While many people expect the world to move largely to solar power in the next 50 years, most experts are doubtful of this possibility. While solar power will be an important component of the energy sector in the future, the future will be much more complex than most imagine. Today, we present five technologies that could play significant roles in generating energy during the next five decades.
Considering how large coal reserves are, it is not difficult to understand why researchers and companies are looking for means of generating power from coal that does not release carbon dioxide. While no clean coal technology can currently provide this, there are reasons to be optimistic that coal can be used in a clean manner. Without clean coal technology, the use of coal will undoubtedly fall in the future; if new techniques for extracting coal energy can be developed and used on a commercial scale, however, coal will continue to be a cornerstone of energy in the future.
Miniaturised Nuclear Plants
Some experts are predicting that electricity generation in the future will be transformed by miniature nuclear plants. By using small, commoditised generators, it will be possible to place these plants in neighbourhoods. In addition, many of these plants are being designed to need little maintenance. A plant capable of delivering energy to tens of thousands of homes may only need service once a decade or so. The widespread adoption of these plans, however, is dependent upon lessened fear about nuclear energy.
Thorium has been shown to be a viable tool for nuclear plants, but no commercial plants are currently operating. The abundance of thorium, however, may encourage companies to begin testing thorium plants in the coming decades. Another possibility is fusion; again, there are no commercial fusion plants being used, but their theoretical efficiency makes them tempting targets for energy companies. While advanced versions of modern nuclear plants will undoubtedly play a role, other technology may be important as well.
Solar panels continue to drop in price, and the most expensive part of running a solar plant has to do with labor costs. Because labor costs are lower in the developing world, China, India and other developing nations will likely rely on solar panels in the coming years. Unless energy storage technology improves dramatically, however, solar power will only be useful during the day, so it cannot fully supplant other forms of generating electricity. Despite this, solar power will be a major component of energy generation over the next 50 years.
Natural gas is two to three times cleaner than the best coal plants in use today, and the discovery of new natural gas reserves will ensure that it plays a major role in future energy generation. In addition, natural gas is nearly as cheap to use as coal, and natural gas plants are relatively inexpensive to build. Natural gas power plants can be scaled to demand more easily than most other plants, which makes them popular among energy companies. For these reasons, many experts believe that natural gas will become the dominant means through which baseline energy is generated.
The future of energy generation is inherently difficult to predict as is impossible to fully determine what new technologies will become available. Despite this, experts are fairly certain that solar, wind and geothermal energy will be used to supplement more traditional methods of energy generation. While people will use more energy in 50 years, the total output of carbon dioxide may drop significantly.