The argument is frequently made that electricity grids in modern economies are not currently designed to cope with significant proportions of electricity coming from intermittent sources of energy. Generally it is agreed that energy from base load sources, such as coal and oil-fired power stations as well as nuclear power (which we at Quoted Cleantech regard as a clean energy), should form 75-80% of supply; although it is also accepted that the introduction of smarter electricity grids should enable this percentage to be reduced.
It seems to me that in the coming decades obtaining around 50% of electricity from renewable sources (not including nuclear) should be achievable in a First World economy. However, even I was surprised to see a report released last month by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggesting that Europe could create a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050.
This would certainly be a monumental achievement, especially since only 15% of Europe’s power supply currently comes from renewable sources.
Yet the PWC/Potsdam study insists that the technological capability for developing renewable forms of power generation is already in place or emerging. As well as the obligatory ‘smart grid’ that will be required to organise the flows of electricity from all these different renewable sources, and that will also organise the storage of electricity so that it can be used at times of peak demand, the study identifies a number of technologies that are set to play their part.
Southern Europe and the arid deserts of North Africa could make use of vast solar farms that use ‘concentrated solar power’ – a technology that is currently operating at a quarter of the capacity of wind power, but which could potentially be the lowest-cost renewable technology available for Europe.
Of course, onshore and offshore wind farms in both the North Sea and the Baltic will make a major contribution. In fact, the UK Government has already set the offshore wind industry in motion.
Then there is the potential for the Continent’s naturally occurring ocean tidal and wave power to be exploited.
Meanwhile, more use should be made of electricity generation from biomass across Europe and hydroelectricity in Scandinavia and in the Alps, says the PWC/Potsdam report.
Whether 100% electricity generation from renewable sources by 2050 is possible or not, such reports do demonstrate how some business minds are thinking. And this reinforces my view that cleantech will be the sector in which to invest during the next few decades.
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