Coals future looks bleak while energy storage keeps upward streak

If no earth-shaking event happens within the next 10 years, the world will see renewable energy sources such as solar and wind jump to the top of the heap in global energy leaving coal at the bottom. This is the prediction of analysts from some of the major financial firms. Even the United States Energy Information Administration was not able to foresee the astonishing drop in coal consumption in that country. But Tim Flannery, the former head of Australian Climate Commission, and political activist had foreseen this coming in the last quarter of 2012.

“It should be said that many intelligent people, including friends of mine who are very serious advocates of climate change, think I’m wrong”, said Flannery, in October, 2012. “But I’m focused on markets,” he added.

“And solar is where the big movement is, where the prices are dropping fast. There‘s something akin to Moore’s Law – which says that computing power doubles, and halves in cost, roughly every 18 months – applying to solar now,” Flannery continued.

“It is a very comparable high-tech manufacture. It keeps on getting cheaper, and will keep on getting cheaper,” he concluded. In the last quarter of 2012, the cost of solar photovoltaic generation has fallen 50 per cent in 2011, and 75 per cent from 2009.

It is now the last quarter of 2014, and the bottoming in consumption of conventional energy sources like coal keeps on going down without any let up.

Coal Energy

The situation for coal at present rests on two things: a) can it really be made clean, through CCS (carbon capture and storage)? b) can the renewables be able to provide the base-load power that can guarantee its supply reliability?

The recent developments of these two industries provide the clear answer. Coal’s future is on the balance, while renewable energy sources seem to be gaining good ground. The improvements in energy storage from renewables are also helping the case of green energy.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance, through an article published in Renewable Energy World reflected on the future direction of how the world will produce and consume electricity.

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In a similar manner, Tom Allard, National Affairs Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald expressed his reservations on Tony Abbott’s zeal for coal and obvious aversion to renewables, especially with Tesla’s projects, as well as the continuous progressive development of the renewables industry and the worldwide perception regarding climate change policy.

Tony Abbott weighs in on the discussion

Tesla’s Gigafactory, scheduled for completion by 2017 will definitely have a positive effect on the image of renewables. But Tony Abbott says renewables do not produce power when there is no wind and sun, and that their energy cannot be stored cheaply.

Although cheap energy storage is still a dream, it will be made more affordable with the economies of scale that Tesla’s Gigafactory hopes to demonstrate. In fact, UBS, HSBC and Citigroup is banking that battery costs will fall to the level where renewables will be cost-competitive compared to standard fossil fuels by the end of the decade.

The Author

I took an interest in the Australian energy sector close to ten years ago and since then have monitored the trends, technologies and direction of the Australian Energy Market. I was drawn to the Australian solar market in 2008 and since then have worked heavily in the field. I am partnered with national and international solar energy companies, from manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology, online software developers that introduce tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems and media organisations who like myself, closely monitor the solar and renewable energy sector.

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