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Why are wind and solar energy so unreliable?

April 3, 2024

Global warming presents an existential threat to the human race. In order to prevent further damage to the climate, we need to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions have peaked by the year 2025 and then reduced by 43% by the year 2030. This will keep us on track to keep global warming below 1.5°C.

One way that we are approaching this challenge is making the switch to renewable energy sources. This includes harnessing the power of the sun for solar energy, and harnessing the power of the wind using wind farms. By switching to renewable energy sources, we can reduce our reliance on 

What are wind and solar energy sources?

Renewable energy refers to any type of energy that can be produced from sources that renew naturally, or are generated as the result of natural processes. At present, wind farms and solar energy are two of the most highly effective renewable energy sources in the UK. 

Wind farms are commonly positioned offshore to make the most of the perpetually windy conditions in the North Sea. And while the UK might not be known for its sunshine, solar panels are proving effective for meeting the energy requirements for individual homes. 

Many homeowners are choosing to add solar panels to their roof in an effort to cut their reliance on fossil fuels. Large scale solar farms are also cropping up around the country, with AI being used to identify the optimum locations to make the most of our sunny days.

Why are these energy sources unreliable?

While renewable energy like wind and solar might be able to power around 40% of our current energy needs, we haven’t yet been able to scale up to 100%. This is down to the unreliable nature of renewable energy that makes it impossible to make the switch. 

Our energy consumption is not consistent, and there are times of peak demand that the National Grid needs to be able to keep up with. When we are reliant on fossil fuels, it’s easy to scale up energy production to meet demand at peak times. For example, if there is a snow storm and bad weather, we can expect more people to stay at home and put the central heating on.

If we were to rely on solar energy, we’d run into trouble during that snow storm since the sun wouldn’t be shining. And while wind energy might be able to cover some of the shortfall, we would be reliant on diversified energy sources to meet peak demand.

At the moment, these limitations are standing in the way of creating an energy network that uses only renewable energy sources. Thankfully, there are things we can do to make renewable energy more reliable. However, more work is needed to deploy these solutions on a large scale.

What can be done to make these energy sources more reliable?

If you picked all of the peaches from a peach tree, you would have to eat them quickly before they spoil. However, if you took the time to preserve them in cans, you could continue eating the peaches until they are finished. You wouldn’t have to worry about eating them quickly or wasting them when they go bad.

Renewable energy works in a similar way. While we can use the energy directly from the source and use it to fuel demand, it would be far better to store this energy in batteries so we can use it when we need it. This would make renewable energy far more reliable and enable us to become less reliant on fossil fuels – or to stop using them entirely. 

This is the future of renewable energy in the UK. A move towards using batteries to store this energy so we can access it when we need it – and not just when we generate it – will help to ease us away from a power grid that is reliant on fossil fuels to power peak demand.

What does the future of energy storage look like?

Technology to store and deploy energy captured from renewable energy sources is accelerating at a rapid rate. Batteries are becoming more efficient, smaller, and more effective after repeated charging cycles. 

In the future, these could be deployed on a small scale for individual homes, allowing homeowners to capture energy from the sun using their solar panels during the day. They could then use this energy any time, not just when the sun is shining.

This technology will also be deployed on a large scale, allowing us to capture energy generated by wind farms during extreme weather and then store this for use during peak times. This would allow the National Grid to meet demand for power without the need to turn to fossil fuels during peak times.

For all of this to happen, the UK needs to address the skills shortage in the engineering sector. We need more renewable energy engineers to be able to research, develop, design, implement and maintain these systems. This means that the renewable energy sector is a lucrative career path to consider at the moment.

Careers in renewable energy are quite simply booming. It’s also a candidate-driven industry, since there are more jobs available than there are candidates to fill them. As such, you can expect a competitive salary and employers are also working hard to not just attract talent but also to retain it.

Is energy storage a good career path?

If you’re thinking about a career in renewables, you don’t just have to consider a career in energy generation, you could also think about working in energy storage. This is the missing piece of the puzzle that is going to help drive forward innovation and make it possible for us to switch off our reliance on fossil fuels and look forward to a brighter future of green energy production.

There are certainly challenges ahead for the energy storage sector, but this is precisely why the sector needs an influx of new thinking. It will be innovative engineers that drive forward the sector and pave the way for a greener economy. At present, we are facing a skills gap in the sector, which means that those with the skills and experience to deliver innovation are likely to command competitive salaries.

Final thoughts

Renewable energy is a highly lucrative sector that is set to receive plenty of investment in the coming years. If you want to help address the skills gap in this sector, you could consider training in renewable energy, and specifically in energy storage. This fast-paced industry is one of the most future-proof engineering career paths you can consider at this time.

As more and more energy companies move their focus to renewables, we can expect to see more vacancies in this sector. There will also be opportunities for entrepreneurial types to deliver solutions on a more local scale. 

For example, homeowners with solar panels might be looking for a way to optimise this setup with affordable energy storage. This is likely to be delivered by local companies rather than on a national scale. It all starts with securing the qualifications, skills and experience to work in the renewables sector. 

Nolan Recruitment is a Specialist Engineering Recruitment Agency. One of the UK's best Engineering & Technical Recruiter

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