Energy World of Tomorrow – An Interview
The energy world is in upheaval. We spoke with Lars Thomsen, futurologist and founder of future matters – and the proud new owner of a ‘SchwarmBatterie®’ – and Christian Appel, Head of Technology, Research and Development at the energy and IT company LichtBlick, about trends and developments in the energy industry.
Not Only a Few Environmentalists
Today, renewable energies generate around 33 percent of Germany’s electricity. Many people have solar panels installed on their roofs and produce their own electricity – a rapid development.
Lars Thomsen: Ten years ago, the power generation market in Germany was dominated by only a few power plants – most of them fossil – owned by a handful of large providers. In the space of just 500 weeks, around 1.5 million new power plants – most of them renewable – appeared in the form of solar plants, wind turbines, combined heat and power units, or biogas plants, often in the hands of private individuals or cooperatives. Energy conglomerates saw new, unexpected competitors arrive virtually overnight – competitors they had not anticipated at all. For a long time, these conglomerates appeared to be almost paralyzed and initially thought that, at the most, only a few environmentalists would get involved. But we are already at around 33 percent renewable energy here in Germany.
Solutions for Distribution Chaos
Christian Appel: Grid operators see the trend more as distribution chaos: Where is electricity being fed into the grid right now? Where is my grid currently destabilized? With LichtBlick, we aim to develop solutions to address this by firstly making generation and consumption transparent with the ‘SchwarmDirigent®,’ including for grid operators. In the second step, we are introducing controllable capacities such as the ‘SchwarmBatterie®’ into the market and can integrate these into the grid – above and beyond consumers’ own use – to create collective added value.
Germany Kicked Off a Trend
The energy transition has not only caused headaches for network operators. Many citizens don’t always see the transition in a positive light due to the sometimes one-sided cost discussion.
Thomsen: I think that what Germany has done with the energy transition is very positive. Many critics say that we are paying too much for the transition. But what we have done in Germany is to kick off a trend that is now revolutionizing energy generation around the world, and that will play a significant role in ensuring that our children and grandchildren will still have a planet to live on. From China to the United States and the rest of Europe, regenerative energy is fast gaining ground and now almost universally exceeds investment in fossil capacities. In Germany, we have invested in something that cost a lot of money at the outset, but we are now coming to the point where renewable technologies can generate energy as cheaply as fossil power plants – and without destroying our children’s future. In sunny regions, we can today generate electricity for a total of around only 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Storage Systems for The ´Energiewende´
Appel: We also have to answer the question “How will we supply Las Vegas if the sun isn’t shining?”
Thomsen: This brings us to the issue of storage systems. As part of our research at future matters, we anticipate that demand for battery storage will increase 100-fold over the coming 500 weeks compared to today. Prices will be further reduced by economies of scale and learning curves. It’s going to be an enormous market. And we’ll get to a point when photovoltaic systems with battery storage are simply more economical than those without, and cheaper than electricity from the grid in many cases. Consumers will then opt for distributed generation for financial reasons, even without any subsidies or other incentives. Prices for photovoltaic systems and batteries have to and will fall by around 50 percent compared to today. If things continue as before, we are expecting the tipping point in the next 300 weeks – and then we will see a major boom in this area around the world.
‘SchwarmBatterie®’ with Added Value
Appel: They also offer earnings power. Consumers will see that batteries offer real added value. As well as intermediate storage for your own house, respectable earnings can be generated through market integration. Even at today’s battery prices, we can see that we are at a tipping point where batteries are already profitable in commercial applications due to two factors – cheaper electricity prices for on-site consumption and market integration.
Development at a Breakneck Pace
As well as price, battery life is also a consideration for many consumers…
Thomsen: Battery technology is developing at a breakneck pace. To give you one example: Until not very long ago, laptop batteries were replaceable because the battery generally reached the end of its life before the computer did. Around five years ago, the first manufacturers started to install a fixed battery. There was initially a lot of protest. Today it is normal because we assume that the battery will last at least as long as the laptop. Depending on the type of battery and what it is used for, we today expect well over 1,000 complete cycles. Tesla’s electric car should have at least 1,700 cycles, for example. So if we can drive around 300 kilometers per full charge, this gives us over 500,000 kilometers.
Batteries for EVs
Afterwards, the battery is repurposed and has a second life as a storage unit or up to 99.7 percent of the materials used in it can be recycled. A car with a combustion engine would often need a new drive unit after such a distance. The difference is enormous: While a combustion motor will emit around 75,000 kilograms of CO2 from fossil fuels in this time, the electric car will produce around 45,000 kilograms in the worst case – i.e., with the standard German electricity mix – and practically 0 kilograms with certified green energy.
Appel: The batteries available to us in the future will be much more powerful at a fraction of the cost.
On The Stating Block
And when will we see the breakthrough for batteries?
Thomsen: Mass production is still two to three years away for batteries. But I think that it is always a good idea to get on board at an early stage to gain experience.
Appel: We approach the markets in the same way. You can see that we are slightly ahead of the curve with our ‘SchwarmBatterie®’ innovation, but we want to develop the systems now so that we have the products when this becomes economical.
Thomsen: And that is the right strategy. You cannot wait until the trend is there and then run after everyone else. It is much smarter to use the time to learn so that you are prepared when the breakthrough comes.
Find out more about LichtBlick’s international activities and our IT platform ‘SchwarmDirigent®’ at: www.lichtblick.com