AT THE HEART OF THE ENERGY TRANSITION
The Energy Transition
The energy transition is all about human needs. These include .
People typically think of energy in terms of the commodities or technologies that produce it: raw materials such as coal, gas, oil; refined products such as LPG, gasoline, diesel and heavy fuel oil; and technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear and hydropower. But the reality is much more flexible. Human needs include the need for heat for warmth and cooking; mobility, either for transporting oneself or one’s stuff; illumination so you can read in your home at night; and electricity, for everything from charging a mobile phone to running the television. Fossil fuels also have non-energetic uses, for instance in manufacturing plastics and fertilizers. Nowadays, the role of commodities and technologies often overlap. This website begins with people, because in the end, energy is there to serve people’s needs, not the other way round.
People need mobility for all sorts of reasons: not only to get around but also to move their goods, and those of others. The car is taken for granted in many countries but usage patterns differ widely between countries. The uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) as an alternative to diesel- and gasoline-fuelling will transform patterns of mobility in the decades ahead. Gas-fuelled vehicles will also be used more widely, particularly by heavy-duty vehicles which use diesel currently. The mobility revolution will not just entail using alternative fuels. The prospect of driverless cars and car-sharing wll transform the roads. And hydrogen, already in use in bus fleets, could be scaled up to allow long-range carbon-free travel.
Keeping warm is a basic human need. Mankind has moved from using firewood to coal to diesel and gas for heating. Many homes use paraffin, diesel or natural gas for heating, making this a challenging part of the energy chain to decarbonize. The next phase of the development of heating systems will be to use renewables to deliver low carbon electricity, with backup from gas or energy storage systems. But developments in nuclear, hydro-electric and geothermal power could bring these into the mix more widely in the future.
For the last several hundred years, the paramount need for energy fuels was heating rather than cooling. As the world’s population expands from 7.5 billion to as much as 10 billion people by 2050, demand for energy for cooling is set to skyrocket. Most of this population increase will be in emerging markets in Africa, Asia and South America, and as wealth levels increase, people will expect the same level of comfort as people have enjoyed in the developed countries. Air-conditioning is set to eclipse heating as a growth market in these economies, putting enormous demand on electricity grids.
Lighting is taken for granted in developed countries, but for many people living in the less developed emerging markets, lamp oil and candles are the only illumination source after the sun goes down. Electricity expands the range of leisure activities but more importantly, it brings opportunities for learning. A simple solar lamp can allow school children to do homework in the evenings. Good lighting also prevents accidents and provides security.
Electricity demand is increasing by the day. No matter whether it is generated by fossil or renewable fuels, the demand for power looks set to grow as the population increases and people get wealthier. Fuel switching will also put greater load on the system, as gasoline and diesel vehicles switch to electric-fuelling, and power storage systems such as batteries become more efficient. Electricity has become such an essential part of modern life that existing without it seems unthinkable. Even people in under-developed countries nowadays depend on their mobile phones and the Internet. Indeed, recent power cuts in both developing and industrialised countries have wreaked havoc with infrastructure systems that have an impact far beyond the grid itself.
Energy is essential for making stuff that people need. Petrochemicals derived from refined products such as LPG, naphtha and gases such as ethane are part of our everyday reality, from the plastic casing of your mobile phone to advanced coatings on the piece of paper you thought was derived solely from wood pulp. Fertilizers are manufactured from methane produced from natural gas, and new technologies allow gas to produce a wide range of other industrial materials. Carbon is also increasingly being captured, sequestrated and then used to make carbon products ranging from CO2 for greenhouses in flower production to solid carbon used in manufactured goods. The world is changing, but few people realise the scale of the transition that is taking place.