Moving Toward One Energy Future Part 2: Improved Storage and Efficiency

Although the global economy grew by nearly 3% in 2015, global energy-related carbon emissions remained constant, according to the International Energy Agency. Some of this is due to efficiency improvements and a significant contributor is the slowdown in China’s economy, but the main factors are the change in our energy supply with more focus on renewables and a switch from coal to natural gas as a fuel source, as explored in Part One of this series. Consensus about the necessity of carbon emissions reductions was formed at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) and formal targets were outlined by countries at the 2016 Conference (COP22) in Marrakesh. To reach these aggressive and necessary targets, there are three possible levers:

  1. 1) Reduce consumption of energy services;
  2. 2) Maintain level of energy services – even increase it – but do so while
    improving energy efficiency; and
  3. 3) Increase use of low /zero-carbon energy sources

While reduced energy services consumption is ultimately up to individuals, there is significant untapped potential to drive energy efficiency and increase use of low / zero-carbon energy sources.

Untapped Potential of Energy Efficiency

While very dramatic progress has been achieved over the years through improved energy efficiency – i.e., the delivery of energy services using less energy while maintaining the quality and amount of energy services – there remains vast potential for further substantial gains in energy efficiency. Rapid advances in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, both from expansion of capabilities and reduced costs, will enable deep penetration into every aspect of our lives through more efficient devices and control systems (the ‘internet-of-things’). This will inevitably lead to an ever-bigger contribution by energy efficiency to our mix of energy resources.

Impact of Better Energy Storage

Energy storage also holds promise, mainly in the form of batteries. There are other promising energy storage technologies available, including compressed air and compressed pipeline gas. Rapidly advancing energy storage technologies present the opportunity to resolve the challenge posed by intermittent renewables as they become an increasingly significant source of power.

In developing countries, the opportunity is even more exciting. In a similar way that mobile phone technology allowed regions to bypass wired communication and leap-frog directly to wireless, energy storagsustainable energy futuree allows the potential for sites and regions to have 100% renewable power without connection to a wider grid.

Up to now energy storage has been too expensive, but 2017 may be the year we see energy storage move into the mainstream. In sub-Saharan Africa, our firm is using solar energy and wind energy with battery storage to deliver energy at a cost lower than that produced by a diesel power energy system. In California, we are deploying flow battery technology to store solar power, providing the backbone of a university campus microgrid. We are investigating innovative applications of compressed air energy storage to strategically ‘bank’ renewable energy that would otherwise go unused. We are working with consumers, investors and suppliers across the globe to achieve these same exciting results in ever-widening geographies as renewable energy production and energy storage become more economically competitive with non-renewable energy.

In summary, our one viable, sustainable energy future will ultimately comprise the combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage. There will of course be a transition period during which oil, coal and especially natural gas will continue to play important and critical roles in meeting energy demand. However, given the compelling economic trajectory that has been established by sustainable energy technologies, that ultimate energy future may arrive sooner than we think.

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