Innovations in Renewable Energy
Battery energy storage systems (BESS) enable energy from renewable sources to be stored and then released when the power is needed most.
Lithium-ion batteries, which are used in mobile phones and electric cars, are currently the dominant storage technology for large-scale plants to help electricity grids ensure a reliable supply of renewable energy.
Regardless of the various benefits of batteries, energy storage systems often involve the complex integration of multiple high-tech components, which are prone to failure and malfunction, particularly over long periods of time.
The BESS industry has also been plagued by a series of project fires, most notably in South Korea. In April 2019 an explosion at a battery storage project owned by Arizona Public Service destroyed the project and injured four firefighters.
“From an underwriter perspective, the main concern is with the handling of batteries during transportation and long-term storage,” says Zviadi Vardosanidze, a managing director at Greco Specialty. “This is because it is such a concentrated fire load on the premises and it has the potential to cause much more damage than a standard fire. Additionally, there are limited mitigation measures, since batteries are packed in containers and, in the case of container farms, the fire can easily spread.”
Hydrogen technology has been around for decades and has often been identified as the energy of the future, though failing to live up to such expectations via many false starts. But according to a recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report, hydrogen is enjoying unprecedented momentum, with the number of policies and projects around the world expanding rapidly.
In fact, hydrogen can help tackle various critical energy challenges, as it offers ways to decarbonize a range of sectors—including long-haul transport, chemical manufacturing, and iron and steel plants—where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions.
As a new technology that is similar to more traditional renewable energy sources, hydrogen faces several challenges, including its increased cost of production as well as its reliance on either dedicated renewable energy (green hydrogen) or natural gas and coal with carbon capture and storage attached (blue hydrogen) to produce the required hydrogen.
“To give you an example, green hydrogen is very consuming in terms of the energy and materials needed to create it,” says Rhys Newland, head of renewable energy and environmental technology for Miller Insurance. “As of now, it would require 100 gigawatts of dedicated renewable energy to generate 30 gigawatts of green hydrogen. Additionally, the green hydrogen generation process requires 35 liters of demineralized water per ton, which is approximately 18 tons of water to generate one ton of hydrogen. That is a lot of water. Finally, hydrogen itself is three times the density of natural gas and, to compress it, hydrogen needs to reach the temperature of minus 253 degrees Celsius, while natural gas can be compressed at the temperature of minus 50 degrees Celsius. This creates problems at each step of the hydrogen chain—production, energy use, transport and storage—making hydrogen technically and economically challenging.”