From Stantec ERA: What’s the future of energy? An Energy Remix to power our planet.
May 20, 2019
May 20, 2019
As the population grows, the need for more energy also grows—and old and new stakeholders are redefining how we power, live, and move about our planet
The industrial revolution transitioned the world into an urban society. Innovations in manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and energy production increased the standard of living for the general public. The lives of everyday citizens were forever changed.
Today’s society is experiencing another revolution ushered in by an energy remix. Our sources of energy are changing, and demand is increasing globally. Electricity generated from renewable sources is increasingly being used as the primary source of energy, and hydrocarbons are transitioning from being a primary source of energy to an industrial raw material.
This remix is bringing about vast changes in how we power, live, and move about our planet.
In its simplest terms, the Energy Remix is a move from the historical practice of burning hydrocarbons as a primary source of energy to using electricity sourced from renewables. The remix is not a simple transition though but rather a gradual shift. Challenges posed by geography and increased energy demands will make hydrocarbons essential throughout the transition to renewables—and afterwards, too.
Each community’s current energy mix varies according to the resources available—either as its own natural resources or what it can import, choices over what it exploits, standard of living, and level of overall development. The energy produced is consumed by everything from transportation to domestic needs to business and commerce.
Consumption demands are changing though. The transport industry will consume less hydrocarbons as more electric vehicles enter the market and the use of public transit increases. Planes and ships are using low-emission fuels and becoming more efficient. Buildings and facilities are being designed to be net-zero or net-positive energy, and smart cities around the world are incorporating energy performance-enhancing technologies.
The embrace of electrification and demand for more renewable energy sources is revealing weaknesses from some power sources. Intermittent sources, like wind and solar, are unable to meet sudden unbalances in the electricity grid. To address concerns of grid reliability, a large investment in energy storage is needed. This is being addressed by continuous improvement in battery technology and renewed interest in pumped storage.
Read and download Stantec era: The Energy Remix
In the developed world, emphasis is on energy efficiency and reducing consumption. This is being driven by demands for cost savings and the desire to reduce emissions.
Yet according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy consumption globally is expected to grow by 28% by 2040. This demand will be coming from the developing world.
The developing world is increasing energy demands in order to improve standards of living. This will be met by both new energy sources and products derived from hydrocarbons.
This push to electrification will require a massive investment in energy production. New generation projects are expected to be mostly renewables (hydro, wind, and solar) both in North America and beyond.
While these projects will continue to be developed at the traditional utility scale, increased activity in microgrids are expected as well. It is expected that distributed generation will be located on all types of industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential facilities. The major driver for renewable generation has historically been a response to climate change. However, costs for developing renewable projects have reduced, and continue to do so, and hence they are competing economically with fossil fuel generation. This trend is expected to continue.
BP’s annual energy outlook report predicts that natural gas and renewable energy sources—including wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and biofuels—will account for 85% of the world’s energy growth by 2040. Despite this focus on renewable energy, natural gas will account for nearly 30% of the primary energy source. Oil, despite decreases, would still account for nearly 30% as well.
This push to electrification will require a massive investment in energy production.
In summary: hydrocarbons aren’t going anywhere. They will continue to serve an important fuel source during the remix. Long-term, they will be used to create the products that the world demands.
Hydrocarbons are the basis for the products, including plastics, that are feeding the global economy. Responding to the increasing demands for these products while ensuring sustainable life-cycle management of them, will require significant innovation and investment.
New uses for hydrocarbons in products are emerging. For example, opportunities from research in Alberta on the alternative uses for bitumen, the oil found in that region, is remarkable. This oil could be used to create the cars we drive, the roads we drive on, or the energy-storage solution we need.
The first industrial revolution was powered largely by coal. It changed manufacturing and was a major economic driver. The energy remix has the potential to do that as well.
GEIDCO, an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development of energy, estimates that the cost to electrify the globe using renewable sources, make us more energy efficient, and restore carbons to an industrial raw material will be in the $50 trillion range.
If managed properly, the energy remix could be the next economic driver to improving standards of living and reducing poverty throughout the world.