Living with Electricity
If you ever stop and think how significant electricity is in your life, you may well be in for a bit of a surprise. The buses, trains, and cars you travel in are increasingly electric. The ships and planes that transport the goods you buy are all being innovated to run on electricity. Your new home is more likely than not to be heated by an electric heat pump.
So, you’re actually consuming more electricity, and at higher rates, than you probably thought.
This revelation may lead you to ask where’s it all coming from, and how long it will last?
Dwindling Fossil Fuels
Currently, the electricity that makes your life comfortable, safe and convenient, is mostly derived from fossil fuels - almost 80% of your energy is provided by coal, natural gas, and oil.
But our planet took hundreds of millions of years to create fossil fuels, and there’s only so much of it.
And, at current and projected energy usage, it’s all going to run out sooner than we’d like - oil and gas in the next 40 years of so, and coal within 150 years.
So yes, we will run out of electricity if we continue to rely on the burning of fossil fuels to drive transportation, power our personal energy devices, control the temperature of our homes, or run our industries.
Transformational Energy Solution
But that’s not the way our world is.
Two major transformations are well under way that will ensure that you, your children, and your children’s children will always have enough electricity.
Solar and Wind
First, we are increasingly turning to renewables such as solar and wind for our growing electricity needs.
Currently, renewables are responsible for generating only about 20% of the electricity we use, a figure that is targeted to be at least 32% by 2030.
The pace of transforming our electricity production from one of fossils fuels to renewables is being accelerated through European Union (EU) policies aiming to meet strict (40% reduction) greenhouse gas emission targets by 2030.
Country by country progress to meet this goal is uneven, but Sweden has already exceeded the EU target and other markets from Finland to the Czech Republic are well on the way.
Electricity: On the Way to Powering Everything
Second, more of the energy you consume daily is electricity.
In Europe, the total electricity consumption as part of total final energy consumption grew from 17% in 1990 to 22% in 2016.
France and Spain with 26% and 24% growth respectively, have outpaced Europe as a whole.
So, we are using more things that run on electricity than ever before. Statistically, you are more likely to be driving an electric vehicle in 10 to 20 years than driving an internal combustion engine (ICE) car – 64% of German consumers for instance, are already considering buying an electric vehicle (EV).
Are We Swapping One Dependency for Another?
Could our growing reliance on electricity strain supply or threaten the very viability of the all-electric life we’re pursuing?
Well, no. For two reasons.
Firstly, electric powered devices are much more efficient than their fuel-burning counterparts. Take for instance, that EV you may well be driving in the next 10 years. It will be 40% more efficient than your current fuel-burning car.
And the residential electric heat pump that will invariably heat your new home is at least 50% more efficient than the condensing boilers now commonplace.
So, yes, while we are using more electricity, we are also being more efficient with it.
The second reason is that solar and wind are sustainable sources of electricity.
They are not exactly infinite resources in the sense that they will always produce what we need all the time – clouds and wind patterns are just not that obliging.
As Europe relies more and more on wind turbine generated electricity issues of intermittency of supply can become very real.
And for solar energy, we can’t simply blanket the country-side with Photo Voltaic (PV) fields the size of cities to capture more of the sun’s energy, because that would upset the earth’s albedo ratio - the resultant reflection of radiation would, ironically, increase temperatures and contribute to global warming.
However, both solar and wind can, theoretically, be drawn upon forever to generate our electricity, and issues of intermittency of supply are being addressed through continued innovation and through advanced grid management policies.
Off-peak charging routines for instance, and discharging electricity stored in your EV battery back into the grid will help flatten out intermittency threats.
Keeps on Giving
Driving home the point that solar and wind power will not effectively ever run out, it is estimated that even the rate of electricity production now from renewables is enough to meet demand at least until the year 2170.
In the intervening 150 years new technologies and efficiencies in solar and wind farming will extend that date into the foreseeable and distant future, ensuring the long-term viability of the electrification of our cities and lives.