What part for direct electrification in 2050 ?
Since the 1970s, the role played by electricity in all human activities has remained constant: the share of the electricity energy vector for OECD countries does not exceed 20% of all forms of energy delivered to end users: industries, services, transport, individuals, … The remaining 80% rely entirely on fossil fueled sources, using the possibilities offered by combustion and therefore thermodynamics.
However, to achieve the 2050 carbon neutrality targets recommended by the IPCC, it is increasingly proposed to shift to the electricity vector most uses and processes using energy. Thus for Europe, some proposals reach 60% (Mission Impossible, Eurelectric), or even 85% (University of Lappeanrata) from final energy for the most maximalist.
Such a systematization of the use of electric energy, which will be acknowledged that the potential for production from renewable sources is immense, however runs up against the risks concerning the electrical networks responsible for transporting and distributing it. Depend on a single energy carrier that is difficult to store at low cost and can easily be out of supply due to a solar storm, attack against the grid and by computer viruses against digital devices loaded with to balance consumption and production in real time, may be worrying.
This fragility militates for a more moderate use of this energy vector, as already proposed in 2011, between 40 and 50%, in favor of non-fossil carbon energy carriers, low storage cost for long-term storage. Biomass energy alone is largely insufficient to meet all needs, especially for countries with a high population density. The non-fossil and clean synthetic hydrocarbons are best suited for the reliability of such complex energy systems.
Despite multiple attempts to extend the role of electricity in the industry, methane remains difficult to replace for high temperatures. Easier to solve, low-temperature heat for industry and housing has many substitutes such as biomass, solar energy, geothermal energy, including generalizing heat networks.
Synthetic methane should be produced at 60 Euros/MWh from solar energy from 2040.
It is not so much the extent of the substitutions of energetic carriers and therefore of investments that surprises the speed with which this “big replacement” should take place: about thirty years for Europe. But until then, the evolutions that took place in these different sectors were proceeding at slow rates, so it would be a forced revolution.
But it is especially in transport that the benefits of hydrocarbons are most obvious. Electrification attempts in the maritime and air sectors will have only a limited impact on a few small niches such as river and costal shuttles, short-haul transport aircraft with less than 1500 km of range.. This is primarily due to the importance of the energy density, both mass and volume of liquid hydrocarbons, at the least cost. Even with high energy density electric batteries that will become widespread around 2030, or 500 Wh per kg, 10 fold lower than hydrocarbons, it is not possible to supplant most thermal engines.
As for land transport, dedicated for a decade by many documents to the total electrification, the possibilities of electrification are important. Very high even for urban and suburban transport. For the transport of goods, apart from the part that can be modally transferred from the road to the rail, thermal engines can reach and serve the most remote villages.
For individual vehicles, the proportion of long-distance journeys that account for at least 25% of the kilometers traveled in Europe and the United States should be mentioned. None of the alternative solutions can match the advantages of the already known solutions with liquid fuels: it appears already possible to mass produce vehicles of the plug-in-hybrid type at 28 000/33 000 €. Also available for the general public, we have found for 10 years hybrids from 20 000 €. The solutions of the electric battery or hydrogen type can not solve this category of use at a low cost, which until then was totally neglected by the promoters of the “all electric”.
It is therefore rather a leap forward, ignoring the scientific, technical and industrial realities to try to respond to the climate emergency.