Reduce, Reuse, Renew: Innovations in Renewable Energy

I may be incredibly frustrated by the lack of urgency I see currently in the CRE sector, but today we’re going to take you through some of the newest and most exciting developments in renewable technology. 

Renewables are currently the cheapest energy source in the world. In 2020, 7444 TWh of renewable energy was generated globally. And the great thing about them? They’re always evolving. As the world moves further away from fossil fuels, more innovations in renewable energy are coming to fruition. 

UN secretary-general António Guterres has called for $4 trillion to be spent on renewable energy per year, after a report released by the World Meteorological Organization highlighted the disturbing reality of how far the globe is from its climate targets. In the words of Guterres, the report is ‘a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption’.

Powering New York’s Skyscrapers with Hydro

Brookfield’s One Manhattan West skyscraper sits at 67-storeys

Some of the most prolific companies in New York are decarbonising their real estate portfolios. One of these is Brookfield, who in March announced that their iconic One Manhattan West skyscraper will be powered entirely by renewable energy. The 67-storey building is valued at $2.85 billion, and its 2.1 million square feet area will be powered through hydroelectricity, which Brookfield sources from its (74!) upstate hydropower facilities. Tenants – among them companies like EYAccenture, and Pharo Management – will also be provided digital dashboards to monitor their individual consumption in relation to the building’s overall energy usage. 

JP Morgan Chase is also planning to utilise the hydroelectric power of Brookfield Renewables. The bank’s global headquarters – a 60-storey, 1388 square foot skyscraper located at 270 Park Ave – will also run wholly through hydropower, as announced by the company in April. The building is aiming for completion in 2025, and will also use repurposed materials from the previous site’s demolition for its construction.

85% of New York City’s local grid operates on fossil fuels, and whilst 88% of upstate New York’s grid is powered through renewable energy, transmission to the city’s grid is a tricky business. By outsourcing their hydropower from upstate facilities, Brookfield Renewables, and the companies whose New York offices it powers, is working to decarbonise New York City. 

Turning Natural Gas Renewable

StormFisher’s resource recovery centre in Drumbo, Ontario

Canadian energy companies StormFisher and Modern Niagara have partnered to turn natural gas into a renewable energy source. 

But how is that possible? You ask. Surely natural gas is one of the main culprits of fossil fuel emissions. 

Renewable natural gas (RNG) is generated by bacteria eating into waste – typically from landfills, food waste, or wastewater – which produces methane, carbon dioxide, and various other gases and solids. This is then ‘purified’ until it’s just methane, creating a gas that is interchangeable with conventional natural gas but is significantly less harmful to the atmosphere. RNG can then be used everywhere that traditional natural gas is, such as providing heat to buildings or powering vehicles instead of diesel. 

For StormFisher and Modern Niagara, the main focus is decarbonising building infrastructure. StormFisher, which converts over 100,000 tonnes of organic waste into renewable energy each year, takes food waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill and uses it to produce RNG, which is then injected into the natural gas system. From there the gas can be used in industrial applications to dramatically decrease carbon emissions involved in construction.

Making Seoul Geothermal

South Korea’s first geothermal plant, located in Pohang

Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has announced plans to power the entirety of the capital’s buildings through geothermal energy, just five years after the country’s first geothermal plant was unveiled in 2017. 

Geothermal energy is harnessed through tapping into the Earth’s heat generated by its mantle, which is then transferred to rocks and water to generate electricity. Heat beneath the Earth’s crust is constantly being replenished by decaying radioactive elements, making geothermal plants a source of limitless energy. 

Countries like the US, Mexico, and the Philippines are some of the biggest generators of geothermal energy, but South Korea is quickly picking up steam (excuse the pun). SMG predicts that Seoul’s entire energy consumption will decrease by 30% once the geothermal systems are in place, which will help in the country’s ambitions of achieving net-zero by 2050.

The World’s Biggest Wind Turbines

Protoype image for SD 14-236 DD

Engineers at Spanish-German renewable energy company Siemens Gamesa have manufactured wind turbine blades that measure 115m in length, almost double the wingspan of a Boeing 747. When turning, the three blades will cover an area of 43,500 square metres or 11 acres. 

These groundbreaking blades are part of Siemens Gamesa’s newest generation of wind turbines, the SG 14-236 DD. The turbines will generate 30% more electricity than their most recent predecessor, and its blades are made primarily from fibreglass reinforced epoxy. Siemens Gamesa aims to recycle and repurpose these materials when the turbines are eventually decommissioned. SG 14-236 DD’s first installation will be in Denmark later this year. 

In the UK alone, electricity generated from wind power has increased 715% between 2009 and 2020, and the wind energy industry saw a turnover of £6 billion in 2019. Globally, wind is the most used non-hydro renewable energy source, with 1592 TWh being generated just in 2020. Wind power is growing, and it’s growing rapidly.

It’s Time to Get Serious About Renewables

In a world that has been battered by fossil fuels and rising carbon emissions, the Ukraine war has finally focused minds and may well be the trigger for rapid change. Renewables are the greenest, safest, and cheapest methods of generating energy. Yet governments and companies alike are still ignoring their benefits. Shamefully, in the US, $20 billion is still being spent on fossil fuel subsidies each year. Although President Biden has signed an order to halt these dangerous subsidies, it’s yet another indication of how those in the position to make change continually choose to sit back and do nothing. 

The projects highlighted in this article are just a tiny amount of the innovation happening in renewable technology right now. The best options for generating energy are right in front of us, yet no one seems to be paying attention. 

The roles of governments in this debate cannot be understated. Policy makers must have stricter stances on fossil fuels and energy consumption, and provide better financial incentives and education surrounding renewable energy options. If not, the world will continue down this dismal road of climate degradation, and we’ll be shaking our heads wondering why we didn’t take action when we should have.

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