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Week of 28 December 2020: Energy in the Future

Email Jim at jthompson@ipulpmedia.com

To wrap up this month on energy columns, I thought I would go to the brightest group I know in the energy business--the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (www.nrel.gov) in Golden, Colorado. I identify them as "brightest" of course because our daughter, Elaine Hale, happens to be a senior research engineer there. If you know me at all, you know while I am proud of her, but my boasting is tongue-in-cheek.

NREL had an end of year seminar on the future of energy generation in the United States, 2020 - 2050, which is the source of the data here (see https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/cambium.html). NREL has some qualifications on these findings. First, these as simulations based on certain base criteria; they are not predictions in the strictest sense of the word. Second, these figures I am quoting are for generation capacity that could potentially go into the US Grid. These do not include privately operated generation systems (such as at a pulp and paper mill). Third, and to reiterate, these are capacities, no representation is made as to how much electricity will actually be produced.

So, I think the best way to present this data is in a table. Data is in Gigawatts (GW).

Energy Source

2020

2050

Natural Gas

401.9

571.8

Utility Scale Photovoltaics

56.2

528.5

Onshore Wind

121.6

241.0

Battery

3.9

196.8

Distributed Photovoltaics

27.2

141.1

Coal

226.0

92.2

Hydropower

76.4

79.4

Nuclear

94.5

47.2

Offshore Wind

0.03

29.8

Pumped Hydro Storage

22.9

22.9

Oil-Gas-Steam

73.2

10.2

Geothermal

2.8

3.8

Biomass

6.6

2.7

Concentrating Solar Power

1.9

0.0

Total

1,115.2

1,967.4

This gives some interesting results. Natural Gas will continue to be the number one source in 2050 according to this model. Jumping to number two will be utility scale photovoltaics. Coal is still a significant factor.

There are two sets of assumptions driving this model--energy policy (as old Jim always says) and economics. Photovoltaics, for instance, are experiencing a rapid drop in costs, much like all electronics do and it is reflected in their growth.

For safety this week, each energy generator comes with its own safety risks. Be aware, train and be careful.

Be safe and we will talk next week.

________

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Members Opinions:
December 24, 2020 at 7:07pm
I think they may be underestimating nuclear. First I think that several plants will end up with renewed licenses that will extend their life. And secondly, I think that if the SMR (small modular reactor) get proven it will be a game changer for nuclear as it will greatly reduce the embedded cost and allow more small utilities to be part of them.
Mike



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