With the global population forecast to rise from 7 billion today to 11.2 billion1 by 2100, sourcing and securing the power needed to meet that demand will be one of the key challenges of the 21st century. Where exactly that power will come from – and what equipment, technology and services will be required to meet this soaring demand – are among the most pressing questions for governments striving to counter the effects of climate change.
While coal and other fossil fuels still remain the largest source of electricity generation, renewable alternatives will play an increasing role in meeting demand as dirty, coal-fired power stations are phased out. Indeed the latest available statistics2 for 2015 showed that renewables overtook coal as the world’s largest source of installed power capacity, while it is predicted that between 2015 and 2021 some 825GW (gigawatt) of new renewable capacity will be added globally.
In addition to generous subsidies, this growth in renewable energy is also being made possible by significant falls in the cost of solar and onshore wind power. Average global generation costs for new onshore wind farms fell by an estimated 30% between 2010 and 20152, while they are expected to continue to fall over the next five years by 15% on average for wind and by 25% for solar power.
This dramatic change in how global energy requirements are being met is having a huge impact on power production supply chains.
Manufacturers across this broad sector are being forced to completely reshape their business models and be alive to the transforming technologies which are rapidly emerging. They particularly need to be aware of the power and potential of automated systems which play an increasing role in the control, management and efficiency of power plants and production.
Meanwhile as demand for power soars, the need for uninterrupted power supplies becomes ever more crucial. As such automated systems have a key role to play in maintaining stability, security and high levels of service throughout the supply chain.
This becomes even more significant given that renewable energy is dependent on weather and thus inherently less reliable than coal-fired power production. Increased renewable generation inevitably results in volatility of energy supplies, but innovators are designing smart systems which can meet these challenges.
In particular, the move to renewables is driving demand for smaller more flexible power stations, as well as storage systems that help keep the power grid balanced.
It is not just governments that are taking up these grand challenges either. For instance, Google owner Alphabet plans to buy enough renewable energy this year to match the needs of all its data centres and offices. Like many companies dealing with increasingly vast amounts of data, its own power use has soared in recent years.
2 International Energy Agency