The sustainable energy sector is set to rapidly expand over the next decade and already offers major opportunities for investors. There is huge public demand for affordable clean energy and we’re suddenly at the point where new technologies are about to enable a fundamental transition to green energy.
From Fossil Fuels to Sustainable Energy
Since our earliest ancestors learned to control fire (probably around 1.7- 2 million years ago) we relied on wood and fossil fuels for heat, light and energy. The first problem is that these natural resources are finite. Without careful management, woodlands are depleted. Coal and oil reserves will eventually be exhausted. The second problem is that carbon based fuels are serious pollutants.
For most of human history the global population was relatively small. It was possible to burn wood and coal without a disastrous environmental impact. The emission of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) dramatically increased with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. As the human population expanded exponentially, factories and transport networks released trillions of tons of GHGs.
In 2024 we are facing the consequences of centuries of sustained pollution. The most obvious problem is global warming and the extreme weather events that it’s causing. There is an urgent need to shift to sustainable energy systems and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. Safe and affordable clean energy is an attainable goal and the sector also offers significant profits for clean energy suppliers.
What is Sustainable Energy?
Sustainable energy is any type of energy that occurs naturally and cannot be depleted or exhausted. Resources like coal, oil, and natural gas are finite. As well as being highly polluting, they are often difficult and expensive (and sometimes dangerous) to extract from the ground or the seabed. They frequently require processing and then shipping to consumers, placing strain on the infrastructure and generating additional pollution.
5 Types of Sustainable Energy
- Solar Energy
- Wind Energy
- Tidal Energy
- Geothermal Energy
- Hydro Energy
We’ve been using hydro energy in various forms for centuries. Many early industrial processes were powered by waterwheels and the technologies were successfully adapted to generate electricity. Advances in engineering led to the creation of massive dams and hydroelectricity became economically viable.
The first commercial solar panel was created in 1884 by US inventor Charles Fritts. Solar panels use photovoltaic (PV) cells to convert sunlight into electricity. The technology has improved considerably in recent years. The main drawback is that the electricity generation is limited to sunny daylight hours.
Wind energy is similar to solar energy in the sense that electricity is only generated during favorable conditions. If there is no wind – there is no electricity. Researchers are developing new technical solutions, one of which is simply to build higher platforms for wind turbines. This doesn’t always meet the approval of local residents who object to massive and unsightly wind turbines.
Tidal and geothermal energy is dependable but is limited to countries with a suitable coastline or the right geological conditions. Geothermal energy is relatively clean, producing around 5% of the carbon emissions that the average coal fired power station produces. Iceland currently derives 30% of its energy requirements from low cost geothermal energy.
Understanding Sustainable Energy Technologies
On the face of it, clean renewable energy looks like a panacea for our power requirements. It seems completely logical to harness natural energy sources like the sun, wind, and tide to create a healthy, harmonious, and low cost energy ecosystem. The reality of a transition to clean energy is more complex. New technologies are invariably expensive and are not always effective. It also costs money to adapt and modernize existing energy infrastructures.
The main problem with switching national grids to sustainable energy sources is that most natural energy sources only provide intermittent power. A hundred thousand solar panels can supply a substantial amount of electricity at midday in July, but they’ll provide much less in January and nothing at night. Without the ability to store generated electricity for future demand, no grid can depend entirely on renewable energy.
One of the most innovative new technologies in the sustainable energy sector is the development of high capacity lithium iron (LFP) batteries. New smart batteries can safely store large amounts of electricity and release it as needed. We’re already seeing their potential with electric vehicles, and the same technologies are being adapted to create hybrid clean energy grids.
The basic principle of a hybrid gid is extremely simple. Electricity is generated from whatever renewable sources are available (usually a combination of clean energies). Some electricity is delivered to consumers as it is generated to meet real time demand. Surplus power is stored to meet future demand. Stored electricity even becomes a commodity whose sale can be regulated through blockchain technologies.
3 Sustainable Energy Innovators to Watch
The sustainable energy sector is on the edge of a major boom and there are exciting opportunities across the entire power grid infrastructure and consumer supply chains. Companies that can deliver raw materials, technical solutions, machinery and equipment, and also energy related software can potentially flourish over the next decade.
There are hundreds of new startups that aim to cash in on the emerging clean energy boom, as well as established corporations that are pioneering new renewable energy technologies.
Canadian Solar is a major innovator in the field of solar PV modules. It runs large scale solar energy plant projects and also offers affordable domestic and off grid energy solutions. Canadian Solar has a truly international presence, operating manufacturing facilities in 26 countries, and selling in over 160 countries worldwide. The company is capable of adapting its solar technologies to a variety of climates and user requirements.
One of the most interesting aspects of Canadian Solar’s operations is the scalability of its products. Massive solar plants that make significant contributions to national or private grids have strategic potential, but Canadian Solar is also highly focused on delivering residential solutions. As LFP batteries transform the scope of home power generation, the market is likely to expand rapidly. It’s reasonable to assume that within a decade, private dwellings will be partly powered in the evenings by solar energy generated by rooftop and garden panels during the day.
Canadian Solar is a world leader with the resources and corporate infrastructure to supply new demand for solar energy. The company is investing heavily in research and development and clearly intends to claim a greater share of the rapidly growing recurrent energy market.
ICL is a leading global specialty minerals company and one of the largest fertilizer manufacturers in the world. The company has been an expert in the extraction and production of phosphates for over a hundred years and has access to major proven reserves of phosphate rocks. ICL is leveraging its resources to become a major force in the clean energy supply chain.
ICL has found a highly profitable niche as a supplier of the materials used in the manufacture of high capacity LFP batteries. The company is currently building a new $400 million plant in St Louis, Missouri. The plant is partly funded by the US government and will supply electric vehicle battery manufacturers. The US – and ultimately global – EV car markets will be huge. Not only does ICL intend to supply materials for hundreds of millions of car batteries, but it also has an eye on enabling battery requirements for hybrid grids.
They also have valuable expertise in the field of hybrid grids. It is implementing its own innovative grid to run a number of plants in the Negev Desert. The new grid will be powered by solar energy, and eventually by green hydrogen and will be part of a wider circular economy that also includes EV vehicles and recycling.
NextEra Energy is a US energy company with an estimated generating capacity of 58GW. NextEra also uses fossil fuels, but is still regarded as a green energy innovator. The company claims to be the world’s largest generator of wind and solar energy. NEE has a longstanding commitment to sustainable energy and it’s likely that the company will eventually transition to a complete green energy infrastructure.
As part of its strategic plan, NextEra intends to eliminate all carbon emissions by 2045. This is an ambitious goal, but probably an achievable one. The company is investing in new technologies and processes to develop clean and sustainable operations across the US and Canada. In 2022, NextEra invested $50 billion in strategic infrastructure projects, with a focus on decarbonization. It plans to invest $90-95 billion in US infrastructure projects up to 2025. Few companies in the world can match this level of commitment.
NextEra is a huge energy supplier and it has the power to push major projects through to completion on a national and international scale. Its commitment to clean and sustainable energy will help to shape and drive the wider transition to green energy. NEE is definitely a company to watch over the next few years.
As researchers find new ways to integrate 5G (and eventually 6G) Internet and the Internet of Things, new blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence, and other innovations, we will see a faster shift towards smart homes and smart cities. These will increasingly be powered by hybrid grids running on green energy. The sustainable energy sector will be at the heart of new strategic energy policies. Companies that can provide competitive green energy products and solutions can anticipate substantial profits in coming years.