International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA explains how many smart electrification solutions are already available and ready for commercialization, with pioneering companies creating, testing and deploying potentially transformative innovations.
But innovative efforts should not only focus on the supply side of energy systems, where we have already seen significant progress in recent years – wind and solar have grown significantly in recent years – but also on the demand side. By adopting smart electrification and integrating more solar energy (PV), we can revolutionize the way we consume energy and achieve a sustainable and sustainable energy system. In this column, we explore the benefits and opportunities of smart electrification, highlighting the role of solar integration in transforming our end-use sectors.
Electrifying end-use sectors
Both direct and indirect renewable energy electrification offer viable solutions to electrify many end-use sectors thanks to the dramatic cost savings of wind and solar technologies. Electricity consumption is expected to increase from the current 22 percent to 51 percent of final energy consumption in 2050, of which 91 percent will be produced by renewable energy sources, according to IRENA’s analysis.
A systematic approach to innovation is not only smart, but also critical
However, the transport and heating sectors are still largely based on fossil fuels. To overcome this challenge, the transition to an electrified energy system requires a comprehensive and intelligent approach. Otherwise, we will lose the opportunities offered by cleaner and cheaper renewable energy production and overload the electricity grid. A systemic innovation approach It goes beyond technological innovation and just replacing one technology with another, but includes innovations in market design, system design and use, and business models. Only by aligning and exploiting synergies in innovation across all power system and end-use sectors and including all relevant actors and stakeholders can successful solutions be implemented on the ground.
IRENA’s new Smart Electrification Innovation Landscape Report identifies this new paradigm shift as a reality. 100 most important innovations with three conversion paths: from electricity to mobility, from electricity to heating and cooling, and from electricity to hydrogen. Smart electrification offers a cost-effective way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from energy systems. By electrifying energy end-use sectors and intelligently managing these loads, we can unlock the flexibility of the electricity system and integrate large parts of variable renewable energy sources. Therefore, smart electrification offers three key advantages:
- Cost-effective power system expansion: By integrating new loads in a smart and cost-effective way, smart electrification minimizes peak system load and postpones unnecessary investments in network and generation expansion.
- Increased power system flexibility: Flexibility is critical to integrating a greater share of renewable energy sources. Smart electrification harnesses the flexibility of demand for new loads, enabling a smoother integration of variable energy sources such as solar power. This increases the flexibility and reliability of electrical systems.
- Cost-effective decarbonisation: Electrification with renewable energy sources is the most cost-effective solution for decarbonising various end-use sectors. By implementing smart electrification strategies, we can optimize the use of renewable energy and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Utilizing the potential of solar electricity
The Innovation Landscape Report is a toolkit that enables policymakers to design smart electrification strategies tailored to their own context.
The characteristics of Solar PV bring significant benefits to the energy transition when it is intelligently integrated into the energy system. The report identifies a number of “blind spots” – things that are sometimes overlooked and can hinder the success of smart electrification strategies or can accelerate electrification. One of them is that co-locating electric car charging points with solar power can minimize the impact on the grid. Peak production of solar energy occurs in the middle of the day, when most cars are parked. Workplace charging combined with solar cell-based roof structures and solar canopies above parking spaces can reduce the overall load on the electrical grid for electric vehicles. In addition, off-grid solar charging systems can accelerate the transition to electric cars in places with a low-capacity network, thus avoiding expensive network expansion.
In the heating and cooling sector, an important blind spot is temperature as a critical variable. Separating the low temperature demand of buildings and district heating and the high temperature demand of industry is crucial. Another “blind spot” draws attention to the growing need for cooling and its synergy with photovoltaic integration, which must be taken into account in energy planning. Reversible heat pumps produce cooling at low additional costs, making heating networks more efficient and profitable because they can serve all year round. Since the cooling peak demand and the solar energy peak occur at the same time, the growing cooling demand can be combined with the solar electricity and facilitate the penetration of the growing solar electricity. Arizona County showed that 55% of the electricity demand for cooling can be covered by solar generation. Even a larger part of this demand could be met if the buildings were pre-cooled during sunny periods, utilizing the heat storage capacity of the buildings. However, effective energy planning measures are needed so that the growing cooling demand can be met in the most cost-effective way.
Similarly, in Nigeria, for example, the proposed ice-based energy storage with solar-powered cooling can reduce energy consumption by up to 40% in the cooling-as-a-service business model.
These examples show how systemic innovation is necessary to electrify our energy system in a smart way, maximize the potential of wind and solar generation, and avoid locked-in decision-making that delays the decarbonization of our energy systems.
(IRENA. 2023) Innovation Landscape for Smart Electrification: Decarbonising End-Use Sectors with Renewable Power, https://www.irena.org/Publications/2023/Jun/Innovation-landscape-for-smart-electrification
(IRENA, 2023) World Energy Transitions Outlook 2023: 1.5°C Pathway, https://www.irena.org/Publications/2023/Jun/World-Energy-Transitions-Outlook-2023
This article was written by the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA.