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Global Futures Report 2013 - Speaking Personally (Views of the Author)

63 EPILOGUE: SPEAKING PERSONALLY (Views of the Author) As noted from the start, this report is intended to objectively portray the range of credible views and possibilities about the future of renewable energy, expressed by an array of experts and scenarios. In writing the report, I put aside my personal views in order to present the fullest range of possibilities. Here, however, I take the liberty to express my own views, many of which mirror content in the preceding chapters. While most readers should find their own views represented somewhere in the report, some readers may disagree with mine. My views come from personal experience working in the field of renewable energy since 1986, and from the work I conducted in 2011–2012 as the basis for this report. Overall, I think there are excellent prospects for the world to become predominantly powered (and fueled) by renewable energy by the 2040–2050 timeframe (including electricity, heating, cooling, and transport). Indeed, this should be an explicit political and social goal worldwide. As to what “predominantly” means, I would say some- thing like 80–90%. I don’t believe that we can reach “100%,” as many now advocate, although “100%” is a useful political and social archetype. Rather, I think we need to allow for a modest share of fossil fuels to accompany renewables, particularly for those needs that are most difficult to meet with renewables, including freight transport and shipping, high-temperature industrial process heat, airline travel (unless we start using passenger airships again), and some natural gas use in power grids to balance variability. At some point before 2020, the question of renewables’ fundamen- tal economic competitiveness will cease to be an issue. Renewable technology costs will continue to decline, while fossil fuel prices will continue to increase. Investors will recognize renewables as sound, low-risk investments, and renewables will become a preferred target of equity finance and seen as a strong inflation hedge. Eventually, the main questions will simply become questions of finance, rates of return, infrastructure lifetimes, rates of replace- ment of existing energy infrastructure, and the evolution of high- efficiency end-uses, from appliances to cars to homes to factories. These end-uses will be “paired” with renewables as integrated energy services. However, materials constraints for manufactured renewable tech- nologies (including supplies of specific elements and rare earths), recycling (especially of batteries), and toxic wastes could eventually present a formidable challenge. I am swayed by both pessimistic and optimistic assessments of how well we can manage such a challenge. Governments should continue to support renewables through the 2020s because a host of institutional and social issues for inte- gration of renewables will continue to require attention, foremost among them a host of policies and practices for utility grid integra- tion (as discussed in Chapter 2) and new policies and practices for efficient, low-energy building construction integrated with renew- able heating and cooling. Governments should also undertake crash programs for electric and thermal storage technologies, which have the greatest potential to have a transformative impact. And governments should abandon all support for nuclear power, which is too expensive, unnecessary in view of what renewables can do, and unworthy of the legacy we leave to future generations. Most experts agree that electricity will be the easiest to supply from renewables. I believe that the world will achieve close to 100% electricity from renewables in the long run without much difficulty. And I believe that this can be achieved even without a major energy storage breakthrough—given the many other available options for managing grid variability. Utilities and regulators will figure it out, but renewables are growing so fast that there is not much time. Energy storage will help as well, and commercial battery storage technologies are closer than most realize, for both local and central- ized levels. Pumped hydro storage is already well established, and I believe it can be expanded greatly to manage variability, in spite of environmental issues, to become an important part of a renewable energy future. In the coming years, there will be an explosion of solar PV rooftops across the world, big and small. Fifteen or 20 years from now, a “bare” rooftop will seem very strange to us, and most new construction will include PV as routine practice. This will lead to a parallel explosion in micro-grids (both residential and commercial), community-scale power systems, and autonomous-home systems. The grid will become a much more complex hybrid of centralized and distributed power, with a much greater variety of contractual models between suppliers and consumers. For bulk power supply and industry, the “big grid” resources—wind, solar thermal power (CSP), and geothermal—will predominate. I happen to think that most biomass in the long run will be used for heating and transport fuels and not electricity, but this is uncertain. Solar heating and cooling have great promise. There is no reason why many new and existing buildings should not be outfitted with solar heating and cooling systems integrated into building architec- ture. And we will see dedicated CSP plants that double as industrial heat supply. It also seems that there could be a boom in geothermal heat pumps given proper incentives and integration with building codes and regulations. And for countries in northern climates, or those with high quantities of readily available agricultural wastes, wood pellets for residential and small-commercial heating could become ubiquitous, with large and sophisticated markets for wood pellet distribution. Similarly, there are large opportunities for piped and containerized biogas for home heating and cooking. The single most important driver for renewables-based heating and cooling in the future will be innovations and changes in building construction, including widespread adoption of so-called “passive” or “zero-energy” building models that require very little heating energy, even in cold winter climates, due to super insulation, solar gain, thermal storage, and high-efficiency heating equipment. Only when such buildings are widespread can renewables play a large role in heating and cooling. Such buildings are not much more expensive than ordinary construction, but the architecture and construction industry is far from providing off-the-shelf, least-cost, and integrated solutions for passive buildings.

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