According to the estimate of the International Energy Agency (IEA), global CO2 emissions in 2020 will drop by 8%, or almost 2.6 gigatons, to the level of about 10 years ago. This is because the coronavirus crisis has directly impacted energy consumption and led to lower emissions. However, as previous crises have shown, when emissions start to rise again, the increase could exceed the decrease, unless the investments being made to revitalize the economy are geared towards making our energy infrastructures friendlier to the environment. So how can we generate electrical power in the future in a way that is reliable and ecologically sound? And what must our drive and propulsion systems run on if they are to deliver power with climate-neutral results? And how can we achieve all of these things with maximum cost-efficiency? There is no single and absolute answer to these questions. What is certain, however, is that a variety of solutions are needed to produce a cumulative effect. Among the most promising are high-capacity batteries, synthetic fuels and the fuel cell.
The moment has come for batteries and fuel cells
Between January and March 2020, more than half of the electrical power generated in Germany came, for the first time, from renewable energies. But electricity generated from wind and solar is naturally dependent on the weather. Achieving a constant and reliable power supply from renewable sources is therefore possible only if they are combined with reliable modules that come onstream immediately whenever they are needed – e.g. when the wind is still, or when it is raining, or if renewable energy cannot be harnessed for a different reason. That is why the hour might now have come for widespread use of batteries and fuel cells as the key to making our energy future clean and secure. “These technologies have long featured on our development road map,” explained Dr Peter Riegger, head of the Rolls-Royce Power Lab, the new division in which all the threads of the company's technological development run together. “We're testing a wide variety of scenarios and application fields,” he said. Batteries and fuel cells present such interesting possibilities because they are capable of interlinking the electrical power, heat and mobility sectors more strongly. Together, these sectors account for almost half of climate-damaging emissions. This 'sector coupling', as it is known in the trade, is a very important aspect of decarbonization.