Renewable energy: happiness only in the second half of the century?
Material posted: Publication date: 21-06-2017
Mankind has many times changed its energy paradigm, initially the energy consumption was only in the form of food: berries, fruit, Buffalo, and so on. Then the man replaced the blueberries with mammoths on more convenient and powerful sources of energy: wood, coal, oil, nuclear energy. Each transition lasted hundreds of years and put another gigawatt to the service of humanity — in houses it was warm, there where to charge the smartphone and millions of people travel through the wide expanses of forests, fields and rivers on cars and trains. However, the question will sink into oblivion if the current power structure is not necessary — just strange timing when it happens.

The energy unit of the Agency “Bloomberg” has recently published its annual forecasts for renewable energy, which claims to be the new energy way of life. Below is a graph of distribution of electricity production, depending on the source:


The black color indicates the proportion of electric power plants using fossil fuels — coal, gas and a small proportion of oil. Gray — nuclear and hydropower. Dark blue renewable energy (RES) — solar and wind.

According to Bloomberg, despite a manifold increase even by 2040, renewable energy will occupy only a third of the electric power balance — 34%. Accordingly, the era of renewable energy (if any) are shifted somewhere far in the second half of the century. In this case, the graph actually shows all the difficulties which are often overlooked in these arguments: power is only a smaller part of the consumption of energy by mankind. The basic share falls on the direct use of oil, gas and coal in engines, furnaces and so on, so the share of RES of the total energy is approximately two times less.

It may seem that I'm gloating techno-pessimist, but it's not. Two years ago, I noted that solar power is retrospectively underestimated, generation is growing exponentially and will continue to progress, but because of the low base effect and other problems of the rising generation will be slower than we would like. Growth growth — discord.

As too often happens in today's world, renewable energy comes down to money. Solar panels are getting cheaper for the past 40 years, and not just so, but exponentially. But still not enough. Wind energy, contrary to popular opinion, can compete on cost with traditional — study, IEA and NEA (eng.) here, is easier here. But its distribution raises the problem of aesthetic nature: between “beautiful landscapes without wind turbines” and “lawn windmills” people tend to support the first option, especially in densely populated regions. The solution is the removal of the wind turbines in the sea, shifted its focus to Europe, increasing subsidies (feed-in-tariff) this generating. But marine wind generators, this stuff is expensive and again it's all about money.

“Bloomberg” cites a forecast of the cost on the example of China:


Black line — the cost of coal power generation, orange and blue — solar and wind. The vertical axis is $/MW*h and not from zero.

Only in the early 2020s, solar power will become cheaper than coal. But this applies only to new power plants, which cost the construction costs and direct activity. After all, the old power station has already been “recaptured” capital expenditures and their operating costs only — services and the coal, which is cheap now. Therefore, to squeeze out of the market, the old generation with a cost of $20-$30 per MWh this is still a problem for a couple of decades it can not be solved by market mechanisms.

The result (if the forecast is "Bloomberg" will be true) to humanity will have a long time to rely on fossil fuels and barring any breakthrough, the current trends for the transition to new energy sources will be smeared for decades.


Tags: assessment , Europe , energy