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Electricity is just one part of the puzzle

By Jakob Jensen — — Posted in heat series

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 industries sits 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.

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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.

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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

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.

References

The Power To Change, IRENA, 2016

Global Energy System Based On 100% Renewable Energy, Energy Watch Group, 2019

Credit Opinion, Vattenfall, 2019

Photo credits

Heliac, Energistyrelsen

About me

I have spent the better part of 20 years investing in cleantech startups. During my career I have probably seen at least 3,000 business proposals, including Heliac's which I was introduced to in 2016 when I headed Climate-KIC Nordic's accelerator program. I found -and still find - Heliac's solution to be by far the best new solution I've ever come around, which is why I joined the company in early 2017.

Disclaimer: I have not double-checked all my sources and I am not an expert in all areas mentioned in the articles. I may therefore have reached conclusions that wiser men and women may know to be inaccurate. If so, I trust they will let me know, so I can become a bit wiser too.

This insight was originally posted in LinkedIn