Electricity is just one part of the puzzle

You are in the same boat as possibly most other people - but nevertheless wrong - if you think the world will become a clean, carbon emission free place as soon as most energy demanding processes have been electrified and powered by solar cells and wind turbines.

Our use of heat in homes and industriessits on half the world’s energy consumption. With a few exceptions, all of this heat can be produced almost lossless from electricity. Today, all these heat-driven processes are powered by burning natural gas, oil, and coal. So, in theory, by installing enough wind turbines and solar cells we could eliminate half the world’s carbon emissions.

It’s not that easy of course. There are limits to how much renewable electricity we can produce, there are limits to how fast we can install new capacity, and there’s the overarching challenge of electrifying the world without increasing costs.

According to a new brilliant analysis from Energy Watch Group looking at the path towards a 100% renewable world by 2050, electricity’s share of the global energy mix will increase, but still not overtake heat’s role.

A big challenge towards a fully electrified world is that most heat-driven processes need to run 24/7/365. For this to happen we need to be able to store electricity for weeks and preferably months without adding significant costs to the energy. The problem with this is that storage of electricity for more than a few hours is prohibitively expensive. See my article on Storage for further insights into this problem.
A second challenge is that nobody likes wind turbines placed in their backyard or offshore disturbing their undisturbed, expensive and privileged view of the sea. Just ask Vattenfall who recently had to postpone a €3 billion offshore wind park west of Denmark for three years due to complaints.
A third challenge is that the costs of renewable heat from electricity can’t compete with fossil fuels. The International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, forecasted in 2016 solar cells to drop 59% in price over the coming 10 years. Still, the cost of heat produced from this electricity will keep being more than twice the cost of heat generated with fossil fuels.
A fourth challenge is that nuclear energy which could provide much of the needed electricity faces so much public opposition – and nuclear plants take so many years to build – that it’s not a realistic path to electrification at the speed climate change requires.
All other methods for generating renewable electricity are more expensive than wind turbines and solar cells. The only competitive method is hydropower, but since we are running out of available rivers in the mountains, hydropower cannot be scaled to meet demand.

Interested in reading more?Please see the links to my other articles below. Additionally, a ‘Like’ from you will also be much appreciated as this should help direct more attention at the many business and climate opportunities the market for heat production offers.

Thank you for reading,

Jakob Jensen

Processes above 400ºC/750ºF can also benefit from solutions delivering lower temperatures. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US has analyzed how much solar thermal could be augmented as pre-heating for fossil-fired power plants in the US and found it possible to install up to 60GW solar thermal for this purpose alone. If NREL’s 2011-analysis still holds true, then this homogeneous segment may represent a €20 billion opportunity for solar thermal solutions.
In total, trillions of euros are spent each year on fossil fuels for heat production for all sorts of industrial purposes. The different methods for heat generation will be described in next week’s article, Generation.
Total heat production accounts for half the global CO2 emissions. Renewable solutions that can provide heat at lower costs – by simply being cheaper, by leveraging the expected increases in carbon taxes, and/or by increasing efficiencies – are looking into market opportunities possibly capable of dwarfing any and all inventions in traditional solar and wind.

Interested in reading more? Please see the links to my other articles below. Additionally, a ‘Like’ from you will also be much appreciated as this should help direct more attention at the many business and climate opportunities the market for heat production offers.

Thank you for reading,

Jakob Jensen

HEAT is a series of non-technical, easy-read 3-minutes articles looking at heat’s role in energy production, its environmental impact, technologies for sustainable large-scale heat production, and some of the business opportunities these solutions generate.
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The Business Analytics Institute and FutureGrasp will hold a global online conference March 25th to help strategic decision-makers understand the opportunity and challenges of embedded finance in leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) today to create significant and sustainable revenue streams for their organisation in the months ahead.
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