Ten new technologies to electrify the future
We reveal ten technologies that are shaping an all-electric future
The future is electric. Over the coming decade, decarbonised electricity will play a bigger and bigger role in delivering the energy transition and combating global warming. Momentum is building. Upstream, wind turbines and solar farms are replacing thermal power stations. Downstream, new ways of using electricity are accelerating the journey to net zero.
Important milestones are already being achieved. Wind and solar together generated more electricity than gas in Europe for the first time in 2021. In a year of below-average wind speeds, the growth of solar power was vital. Indeed, solar generated 27% more electricity in 2021 than in 2019. Solar now accounts for 6% of Europe’s electricity. Many European countries have laid the foundations for rapid solar growth, not just in southern Europe where the solar potential is highest.
Downstream – at the level of consumption – the transformation is also well underway. The evidence is all around us. Electric vehicles (EVs) are rapidly replacing conventional diesel and petrol-powered vehicles. Meanwhile, electrically-powered ground and air source heat pumps are taking the place of conventional gas and oil-fired heating. And industrial processes of all types are making the switch from fossil fuels to electricity.
New ways of generating and using electricity are attracting a lot of attention. Less visible – but every bit as important – is the transmission and distribution of electricity. The need to revitalise grids is becoming urgent: in the US, for example, an estimated US$1.1 trillion will be required by 2040 to expand and upgrade the electricity grid to maintain reliability and resilience.
So far, only a small part of the required investment in grid modernisation has been approved, suggesting that there is a disconnect between what utility companies are proposing and what regulators currently see as appropriate.
Progress is being made nonetheless. Thanks to smart meters, the electricity grid is becoming digital. And smart grid technology – which allows operators to make the most of their existing infrastructure – has the potential to save billions in grid investments. This matters, because power infrastructure in developed economies is on average 40 to 50 years old. The risk of blackouts is real.
The challenges are clear. First and foremost, there is a need to boost both the capacity and reliability of electricity grids. In tandem with this, there is a need to ensure the safety of people and property in an all-electric future. In addition, grids must be sustainable. This means minimising the carbon footprint of new grid infrastructure and ensuring that the resources required for its delivery are carefully managed. All of this must be achieved cost effectively.
Innovation will play a critical part in achieving these objectives. Below, we outline the technologies that we believe will shape the electrification of the world over the next ten years:
- AC to DC transition – the partial switch from AC to DC electrical systems at low, medium and high voltage.
- New energy sources – floating offshore wind, solar trackers and floating solar, mini nuclear facilities.
- Superconductivity – high-capacity transmission with no losses and minimal land take.
- Electric mobility – wider and easier access to charging infrastructure.
- Hydrogen – green hydrogen to decarbonize heavy industry and transport will be a key driver of electricity demand.
- Connected products – Internet of Things (IoT) constellations and RFID.
- Digital twin – modelling and predictions using an electronic representation of the real world.
- Big data and AI – deeper insights and enhanced decision making.
- Smart and safe buildings – electrical and fire safety in an all-electric future.
- Circular plastics – bioplastics, recycled plastics and the materials transition.
Over the next few weeks, we will explore these technologies in more detail – and find out what role they can play in delivering an all-electric future.
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