Looking ahead to 2030
The world of electricity in 2030 has the potential to be radically different from today. New technologies, unforeseen possibilities, different ways of generating, distributing, storing and using electricity will all play their part. What does our survey tell us about three important aspects of the changes ahead?
Can we expect energy efficiency to help the supply and demand outlook in the decades ahead? Industry opinion is divided on this issue. Just over half (55%) are optimistic but the remainder assign a medium to high probability that energy efficiency programmes will have largely failed to fulfil their promise by 2030.
Much will depend on the phasing-out of fossil-fuel subsidies. These are a major barrier to energy efficiency as the artificial reduction in energy costs leads to higher than optimal demand for energy.
If a phasing-out of fossil fuels is to have an impact on energy efficiency in the period t0 2030, it needs to be well underway by 2020. Our survey asked about the probability of fossil fuel subsidies being largely phased-out by 2020? Less than a fifth (18%) see this as highly probable. The overwhelming industry sentiment in our survey is that this is improbable and that such subsidies will persist.
Will new sources and supplies of gas transform the generation mix? Will breakthroughs in electricity storage, such as ‘power to gas’ technology, dramatically alter the utility of intermittent renewable power and the wider operation of electricity systems? Will smarter grids deliver on their potential and even lead to some convergence of the sector with telecoms, IT and other technology areas?
Our survey respondents are cautious. More gas generation certainly has a role to play but it’s not a game-changer. Overall, they see gas’s share of their companies’ fuel mix rising from 29% now to 33% in 2030. Despite all the shale gas hype, many questions still remain about its accessibility in some locations and its environmental safety.
But the survey does lend strong support to a 2030 outlook where onshore wind and a range of solar generation facilities, including utility-scale concentrating solar power, compete and play a major role in the energy mix without the need for subsidy.
There is the potential for a ‘power to gas’ breakthrough in electricity storage. One in five in our survey even goes so far as to say it will be the most common form of electric storage by 2030. But they are outnumbered three to one by those saying that current pumped storage technologies will be the main answer to storing electricity.
Three-fifths of our global power survey respondents think there is a medium to high probability that electric cars will form a significant proportion of the world vehicle fleet by 2030. But two thirds (67%) express frustration that regulatory agreement on standards for electric vehicle infrastructure is evolving too slowly.
What will an electric car world look like in 2030? Most of our survey participants expect competition for the customer will be intense. Only 7% think this is unlikely. But who will own the customer relationship? A majority think car retailers will sell up-front energy deals with the car. Others see the potential for relationships between power utility companies and other retailers or petrol retailers. Some see the electric car market becoming like the mobile phone market with the car and the electricity wrapped together in contract deals.
Of course, there are many technological barriers to be overcome before electric-powered transport can become more commonplace, principally the evolution of batteries and engine technology. If these can be overcome, there is then the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Nearly three fifths (58%) of our survey participants believe such infrastructure will be a major challenge for power utility companies.