Renewable Energy Technologies

Technology Analyst: Susan Leiby

Special-Edition Viewpoints Address The Pandemic Crisis

In the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, pathways and opportunities in technology commercialization are undergoing dramatic transformation on many fronts. In an effort to address Explorer clients' urgent need to understand both the near- and longer-term impacts, we are providing a special set of analyses about the pandemic's impact on technology commercialization that will replace the standard May and June 2020 Viewpoints publications. (Read the full announcement about these special analyses.)

  • The May 2020 documents identify a wide range of key forces that will likely have a major influence on prospects for six consequential technology domains, imagining a plausible range of alternative outcomes that these forces could have during the coming five to ten years. These outcomes serve as building blocks for creating effective responses to the pandemic.
  • The June 2020 documents will provide a scenarios-based analysis for each of the six technology domains, with emphasis on how the key uncertain forces might interact and influence commercialization pathways in alternative postpandemic futures.

Because the developments we describe affect multiple technologies, we have organized our standard Technology Areas into six technology domains. We encourage clients to engage with all six special-edition Viewpoints to gain a broad view of potential changes and opportunities in technology commercialization. Please contact us if you do not already have access to all six technology domains, and we will be happy to provide you with the remaining articles in the collection.


Archived Viewpoints

About This Technology

Modern renewable energy technologies have become mainstream as their costs have declined dramatically in global energy markets. Renewables are increasingly the most competitive and sustainable power-generation alternatives to today's dominant fossil-fuel and nuclear technologies. Researchers continue to make advances in a broad range of renewable technologies for electricity generation, transport fuels, and heating and cooling. Renewable technologies draw on continuously replenished energy resources—including heat and light from the sun, wind, biomass, falling water, heat from inside the earth, and ocean energy. These resources are typically large and dispersed, and their energy is often convertible with little environmental impact and low- and no-carbon emissions.

Renewable energy technologies—led by solar PV, wind power, and hydropower—continue to grow rapidly in response to a confluence of drivers, including declining system costs, growth in energy demand in developing countries, environmental concerns about pollution and global warming, the desire for greater energy security, fossil-fuel-price uncertainty, and technology advances that improve the performance of renewable systems. Renewables are also stimulating innovation and economic-growth opportunities. Government policies continue to support technology development and deployment and lower market barriers. Nearly every country now provides some type of renewable energy target or other support policy, and policies in countries such as Germany, Japan, the United States, and China have proved extremely successful in encouraging deployments. Onshore-wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower technologies are competitive with conventional energy supplies without subsidies in many regions, and solar PV has reached cost parity with grid power as well, especially in areas with high insolation and high electricity prices. Competitive bidding programs worldwide are attracting record low prices and high volumes for solar and wind power, in particular.

Renewable energy technologies will reshape world energy markets for years to come. Global investments in renewable power and fuels—especially solar and wind power—reached $305 billion in 2018. For the fourth year in a row, investment in new renewable-power capacity exceeded combined investments in fossil-fuel and nuclear power capacity. Growth opportunities depend on local conditions—the renewable resource base, government support and energy economics, market factors, and institutional constraints. As solar-PV prices continue to plummet, grid-connected and off-grid adoptions are accelerating and creating opportunities for materials, component, and system suppliers (especially for crystalline-silicon PV technology) and developers. The concentrating-solar-power industry is much smaller but is expanding in sunny regions worldwide. Wind-turbine suppliers continue to see steady growth, led by China, and offshore-wind markets are spreading worldwide. Biofuels producers have opportunities in countries that mandate their use—but future growth depends on the commercialization of more sustainable biofuels. Large and small hydropower applications continue to expand to meet energy needs, especially in developing countries, and pumped-hydro energy storage is seeing growing use to complement solar and wind technologies. Geothermal power and heating markets are seeing moderate growth and have untapped potential in many countries. Ocean-tidal and wave-energy technologies have reached early commercialization and have significant long-term potential. All these technologies have the potential to offer clean new sources of low-carbon energy, provide sustainable economic-development opportunities, and improve the standard of living for people in rural areas. As more countries approach the large-scale use of renewables, stakeholders must also assess the economic, environmental, and social trade-offs—such as land-management issues—and integration issues associated with each technology.