What does the future of energy hold?

9 January 2015

It’s hard to believe that just 200 years ago our main energy source was wood. Now we have a wealth of energy sources to choose from, including a growing range of renewable energy technologies. 

But what does the future hold? How can we keep supplying energy to an ever-growing population? How much will it cost? And what impact will the energy choices we make have on our living conditions and our planet?

Five global megatrends including; population growth, climate change, technological innovations, higher living standards, and economic development, will shape Australia’s future. As a result, there’s likely to be more changes to the way energy is sourced, stored, transported and used.

Let’s take a closer look at the five megatrends:

  1. Population. The United Nations estimates that the world population of about seven billion will grow by 27 percent to reach over nine and a half billion by 2050.1
  2. Climate change. Australia is aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 15 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.2
  3. Technological innovations. Innovation and information technology will improve the efficient supply and use of energy.
  4. Higher living standards. Around 1.3 billion people still do not have access to reliable electricity.3 Many social, political and economic commentators have dubbed the 21st century ‘The Asian Century’ due to Asia’s projected political and cultural dominance which will help to lift millions of people out of poverty.
  5. Economic development. Higher energy consumption is typically linked to increased gross domestic product. 

 


2.4 billion people depend on biomass cooking stoves that cause up to 1.6 million deaths a year.4


So, how will these trends shape our future?

  • Renewable energy. The International Energy Agency expects electricity generation from renewable energy sources to increase from 21 percent in 2012 to 33 percent by 2040.5
  • Smart meters. Real-time data will help energy users decide how they use energy. Discover more about smart metres here.
  • Thinking local. More electricity will be generated and used on-site with rooftop solar panels and cogeneration facilities, for example.
  • Energy storage. As battery technology improves, it will be better able to support renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Innovation in energy storage has already resulted in graphene technology used in batteries, which may be able to store more energy than existing lithium batteries.
  • Energy security. Australia’s energy security will remain strong due to our abundant availability of different resources. However, higher production costs and strong international demand mean that energy costs are likely to increase.
  • Electric cars. Electric cars do not produce tailpipe emissions and cost 50 percent less to run than petrol power cars. We compared the two here.
  • Increasing production. Australia is the world’s ninth largest energy producer. Our production could more than double by 2030.6
  • Energy demand. Australia’s demand for more energy has slowed over the past 50 years, but global demand is increasing, especially in Asia.
  • Growing exportation. Australia’s abundant energy resources and proximity to Asia mean that we will continue to export energy resources.  

Want to know more?

This National Geographic video brings home the reality of how fast the global population is growing:

7 Billion, National Geographic Magazine

Explore the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO) interactive e-future tool to explore scenarios for Australia’s energy mix and carbon emission through to 2050.

  1. United Nations (UN), World Population 2012, UN.
  2. Climate Change Authority 2014, Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets and Progress Review Final Report February 2014, Climate Change Authority.
  3. International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2013, IEA.
  4. World Health Organisation (WHO), Indoor air pollution and household energy, WHO. 
  5. International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2014 Factsheet, IEA.
  6. International Energy Agency (IEA) 2012, Energy Policies of IEA Countries- Australia 2012 review, IEA.