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Monday, August 6, 2012
The Four Most Disruptive Alternative Energy TechnologiesJuly 11th, 2012 Greener lifestyles will be driven in part by the actions people choose to take to go green, but also by the development of new technologies. In fact, it may be the new, innovative technologies that provide the largest benefits of going green.
Billions of dollars in investments have been directed into the development alternative energy technologies over the past several years. The rate of innovation is rapid and the level of competition between companies is intense. This is precisely the ideal situation to give birth to novel, disruptive technologies that will have a profound effect on the world for years.
The Boston Consulting Group has published a report in which it attempts to identify the four areas most likely to benefit from disruptive technological developments that cause significant changes in energy efficiency and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
What are those four areas?
The first is advanced bio-fuels, which means fuels beyond ethanol. Ethanol has the main benefit that we can produce it now and it is domestic, which reduces our dependence on imported oil for transportation fuel. But ethanol is a poor fuel relative to gasoline, having only about 60% of the fuel value. Ethanol is also corrosive and absorbs water from the atmosphere, making it incompatible with current pipeline infrastructure. Advanced bio-fuels will be more gasoline-like and will be produced predominantly from waste products like cellulose and non-food crops like switch-grass, avoiding the crowding out of food crops caused by existing corn-based ethanol.
The second disruptive technology will be wind power. Wind power is already cost competitive in many part of the world at 9-10 cents per kilowatt-hour. However, companies in China are already gearing up to produce wind turbines en masse, which will bring the cost down further. As more transmission lines are added to transport wind generated power to places where it can be consumed, you can expect wind to command a larger share of national energy output.
The third technology identified as disruptive is solar photovoltaic power. Solar panels are already being used in states like California and Arizona, where sun is plentiful. However, costs are still too high by about a factor of two for widespread adoption. As technology continues to improve, expect to see solar panels used more widely to produce electricity.
Finally, concentrated solar power is picked as the fourth disruptive technology. This is distinguished from photovoltaic power in that the sun’s energy is focused and can be used as heat as well as for direct electricity generation.
According to the report, you can expect these four technologies to be disrupting the status quo by 2025.
Interestingly, one technology was singled out as being unlikely to have a significant impact before 2025: carbon capture and storage.
I think the situation for carbon capture depends on the extent to which governments create disruptions through taxes and/or mandates.
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