It is now widely accepted that renewable energy is, and will continue to be a major contributor to delivering the huge reductions in emissions needed to achieve a Net Zero world.
The costs of wind and solar have fallen significantly, and are now cheaper than fossil fuels, and there is widespread support for these technologies from the public.
But challenges remain in addressing the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation. Tackling this is key to unlocking their full potential for climate change mitigation.
Intermittent generation raises problems for balancing supply and demand on different timescales (from seconds to seasons) and different spatial scales. The technical options for addressing this are known: flexible generation, flexible demand, grid interconnection and energy storage. We need further combination and innovation in all of them, particularly energy storage.
But it isn’t just a technical problem. Some of the key challenges are in market design and governance arrangements. Current policies focus on support for the renewable energy sources themselves, not their integration. There are critical unanswered questions such as How might electricity markets need to be reformed? How can new actors get involved?
A whole system approach is needed, examining and finding solutions to technological barriers, social interactions, consumers and prosumers, markets and governance.
Helen Gavin is a sustainability professional, passionate about renewable energy and water resources. Following a PhD in 2001, Helen became a Chartered Environmental Scientist and has much experience in quantitative environmental issues, spanning water and energy in both academia and industry. She is an Oxford Martin Fellow, working on the Programme to Integrate Renewable Energy. https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/renewable-energy/