BACK TO THE FUTURE: WHY ELECTRICITY WILL POWER THE 21ST CENTURY
As the global economy continues to grow and becomes more sustainable, however, we are becoming far more reliant on electric power. Electricity demand grew by 4% in 2018, twice as fast as overall energy demand, and while only 23% of fuel is used to generate a current today, that is expected to rise to more than 35% by 2040. Our increasing use of data and data centres, rising levels of urbanisation, and the trend towards electric vehicles all point to a bigger future role for into growing importance of electricity.
Data, data everywhere
Rising urbanisation drives energy demand
As the world grows wealthier and urbanises, energy use is likely to increase and become more concentrated in larger metropolitan areas. While cities can be more efficient in terms of their energy use (e.g. through public transport systems), city dwellers tend to have higher incomes and thus a greater appetite for energy. Today, cities account for around two thirds of global energy demand and 75% of CO2 emissions. An urbanising world population is the second big driver for propelling electricity demand upwards.
The move to electric vehicles
If the world is to combat problems such as climate change, clean electricity will feature heavily as a solution. The highest profile example of this is the replacement of the internal combustion engine (ICE) with an electric engine and battery.
How will increased electricity demand affect the industrial companies we look at?
Is electricity’s rise assured?
Provided we can solve the renewable problem, however, and the cost of technologies like wind and solar continues to come down, electricity is set for a starring role in the 21st century. There are few fuel sources as clean, reliable or safe, making it an ideal means of meeting our energy needs for the twenty first century, especially if we aim to raise the living standards of people in still developing countries. Companies like Schneider Electric, Schindler or Aptiv will be critical to this success.
Even if electricity is generated by renewable sources, it still needs to be taken to the end user in the most efficient way possible. To do this, substations ‘step up’ the voltage of electric power in order to transmit over long distances without losing too much energy. As the contribution of renewable power to the grid has grown, so has the use of substations to step up power and transmit electricity from often remote renewable power sources.
Substations have a pollution problem, however, because they use a gas called sulphur hexafluoride to prevent short circuits and accidents. Researchers at the University of Bristol claim to have seen a doubling in atmospheric concentration of SF6 over the last two decades, particularly concerning given that SF6 is 23,900 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when measured over a 100 year period.
To solve this, ABB has developed an alternative gas mixture, branded as ABB Airplus, which it claims has a 99.99% lower warming potential than SF6. While it needs to be rigorously tested, Airplus is the first green alternative gas mixture on the market, and may represent one solution to the world’s emerging SF6 problem.