But there’s a catch: as the interconnectivity of modern infrastructure expands and cities grow larger, sustainably powering these smart cities will become an even grander issue. In fact, by 2050, the global electricity demand is estimated to increase by 57%.
What would it take to make the way we power our future cities cleaner and more efficient than today? At Covestro, we believe innovative materials can generate a brighter future for renewable energy technologies.
In the push to supply our cities with clean energy, there have been encouraging signs in wind power, with the productivity for this technology more than quadrupling over the past decade. How could we make wind power even more efficient? By going big.
When it comes to wind turbine efficiency, bigger is generally better. All around the world, wind turbine manufacturers have been racing to develop longer turbine blades that can cover more area and catch more wind flow. But building bigger and bigger blades isn’t as simple as it might sound.
Larger wind turbine blades typically become too heavy, and transporting them on public roads is difficult. Additionally, their sheer size also makes them harder to engineer. So, while blades have traditionally been made with fiberglass, new turbine models at a wind farm in China are being made with our polyurethane resin. This smart material reduces weight and allows manufacturers to build longer, stronger blades, without sacrificing mechanical performance.
In the 1980s, the blades of commercial wind turbines could only trace a circle as wide as a tennis court, but today, China’s polyurethane turbines have rotor diameters that span the length of an entire soccer field. To put that in perspective, it would take the average person about two minutes to walk from the tip of one blade to the other.
It’s hard to even imagine machines of that size, but wind turbines are on track to grow even larger as scientists and engineers continue to seek new energy solutions to reduce our cities’ carbon emissions and create a more sustainable future for us all.
Although wind energy shows promise, cleaning up tomorrow’s electricity generation is only half of the puzzle. The other half is building the infrastructure that allows us to rely on this energy.
The rap on wind farms is intermittence – power isn’t generated when the wind isn’t blowing, making them unreliable as the source for power grids. But if vast amounts of renewable energy – let’s say, enough to power an entire city – could be captured, stored in batteries, and utilized when needed, that drawback would disappear.
This has been the “missing piece” in the renewable energy puzzle for years, but thanks to recent innovations in battery technology, it’s finally coming into view.
Already, advances in battery packaging, such as cooling plates and flame-retardant cell covers, have allowed lithium-ion batteries to be safely used as home energy-storage units, and now, these batteries are being massively scaled up.
Across the globe, grid-scale battery-storage facilities are being rapidly installed. In China, for example, more battery storage has been added in 2018 than all other years combined. The country also plans to continue to expand this storage throughout the next decade.
The U.S., India, and many countries across Europe are also installing utility-scale battery systems for a wider adoption of renewable energy. And with more installations of large-scale battery storage facilities, many experts believe we will be able to power our future cities with 100% renewable electricity by as early as 2040.