ensure this positive momentum towards ever-more clean power serving our societies continues and that rapidly growing economies’ continued reliance on fossil fuels does not undermine global progress.

Supporting the deployment of cost-effective and sustainable energy storage solutions is key to enabling the transition and unlocking the green economy, which will provide a new generation of sustainable jobs. The long-term benefits of the sustainable energy transition are clear, and we now must strive towards achieving our goal of reaching net-zero, with no one left behind.

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