Energy Policy Scenarios to 2050
10.1.1. Electricity Generation and End-Use
Alongside transportation, the production, transmission, and use of electricity is one of the most vital technology-development areas to achieve the 3 A's. Rapid global growth in electricity-generation capacity, fueled by growing demand, places clear requirements on the broad deployment of technologies, and along with other objectives (such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions), global growth will drive technological evolution.
Electricity generation technology is likely to be based on coal, and in the medium-term, on clean coal technologies. Large increases in electricity-generation capacity are anticipated in India and China, which will most likely utilise their indigenous coal resources. Together with revitalised coal programmes in North America and Europe, coal technology is likely to develop rapidly, moving through a series of evolutionary cycles from currently available sub-, critical, and super-critical technologies, culminating in the development and deployment of advanced technologies, e.g., integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC).
Key to using coal-based generation technologies, however, is the analogous development of pollution-control technologies. These technologies need to focus on micro-pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates and on the wider and pressing issue of carbon dioxide. Further development and deployment of carbon capture-and-storage technologies is essential.
In addition to coal, other generation technologies will continue to evolve and play a growing role in electricity supply. The use of natural gas will increase and the widespread application of state-of-the-art combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technology will continue. However, access to natural gas is key. It is therefore highly likely that electricity generation from natural gas will be limited in its regional and geographical extent. There is little doubt that imported liquid natural gas (LNG) will also play a role, as domestic supplies are unable to keep up with demand.
It is expected that nuclear power will undergo something of a renaissance with programmes in Europe, North America, Russia, China, and India already confirmed. These programmes slowly improve technologies into a third and fourth generation set from the current generation technologies.
Renewables (including hydropower) continue to play a growing role. Deployment of electricity generation via wind and biomass is expected across the globe, playing key roles in all regions. Similarly, the development of hydropower will rise, recognising its role as a cost-effective provider of electricity. However, the development of hydropower is constrained by environmental challenges (displacement of people, methane production, competition for fertile land), particularly where large dams are required.
Electricity consumption will continue to be a focal point. Current end-use patterns, particularly in Europe and North America, and to an extent Asia, are at the forefront of policymakers' minds. This political pressure is driving the development of technologies that reduce usage. Tackling "stand-by" loss is a key low-hanging fruit. Ongoing work and innovation could reduce these losses, saving considerable quantities of electricity.
Technological innovation in electricity end-use is also expected. Innovations in lighting (e.g., LED lights), heating and cooling (e.g., advanced heat pumps), and industrial applications (e.g., pumps, motors, and drives) will have a considerable impact. The adoption of minimum efficiency standards for electrical motors and appliances, energy oriented architectural design, that will reduce the need of electric lighting and air conditioning and the reduction of transmission and distribution losses will contribute to save electricity. Also, a more holistic approach to electricity-consumption management (e.g., monitoring and control systems) will also come to the fore.
Estimates from our study suggest that 67 EJ could be saved through the global deployment of some of the technologies discussed. This is 14% of the electricity used today and shows the potential of the demand side to play a significant role in the electricity sector.
It is clear that keeping all options open is key to future success. Further, to allow for the options to be kept open, RD&D and technology transfer will be of paramount importance.