Sustainability Tools | JDC EXEC
The ever-evolving energy mix and what it would look like 30 years from now
Nellie Swanepoel | Sustainability & Leadership Development | Dubai, UAE
July 12 2019
In the world today there are 10 known, reliable energy sources that are used primarily to generate power, they are: solar, wind, geothermal, hydrogen, tidal wave, marine energy, hydroelectric, biomass, nuclear and fossil fuels. Some having improved on the process involved in how to extract their energy and convert it to electricity in cost-efficient methods, while others having processes put in place by those gone before us. Whatever the source, each when acted upon, impacts the environment either positively, negatively. Fossil fuels for example, though used from as far back as the 1800s, have (due to the carbon dioxide they release) created what is known as the greenhouse effect – making them the leading cause of climate change and global warming; two very undesirable environmental concerns. Although such has been the unfortunate disadvantage to fossil fuels, they make up the energy mix that can be described as being so prominent that all 10 have contributed to the modern life we live in.
Coursing through high-powered lines in several locations around the world, a series of electrical reactions add to the electrical power that is appreciated around the world. Unbeknown to many, is just how much effort goes into converting energy into electricity that cooks food, lights rooms and powers factories, where it comes from, how it affects the environment and how it will and must evolve in the coming years. A projection to the future of energy would require that we observe and appreciate which energy sources will have the capacity to propel us into the next 10, 20 and even 30 years by understanding what has worked and will continue to work as well as what research and global developmental feats that have and will be already achieved. Here we will discuss the dominating energy sources that are projected to make up the energy mix of the future.
Simple economics on the one hand and global policy changes on the other have led to solar energy’s rapid ascension. Solar power is the renewable, replenishable energy that is derived from the sun. Being a clean source of energy, it is natural and causes no threat to both humanities as well as the environment in which we live. An example of solar power on a less intimidating scale can be seen at substations in desert areas where they utilize solar panels to generate electricity thus minimizing CO2 emission contributions. On a bigger scale, countries like Germany and China are impressive examples that have successfully harnessed the sun’s rays despite not being as sun-drenched as other countries closer to the equator.
A country that has a solar advantage with about 10 hours of sunlight is the UAE. This advantage coupled with their goal to reduce their reliance on oil and a vision to save on the space they have designated to tourism has led them to build their first-ever floating solar power plant located off the coast of Abu Dhabi. An innovative project which began energy production earlier this year had the aim to forge in the emirates floating renewable energy solutions. Ingeniously, utilizing the sea to build the solar power plant.
These forward-thinking countries have proved that solar energy is a viable, and reliable energy option for the future. There are a number of advantages to using solar from it, of course, being renewable, to being so powerful that the sun’s energy in one hour, can provide the globe’s power for an entire year! Over and above that, it is easy on the environment and non-threatening unlike other more dirty energy sources and, although costly to install in a home, it can considerably reduce electricity bills. Gone are the days when solar was a fairy-tale utopian ideal that was unattainable and farfetched. Solar, and how to harness it has been on the rise due to the clear and undeniable damage carbon emissions, global warming and greenhouse gases have caused. Today, it is the fastest rising renewable energy in the world having been reported to one day rival nuclear energy. According to a report conducted 3 years ago! The article suggests that although solar is on the rise, it is predicted to surpass nuclear energy by the year 2050.
Unlike solar, nuclear energy is an alternative energy source that is not renewable; it does have however, low carbon technology with the capacity to meet the ever-increasing demand of energy (which is predicted to triple by 2050). Nuclear power does this while reducing CO2 emissions. Despite its drawbacks and understandable concerns and dangers witnessed at previous nuclear plants; nuclear energy has been a go-to and will be in the future for several plausible reasons, namely because; it offers high power output, with high fuel to power output ratios. With one reactor a city and its industries can be powered. Nuclear energy is an alternative source of energy and with nuclear plant construction being relatively straightforward with government support, nuclear plants offer the economic impact that benefits the employment rate for at least another 40 – 60 years. The next 20 years will see a tag team of campaigns aimed at easing weary public minds regarding nuclear energy and solutions to their justifiable concerns such as better waste management solutions and safety precautions.
In the UAE, the demand for electricity has grown to such a degree that it is a necessity of life as electricity is used to provide its potable water by desalination among other things. Currently, a nuclear program is underway to build 4 commercial power reactors at Barakah; with one unit already complete – being the first commercial station in the Arab world. Upon completion, it will have a total capacity of 5600 megawatts that would be ample to provide as much as 25% of the UAE’s energy needs.
Being more future-forward, are smart cities that have redefined the urban energy mix and will be a norm for most cities in the near future. Their aim is to dispense their concepts for a cleaner city while transitioning towards a digital economy.
A smart city is defined as, a city that’s smart when investments in (i) human and social capital, (ii) traditional infrastructure and (iii) disruptive technologies fuel sustainable economic growth and good quality of life, with what is considered as wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.
Andrew McAfee once said, “Digital technologies are doing for human brainpower what the steam engine and related technologies did for human muscle power. They’re allowing us to overcome many limitations rapidly and to open up new frontiers with unprecedented speed.”
With over half of the world’s population being city dwellers, managing this population is a growing concern. It’s an urbanizing trend that isn’t likely going to slow down as it’s become apparent that everything that can be digital will be. As a result, cities have become the topic of discussion surrounding climate change as they find ways to develop an electrical infrastructure that supports economic growth and high quality of life. The smart city concept answers these questions using technology to improve sustainable energy management. Technology that has the intelligence to be subsequent to an aggressive growth track.
One such way to do just that is local resilience with a microgrid. By definition, a microgrid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that act as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode. Resiliency is achieved by islanding from the central grid during an outage. This makes power more local and protects communities amidst wider outages.
Another aspect smart cities will begin to employ globally, are smart grids. Using computer technology, a smart grid improves the communication, automation, and connectivity of the various components of the power network. The difference between the two is that a smart grid offers a more advanced energy management system.
Global landscape is changing fast and changing just as quickly, is how we define the deep disparities of today’s energy world. The promise of electricity for all has not been fulfilled and the pressure to make right on that promise lies on the shoulders of the planners and investors of the future. These solutions must also solve the damage done by CO2 emissions. A tall order it seems, but this age is unlike any other, with information at our fingertips, the answers lie in combining the proven and known with futuristic and digital methods – a future that is indeed exciting.