Energy transition, renewables and batteries: a systems view

In the concluding section of the report made available here last month, I hinted at a view on the role of batteries in global energy supply that, in the wake of the announcement from Tesla CEO Elon Musk on 30 April this year, may seem rather at odds with prevailing popular sentiment. I suggested there that, while significant numbers of electricity consumers will likely be motivated to go “off grid” as battery costs reduce, this will entail feedback effects with implications that can reasonably be expected to make for a change trajectory far less linear and predictable than many commentators envisage. Such a view is, of course, entirely consistent with the systemic approach to thinking about energy transitions for which Beyond this Brief Anomaly advocates.

In this post, I introduce the energy transition model I’ve been developing over the past few months, to help make better sense of the physical economic implications of a global energy shift in which wind and PV generation with battery buffering dominate electricity supply. Continue reading

Economic Trend Report: Energy Descent, Transition and Alternatives to 2050

For the past few months, I’ve focused the time available for Beyond this Brief Anomaly on background research and modelling aimed at testing more rigorously some of the conclusions towards which the inquiry has pointed so far. This has come at the cost of keeping things active here though. I’m planning to share some of the results of this work shortly. In the meantime, I was recently looking back over a piece of work on energy transition as a key economic trend that I did last year for a client. It occurred to me that it provides a remarkably good summary of the inquiry’s findings to date, and sets out many of the conclusions that I’ve been stress testing behind the scenes. The report below is a version of the original briefing paper revised slightly for a more general audience than the original. It was last updated in November 2014, but for the most part— save perhaps for updated global oil production data and the post-price plunge tight oil situation in the USA—it continues to be relevant today. Also, the brief comments in relation to battery storage may, to some readers at least, seem rather at odds with the popular view that has gained such a significant boost in recent months. More on that when I report on the background work I’ve been up to.

Download the report pdf.

Continue reading

Descent Pathways

I’ve noted on a number of occasions over the course of this inquiry that Beyond this Brief Anomaly is motivated by interests and concerns that go well beyond its notional focus on “energy issues”. The broader question to which this relates can perhaps be most simply stated in two parts:

  1. What might it mean for humanity to live well, together?
  2. How might such an existence be realised?

In conventional development theory and practice, whether wellbeing is viewed in functional-material (“standard of living”) terms or takes into account experienced life quality (“quality of life”), the conditions for wellbeing are considered in almost exclusively economic terms. Wellbeing, in whatever way this is conceived, therefore tends to be associated by default with the globally dominant consumer-industrial form of economic organisation. Increasing wellbeing supposes expansion of this. Consider, for instance, the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. Each of the index’s components–life expectancy, literacy, school enrollment and income–is either directly economic in nature, or is dependent on economic factors for its improvement. Want improved health? Increase expenditure on medical infrastructure and services that reduce mortality. Want improved education? Build more schools and employ more teachers. This is obviously a very rough caricature. I ignore myriad nuances here, particularly at the micro scale. But in terms of headline initiatives attracting the majority of resources, I suspect few would argue that the generalisation is entirely unreasonable. Continue reading