A new report from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) proves again what many in the line of green businesses already expect: a rapid growth of renewable energy technologies. In fact, the report concludes that such sources of energy are right on track to stir up our conventional energy-mix, and faster than it was anticipated.
The report evaluated the seven most significant alternative-energy technologies:
- advanced biofuels
- electric vehicles
- concentrated solar power (CSP)
- solar photovoltaic (PV), onshore wind
- offshore wind
- clean coal through carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)
Prospects on three deciding and important issues were assessed:
1. cost competitiveness
2. overcome barriers to rapid adoption
3. penetration levels by 2025
In order to really become a serious competitor to fossil energy, cost parity has to be achieved without subsidies. Renewable energy also requires a change in other aspects, too. An expansion of transmission networks and stronger lines are crucial to deliver energy from where it occurs to where it’ s needed and transmission networks can also serve for storage purposes; smart grids are necessary to optimize distribution and efficiency. Electric cars require a network of refuelling stations. By 2025, the share of alternative energy could really disrupt the status quo, with many concequences.
Some technologies have already reached cost-parity, for example onshore wind power, whereas offshore wind power will struggle to move beyond purely subsidy-driven growth.
Electric cars have actually been availiable for many years now, the technology is fully developed. By 2020, significant declines in battery costs could make them economically attractive for lead segments. Investment is urgent; the infrastructure has to be built now.
Energy storage is one of the main issues for alternative energy, due to their intermittent nature. Right now, this is a favourite argument for those wanting to slow down the move towards a low-carbon future, but in fact creative solutions can overcome this problem. Smart grids, fuel cells, “intelligent” appliances and pumped- storage hydropower are some ideas. E-cars could also serve as a giant battery. Another point is the carefully planning and well-considered mix of applied technologies, for example solar and wind energy tends to be available at different times.
Clean coal through CCS will have very slow adoption and won’t be viable for the next decade or two, but is another option to supply energy during peak times or when renewable energy isn’t available.
“There is no question that conventional energy sources will constitute the bulk of the world’s energy for at least the next couple of decades,” said Balu Balagopal, a Houston-based senior partner at BCG and a co-author of the report. This is no surprise, but we have to start setting up the infrastructure now and educate people to switch to efficient solutions when they are building homes and buy new electric equipment. It is also important to train the engineers of the future today.
Cost for all renewable energies is coming down, and at the same time efficiency is ever increasing. The report thus concludes that most is down to setting up the right environment for the fast expansion of all renewable. “However, we believe these barriers will likely prove surmountable,” added Balagopal.
Hopefully the move can be accelerated even more, because when we consider the growing demand for energy in the changing face of the world, every year that we hang on to those GHG emitting means of power will take decades, if not centuries, to recuperate.