Innovation in renewable energy and decarbonisation-related fields has exploded, with patenting activity at the European Patent Office in low-carbon energy (LCE) technologies overtaking that in fossil fuels around the year 2000.
Renewable energy includes solar and wind energy, as well as marine, hydro and geothermal energy. Alternative fuels include biofuels and fuels from waste, nuclear energy and more efficient combustion technologies.
Two areas of continued rapid growth are offshore wind energy generation and smart solar systems. The potential new sites for offshore wind turbines are almost limitless, additionally enjoying both consistent and higher windspeeds. These are capable of large-scale energy production.
Smart solar systems help optimise both larger industrial scale and smaller local systems, enabling also better integration into a variety of electric vehicles, consumer appliances and heat pumps for energy-efficient homes.
- Offshore wind energy
Foundation and mountings
Stabilisation of offshore wind turbines is a major challenge. Different structures have been developed for different water depths, as well as different seabed and rock structures. The ease of transportation of the components and the ease of onsite construction and initial stabilisation are also key.
Whereas fixed structures are the first choice for near-shore wind turbines, floating structures potentially enable offshore energy generation in much deeper waters, opening up large areas of the oceans as feasible sites. The stabilisation, anchorage and maintenance of such structures represent a significant challenge.
Mechanical power transmission
The mechanical power from wind turbine blades is extremely high-torque but low-speed. In one form, conversion to higher rotation speeds through gearboxes is used to drive conventional electricity generators. Alternative "direct drive" technologies use much larger generators driven directly from the slow-moving rotor, eliminating mechanical losses and reducing maintenance.
Energy storage: hydrogen
Wind turbines generate electrical energy for direct use or incorporation into a local or national grid. However, the need to balance energy systems between the generation of weather-dependent renewable energy and end-user demand has created an urgent need for forms of energy storage that are more durable and transportable, such as hydrogen technologies.
Combined system (with solar or water)
The complex and costly structures required for offshore wind energy generation may be optimised by combining wind and solar power generation systems, or even hydro-electric systems, depending on the particular local requirements.
Offshore tower structures may differ significantly from those onshore, due to more challenging climatic conditions, specialised offshore maintenance requirements, as well as the need to combine these structures with the under-water substructures and resist corrosion. Ever taller towers of up to 300m and beyond require different technologies.
Rotor blade construction and shape are major factors impacting the efficiency of any wind turbine. The higher wind speeds, longer blades in excess of 100m, and the highly corrosive offshore environment may require different rotor blade designs. Blade materials, such as thermoplastic composites, are chosen on the basis of mechanical and structural properties, but also material recycling properties.
Offshore high-voltage alternating current (HVAC) transmission lines remain the most common method of feeding offshore wind electricity into the grid, but natural alternating current losses may limit the practical use of such cables to distances of around 50 km. High-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines have lower losses and can support much longer distances, but require AC-DC conversion at both ends, necessitating offshore converter stations. Grid integration and transmission of electricity from high-power offshore wind turbines, and the potentially long distances, require particular attention.
Transportation / installation
Manufacture, transport and installation of larger-scale offshore wind farms involving many turbines also require an extensive support infrastructure, including grid connections, energy storage facilities and port and maintenance facilities.
- Smart solar systems
The first eight search concepts deal with activities to change the settings or to measure and detect suboptimal functioning of the devices. The last search concept is directed at improving the intrinsic conversion efficiency of the photovoltaic components based on cutting-edge materials.
Power management is key to optimising the use of solar-generated electricity. The amount to be used directly by the consumer or local industry, and the amount to be fed into the grid can significantly impact the business case for the provider. Power management helps providers monitor and control power generation by solar devices accordingly.
Solar panels rely on impacting sunlight, itself dependent on various factors such as horizontal and vertical arrangement of the solar panels, direct versus diffuse sunlight and local shadowing. The performance of solar panels can be optimised by automatically tracking the sun's path through the sky.
"Smart grids" typically employ renewable energy resources, advanced metering infrastructures including smart meters, and an overall grid management system incorporating elements that monitor available renewable electricity production and energy requirements. Smart grids may even be used to plan future energy requirements from more traditional sources (coal, gas, etc.) depending on expected future weather conditions, especially wind and sunshine. In this way, inclusion of renewable energy into local and national grid systems may minimise future dependency on fossil fuels.
This search concept highlights the techniques used to maximise power output from a photovoltaic system.
Movement of light concentrators
This search concept focuses on photovoltaic installations with a light concentrator that is controlled and moved to optimise impacting sunlight and thereby energy production.
Detection of malfunctions
Timely identification and resolution of malfunctions may significantly impact the overall performance of solar panel-based systems in the long run.
In a similar manner, thorough testing and initial optimisation of new solar panel systems are essential to optimise overall performance.
Measuring soiling of photovoltaic devices
Photovoltaic devices are being further developed to optimise their use in particularly challenging environments. One key example is solar panel arrangements in deserts, where soiling through dust collation impacts performance significantly. Measuring such soiling is necessary to plan and optimise cleaning and maintenance.
Photovoltaic devices using organic, inorganic-organic or quantum dot-based materials
While new patent filings suggest that the development of "traditional" photovoltaic panels flattened out around 2013, developments in other areas of photovoltaics reflect a continued search for alternatives that may produce cheaper, more efficient or more robust solar devices, or panels that no longer rely on certain rare or expensive raw materials. The following search queries highlight the main developments.
Photovoltaic devices using dye-sensitised solar cells
Photovoltaic devices using perovskite-based materials