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End Usage and the Democratization of Energy

Michael Weinhold's picture
, Siemens Energy
  • Member since 2018
  • 11 items added with 6,850 views
  • Jul 9, 2014

energy democratization

Hi everybody,

Thank you for your interest and all your comments on my previous articles. So here is the conclusion of my insights into the Future of Energy from an interview for TheEnergyBlog. I’m really looking forward to your comments and ideas.

All the best,

What will be the single biggest change in energy usage over the next 40 years? “I believe this is best described in terms of democratization of energy,” said Dr. Weinhold. “By this I mean that many more people will come to own, or share in the ownership of production, distribution and storage of energy, in the same way that the car democratized transport, or that the Internet democratized access to and distribution of information.

“We are moving from an infrastructure designed and planned by engineers to people and industries taking a stake of their own in energy production. This applies from the level of the individual who produces renewables on site to corporations, or cities that purchase their own power plants, micro-grids and storage systems.

“You see the reaction to this with utilities. They are now very proactively marketing to consumers to keep them loyal because the utilities know that the consumer now has more choices than ever before, and these will only increase,” said Dr. Weinhold.

“More generally speaking, this trend means engineers have to listen to consumers and understand what it is they want, and what they don’t want. Knowing we have to get a much better understanding of people and what they want means we have to open up to working with other disciplines, for example, the social sciences. I think this is a very good thing.  A great example of how energy adapts to people’s needs is the recent innovations in LED lighting, which can now match lighting to your current mood.”

Dr Weinhold concluded his remarks on the way we will consume energy in the future with a warning.

“The evidence points to the fact that climate change is real and that it is the biggest threat humanity faces.  This is the driving force pushing us to renewables as well as gas, which is a much cleaner form of energy than other non-renewables. It is also pushing us to come up with cleaner coal-fire operations because, even though coal’s share of the energy market will decrease in future, in real terms the use of coal will increase. How we choose to consume energy in the coming decades will have a major impact on climate change.

“Looking forward to 2050, I believe energy will still be a mix of several technologies, including non-renewables, accompanied by tremendous cost decreases for the production of renewables. And that can only be good news,” said Dr. Weinhold.

Photo Credit: Energy Democratization/shutterstock

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 9, 2014

Michael, I applaud the idea that some are moving from

…an infrastructure designed and planned by engineers to people and industries taking a stake of their own in energy production

Only by attempting to produce their own electricity, and failing miserably, will some gain an appreciation for the immense body of technical expertise and engineering talent which goes into delivering the utility energy they rely on every day.

History books are incapable of instilling that kind of wisdom.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 9, 2014

I don’t believe “everyone” will be able to deal in energy just as “everyone” doesn’t deal in Chinese battery factories or gas turbines… or nuclear energy, which is the best way to prevent fossil fueled lock in. Mere renewables and efficiency/conservation will not break us free from the fossil fueled box that leads to destruction.

Unless, of course, we (the global) mandate about 500,000 square miles of solar EVERY twenty years and millions of wind turbines every twenty years or so, and billions of large batteries and mega pumped storage (and the vast amounts of energy required to desalinate water for that and for those who depended on glacier melt). Perhaps, humanity will develop the magic machinery to do all that but anything less is just not good enough (and promotes fossil fueled lock in because, without storage, the piss poor CF of RE physically mandates about 75 to 80% FF use).

Now, there is NOTHING wrong with playing with renewables (I love solar lights, stereo, etc) or even living off the grid, but the growing planetary civilization can not just play around and “live” off of the grid. China needs nuclear, and so do we (most all countries), if we are to truely solve the excess CO2 problem. We could still have our solar!


Michael Weinhold's picture
Michael Weinhold on Jul 25, 2014

Economically viable power supply

Of course, not every consumer will go into the energy business: As already described in one of my previous posts, a flexible energy system will be based on smart grids that act in the background while coordinating supply and demand. Today, state-of-the-art information technology already makes it possible to coordinate the demand for grid-based services and reduce the supply to uncritical consumers (Demand Side Management).

It is correct that our “hunger” for energy is constantly growing, but is the construction of more nuclear power plants really the right solution? Based on the following “benefits”, we are tempted to answer “Yes” to this question: Nuclear power plants do not produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and are not reliant on fossil fuels that are limited in their supply. Although no carbon dioxide is produced during nuclear fission itself, nuclear power plants, from a holistic point of view, are not completely free of emissions: Greenhouse gases are produced during construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants as well as during the extraction and enrichment of uranium. Also our uranium supplies (the “fuel” required for the operation of nuclear reactors) will not last forever, and this is not even taking into account the risks radioactive fission products pose to the environment and to health or the still unresolved storage problem.

I think we should take these facts as a chance to reconsider our power generation methods and develop them further by implementing innovative technologies. If we are to become less dependent on those few suppliers of fossil fuels and prevent an ever increasing production of greenhouse gases all over the world, the integration of renewable energy (RE) will become indispensable.

Solar and wind power, and – depending on the region – also geothermal or hydropower are virtually inexhaustible sources of energy. Studies and pilot projects (by TU Berlin or by Fraunhofer IWES in cooperation with our company) have shown that it is possible to intelligently connect and efficiently control power plants from the different fields of renewable energy (water, wind, solar, biogas), and ultimately integrate them into the power supply grid. In the fall of 2013, researchers from Siemens, Fraunhofer IWES and other project partners were able to prove by means of a field test that virtual power plants of this kind can cover the electricity demand of a large region at exactly the right times, see also and

Often, reference is made to the high costs involved in the use of RE. If the initial high costs had always been the decisive criterion in the development of innovative technology, electric generators, for example, would never have been invented (just remember the pioneering work of our company founder Werner von Siemens on the principle of electrodynamics in this respect). Furthermore, power engineering – the fundamental requirement for the age of electricity – would not have been developed. Not to mention the improvement to the quality of life electrification has brought about. We would still be using steam engines nowadays instead of electric motors. We would still be washing our laundry by hand, would not be able to use hard disks or CD players, would not travel by subway, car, ship or plane or use air conditioning, elevators, escalators, locomotives or modern machinery. To cut a long story short: without electric motors, the world would be at a standstill.

Also with regard to profitability and competitiveness, RE is making good headway.

It is a fact that the electricity generated by means of wind and solar power today is already more economical than nuclear-based electricity. The reason for this is that the development of the associated technology has not only just started now, but several decades ago: While efficiency has increased, the costs are decreasing. According to a study by “Agora Energiewende”, RE plants can now produce electricity at half the price compared to modern nuclear power plants.

Another point that can be put forward here is that renewables cannot meet baseload requirements, as their production depends on weather conditions. In the above-mentioned Agora study, the experts entertain the idea of a possible power supply system which, apart from wind turbines and photovoltaic systems, also has integrated gas-fired power plants as a backup for periods during which the wind does not blow or the sun fails to shine. This study has revealed that the costs for this environmentally friendly and almost CO2-free combined system are one fifth lower than for those based on nuclear electricity.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 25, 2014

Renewable energy = at least 75% fossil fuels (plus whatever little embodied CO2 emissions). Nuclear energy = far less fossil fuels (plus about the same amount of embodied CO2 emissions, as the renewables). The world needs like fifty thousand 100MW (smaller) nuke plants (and some storage) in order to “totally” replace fossil fuels…or the world needs hundreds of thousands of square miles of solar AND millions of large wind turbines AND the ability to efficiently store about 3 parts of that for whole days.

When I was a kid, I said “just do solar”. As I grew up, I said “we need to learn how to store that solar”. And now, I am saddened by the fact that “all” solar advocates say “let’s just use fossil fuels for solar energy’s backup”. The global excess CO2 problem DEMANDS that we do it right and develop whatever best nuclear design (and size) as the fossil fuels replacement backup for renewable energy. I know this entails some engineering, just as every thing else does.

Intrinsically, had it not been for all the anti-nuclear politicalism, nuclear would be cheaper, because it is baseload and requires FAR less mass. Also, when figuring in the actual capacity factors and non-fossil fueled backup, nuclear is still cheaper.

Marcio Wilges's picture
Marcio Wilges on Nov 11, 2014

Energy is an ongoing topic that needs regular improvements and constant initiatives to ensure it is efficiently utilized in the right manner. The world is regularly moving from one system to another and its efforts need to constantly be maintained and executed according to initial plans. If not properly carried out, then the energy infrastructure might just fail and waste a lot of resources.

Michael Weinhold's picture
Thank Michael for the Post!
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