Journey towards a net-zero society

1st August 2022
Kiera Sowery

Governments around the world have set the target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. To achieve this goal, they are promoting CO₂ reduction and other greenhouse gases together with the expansion of renewable energy. By Yoshiaki Fukumitsu, Manager, Energy Solution Business Company, TDK discusses how electronics can help society on the journey to net-zero emissions.

Over 120 countries have set the aim of attaining carbon neutrality by 2050 to safeguard the global environment and make our lives and companies more sustainable. Governments are working on a variety of projects to make a decarbonized society a reality. Energy Transformation (EX), which attempts to use energy more efficiently and structurally alter industries, has become a global issue on which everyone must work together.

To make a decarbonized society a reality, fossil fuel energy use and CO₂ emissions must be reduced. However, reduced energy use would stifle the growth of business and society. To reach the goal of both decarbonization and prosperity, therefore, we need to take a fresh approach to EX.

Barriers to renewable energy to generate power

Electricity is used to power practically everything in modern cultures, from smartphones and computers to home appliances like washing machines and microwave ovens, as well as industrial robots in factories and large-scale facilities. Also, consider the increase in energy use as we move from driving internal combustion engine cars to hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Using renewable energy sources for electric power, which is necessary for EX activities, however, creates two issues. Both of these challenges were not present while fossil fuels were used, but they must be addressed to effectively utilise renewable energy.

To begin with, the amount of energy generated by renewable energy is inherently unstable. Large-scale solar power facilities are impracticable in some places, where space is limited and flatlands are sparse. Many small-scale power plants must be developed in a scattered fashion to enhance the amount of power generated. Furthermore, the amount of energy generated by solar and wind varies significantly depending on location and weather.

Second, they are incompatible with the traditional method of providing electric power, which is to constantly match supply to demand in real-time. If there is a substantial mismatch in a power grid, anomalous loads may be placed on generators, transmission and distribution facilities, and electrical equipment; voltages may fluctuate; and, worst-case scenario, blackouts may occur.

The amount of electricity consumed must equal the amount produced in order to ensure a consistent supply of electricity. By constantly forecasting demand, power providers may modify the amount of electricity generated.

In reality, the amount of electricity consumed in a power system varies dramatically based on the season, time of day, and location. For example, in mid-summer, demand for air conditioning spikes throughout the day and drops late at night, when most people are sleeping. To comply with the supply/demand criterion, power firms forecast these fluctuations in consumption and use thermal power generation and other relatively easy-to-adjust output methods. Responding to demand spikes and drops becomes a problem, however, because the amount of electricity generated using renewable energy is difficult to adjust.

Storing renewable energy

An Energy Storage System (ESS) is required to address the above-mentioned challenges with renewable energy consumption. An ESS combines massive storage batteries with a power control system to store and distribute electricity based on demand, assisting the power grid in normalising load and assuring the reliable usage of renewable energy.

Massive-scale solar and wind power plants have traditionally relied on sophisticated batteries and pumped storage systems capable of storing large amounts of energy. The adoption of ESS equipment based on Li-ion (lithium-ion) rechargeable batteries, which have the benefit of charging and discharging more quickly and flexibly tailoring their capacity to the application, has grown in recent years. According to TDK research, the number of ESS units installed for residential use is expected to approach one million worldwide by 2030, in tandem with the proliferation of solar power panels for homes.

Residential batteries must be able to recharge and discharge electricity on a regular basis, while long-term safety and security are essential. Furthermore, by giving electricity to household appliances and electric vehicles, residential batteries are predicted to become a lifeline for people's lives during power outages. These requirements can be met with an ESS based on lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.

Exploring new battery technologies

TDK has been creating Li-ion batteries for smartphones and other electronic devices for more than a decade, constantly improving its technology and performance. Li-ion batteries for ESS equipment are now being developed using these new technologies. TDK is creating very safe, high-capacity batteries for household batteries, leveraging materials and process technology refined via the development and production of tiny Li-ion batteries.

The Li-ion battery modules for ESS from TDK combine large-capacity, high-performance battery packs with a proprietary BMS (battery management system) that continuously monitors the battery’s state of health and includes protection circuitry that shuts down during charging/discharging in the event of an anomaly, ensuring long life and high safety.

Virtual power plants

TDK wants to realise a concept called the Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in which ESS equipment is linked not only to household batteries, but also to solar and wind facilities in factories, supermarkets, and other sorts of locations, allowing for even more efficient use of renewable energy. With more renewable energy and better utilisation using an array of products and advanced solutions, such as batteries and power supplies, we will realise a sustainable world, where society is both decarbonised and prosperous.

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