They occupy the first place among the cheapest power generation technologies, but in Spain there is still a long way to go.

There is no longer a debate. Renewable energies are no longer a future in a cluster of different options. They are here, developing and settling in with unusual momentum, and there is no going back. Have come to stay and improve our way of relating to energy and the environment. There are powerful reasons why this is so and we are going to review them.

There have been numerous developments and advances in the field of storage, hybridization, traceability and digitization, progress that has led them to rank first among the cheapest power generation technologies. If we also take into account that fuel is free (sun, wind, water currents, etc.), the stage for its global implementation is set.

One of the first technological improvements that have occurred has to do with the energy storage. Good storage makes it possible to accumulate the energy produced at times of high generation to be able to supply it to the grid at times of greatest demand.

Experts agree that these systems are going to undergo tremendous development in the coming years and that we will move from a current capacity to 360 MW up to about 14,000 MW on the horizon of the year 2023.

There have also been notable advances in the hybridization of renewable technologies. Hybridization consists of take advantage of several renewable energy sources at the same time and in the same installation (wind, photovoltaic solar, thermal solar, thermal biomass, etc).

These systems reduce the mismatch that occurs when, for example, at night the sun does not generate electricity, but the wind does. By hybridizing the technologies of the two energies, it is possible to obtain a greater use for the electricity supply and increase the average performance of the entire installation.

Blockchain Y big data

In addition, for all those customers who want a supply of 100% renewable energy, the energy industry has developed and uses, among other means, the technology blockchain. Its use allows to guarantee in a transparent way that the client receives energy from renewable sources.

The operation of this technology consists of accounting for guarantees of renewable origin managing the data registered in the meters of each installation. The transparency of the system offers the client accessibility to this data at all times. Data that has been stored on a platform blockchain, which validates its reliability.

All information and communication technologies are basic and key to the development and evolution of energy applications. Allow improve performance and the performance of the generation systems: the elements of the installation are used much better.

In addition, the development and use of the big data and the internet of things manage to increase energy production by detecting operating patterns and anticipating breakdowns, optimizing predictive and preventive maintenance.

Advances in technologies

The advances that have taken place in solar and wind technology mean that both the photovoltaic panels, solar thermal collectors and wind and mini-wind turbines that are currently manufactured are much cleaner, flexible and cheaper than those that were made decades ago.

Current photovoltaic solar panels are based on silicon, but carbon-based panels are being developed as a raw material. These are characterized by their structural flexibility, lower maintenance costs and lower energy consumption in their manufacture. In addition, they add to these good characteristics their logistics facilities and full recycling of the materials used.

Unfortunately, the performance of these panels still does not reach that of its silicon equivalents, but efficiency improvements are being developed by using bifacial panels that can also take advantage of both reflected and diffuse radiation.

There have also been significant advances in wind turbine technology. Currently it has multiplied by ten the power of wind machines, which makes it possible to reduce the number of wind turbines for a given power park. By reducing the number of turbines, both the visual impact and the acoustic impact of the installation are substantially reduced.

Newly built urbanization with photovoltaic panels on the roofs of the houses.Shutterstock / Goldsithney

Energy at a good price

But there are not only reasons related to technological advances in the current preponderance of renewable energies. There are also reasons of another nature, like the economic ones.

Among these reasons, Brian Eckhouse argues that solar and wind are currently the cheapest energy sources in most countries in the world. The most competitive wind power is in the US., while in the case of solar energy, the center of gravity moves towards China.

This is due to the lowering the levelized cost of energy in both renewable sources. The levelized cost of energy measures the total cost of producing energy taking into account development, construction, equipment, financing, raw materials, operation and maintenance.

The leveled cost of energy in wind projects onshore it has fallen by 9% to about $ 44 / MWh (37.81 euros / MWh). On the other hand, solar energy has fallen by 4% to about $ 50 / MWh (42.97 euros / MWh) of energy produced.

These costs can be even lower in countries like USA, China and Brazil, leaving very few options for renovating or installing new natural gas-fired combined cycle plants. And the same is true of coal-fired power plants, which are currently producing losses in most countries in the world.

Specialists agree that there is still room to lower the level cost of production of these technologies by about $ 20 / MWh (17.19 euros / MWh) in the next 10 years.

There are many innovations ready to introduce in wind and solar systems that can further reduce these costs.

Has COVID-19 Affected?

According to Seb Henbest, chief economist at Bloomberg NEF, if the effect of the coronavirus is sustained over time (confinement, maintenance of essential activity, generalized stoppage of economic activity, temporary stoppage of new energy projects, etc.) it could protect by a time the electricity generation by fossil fuels of the permanent attack of the low costs of renewable energies.

Although other experts think otherwise. A decade ago solar energy had a cost of more than $ 300 / MWh (257.77 euros / MWh) and wind energy onshore exceeded $ 100 / Mwh (85.92 euros / MWh). Today, wind energy costs $ 37 / MWh (31.79 euros / MWh) in the US and $ 30 / MWh (25.78 euros / MWh) in Brazil, while solar energy costs 38 $ / MWh (32.66 euros / MWh) in China. Both constitute the cheaper sources of energy production in these countries and overcome this gap Pricing relative to fossil sources, even with the coronavirus, is complicated.

Batteries and self-consumption

Batteries are also gaining ground over other traditional power supply sources. The leveled cost of electrical power from batteries has fallen drastically up to a value of $ 150 / MWh (128.93 euros / MWh), about half its cost two years ago. This places this option as the cheapest in regions and countries that import gas, such as Europe and Japan.

Logically, if more and more are added to the electrical system photovoltaic and mini-wind installations For self-consumption (isolated and connected to the grid), the advance of these technologies is unstoppable, since many of these facilities have associated a battery-based backup storage group.

There is no doubt that we are currently developing and implementing a much better energy system: renewable, not dependent on fossil fuels and dependent on indigenous resources and free (wind, sun, water currents, etc.). A system that will demand and activate local resources and that can be a vector for the reactivation of rural areas. A system that is displacing and replacing obsolete and polluting fossil fuel plants every day.

We are working in a present that is giving us a much better, cleaner and more reasonable future. There is no doubt that it is the way forward and that we are already heading in that direction.

* Juan José Coble Castro, Director of the Master in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency, Nebrija University.

** This article was originally published on The Conversation.