The need for a rapid transition to clean energy is fueling new developments in the renewable energy sector. Companies and industries are switching to renewable energy sources to reduce emissions, reduce energy costs and improve sustainability.
Key trends in the renewable energy sector include digitalization, energy-efficient integration, and solutions to overcome the discontinuity in renewable energy production. For these reasons, the use of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the internet of energy (IoE) are becoming popular trends in addition to renewable energy innovation.
Although renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectricity have been around for a long time, recent rapid innovations make these technologies one of the most promising and trendy. Moreover, they dominate the industry due to their competitive advantages. Relatively new research areas in the renewable energy sector include energy from green hydrogen and water forms of energy such as tidal, wave, and ocean currents.
Innovation in advanced photovoltaics is focused on technologies that provide higher energy efficiency. In addition, the use of big data and artificial intelligence is expanding the possibilities of renewable energy and enabling other applications such as predictive maintenance and smart management.
Distributed Energy Storage Systems (DESS) provide flexibility and stability for renewable energy production. Network integration technologies also stabilize the network by controlling transmission losses. As a result, this leads to the efficient use of off-grid energy sources, such as wind and hydropower, located far from demand centers.
Indirectly, “green” hydrogen stores energy from other renewable sources and also contributes to electrification. Bioenergy continues to be a popular field due to its decentralized nature. To secure and automate renewable energy, energy startups, and large-scale companies widely use blockchain and robotics, among other technologies.
Top 10 trends and innovations in 2023 in the field of renewable energy (20 active startups are listed):
Advanced Photovoltaics (PV)
Solar start-ups are integrating photovoltaic systems into every aspect of our environment, minimizing the need for additional land use. As a result, integrated photovoltaic systems, floating photovoltaic systems, and agrovoltaics are logical changes in trends.
In addition, startups are developing thin-film cells to make solar panels flexible, cost-effective, lightweight, and environmentally friendly. To increase the efficiency of photovoltaic panels, emerging companies are developing technologies to concentrate solar energy using mirrors and lenses. Innovations in photovoltaic materials, such as the use of perovskite, increase energy conversion many times over.
These innovations are complemented by photovoltaic designs that deliver maximum efficiency and high performance. Together, these solutions promote sustainability through recycling, minimal resource use, and alternative materials.
Startup Lusoco creates fluorescent solar concentrators.
Dutch startup Lusoco is developing luminescent solar concentrator technology. It uses materials with a high refractive index, such as glasses and polymers, and fluorescent inks to concentrate light at the edges where thin-film solar cells are placed.
Moreover, the fluorescent coating also emits light at night, providing self-supporting signs. This solution allows you to receive energy while maintaining aesthetics. Thus, fluorescent glasses are suitable for use in automotive, signage, and interior design.
Norwegian Crystals manufacture low-carbon monocrystalline silicon ingots.
Norwegian Crystals is a Norwegian startup that manufactures low-carbon monocrystalline silicon ingots for high-performance photovoltaic devices. The company melts high-purity silicon at high temperatures to produce these ingots using the Czochralski method. It also produces gallium-doped ingots, which increase the life of solar cells and reduce the number of stabilization steps compared to single-crystal silicon.
As a result, Norwegian Crystals keeps the carbon footprint of solar panel components at an ultra-low level, allowing consumers and businesses to consider the overall sustainability of solar production.
Artificial intelligence and big data
The power grid is one of the most complex infrastructures and requires fast, real-time decision-making, enabling the use of big data and artificial intelligence algorithms for utilities. In addition to network analytics and management, AI applications in the renewable energy sector include energy consumption forecasting and renewable energy preventive maintenance.
In addition, it allows you to create applications for the Internet of Energy that predict the level of power grid capacity and perform offline trading and time-based pricing. Through innovation in cloud computing, virtual power plants (VPPs) complement utility power generation. In addition, startups use data analytics and machine learning to design renewable energy models and analyze performance.
Likewatt allows you to analyze energy parameters.
German startup Likewatt develops proprietary Optiwize software that provides machine learning-assisted analysis of energy parameters. Optiwize also calculates historical energy consumption and carbon footprint, providing renewable energy auditing and weather forecasting features.
This allows individual and collective consumers to observe the consumption structure in real-time. It also allows power generators to hybridize different technologies and optimize load sharing.
Startup Resonanz – smart energy trading
Resonanz is a Spanish startup that provides automated smart energy trading. The startup’s software tools, rFlow and rMind, integrate and manage real-time data to create autonomous algorithmic solutions.
The rDash interface visualizes production forecasts, market price indicators, and accounting data to help you make decisions. Through these products, the startup enables market participants to increase their share of sustainable energy while increasing profits at the same time.
Distributed energy storage systems
DESS localizes the production and storage of renewable energy, bridging production disruptions. Based on economic and other requirements, startups offer various battery and batteryless solutions. For example, flow batteries use low and stable energy, while solid-state batteries are lighter and provide high energy density.
Capacitors and supercapacitors are also used for applications that require a large amount of power in a short period. Due to concerns and concerns about discharging, safety, and pollution, startups are developing battery-free energy storage alternatives, such as hydro pumping and compressed air technologies. On the other hand, excess energy is converted into other forms of energy, such as heat or methane, for storage and re-conversion using Power-to-X (P2X) technology.
Startup Green-Y Energy Creates Mechanical Energy Storage
Swiss startup Green-Y Energy is developing compressed air energy storage technology. By increasing energy density while doubling heat and cold dissipation, startup reduces the storage needed and provides heat and cooling for residential use.
This process is also environmentally friendly, as the only working fluids are water and air. In addition, this compressed air is stored in reliable and inexpensive industrial pressurized tanks. This, therefore, allows building managers and homeowners to integrate renewable energy systems.
MGA Thermal Produces Thermal Energy Storage Material
MGA Thermal is an Australian start-up focused on thermal energy storage. Miscibility Gap Alloys, a startup product, have a melt phase and solid phase contact. When heat is applied, the melting phase component stores energy while the solid phase component rapidly distributes heat. The resulting modular block structure exhibits a high energy storage capacity at a constant temperature.
The materials and protective blocks used are recyclable, safe, affordable, and easy to use. This solution’s scalable energy storage potential allows renewable energy utilities to provide uninterrupted power even during peak hours.
Hydropower is energy derived from moving water. Hydropower is predictable and, therefore, more reliable than solar and wind. In addition, hydroelectric dams and ocean energy derived from tides, currents, and waves have a high energy density while reducing dependence on traditional sources.
Innovation in these renewables is focused on energy converters and improving components to harvest energy more efficiently. Within hydropower, small hydroelectric dams and tidal dams enable decentralized energy production. Ocean thermal energy conversion (OETC) harnesses energy from the thermal gradient created between the surface and deep water. Few startups are also converting the salinity gradient created by the difference in osmotic pressure between seawater and a river into usable energy.
Startup Seabased creates a modular wave energy converter
Seabased is an Irish start-up developing Modular Wave Energy Converters (WEC). These WECs are surface buoys connected to line generators located on the seabed. The moving waves transfer energy to the buoys, thereby generating electricity. The company’s patented switchgear converts energy into electricity for use on the grid.
WEC technologies can withstand the rigors of the sea, allowing for flexible expansion of the wave park with high efficiency. Thus, Seabased solutions enable offshore power companies and local coastal communities to generate wave power as alternative or hybrid wind power.
Green Energy Development (GED) develops microturbines.
Iranian startup GED Company designs and builds microturbines for the distributed generation of hydroelectric power from water streams such as canals and rivers. The company’s Floating Drum Turbine (FDT) consists of a bottom bore waterwheel that floats on the water stream with floating skids and is secured by cables or articulated arms. As a result of the rotation of the FDT downstream, electricity is generated. This solution is inexpensive, and efficient and provides reliable distributed generation for electrification in remote and underdeveloped areas.
Even though wind power is one of the oldest energy sources, its rapidly evolving nature makes it one of the main trends. Startups are developing offshore and airborne wind turbines to reduce demand for onshore wind power.
Innovations in this area are often combined with other energy sources, such as floating wind turbines, solar power or tidal power. To further increase efficiency, the aerodynamic designs of the blades are constantly being improved. Startups are also developing efficient generators and turbines for high-energy conversion. The environmental friendliness of the material of the blades is one of the problems facing the industry today. To solve this problem, startups are creating bladeless technologies and recyclable thermoplastic materials to produce blades.
Startup Hydro Wind Energy creates a hybrid hydro-wind system
Hydro Wind Energy provides a hybrid energy system based in the UAE, UK, and US. The startup’s product, OceanHydro, harnesses sea wind from a bird’s eye view with kites or vertical axis wind rotors. It then combines wind power generated from underwater ocean pressure to generate cheap electricity and grid-scale storage.
Because offshore power is available on demand, this hybrid solution is more reliable than offshore wind power systems. This allows utilities to maintain a constant and higher base load on the grid.
Helicoid improves the quality of wind blades.
Helicoid is an American startup providing improved blade quality in wind blade manufacturing. The improved blade results from changes in the stacking and rotation of sheets of parallel fibers forming a helicoidal structure.
Such blades have increased resistance to impact, erosion, and fatigue, as well as increased strength and rigidity. This reduces maintenance costs and downtime and offers sustainable and energy-efficient blades for large windmills.
Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy derived from biomass sources. The liquid biofuel, comparable in quality to gasoline, is directly blended for vehicle use. Companies are improving the processes and methods for upgrading biofuels to achieve this quality.
Most biofuel conversion processes, such as hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), pyrolysis, plasma technology, milling, and gasification, use thermal conversion to produce biofuels. In addition, upgrade methods such as cryogenic, hydrate, in situ, and membrane separation are used to remove sulfur and nitrogen. Similarly, during the fermentation process, bioethanol is formed, which is easily mixed with gasoline.
Fermentation can also convert waste, food grains, and plants into bioethanol, thereby providing variability to the feedstock. On the other hand, energy-intensive raw materials ensure optimal fuel quality. For this reason, startups and large companies are looking at algae and microalgae feedstocks for use in the aforementioned conversion processes.
Phycobloom produces algal bio-oil
Phycobloom is a British startup that uses synthetic biology to produce bio-oil from algae. The startup’s genetically engineered algae release this oil into the environment. Because the same batch of algae is reused, this makes the process fast and inexpensive.
Since algae only require air, water, and sunlight to grow, this technology also closes the loop between greenhouse gas emissions and fuel production. Thus, the startup’s solution reduces the transport sector’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Bioenzematic Fuel Cells (BeFC) create a paper-based biofuel cell.
French startup BeFC generates electricity using a paper-based biofuel cell system. The system includes carbon electrodes, enzymes, and microfluidics. Enzymes convert glucose and oxygen into electricity using miniature paper material. The technology is suitable for low-power applications such as collecting and transmitting sensor data. Moreover, the absence of plastic and metal makes it a sustainable and non-toxic form of energy.
Grid integration technologies primarily involve transmitting, distributing, and stabilizing renewable energy. The expansion of variable renewable energy production often occurs far from demand centers, resulting in transmission and distribution losses. Energy-efficient grid electronic technologies such as gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors are used to overcome this.
The problem of frequency and voltage fluctuations due to variable renewable energy production is being addressed with microcontroller-based solutions. Despite these technologies, grid stabilization is a huge challenge due to intermittent energy use. Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology stabilizes the network during peak hours, while Network-to-Vehicle (G2V) solutions use the vehicle as the storage unit. As a result, both the energy and transport industries benefit.
Ageto Energy develops microgrid controllers.
Ageto Energy is a US startup manufacturing microgrid controllers to coordinate all microgrid elements. The startup’s microgrid controller, ARC, functions as the microgrid’s brain and integrates various conventional and renewable resources, including power inverters, generators, turbines, power meters, and disconnected loads.
The ARC is housed in rugged housing that can withstand extreme weather and temperatures. In addition, it provides real-time monitoring and control of the microgrid.
Veir develops high-temperature superconductors (HTSC)
American startup Veir offers high-temperature superconductors (HTSC). HTS launch cable lasts up to ten times longer than normal wire while maintaining superconductivity. To keep the HTS at operating temperature, Veir uses evaporative cryogenic cooling, which is twenty times more efficient than mechanical subcooling.
This enables the production and transmission of large-scale renewable energy, enabling utility operators to switch to cleaner fuels easily.
Hydrogen gas has the highest energy density of any fuel and produces nearly zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, most of the hydrogen comes from non-renewable sources like gray and brown hydrogen. In the last decade, developing renewable energy sources and fuel cells has pushed the transition to clean hydrogen.
Being cleaner, it also combats fuel cell energy conversion efficiency and transportation problems. For these reasons, green hydrogen developments focus on improving hydrogen storage, transport, and distribution.
Lavo offers a green hydrogen-lithium hybrid.
Australian startup Lavo makes green hydrogen fuel cells that use solar energy and water to generate electricity. The startup’s patented Lavo Hydrogen Battery System includes a metal hydride storage tank that stores hydrogen. It also contains a lithium-ion battery for fast response, making it a hybrid solution.
The battery system is durable and operates over a wide temperature range. As a result, it avoids power outages during extreme weather conditions, allowing businesses and local residents to store power continuously for days.
ElektrikGreen creates environmentally friendly hydrogen-powered vehicles.
ElektrikGreen is a US startup that uses sustainable hydrogen to charge fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). The startup’s home gas station charges FCVs by adding fuel filler to green hydrogen storage tanks.
This technology integrates energy conversion, energy storage, predictive control software, monitoring, and refueling, all in one easy-to-install system. The ElektrikGreen system also supports smart neighborhoods to maximize the overall benefits of distributed energy.
The efficiency of production and processes is proving to be a major barrier to using renewable energy sources. Robotics provides precision and optimal use of resources to solve this problem. For example, automated solar panels are focused on maximizing energy conversion. Machine automation also speeds up maintenance processes while reducing the need for human labor.
Robotic-based unmanned inspections and automated operations and maintenance (O&M) perform dangerous, repetitive work, thereby increasing safety and productivity. An example is using phased array ultrasonic imaging-based drones to detect internal or external damage on large wind turbines quickly. In addition, drones allow you to create digital twins of objects and 3D maps using the visualization and calculation of terrain data.
Greenleap Robotics develops solar panel-cleaning robots
Indian startup Greenleap Robotics is developing an autonomous cleaning robot for solar panels. The startup’s Lotus A4000 robot uses an ultra-soft microfiber cloth to remove dust and debris for waterless cleaning. It also eliminates skew between solar panels resulting in a longer cleaning range.
Its centralized control facilitates preventive maintenance and self-charging of the robot. Greenleap Robotics allows large solar power plants to automate their labor-intensive work while being able to manage and control it remotely.
SupAirVision provides drone diagnostics for wind blades
SupAirVision is a French start-up providing digital diagnostic services for wind blades. The company’s software tools, Sherlock and Volta, use artificial intelligence to detect blade defects and diagnose blade lightning rods.
Another software tool, Clarity, also detects structural defects inside the blade. Together, this provides accurate, safe, and precise diagnostics, thereby reducing the downtime of wind turbines. The technology benefits utility-scale wind turbines by offering scalable control solutions with minimal staff requirements.
Energy startups use blockchain technology to promote reliable, trusted transactions in the renewable energy sector. For example, smart contracts promote peer-to-peer electricity trading for transactional energy.
Networks are vulnerable to cyber threats, and blockchain is used to encrypt data related to the operation and monitoring of networks. By encrypting data, blockchain facilitates digital transactions. Renewable energy providers also use blockchain to track the chain of custody of the network’s materials. In addition, it allows regulators to access data easily for regulatory compliance.
Sitigrid Offers Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Energy Trading
British startup Sitigrid offers P2P energy trading using S-Chain, its proprietary distributed ledger technology. Using smart contracts, the startup facilitates trading surplus electricity on the open market and keeps a record of transactions.
It uses AI to optimize transactions, thereby maximizing revenue for producers and minimizing costs for consumers. The underlying architecture provides local markets with an efficient settlement platform and enables energy players to aggregate network services.
Tec Blockchain Creates Energy Cryptocurrency
Tec Blockchain is a US-based startup that is deploying an energy cryptocurrency via blockchain to incentivize the use of renewable energy. The digital transaction of the startup’s cryptocurrency, the TEC token, is linked to a reward system.
The more people use and trade renewable energy with this token, the higher the automatic reward will be. Thus, the reward system allows industries and individuals to switch to distributed renewable energy while receiving appropriate incentives.