The energy system is undergoing unprecedented transformation, fuelled by factors such as technological developments, geopolitical shifts and environmental concerns. According to the World Economic Forum, decentralisation is one of the key trends that will accelerate the transition to sustainable energy supply.
Decentralisation is often referred to as ‘energy democracy’, as it aims to increase popular participation while advancing renewables as the new source of energy. Here Matthew Stone, chairman at energy decentralisation experts Nextgen Nano, explains why decentralisation will transform the energy sector.
An effective energy transition must integrate the three main faces of the energy triangle: environmental sustainability, security and access to resources and economic development. More than 860 million people in developing and underdeveloped countries lack access to energy, according to the World Economic Forum findings, meaning that the demand for secure and affordable power is increasing.
At the same time, the findings suggest that people in those countries can ‘leapfrog’ to the final stage of the energy transition, without experiencing the damaging effects of traditional energy. One viable way to do so is through decentralisation and implementation of innovative technologies.
Decentralised energy is generated close to where it will be used, rather than at an industrial plant that is then sent through the national grid for distribution. Decentralised systems typically use renewable energy sources, such as combined heat and power (CHP) biomass and wind or solar power.
This contrasts with conventional energy that is generated by burning fossil fuels at a power plant and distributed directly through the national grid. Power is generated continuously, even after demand peaks, resulting in transmission losses, therefore making it a much less efficient and more polluting process. Furthermore, centralised energy is less reliable and prone to unexpected power failures.
The benefits of decentralisation are numerous, with perhaps the most obvious being that customers take over control of the energy and the sources they use. Customers become producers of energy, or prosumers, active actors in the energy sector. With new technology, prosumers will be able to make choices around their energy usage, something previously only available to electricity suppliers.
For emerging economies, this could prove a steppingstone towards more independently sourced energy, which would decrease the reliance on Western imported resources. It would also open the way for the public to begin inputting into decision making on implementation design and policies. A localised energy source could also help to build the citizens’ trust as local officials have a better knowledge of local conditions and are better positioned to respond to local grievances.
A decentralised energy industry could transform centralised infrastructures into small businesses, leveraging the shared economy to create more circular energy systems and create more personalised solutions for consumers. Such a system aligns public expenditures with local priorities to improving management incentives and to improve accountability to users.
While decentralisation does not promise to end poverty in developing countries, it has the potential to improve local conditions through increasing the extent, efficiency and cost effectiveness of basic services. These conditions are reinforced by the falling costs of solar photovoltaics (PV) and the rapid advancement in energy-storage technology, making cutting edge technology affordable and available to emerging economies.
Localised energy is also more renewable, which helps reduce carbon emissions significantly. In recent years there has been a surge in demand for renewable energy, particularly solar energy. Solar power is now the cheapest source of energy available according to International Energy Agency (IEA), with growing popularity for photovoltaic (PV) panels.
Global PV capacity has grown from around five gigawatts in 2005 to approximately 509.3 gigawatts in 2018, according to Statista. In 2019, more solar PV capacity was added than all other renewable sources combined, with a total of 116.9 gigawatts.
Nextgen Nano is already revolutionising the energy sector with its PolyPower technology, which has the potential to generate record efficiencies in the global OPV market.
Guided by the team’s vision of the ethical use of nanotechnology, PolyPower combines earth-friendly biopolymers with cutting-edge nanotechnology to produce low-profile, flexible,transparent OPVs with the potential for high efficiency.
This technology aims to further decentralise energy production and consumption from its current market use. It seeks to go beyond conventional applications in energy grids, opening new markets such as electric vehicles; next generation motor and marine vessels; planes and drones and the internet of things.
A more democratic type of energy is increasing in popularity worldwide. Decentralisation allows customers to be fully responsible for their energy usage and generation. Innovations in solar energy like Nextgen Nano’s alongside other renewable energy sources hold the key to unlocking the potential of emerging economies and societies, without the intrinsic damage traditional energy production and infrastructure wreaks on the natural environment. With innovative technology at hand, the future of energy is bound to be more sustainable and people oriented.