The Renewable Energy Institute (REI) was recently honoured to take part in the Innovation Zero conference, a 2-day Clean Tech Congress held in London from 24th-25th May 2023, organised to encourage discourse and innovation in cutting emissions.
The conference was a fascinating experience for the Institute, providing the opportunity to attend presentations, network with industry professionals and gain an in-depth understanding of the current status and progression of the energy transition, as well as the role we can play in this.
“The Innovation Zero event successfully highlighted the scale of renewable energy training required. The discussions and presentations showcased the incredible potential of clean technologies and highlighted the critical role that well-trained professionals play in accelerating the transition to a sustainable future. It reinforced the Institute’s belief that investing in renewable energy training is not just an opportunity, but a necessity, as we strive to build a greener and more resilient world.”– Gabriella Vita, Business Development Manager, REI
Throughout the 2-day conference, 5 key lessons became apparent which we have outlined for you below.
1. The energy transition is moving forward faster than it appears
It is easy to assume from news coverage and general climate anxiety that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and more widely the journey to net zero, is advancing too slowly to avert climate disaster.
However, Innovation Zero highlighted the wide range of innovative projects in the pipeline showing that this is not the case, and that rapid and bold advancements are being made as we speak.
For example, an innovative new project from Power Roll, which aims to vastly improve our use of solar power, was outlined at the conference. They have created a strip that can be placed on any surface, whether glass, plastic, circular or flat; the lightweight and versatile roll can therefore be used where standard panels cannot, meaning that solar power generation can be added to more surfaces than ever before. Neil Spann, CEO of Power Roll, highlighted its real-world setting, explaining how their technology could even be added to the roof of the Olympia Building, where Innovation Zero took place, a roof that currently is incapable of supporting solar panels. He also highlighted that solar panels are currently present on just 2% of surfaces and so their technology can make great strides in making solar power a more universal and easily generate energy.
Nevertheless, evidence of exciting and effective new projects like the one above does not mean that we can relax. The stakes are still incredibly high as outlined in the quote below and there are many factors impacting the progress of these innovative projects.
“Today we see 1.2 Celsius, we are likely to hit 1.5 in 2024, Things are changing faster than science has predicted”– Professor Johan Rockstrom, Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
2. There are several key factors stopping the transition advancing even faster
Many speakers at the Innovation Zero conference noted that the main limitations stopping renewable projects being pushed forward are: limited grid capacity and storage, distribution of finances, and slow policy development.
Lack of grid capacity and delays in connecting to the national grid are huge barriers to new renewables projects. They mean that necessary projects are placed in a queue where they are not being utilised for long periods of time and subsequently getting lost amongst projects that will eventually fail. As such, there is a need for more resources, including trained personnel, to monitor the queue and evaluate the appropriate projects to push through.
Ana Musat, Executive Director of Policy and Engagement at RenewableUK, stated that we are wasting wind power now as we do not have the storage capacity for the amount of wind energy being generated. More efficient storage solutions are needed and forecasting must be done more effectively to ensure that we can store and utilise all energy produced.
By focusing on these specific limitations, we can significantly advance the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
3. AI can remove barriers to net zero
Experts highlighted at the conference how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help us in the global energy transition, by making renewable technologies more efficient and analysing large amounts of data to help us make decisions and implement solutions more quickly. Furthermore, it can specifically help the transition in developing nations where resources are more limited. Countries that cannot pay researchers, consultants and translators are currently at a disadvantage; however, with AI they have free access to the knowledge needed to make the necessary decisions required to move forward with climate change solutions. Experts argued that overall this would bring a fairer balance to the global energy transition.
“Climate change is a collective action problem, one thing that is needed to solve it is public goods; I want AI to be used as public good. Data should be available in order for us to act quicker, as time is running out.“– Michal Nachmany, CEO of Climate Policy Radar
However, speakers at the Innovation Zero conference also highlighted that we would need to ensure the AI programmes have ethical decisions in place and that a human decision-making model is still possible. Leaders and policymakers need to be regulated to ensure the information being fed into the generation of AI is safe, accurate and reliable.
There is significant opportunity for AI to work in our favour if we put specific elements in place, i.e., identifying risks and safeguarding the progress where possible. There are ways in which we can govern technology. AI does not need to be the Frankenstein that humanity is creating; humanity is already doing a good job at destroying the planet itself so is AI really much more of a threat?
Look out for the Institute’s upcoming article focusing on the role of AI in renewable energy.
4. Net zero policies must be viewed in an integrated and long-lasting way
A panel discussion between local Members of Parliament highlighted the fact that net zero is not just an environmental policy project, but also has a significant economical factor. They emphasised that there is no future economy without a green economy, and this is why an integrated net zero programme must be put in place globally. These policies must also long outlive any individual leader or government to ensure success.
5. There is a shortage of trained professionals across the industry
Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the Innovation Zero conference was that there is still a significant shortage of trained and skilled professionals in the renewable energy industry. There is intense competition between technologies, with companies currently fishing from the same talent pool to find those with the skills needed. IRENA reports that the renewable energy industry could see 38 million jobs available by 2030. Therefore, the availability of trained personnel needs to expand rapidly in order for future projects to succeed. Reskilling needs to happen and the transition from other industries, such as oil and gas is a vital part of this.
A key part of the Renewable Energy Institute’s mission is to help solve the shortage of trained professionals in the industry; through our wide range of accredited courses and our professional membership programme we can work together on a global front to solve climate change.
The Institute is here to help, so get in touch today with your training requirements, whether for individual study or group training and we will talk you through the available options.