Transition to what? Scenarios for an energy future

The shifting of energy production to renewable energy sources – including solar, wind and hydroelectric, for example – is one of the biggest processes of innovation Germany has embarked upon since the end of the Second World War. The aim is clear: by the year 2050 primary energy consumption should be cut by half on the level of 2008. The proportion of renewable energies in power generation should increase from 20 per cent of power consumption to at least 80 per cent in the year 2050.

But what will the journey to that point be like? There are various scenarios. Four of these have been outlined by Roland Berger[1] in a study:

1. More of the same

Renewable energies enjoy a high level of guaranteed state support. This means there are no incentives for consumption-oriented power generation. Storage technologies and smart grids make limited progress, and the expansion of renewable energy plants makes network integration more difficult.

2. A guiding hand

Here too, renewable energies enjoy a high level of guaranteed state support. However, the support system focuses on the integration of capacities into the overall network. In order to achieve this, the energy transition is steered centrally by a federal ministry. A state “master plan” for research brings innovations to the network and to storage facilities.

3. Anarchy

Economic difficulties put the state and companies under pressure. The result will be an abrupt exit from the state support scheme. As a consequence, companies will overwhelmingly rely on their own energy provision with electricity. The decentralisation and lack of networking in the system threatens security of supply.

4. Energy system 3.0

There will be market-based support with no guarantees or privileges. Revived trading will mean renewable energies are supported indirectly. Attractive investment regulations bring business on board as a source of funding. A cooperative R&D policy between state and industry leads to advances in innovation.

Four extreme points – and it’s most likely none of these scenarios will prove to be perfectly accurate. But they show the dimensions between which the situation may hover. What is clear is that this will always include the exhaustion of all possibilities for achieving the objectives of the energy-economy triangle (environmental compatibility, affordability, security of supply). And it’s likewise clear that, since they are unable to meet baseload demand, renewable energies need a conventional energy source as a partner in order to guarantee an uninterrupted power supply even when there is no sun or wind. Natural gas is ideally suited to this role as it is environmentally friendly, flexible and can be used decentrally.

[1] Roland Berger Strategy Consultants: Think Act - Energiewende Reloaded, March 2014

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Future of the energy market

What will the energy industry look like in the year 2050? And what consequences will that have for the gas market? Interesting questions, which are prompting the publication of ever more studies and forecasts to find answers. Even though many of these studies differ in their specific figures and results, they have one thing in common: they describe an energy world that doesn’t have a lot in common with the one we are familiar with today. The general consensus is that renewable energies will play an ever greater role, as will climate protection and energy efficiency.

The Energy Reference Forecast[1], on which large parts of the German energy and climate policy are based, depicts the following image of the market, for example:

  • Primary energy consumption will continually fall, while economic output increases at the same time. The growing energy needs of Asian economies mean the prices of crude oil, natural gas and steam coal on international markets are set to rise.
  • Renewables continue to make a fast-growing contribution to energy supplies. More than half of all renewables will be used for electricity production.
  • Energy-based greenhouse gas emissions will be more than 50% lower in 2050 than in 1990, the Kyoto year. The reason for this is falling primary energy consumption and its level of greenhouse gas intensity, which is falling over the long term.
  • Thanks to increasingly efficient vehicles, the energy consumption in the transport sector will go down. Expansion of electromobility will make a contribution here too. Petrol and diesel will lose ground in favour of biofuels, electricity and natural gas.
  • The national market areas for electrical power in Europe will continue to consolidate. Here, network expansion will also play a central role, which will further develop in Germany thanks to the changed institutional framework.
  • The installed generation capacity of the German power plant fleet continues to rise. This is down primarily to the low contribution to guaranteed output made by the strongly growing renewable energies. High CO2 allowance prices will ensure growing proportions of natural gas in energy production by 2050.

[1] See “Development of Energy Markets – Energy Reference Forecast”, commissioned by the German Ministry of Economics (BMWi) from Prognos AG, the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne (EWI) and the Institute of Economic Structure Research (GWS), 2014.

The future is IT

The energy system of the future will consist of numerous plants for energy production and consumption, as well as for storage. Production will increasingly take place locally. Intelligent distribution networks and facilities will govern the transportation of energy. Here, technicians in telecommunication and automation will be increasingly involved. IT will play a central role, because in the energy system of the future energy pathways and solutions will be virtually and digitally networked to an even greater extent. Be it cloud-based services, big data, smart grids, smart metering or e-mobility – the development can be seen in numerous mega-trends. One thing is clear: digital networking and information processing permit entirely new solution approaches from the production, procurement, trade and distribution of energy, to complex energy management for industry and commerce, through to a control app for private customers.

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