Heat power is cheaper - and better
We believe in a vision of the future where heat power plays a vital role. The reason for this is primarily economical. Where it is possible to harness heat power, it will usually be cheaper - and take up less space - than either solar or wind. Here’s a breakdown of our current energy mix versus how we see the future.
In our view, heat power will provide the global baseload in the future, essentially replacing the energy we get from coal and nuclear today. As our demands on energy increase, so will the number of heat power installations. We foresee that heat power will be complemented by a range of other renewables - including solar, wind, hydropower, along with biofuels, and tidal power - depending on geography.
Right now the prices of solar PV installations are going down and capacity is going up around the world. In 2017 solar grew 13% in the U.S. and showed strong growth in Asia and elsewhere despite China’s decision to remove subsidies for PV.
This is great insofar as it offsets our dependence on fossil fuels, but there are some definite downsides. First, solar is intermittent, so it cannot provide a baseload of energy - for instance, at night. This makes it especially inefficient in really cloud places, or where the days are short. Currently the capacity to capture that energy and store it for later use is too expensive to be used on a large scale (this is part of why you hear so much about battery and storage in the media).
But even once the storage issue is solved, there is another downside most people aren’t aware of: solar power has serious environmental impact. It has a large footprint and therefore requires a lot of land use. This leads to habitat loss. Finally, hazardous materials are used in manufacturing and due to the relatively short lifecycle of a lot of solar equipment, there are emissions and other concerns related to the decommissioning of old panels.
So while solar is a necessary part of the future energy mix, it should be seen as playing a complementary rather than a key role.
Wind power has also been on the rise worldwide. New installations of wind power capacity reached 52,552 megawatts in 2017. And wind turbines - despite the bad press about bird deaths - have minimal environmental impact.
Their biggest disadvantage is that they make a good deal of noise. They also change the aesthetics of the landscapes where they are placed, turning vistas into industrial . The downsides have mainly to do with intermittency. Like solar, wind turbines are only useful when there is wind. So again, until storage technologies catch up, wind power can only provide complementary power. They are also expensive to install, which reduces the payoff - especially as global subsidies for wind power decline (which they appear to be doing).
Hydropower is growing worldwide, too. A record 4,185 terawatt hours (TWh) in electricity were generated from hydropower in 2017. Like heat power, hydropower can supply a baseload. However, there is a limited number of rivers in the world where hydropower can be generated. Because of this, it is simply not available in many locations around the world. It is, however, a key component in a future where all our energy is renewable. Here are some great stats about the growth of hydropower.
At the end of the day, the cost to produce a kWh is the largest factor that will determine which type of renewable will dominate in the future. Right now price per KWh has everything to do with energy storage. Today pumped hydro is reasonably cheap as a storage model and accounts for more than 95% of all energy storage - but it can only be used where there are ponds. While lithium ion or hydrogen gas batteries can be used anywhere, regardless of geography, they are very expensive. Add battery storage to the comparatively low price of producing wind or solar, and the costs double or even triple. Because heat power provides a baseload, it does not require storage.