Cleaner energy, cleaner environment
Decades of investment into renewable energy has greatly increased the speed at which the energy sector is decarbonising and heading towards a zero-carbon future, but while the investment has been gradually increasing from Governments, the true measure for success will be how effectively these changes are embraced and encouraged at the population level, and how companies adapt to their changing attitudes and behaviour.
Where energy security is still uncertain (as outlined in this report by Imperial’s Energy Futures Lab) and where fossil fuels still play a significant role in the majority of transport, infrastructure and manufacturing processes, grid-based electricity production has embraced plug-ins from renewable sources and in many European countries, especially during the summer, renewable energy is becoming a reliable source of electricity, as this analysis of the UK’s electricity power generation during April-June 2020 by our researchers (led by Dr Iain Staffell) for Drax shows.
The findings from the Centre for Environmental Policy even shows that negative subsidies – energy companies repaying their overpayment on a bid for energy production by reducing cost of customers’ bills, via Government deductions – are on the horizon in the UK.
The next challenge will be working with consumers to sustain the investment, in order to reduce the amounts of subsidies that Governments and authorities pay to energy suppliers. While this has a positive impact on the environment, with more people using renewable electricity, it also rebalances energy market competition, which in turn encourages more innovation and new approaches to addressing the issues.
Could gas be an interim solution to the energy supply problem?
Off-grid energy consumption, such as transportation, will be the next significant challenge that energy suppliers face. While electric vehicles sales are growing exponentially, battery technology remains very heavy and still has relatively limited distances between charging; and charging points are still fairly slow sporadically-spaced.
A report carried out by the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial explores the flexibility of gas as an energy source, both for power production and power storage. This is especially important for the transition period in the run-up to the end of petrol and diesel car sales in many countries by the end of 2040, and so could provide valuable potential for the next 20 years while battery technology and wireless charging are developed, improved, made more efficient and embraced across populations.
Gas energy storage also has a role to play to reduce the impact of surge-production of electricity from renewable sources, in order to balance the levels of power created to the levels needed and consumed. In fact, there is an important energy pricing factor to weigh up, too, meaning the role of gas could complement battery technology for electricity storage, adding competition and ensuring consumers receive favourable pricing offers.
Hydrogen instead of natural gas?
While natural gas remains a significant source for many countries’ domestic heating supplies, hydrogen could also be utilised effectively to support the transition to zero pollution. Natural gas, such as methane, produces a large carbon footprint when used for heating, while hydrogen fuel produces only water as a byproduct.
However, there is a significant initial cost outlay – estimated to be as much as three-times as much – so expertise from experts at universities such as Imperial may be best sought before further investment into the infrastructure or developing business plans to utilise hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas.
Is nuclear energy still viable to ensure we meet our net-zero targets?
Policy around nuclear energy continues to change according to different and latest science, as well as the substantial investments associated with designing and building, and then decommissioning, a facility.
However, with multiple different ways of harnessing the energy potential from nuclear power stations beyond simply electricity generation – such as heating homes, producing hydrogen for other energy sector uses, and initiatives to support industry’s adoption of low-carbon fuel supplies – there could still be a significant role that nuclear power can fill within the sector.
Learn more about this from a recent Royal Society briefing led by Professor Robin Grimes, from Imperial’s Department of Materials, who is a Chief Scientific Advisor for the Ministry of Defence.
Read about dedicated infrastructure insights that our experts can provide, from the design of a system through to materials, deployment and ongoing management and maintenance of infrastructure assets.
Holistic policy planning for environmental benefits
With experts ranging across a number of specialisms, Imperial is well-placed to provide both specific and holistic insights into how policies should be designed, enacted and enforced. Recently, academics from our Business School, School of Public Health and Centre for Environmental Policy were invited to give evidence to the House of Lords prior to the discussion of the UK Government’s Environment Bill.
This level of scoping is a strong point for the College, and with over 4,000 academics and researchers working across sectors, projects for your business or organisation can call upon more than just sector-specialists.
Our Pathfinder projects, for Imperial Business Partners members, are a good example of how an idea can go from concept to creation through dedicated account management to deliver meaningful and impactful outcomes for your company.
Bulb Energy research
Experts from our Centre for Environmental Policy worked with Bulb Energy, the UK’s fastest-growing energy supplier, to enhance their customers’ carbon footprint tracker, which will reduce the amount of energy their customers use, as well as enabling investment in carbon offsetting projects around the world.
Specialists in energy consultancy
Galvanic Energy, a consultancy operation led by our experienced innovators and academics at the College, provides specialist expertise on a range of aspects of the energy sector, in particular about emerging trends and how to capitalise on renewable and sustainable energy management.