Power stations gone by 2030, report suggests

Large-scale, conventional power plants will ultimately be replaced by rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, says an official power-industry body.

SolarCity installation
Credit: SolarCity

The writing is on the wall for large-scale, traditional power generation, according to an official energy-industry organization in a major developed nation.

Decentralized energy, where power is sourced from rooftop photovoltaic solar panels, battery storage and other technology could supplant classic grid-based power stations in the UK by 2030, according to industry interviews conducted by the trade association Energy UK. Energy UK represents over 80 suppliers there, who serve 26 million customers.

British electricity users will increasingly get their energy from small-scale electricity generation and storage, the association thinks.

Storage could become localized, too. “Electricity storage is widely regarded to be the single most important technological breakthrough likely to happen,” the report (PDF) says. It will be “a complete ‘game changer’ in the way that the power system operates.” Consumer-located, or grid storage would be “commercially viable” inside of three to five years, a number of the interviewees said.

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KPMG, on behalf of Energy UK, asked “senior leaders” in the energy sector what they thought the power-industry future was, leading up to 2030.

“In the next few years the solar panels on our homes are expected to be able to compete with traditional sources of electricity,” the report continues. It’s worth noting that in the UK government solar panel subsidies were curtailed, unrelatedly, shortly after the interviews were concluded in 2015. However, in the US, a federal investment tax credit for solar installations is in place until 2022.

In any case, prices for the panels overall is declining, and could “soon be cheaper than conventional supplies produced by big power stations,” the Times newspaper says in a paywalled article about the UK study. And that could put “an end to the era of the big utility company,” the newspaper continues.

De-carbonizing

All coal is expected to be removed from the UK’s generation system by 2025. That will leave space for lower carbon fuels to come online. Gas, biomass and wind are expected to replace that coal generation. And “advancing technologies” such as storage, solar, wind and tidal, will also play, the report says.

Money’s a problem with de-carbonizing, though. It's government mandated globally, and people want it, but there are costs in a transition to new tech. Customers don’t understand that, the report says.

“There needs to be more honest communication with the public about these costs going forward,” says Energy UK, reflecting its interviewees’ opinions. Going eco won’t be cheap, in other words. And the public aren’t aware of that.

But “decentralized energy and storage will continue to grow rapidly,” the respondents think. Many think solar will reach retail grid price parity in the residential market. In other words, all-in-all, it will cost the same as from the grid supplier.

In the US, the scenario is slightly different because cut-backs are being made in the fees that states are paying solar-outfitted property owners for the unused electricity they put back into the grid. Nevada has just changed its “net-metering” system, for example, according to MIT’s Technology Review, who questions the viability of the residential buy-back solar business model, in an article.

However, panel prices do continue to fall. Offshore wind costs, too, will drop considerably in the UK, the UK study says.

There is a “sense that the energy sector is about to go through the same sort of technology-led revolution that has been witnessed in telecommunications and banking in recent years,” the study concludes.

And “the era of building giant power plants to pump electricity on demand to households and businesses is coming to a close,” the Times article says.

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