The Future of Energy

Any predictions of the future are almost certainly going to prove to be wrong.

So I'm not going to attempt to predict the future of energy here. I am going to list those components of our present energy systems that are changing and give a rough guide to the rate of those changes. The rates of the changes will themselves change with time, but we can project from the present rates of change to get at least some clue of what the future of energy will be.

This page is written from an Australian perspective, but has global application.

This page was started on 2018/03/18, it was last edited 2021/02/16
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
 




I've written on this subject more extensively on another page, Australia's energy future.

While the corrupt Australian Morrison Government does everything it can to support fossil fuels the Australian state governments and industry see that the nation has a great future in supplying the world with clean energy.

 
A winery in the Clare Valley
Winery
In South Australia wineries have been early adopters of solar PV
The scene in early 2018...
  • The burning of fossil fuels was widely recognised as the main cause of climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise and ocean warming. The air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels killed millions of people world wide each year.

  • The great majority of people knew that we must urgently change from fossil fuels to sustainable energy;

  • Those who controlled the enormous fossil fuel industries realised that their financial future was threatened. They used their enormous wealth to sow doubt about climate change and to slow the change to renewables;

  • On-shore wind power continued to grow steadily world wide (until a few years earlier the rate of growth was exponential, for the last few years it had only been linear, although the rate of growth was at record rates in Australia at the time of writing);

  • Off-shore wind power, while much smaller than on-shore, grew at exponentially increasing rates world-wide (off-shore wind farms cost around twice as much as on-shore, but many nations did not have the abundant excellent on-shore sites available to them that Australia had);

  • Solar photo-voltaic installation continued its exponential growth;

  • Solar thermal, with energy storage, while small compared to solar PV, was growing, but seemed to be suffering because it lacked the economies of scale in solar PV;

  • The number of electric vehicles (which do not need fossil fuels) was increasing exponentially;

  • High-capacity battery manufacture was a huge and fast growing industry;

  • Cryogenic energy storage was being developed;

  • Pumped hydro energy storage installations were increasing quickly world-wide;

  • Super-capacitor development was looking very promising as another way of storing energy;

  • Energy to hydrogen installations were being built in many places, albeit that most were on a pilot scale;

  • Technology development for converting hydrogen to ammonia and back was making renewable energy export increasingly viable (there was already a well developed liquid ammonia shipping industry);

  • Distributed energy resources where becoming much more common;

  • Demand-side-management was being recognised as of fundamental importance in any future energy system (I've written more on this on another page on this site);
All these were making fossil fuels in general, and coal in particular, less necessary for the world energy industries. Consequently the coal industry was facing a terminal decline.

Nuclear energy

Nuclear was unattractive at least in part because its cost had increased while the costs of renewable energy had greatly decreased. For example, in August 2017 two partly built nuclear power stations were abandoned in South Carolina, USA, following huge cost blowouts. On top of this Nuclear has problems with:
  • Lack of social acceptance;
  • radioactive waste disposal;
  • long lead times needed for planning, obtaining approval, construction and commissioning;
  • potential for proliferation of nuclear weapons;
  • possible access by terrorists to nuclear materials;
  • nuclear power stations would be tempting targets in war time and if bombed would result in huge pollution;
  • susceptibility to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis (the cost of cleaning up the Fukushima power station have been variously estimated to US$200 billion to US$660 billion).

Lazard's analysis of power costs

 

The future of the planet is fundamental, but it is money that moves those in power

It has been known for decades that the burning of more and more fossil fuels would lead to environmental disaster, but this has not been sufficient to move those who run the world to change to renewable energy.

Now that wind and solar power are cheaper than fossil fuels we will see more definite action. Mammon has shifted his allegiance to renewables.

Lazard's home page describes its business as: "A global firm, built over generations, on a foundation of client service. Lazard has a simple and powerful model, focused on two businesses: Financial Advisory and Asset Management."

In 2017 Lazard produced its latest (at the time of writing this) Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (Version 11.0). The figures in the table below were extracted from that report; the costs are for the USA, are in US dollars and are for utility-scale installations. I have selected only the figures for on-shore wind, solar PV and their main competitors in non-renewables: gas combined cycle, coal and nuclear.

Energy sourceCost range in 2017Change from 2009-2017
Wind$30-$6067% decrease
Solar$43-$5386% decrease
Gas combined cycle$42-$7827% decrease
Coal$60-$1438% decrease
Nuclear$112-$18320% increase

Lazard's analysis indicated that in Australia, solar was a little less expensive than in the US and gas power a little more expensive.

Also see Lazard's Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage 2018. In it the cost of onshore wind power had decreased by a further 3-7%, solar had decreased a further 13-16%; there was little change in the cost of the other technologies.

The general expectation is that the cost of wind power and especially solar power will continue to decrease.






Related pages

External sites

Just Have a Think: The Modern Giants of Renewable Technology

Just Have a Think: Green Hydrogen: Can Australia lead the world?

Just Have a Think: the about page - the series is hosted by Dave Borlace.

On this site

A list of pages relating to environment in the international context.

A list of pages relating to energy in the international context.

A list of pages relating to environment in The Australian context.

A list of pages relating to energy in the Australian context.

Individual pages

Australia's energy future

End of coal: why the coal industry has a very limited future.

Ethics: a subject that Energy Minister Taylor would do well to learn about.

Greenhouse/climate change: the greatest threat currently facing mankind.

Hydrogen and energy

Killer coal: how the burning of coal kills millions of people world-wide each year.

Power to Gas (P2G, renewable energy used to produced hydrogen gas) in Australia.

Pumped hydro energy storage.

Selfishness or altruism?: self or all?

South Australia's energy future

South Australia's success in changing toward renewable energy

Angus Taylor, Australia's gobsmackingly biased Energy Minister

Who wants renewable energy?

Which electricity generation method should Australia choose for the future?

Which would you prefer, wind energy or fossil fuels?

Why support wind power

Why would you choose nuclear power?

Wind power opposition: almost universally dishonest.