Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 27 Nov 2020

The biggest obstacle for the future is in our square minds

We know damn well that the future is around the corner. The pieces in the jig-saw are fairly well known and we have names for them. It is energy efficiency (our pet object), it is renewables and it is energy storage. We can easily tell that using these in larger amounts will pave not only for sustainability but also for lower costs and less controversies over environmental damage.

Well some, like the soon-to-be American ex-president, is concerned that wind-mills kill birds in large amounts (so he claims) and the British prime-minister till recently was also worried but has changed his mind. (By the way, apparently domestic cats kill many, many more birds than windmills).

So understanding these details is important but still does not solve the puzzle. The pieces do not fit exactly together.

  1. Energy efficiency is the easiest since using less is important and simple but far too often it is interpreted as only substitute a wasting piece with a more efficient one. But finding the new product and making sure that its characteristics are sufficient could be a challenge. Mostly there is a need for redesign of the system and probably retraining of the staff to handle the new configuration. You can not only swap a tit for a tat and then go home.
  2. Renewables as substitute for fossil or nuclear generation are trickier. The generation siting and availability is obvious or as many critics like to point out, winds does not blow all the time and sun does not shine at night. Wind is abundant at sea and on high altitudes, sun is more evenly available around the equator. The tat does not at look like the tit (no pun).
  3. Energy storages could make up for the differences in renewables that preferably should be at another place but again they do not exactly fit in and there are many solutions to make them resemblance the original.

We know the pieces but they do not fit in exactly the same place as the ones they should replace. We first have to change our square minds to make it accommodate the rhombic pieces.

Do you want an actual example? For a long time people have argued that hydrogen would be a suitable fuel for future (ground) transportation. The counterargument has been that hydrogen might be good but that it would be a waste of energy and that electricity is better. We should not waste the electrons once we have produced them. They should go directly to the transportation and not take the extra road via the hydrogen.

Now it seems that hydrogen could be a future fuel but not for transportation but for substituting coal in making of iron and steel. The hydrogen could come from wind and photovoltaic that have the obvious problem of being matched to the actual demand but instead being matched storage for a (more or less) perpetual demand.

Energy efficiency is not difficult – it is only complicated. And this goes for carbon mitigation as well.



The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Hans Nilsson