By 2052, the control of the energy economy by a very few large mega corporations, a characteristic of the fossil-fuel age, will be over. Solar power generation will be as close to the consumers as possible, sustainable, and stable for decades, freely exchanged at real-time market prices through the interconnection of micro-grids and national grids.
Bright Solar Future
Between now and 2052, the world of energy will evolve more positively than many other aspects of human culture. And in that world, electrical energy will stand out, not just for replacing fuel energy in all sectors around the world, but also for doing it much more quickly than expected. The reason for this is simple: electrical energy will be produced with much less capital intensity than fuel energy.
Already, all fossil-based energy production requires heavy capital infrastructure. As the quality and quantity of fuel resources decline, the capital required to extract a gallon of fuel will increase dramatically (witness the intensity of capital required to develop the tar sands reserves). Yet, eventually, suppliers worldwide will be able to produce electricity with relatively small and modular hardware. As this trend develops, both transportation and space conditioning will turn toward increasingly efficient electricity-based hardware. By 2040 electricity-supported transportation systems will be common in densely populated areas, and many homes and businesses will have been converted to air- and water-sourced heat pumps that operate on electricity from renewable sources, and will no longer rely on fuel-based boilers. The primary renewable electrical energy source will be solar.
The Rise of PV and Decentralized Energy
From 2012 to 2022, centralized utilities and corporations will still control the means of electricity production and will develop large-scale renewable energy plants to meet an increasing fraction of the electricity load. These plants will utilize all forms of renewable energy—whether produced by large-scale wind farms, photovoltaic (PV) farms, very large solar-thermal turbines, or even ocean energy. But as the second decade dawns, three influences will combine to create a rapid shift away from centralized electricity production and toward distributed production by micro-grids.
One driver will be political. Democratic political institutions will finally recognize the stranglehold that fossil-energy companies exert on public decision making. After public and governmental backlash, lawmakers will enact legislation that levels the playing field, removing the financial and regulatory advantages currently extended to these huge players. The government will require fossil fuels to carry their full cost of production, including their waste stream, and will redirect the resulting revenues into balancing the government budgets.
Credit: 2052, Global forecast for the next 40 years.