Innovations in the Energy Industry

Innovations in the energy industry, to cut carbon emissions, include carbon capture, energy storage, and new forms of nuclear power

There are several programmes for major innovations in the energy industry, to complement the currently available alternatives to fossil fuels (  Some of these innovations are very expensive to develop, requiring government support – and international co-operation in some cases.

Where heavy industrial plants and electricity generation still use fossil fuels, their carbon emissions can be avoided.  Carbon capture and storage (CCS) Is a technology which could be developed and represents opportunities for employment as well as helping to meet carbon emissions targets.  Lord Heseltine’s report in 2016, Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited, pointed out that Britain is well placed to exploit this opportunity (by using underground storage in depleted oil wells offshore in the North Sea).  And “CO2 sequestration in saline aquifers has potential for effective high-capacity carbon storage”, according to ScienceDirect.[1]

Solar power and wind turbines have become economical ways of generating electricity, and both continue to become more efficient.  Scientists invent double-sided solar panel that generates vastly more electricity, for example.  Both solar and wind power suffer from not being constantly available, but fluctuations in supply can be evened out by storing temporary surpluses of electricity, so that it can be released when needed to meet peak demand.  Supplying clean power is easier than storing it, as explained in The Economist, but solutions are being found:

●  Batteries can be used to store electricity for domestic consumption or to propel cars.  The technology is constantly improving, although increased use of batteries has led to a dramatic increase in the world’s consumption of lithium.  China dominates the world’s supply of lithium, which is now a much sought-after resource, so other countries are scrambling to find alternative battery technologies – as described by Reuters: United States sets sights on China in new electric vehicle push.

●  Investments are being made in technologies such as lifting heavy weights, and electricity storage in molten salt, as an alternative to batteries.

●  Electricity can also be stored by using it to make hydrogen, which has been described as ‘the fuel of the future’.  The hydrogen can be extracted from water by electrolysis, using electricity generated in offshore wind farms for example, as described in a recent press release: Shell to start building Europe’s largest renewable hydrogen plant.

The use of hydrogen in heavy vehicles and industrial processes is already growing in America, as described in an AFDC article: Hydrogen Basics, and it might be used as a fuel for aeroplanes: Greener planes of the future.

There are also innovations in the energy industry to find new ways of using nuclear power, which could still play a major role in generating electricity.  The industry went sharply into decline, referred to in The Economist as Half-death, following the disaster at Fukushima in 2011, when a tsunami engulfed one of the world’s largest nuclear power stations.  That article noted that:

“Adding renewable-energy capacity does not solve the problem: when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, nuclear energy still provides the best low-carbon source of reliable “baseload” electricity.”

The industry could be revived by addressing some of the problems that caused it to become so unpopular.  A recent report, TVEL outlines innovation in nuclear fuel, described the use of a mixture of new and re-used fuel; “The ultimate aim is to eliminate production of radioactive waste from nuclear power generation”.  And it has been reported that Nuclear waste U.S. could power the U.S. for 100 years, using a kind of fast reactor which has been demonstrated in experiments

Another possible innovation is nuclear fusion, using a similar process to the sun: combining hydrogen atoms.  There is a virtually inexhaustible supply of hydrogen and the helium that is produced is harmless.  Scientists and engineers have been working for years to develop a viable fusion reactor, making steady progress.  A Reuters report, European scientists set nuclear fusion energy record, included a comment that “the result would help inform the larger-scale ITER experiment in southern France when that project comes online. It is currently under construction. ITER is a fusion research project supported by China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.”

There is a danger that when people know that innovations are coming, they decide to wait for new solutions rather than implement existing ones.  This would be a mistake, as described earlier (  Both approaches should be pursued vigorously.



[1] ‘CO2 sequestration’ is a term used to include the capture of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and then storing it.

This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/3576b.htm