Just over a year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared a global pandemic. At the time, there was a great deal of uncertainty about how COVID-19 would impact the energy industry. More than 12 months later, we witnessed a 20% drop in oil demand, a 5% reduction in electricity consumption, and the largest year-over-year reduction in global CO2 emissions. However, through it all, the energy transition continued to move forward at an accelerated rate.
Using our news commentary feature, we have been tracking key developments in the energy industry over the first year of the global pandemic, covering nearly 650 individual developments across more than 10 of our major topic areas. These innovation-related events range from partnerships and investments to recent R&D and policies. Each news commentary includes information about the companies involved and our take on the development.
The news trends analysis is one of the main factors shaping the Lux Energy Team's outlook for 2021 and beyond. Many of the transformational developments that occurred directly influenced the Energy Program's four key themes – Evolution of Electricity Networks, Decarbonization of Industry, The Business of the Energy Transition, and Future Energy for Mobility – and shaped our 2021 predictions. In the below figure, we analyze the activity over the past 12 months within one of our main topics, direct power generation.
As we enter the second year of the global pandemic, we take a look back at the "Truly Disruptive" and "Very Important" developments over the past 12 months. In addition, we have selected the most read and discussed innovation-related events.
- Oxford PV sets new efficiency record for perovskite-silicon tandem at 29.52%. This announcement came less than a year after Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) set the previous efficiency record for a perovskite-silicon solar tandem. Moving forward, Oxford PV plans to push the performance of perovskite-silicon cells beyond 30% and to ramp up production of its solar cells to meet commercialization targets in mid-2021.
- Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) sets new record for perovskite-silicon tandem at 29.15%. This device was verified by Fraunhofer ISE and features a novel electrode contact layer and a silicon-oxide top layer that optimizes the optical coupling between the top and bottom cells.
- Trina Solar unveils 600 W module. This module has a similar rated efficiency to other monocrystalline silicon panels on the market (around 21%) but is able to produce more power by combining a larger surface area with half-cut solar cells. These retrofits enable more sunlight absorption and reduce resistive losses, respectively.
- Panasonic claims 16% efficiency for its lightweight perovskite module. Compared to most single-junction perovskite films – which are often limited by conversion efficiencies below 10% – Panasonic's product can deliver better performance thanks to a series of adjustments made at the perovskite crystal level, particularly related to the replacement of methylamine with a series of inorganic components.
- Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) unveils perovskite-based solar windows. Researchers from ANL combined perovskite films with an optimization approach that maximizes energy production while balancing building temperature and lighting throughout changing seasons.
- China to host 1 GW agrivoltaic installation. Chinese Baofeng Group plans to expand an existing 640 MW agrivoltaic installation to a 1 GW facility that will combine photovoltaic (PV) energy generation and the production of goji berries – signaling a shift toward large-scale agrivoltaic projects and the consolidation of this concept.
- Total partners with Next2Sun for the development of agrivoltaic systems in France. The agreement involves the deployment of Next2Sun's agrivoltaic solution, which relies on bifacial modules mounted in a fence-like configuration to separate different types of grassland (e.g., animal forage, biomass).
- Sun'Agri demonstrates the benefits of agrivoltaics in vineyards. A demonstration project based in France reported significant improvements in grape quality and reductions between 12% and 34% in the water evaporation levels, a promising result considering vines' vulnerability to climate change and heatwaves.
- BlueWave Solar evaluates agrivoltaics as part of its community solar offer in New England. The company claims to have a pipeline of 10 agrivoltaic projects in Massachusetts, which offers an additional compensation rate to PV systems that qualify as dual-use installations. In these cases, agrivoltaic systems can become an additional revenue stream for farmers while helping optimizing land use and agricultural production.
- South Korea approves $43.2 billion plan to build 8.2 GW offshore wind farm by 2030. The project will be located on the coast of Sinan, in the southwest of the country, and is poised to become one of the world's largest wind farms upon completion in 2030. This project is in line with South Korea's ambition to become carbon neutral by 2050 – a transition where offshore wind is expected to play a significant role.
- National Grid and TenneT to connect Dutch and British offshore wind farms. The two partners plan to connect up to 4 GW of offshore wind between the U.K. and the Netherlands through a multiterminal HVDC link. Preliminary project planning is expected to be completed by the end of 2021, while assets are expected to be operational in 2029.
- Total enters floating wind market with project in U.K. Total became the next in a line of oil and gas companies tapping into the floating wind market by acquiring 80% of Erebus – a 96 MW floating wind project that will be located off the coast of Wales. There are signs that this project will feature Principle Power's semisubmersible foundations, though most technical details remain undisclosed.
- Floating wind to reach 70 GW by 2040. Most of this growth is expected to occur in Asia, Europe, and the U.S., which are forecasted to install 31.8 GW, 28.2 GW, and 9.8 GW of floating wind, respectively, by 2040. Floating wind has seen a sharp rise in momentum in the past five years due to its potential to unlock new areas for wind power generation. In the next decade, the technology will continue to scale up and evolve from pre-commercial to commercial.
- Shell consortium unveils 10 GW offshore wind-to-hydrogen project in North Sea. The NortH2 project will be jointly developed by Shell, the Port of Groningen, and Dutch gas grid operator Gasunie. This installation is expected to deploy between 3 GW and 4 GW of offshore wind by 2030, with plans to scale up the total capacity to 10 GW in 2040.
- Australia to host 10 GW PV farm connected to Singapore through underwater HVDC line. This project is not only set to become the world's largest solar farm but is an unprecedented effort in terms of energy storage requirements and distance. The so-called Australia-ASEAN Power Link project plans to transport solar power over a 750 km distance across Australia and eventually to Singapore via a 3,750 km underwater high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cable.
- Europe produced more power from renewable primary energy than from fossil primary energy in 2020. This is the first time in the EU's history that renewable energy resources (including wind, PV, hydropower, and biomass) have surpassed fossil fuels in terms of power production, with a share of 38% versus 37% in 2020. The remaining 25% came from nuclear.
- The largest onshore wind energy farm in the Netherlands to date has a capacity of 300 MW. The Princess Ariane wind farm commissioned by Vattenfall integrates 82 wind turbines. Approximately 75% of the power generated in this facility will be sold to Microsoft under a 10-year power purchase agreement (PPA) signed in 2017.
- India continues GW-scale photovoltaic project build-outs. The Uttar Pradesh state government approved a 2 GW solar plant to be developed by a 74:26 joint venture between hydropower company THDC India and the Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency. By developing large PV plants in one go, developers are shielded from procurement risks and related delays. This strategy will be key for India to accelerate utility-scale PV developments.
- China added nearly 120 GW of combined solar and wind capacity in 2020. For solar, the additional capacity means a 60% rise compared to 2019; for wind, the outcome is even more astonishing. Not only did China almost triple its 2019 new capacity figure, but the country installed more wind power in 2020 than the rest of the world did in 2019 (60.4 GW).
The value proposition of renewable energy will continue to evolve as more economies commit to carbon neutrality pledges similar to those made by China, South Korea, or Japan. In the past decade, photovoltaic and wind energy experienced sharp cost reductions and become the go-to renewable sources for large-scale power production, resulting in massive power generation projects that continue to set new capacity records nowadays. However, the full potential of direct power generation technologies has yet to be achieved.
Current efforts highlight a consolidated trend to break up these limits, either by improving power production – embracing novel photovoltaic materials and architectures – or by unlocking new sites for power generation, such as agricultural land or remote offshore sites. Those interested should expect similar efforts in the near term, as well as the irruption of renewable energy in novel applications like hydrogen production or energy generation in building-integrated PV surfaces.