Low carbon technologies are now cost competitive with fossil fuels, and innovation is gathering pace across the sector, according to a new report by Lloyd’s Register, a UK-based provider of integrity, compliance and specialist risk consulting services. But, which technologies will have the most impact on the industry?

The drive toward sustainability has never been more urgent, and technology will continue to play a crucial role. The study, “Technology Radar – Low Carbon,” examines the outlook for renewables, nuclear, grid and infrastructure and energy storage.

The research sought the insights and opinions of leaders across the sector, as well as the views of almost 600 professionals and experts around the world – from utilities and distributors through to operators and equipment manufacturers. 

Respondents were asked to rate a number of technologies in terms of their potential impact, the amount of time it would take for these technologies to hit the market and how likely they are to be adopted once they do. Respondents were also asked to reflect on the pace and success of innovation in their sector, and what they see as the major drivers and blockers.

Key findings include:

  • Low carbon generation technologies are cost competitive. Nuclear is one of the cheapest options for power generation when life-cycle costs are taken into account.  70% of survey respondents say that renewables are now reaching cost parity with fossil fuels. 
  • Solar cell technology is likely to have a major impact. Renewables respondents are most optimistic about the potential of advances in solar cell technology, and the most likely to adopt this technology.
  • The potential contribution of small modular reactors (SMRs) is unclear at this stage, although its impact will most likely apply to smaller grids and isolated markets. However, the underlying modularization technology is expected to have a major impact on the sector.
  • Nuclear will continue be part of the solution to climate change long into the future. Although public acceptance is a major challenge in some countries, nuclear is likely to contribute to the energy mix for the foreseeable future.
  • Software advances will be instrumental in transmission and distribution. They are seen by respondents as the innovation that will be the quickest to arrive and the most likely to be adopted. Blockchain could reshape the way we think about the transmission and distribution of power by enabling a new era of peer-to-peer low carbon generation.
  • It is electrical technologies that will transform storage, rather than mechanical storage or chemical technology innovations. In particular, respondents expect supercapacitors, which will rapidly speed up charging times for large batteries to have the greatest impact on storage.
  • Deployment is a major barrier. Implementation of technology in both nuclear and renewables is hindered by deployment, and each sector faces its own distinct challenges. However, 71% of respondents agreed there had been an increase in the scale of deployment of renewable energy sources.
  • Standardization is a much-needed development for the low carbon sector. Industry experts agree that regional and global consensus on regulations could speed up deployment and further reduce costs.

“We are very encouraged by the findings, which highlight not only a growing optimism across the industry, but [also] a vigorous and intelligent debate about the pathways to decarbonization,” says Alasdair Buchanan, energy director. “Clearly, there are many uncertainties about exactly how the industry will evolve, but what is inarguable is that the conversation is no longer about ‘should we?’ but ‘how should we do it?’”