A Breath of Fresher Air: Deploying Clean Energy to Get Clean Air  

July 25, 2023

Chicago skyline at night image
By Alan Greenshields, Director of Europe

Deploying clean energy technologies to address the global climate crisis will deliver environmental benefits that can dramatically improve quality of life for millions of people. Not only will we reduce carbon emissions and mitigate future extreme weather, but we also have the opportunity to eliminate the toxic air pollution created by the burning of fossil fuels. The World Health Organization estimates that ambient air pollution caused around 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2019, with almost 89% of these in low and middle income countries.   

Energy and Air Quality 

Large fossil-fuelled power stations are commonly blamed for air pollution, but often-overlooked are polluting diesel generators frequently used for backup power, especially in less developed countries. These generators are a necessity due to the instability and unpredictability of local energy grids, but come at a high cost both financially and in terms of human health. 

In the developing world, diesel generators provide an estimated 350–500 gigawatts (GW) of energy across 20-30 million individual sites. This generation capacity is equivalent to hundreds of coal-fired power stations. But, while large central power stations are typically located in remote areas, diesel generators are found in urban areas where the polluting by-products of diesel, including particulates, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, are particularly harmful to communities.    

Fortunately, clean energy technologies are being deployed which directly replace these dirty diesel generators and provide clean, reliable energy 24/7.    

Energy Storage can Replace Dirty Diesel 
We know that the ultimate answer to eliminating fossil fuel emissions is renewable energy. Switching from diesel generators to clean energy can eliminate particulates almost immediately and quickly reduces other pollutants in ambient air as well.  

However, the challenge of relying on renewable energy at scale lies in the inherent intermittency of wind and solar. These less controllable sources of energy can still necessitate diesel generators to fill the gap in many places.  

To realise the benefits of renewables, and eliminate air pollution, clean energy sources will need to be coupled with energy storage to provide reliable, resilient energy and avoid the need for diesel generation. New long-duration energy storage (LDES) technologies can store and deploy hours of clean energy, enabling renewable energy to be available on demand.   

One clear example is offered by Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands. The Royal Schiphol Group is replacing the diesel generators currently used to power planes parked at the gate with portable batteries. This innovative solution significantly improves air quality on the ground for both passengers and ground crews. In this instance, these portable batteries will be recharged by an ESS Energy Warehouse, which will act as a “mother battery” to ensure adequate energy is always available to keep planes powered on the ground. The entire system will be powered by clean, renewable energy purchased by the airport.     

Safe and Sustainable Energy Storage 

ESS iron flow batteries are manufactured from earth abundant materials and are a safe and sustainable energy storage technology. By storing up to 12 hours of clean energy and making it available when needed, this new long-duration energy storage technology makes it possible to retire diesel generators and provide 100% clean, renewable energy whenever and wherever it is needed. This in turn will deliver not only carbon reductions, but cleaner air for communities worldwide.

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