Travelling from 1984 to 2014 in the world of energy

Ecofys looks back to look ahead

When Ecofys was founded back in 1984, the energy world was completely different from the one we know today. The world was just recovering from two oil crises and oil prices were soon to drop. Nevertheless, these crises, together with the increased awareness of the finiteness of fossil energy resources, had triggered some new developments:

  • A typical building by that time used 250 kWh per square meter for space heating, but we had started insulating our homes and the first building codes were introduced.
  • A typical car drove just 10 km on one litre of gasoline, but the US had already introduced a fuel economy standard.
  • Incandescent lamps were the common light source, but the first compact fluorescent lamps were brought to the market.
  • Many researchers had started developing wind and solar technology. The first entrepreneurs entered the market, but the total capacity was only about 500 MW

Getting closer to the dream of a sustainable energy system

And already back then, the dream was there: several authors published articles and books about an energy system completely relying on renewable energy sources.

A lot has happened since: We saw the introduction of the concept of sustainable development in 1987, the kickstart of renewable energy upscaling in the early nineties, climate change emerging as the number one threat related to energy. We saw emerging economies developing faster than anyone could have imagined, with increased energy use as a consequence, related to that a renewed increase in oil prices in the first decade of this century, and the clear signals that the time of cheap and easy fossil fuels were over.

But in between, many people, in many organisations, of which Ecofys is just one, worked further on developing energy efficient and renewable energy technologies. Paving the way for these technologies also meant to work  on their commercialisation, and on finding effective policy incentives to help create the right market environment for them.

Due to all that work of inspired hearts and minds, we live in a completely different world today in 2014. Given the time span, our energy demand looks impressively different:

  • Most homes nowadays use in between 50 and 150 kWh per square meter, and we are able to build homes that just use 15 kWh per square meter for space heating – a mere 6% of the typical home in 1984.
  • Many cars nowadays drive more than 20 km on one litre of gasoline, and it won’t be long before we can drive from Amsterdam to Moscow on just one tank of fuel (or some equivalent energy carrier!).
  • The compact fluorescent lamp is already kind of old fashioned, and LED lamps are able to improve the performance by another factor of two compared to the compact fluorescent ones.
  • And last but not least, the performance improvement of solar and wind electricity generators and the reduction in costs, but most of all the dramatic worldwide upscaling by a factor of 1000, have taken us to nearly 500 GW of solar and wind energy capacity by the end of last year.

Development of global installed solar and wind capacity (data from reports of European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and Global Wind Energy Coucil (GWEC))

The journey doesn't end here

A few years ago, Ecofys and WWF developed a global scenario for a world relying on a fully sustainable energy system by 2050. We know that this is possible. And there are ample reasons to go there. First of all – as stressed in the last IPCC report – the need to completely phase out greenhouse gas emissions in the course of this century. But also, because our current energy system is vulnerable, and we realise this more than ever. Availability of secure energy services is so critical for society that high resilience is an important requirement for any modern energy system. Today, no one in the energy sector can afford to ignore the need for rapid evolution. In the last five years, we have seen more change in the world of energy than in the 25 years before. While these changes are going into many directions, most of them fortunately move into the direction we work for since 1984: “sustainable energy for everyone”.

Let us all continue working to make this mission a reality!

No reactions on 'Travelling from 1984 to 2014 in the world of energy'

Commenting on this post is not allowed