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To the Electric Future

 2018-11-27 By: Elroy Yao

As winter approaches, more electricity is needed to warm homes while maintaining regular operations of both offices and factories. In many countries, this means firing up more generators for both heat and electricity. This is only an addition to the regular sources of pollution; including conventional vehicles which burn fossil fuel and inevitably creates air pollution.


Among the two sources, perhaps electric vehicles are where people can make a steadier impact for pollution mitigation. Of course with solar and wind generators becoming more and more economic in terms of power generation, it might not be long before more power is generated through sustainable/ green energy rather than fossil fuel.


Back on the Road


Appearing first in mid-19th century, the electric vehicles were competing with liquid fuel propulsion vehicles in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, it quickly declined in popularity until it was virtually non-existent in 1920. Interest in electric vehicle reemerged as a potential alternative for vehicles in the mid to late 20th century when an uncertainty in petroleum prices occurred. Electric vehicle only became desirable once more in the 2000s; especially now when many automobile manufacturers began considering a more electrified strategy.


More people are interested in electric vehicles (EVs) now as many countries aim to phase out petroleum vehicles in the near future. However, there are several issues that slow EV adoption; mainly the lack of charging infrastructure and the time needed to charge the EV. One of the main exceptions is probably Taiwan where battery swapping facilities for e-scooters are available in many service stations or vehicle dealers.


In addition, battery specification differences may also cause difficulties for the users. For example, will a manufacturer’s car and its battery face any issues when charged with another company’s charger? If manufacturers shift instead to a replaceable battery model like the aforementioned e-scooter format, will there be any incompatibility issues when using a new or different battery? Once the issues of infrastructure and charging are resolved, EVs can be promoted to mainstream much sooner and more realistically. Perhaps it is even possible to outfit the EV with a form of micro grid; for example installing a solar panel on the roof of the vehicle to prolong the battery operation time. Perhaps bringing the existing charging technologies available to electronics can also help mitigate the charging issues faced by electric vehicles.


More Power, More Opportunities


An article from World Economic Forum reported that 1.1 billion people around the world lack electricity and more than a third of them have no access to any electricity supply. In some areas, people will use gasoline or diesel fueled generators to electrify their houses for a few hours. These generators usually cannot power the house for too long and the price might limit the ownership to only a single household. The exhaust gasses and noise will also prevent their usage in apartment buildings.


An upgrade to the generator would be a microgrid which can power a group of buildings and will perform more stably. The smaller size of the microgrids can also help reach remote areas which are often lacking in electricity despite needing it. The next question would be what should be used as the power source of the microgrids?


Hydroelectric is the most conventional renewable energy source, but it also poses several problem which makes it impossible as a power source of microgrids. Mainly, it is far less mobile and cannot be installed in an area without proper characteristics; mainly presence of flowing water with a consistent flowrate and a significant volume. This is why most hydroelectric generators are constructed near waterfalls, rivers, lakes, or other major bodies of water. The strict infrastructure requirements combined with high construction costs make it a poor choice for microgrids.


Recently, solar and wind have become the cheapest sources of electricity; even compared to fossil fuel. This means in areas where sunlight or wind is abundant, it would be beneficial to employ photovoltaic cells or wind turbines. Despite the cost benefits; both solar and wind have the issue of supply stability and energy storage to consider.


Both sunlight and wind cannot be available 24/7 except under certain circumstances; geographical, seasonal or circumstantial. When they are available, they might exceed the microgrid’s requirements. Due to these situations, a reliable method to store the generated energy during times of abundance will be required. Current energy storage solution involves Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, but perhaps this can also be an opportunity for innovation in the field: novel energy storage methods or solutions.


Conclusion


Fossil fuel is still the main source of power for the world; either in the form of coal, gas, oil, or other non-renewable sources. For vehicles, transportation, or simply electricity generation; fossil fuel remains a vital resource that cannot simply be eliminated from use or thoroughly replaced. However, this switch will one day be inevitable as the supply of fossil fuel dwindles until it is depleted. For certain locations, using renewable energy might even be the only choice as purchase of fossil fuel is too expensive or not available. In addition, as technology develops it is already proven that renewable energy can be more economically efficient and still has room for improvement. Switching to renewable power can be inconvenient for the short term, but it is increasingly desirable and will one day there might not even be a choice other than renewables.


See More Green Tech in InnoVEX 2019


Green tech is increasingly becoming a popular industry and also one of the main topics of InnoVEX 2019. Relating to this growing trend, InnoVEX will have a dedicated theme pavilion on green tech & its applications. Startups interested in joining can register here.

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