The energy world of the year 2050 will look entirely different from the one we live in today.
Electricity from wind power plants will be as cheap as the power we now get from coal or nuclear energy, and even solar cells will supply power competitively. They will be seen not just on rooftops but also as thin coatings on walls, facades, and windows.
On the other hand, electricity from coal will cost more, because a price has to be paid for emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In the future, it could therefore be worthwhile to capture the carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and store it underground or use it industrially.
Gas-fired combined cycle power plants will continue to be successful, because they are the most efficient power producers of all. They convert more than 60 percent of the energy of the natural gas used into electricity; the rest can be fed into urban systems for district heating. However, if there is too much wind or sun, excess power will have to be stored in batteries, for example, or used in intelligent ways — for instance to decompose water into the gases hydrogen and oxygen. Both are important substances for the chemicals industry, and hydrogen is one of the richest and most environmentally friendly energy sources of all.
A glimpse into what a typical day in 2050 may be like:
The storm has finally let up. Despite the bad weather, the past week has
had its advantages: The strong winds have been driving wind turbines in
the coastal waters to their limits. As a result, thousands of wind
power stations were running full tilt, as were the wind turbines between
high-rise buildings — so it didn't matter that solar power plants on
roofs and facades were supplying hardly any power because of the dark
In fact, the wind turbines often generated more electricity than is
required at this time of year on the East Coast — and it was even
possible to shut down many highly efficient gas-fired power plants.
Although thousands of car owners used the excess power to charge their
electric cars at little cost, there was still enough left over to
generate large amounts of hydrogen in electrolysis plants. Later, the
hydrogen will be fed into the natural gas grid, or converted into
electricity in hydrogen turbines, or converted along with carbon dioxide
from power plants into the alcohol methanol — which can be used by cars
as fuel just as they formerly used gasoline.
Of course, half of the
energy is lost amidst all the conversions, but that's still better than
shutting off the wind turbines during strong winds.