Recent change in environmental policy may be a cause for concern. But it’s not all bad. While Trump’s regard for the planet may be akin to that of feminist literature, his advisors continue to plow billions into clean energy. And his tipping of the playing field in Big Oil’s favour hasn’t yet touched future bright spark solar energy, for instance. In fact, last year the U.S. added one new megawatt of solar every 36 minutes. But what’s the reality of the New Energy Future?
Clean energy jobs in California > coal mining jobs in the entire nation.
The future of transportation is autonomous, likely jointly owned, and electric.
Nuclear and coal are not economical, most certainly long term.
Electric vehicles will cost less than internal combustion vehicles in the 2020s.
These are the (highly quantifiable) predictions made by some of the top dogs in energy including Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Michael Bloomberg and the CEOs of Duke Energy and XCEL Energy at a recent event organised by Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance dept.
But what exciting energy innovations are driving this?
Whether an eco enthusiast or hardline motorhead, you can’t not be a fan of this beautiful beast. Now the best-selling luxury car on the US market, thanks to rapidly lowering battery costs (falling at 20% a year, having previously made up about half total cost), the cost of the electric vehicle (surely not the only one who says that in a Southern US accent) will soon beat its carbon fuelled colleague, bringing electric to the masses. Although this also depends on resources and battery developments, CEO of Oil giant Total admits himself that demand for oil-based fuels will peak in 2030, by which time 15-30% vehicles will be electric. An undoubtably impressive attack on the source of one sixth of total carbon emissions (Bloomberg).
Oh and they’ll most likely have their own smart system so you can stay safely hooked up to the interweb 24/7.
But tell us something we don’t know. Well, what about airplanes. With Airbus and Siemens (which recently broke the EV world record speed) just two of those developing machines that will one day make jet fuel obsolete, the day we’ll be jetting off to the Bahamas guilt free seems ever more real. Long term, the reduction in operational costs are a sure incentive, unlike for car producers. Not to mention less noise and improved reliability.
The Lilium VTOL (vertical take off and landing) plane gives a glimpse of this reality. A sort of airborne taxi you’ll be able to order Uber is of course in on. After a successful maiden voyage on 27th April, they’re set to have 50 eVTOLs from US tech company Aurora up and running before 2020.
It remains to be seen whether EVs will run underground vs by air – with NASA developing new systems as a precaution. Regardless, the electrical advantage depends on where the energy is being sourced from, 75% of which still stems from fossil fuels in the US, the UK up to 50%. Cue the influx of:
2. Bright Spark: Solar
Nowadays most new power installs are solar and wind. Now cheaper than fossil fuels, Wall Street is spending more on them than all other energy sources. China’s solar production has tripled, and even oil-rich Saudi Arabia jumping on the bandwagon, with massive projects as part of the kingdom’s $50 billion push to temper domestic oil use. California produce has produced so much that wholesale electricity prices are turning negative. With Germany even having to pay countries off to avoid surges. Partnering recently with Google to help plan panels on homes, drones are also being used to cut planning costs by up to 30%.
Musk recently unveiled the all-new Solar Roof. Sleek glass tiles with solar panels built in, with a price rivalling conventional roof. They’ll be more durable, 80% lighter (minimising shipping costs) not to mention the energy savings.
Spray-on and printable panels. Methods including… possibly increase efficiency to 30%
A little more likely perhaps than the solar (friggin) roadways concept that captured over 22m views and $2.2m – solar paneled paths seen in the US and Europe in the form of bike paths that have encountered costs and logistics/engineering issues. But the investment and interest is there to fuel innovation that may even see us taking advantage of solar in space, as being explored in Japan.
3. Nuclear Fusion
Whispering the word might be political suicide, but bear with. Unlike harmful nuclear fission, fusion aims to produce energy by “smooshing two smaller atoms into a larger one inside a containment device” the same process that occurs in the sun, with abundant seawater its fuel, and harmless helium as a byproduct. Limitless, clean and almost costless energy, that is. Superior even to several “green” renewables when taking into account the amount of energy required to produce turbines, electric cars.. not to mention their reliability (or lack thereof).
With Jeff Bezos now lending a hand as an investor, startup General Fusion aims to create a reactor by 2030, certainly making them one step ahead of the game. Now more investment is needed to reach the engineering breakthroughs (namely plasma related problems; progressing in the UK) to create sustained energy. Could nuclear fusion then be the final stake through the heart of the fossil fuel industry?
4. Not-So-Carbon Footprints
Pavegen: No, it’s not a meat substitute. Poised to power the data-driven smart homes and cities of the future, Pavegen uses footsteps to create energy from smart tiles. Seemingly more effective since pitching them to property firm Land Securities on an internship last year, they hold the potential to provide anything from a small % of building to all lighting energy needs, as seen in the US.
5. The Biofuel Boom
Here’s an energy saving solution even McDonald’s can’t refuse. Used kitchen oil, recycled in compliance with European requirements for sustainable biodiesel production under the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification System (ISCC), produces less toxic pollutants, reducing greenhouse gases up to 78% compared to diesel (and can be blended with diesel to create jet fuel, like renewable blend produced by Alaska Airlines). The US must use over 2bn gallons this year.
We’re now seeing recycling of old coffee grinds for wood burners, biofuel and possibly even biodiesel, thanks in part to startups like Bio-Bean, now partnering with Costa and Caffe Nero. And even plastic into fuel. It might not be perfect given its pollutants, but is the circle economy gradually closing the loop?
Realistically, the future will most likely see hybrid versions of the above, with improved storage and distributions solutions. But, a factor already within our reach, efficiency is key. Although not mentioned – insulation doesn’t exactly show the sexy side of sustainability; at least less so than the ultracapacitors (fast energy storage) set to see massive investment – this “fifth fuel”, now allows “energy-plus” buildings to harvest energy from their environment and inhabitants and export it, and is certainly needed to create the New Energy Future Bloomberg predicts.