The world is facing a daunting energy challenge due to over-dependence on non-renewable and polluting fossil fuels. We can overcome this complex challenge with one brave stroke – electrification using green energy sources. At present, most electricity produced is derived from burning coal and natural gas. A significant amount comes from hydro and nuclear fission. Only about 10% is derived from green sources such as solar and wind.
Green electrification is happening on three fronts silently with increasing speed: First, replace the internal combustion engine with the electric motor. Second, decentralize electricity production into homes and buildings. Third, upgrade the distribution infrastructure to a two-way smart grid. All three are closely related as described below.
Replacing the internal combustion engine in trains and cars is the first logical solution, because land transport burns 60% of all the oil produced worldwide. The bullet train, the hybrid and the electric car have already demonstrated the superiority of the electric motor. What limits the potential of the electric car is battery storage capacity. When battery technology achieves delivering a range of 300 miles comparable to the gasoline car, the electric car will likely take off.
The next solution is aimed at lighting and heating of homes and buildings that account for the bulk of coal and natural gas consumed. In this sector, the decentralization of electrification is occurring at two levels. At the producer level, utility companies are adding solar and wind farms to the mix of resources for generating electricity. At the consumer level, solar panels are installed on rooftops to make homes and buildings independent producers of electricity. When solar technology achieves cost parity with fossil fuel in a few years as projected, solar panels will likely take off, too.
Regarding the third front, upgrading the distribution infrastructure to a smart grid serves two main purposes. First, utility companies can monitor consumer activities in real time so that they can deliver electricity efficiently during peak hours. Second, consumers who produce surplus electricity from green sources can feed it back to the grid for sale to the utility company. Thus the smart grid increases efficiency and convenience for both consumers and producers as the society gradually transforms to an electricity economy.
As you can see, things are already in place for the gradual substitution of fossil fuel with electricity. While market forces are pushing, the advancement of new technology is providing extra momentum. The following is a list of some important technologies that are likely to emerge within the next decade:
*An advanced battery that enables the electric car to run 300 miles or more per recharge.
*The efficiency of solar cells continues to increase from the current low rate of 25% while prices continue to drop.
*Wind technology will come up with a vertical-axis generator compact enough for installation on rooftops, at ground level, on trucks or ships. By contrast, the gigantic horizontal-axis generator is only suitable for wind farms in less crowded areas.
*Solar paints and adhesives will be commercialized that can be pasted onto the exterior surfaces of transport vehicles in addition to buildings. This will make almost everything independent producer of electricity anywhere under the sun.
*Wireless recharging is already available now for some cell phones and electric gadgets. Imagine wireless-recharging your electric car while you are on the road.
Electrification derived from green sources can go very far as a result of new technology, some of which have been described above. They are being perfected and commercialized as time passes. The question is how soon. This will depend on the price trends of fossil fuels and the damages done to the environment, both of which are certain to be aggravating in the years to come.