The Future of Renewable Energy

As the world is becoming more conscious of the effects of climate change, our sources of energy are coming under scrutiny. Governments are struggling to become less dependent on fossil fuels which traditionally fuel our economic growth. What will be the future sources of energy? In this session, we explore how would we be able to stop our dependence on fossil fuels, create a healthy environment while generating a prosperous economy.

Justin Hall-Tipping, Chief Executive Officer of Nanoholdings.
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In this first part of a 3-part series, I examine hydropower and geothermal energy as options to power a clean energy grid.

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Global consumption of electricity and how its generated:

Geothermal efficiency:

Report on renewables providing base load energy:



Hydroelectric is the use of moving water to turn turbines that generate electricity, usually through the building of dams or pump stations on rivers.

And hydroelectricity is the king of renewable energy, making up 70% of the renewable energy produced around the world. And for good reason.

They’re kind-of the perfect energy source. It’s stable, base-load energy that’s flexible. If you need more electricity, just release more water into the turbines.

They’re cheap to run and maintain once they’re built and they’re 95% efficient at generating energy, compared to 33% for coal and 15% for solar.

And of course they create no pollutants, consume no fuel, and the water never stops flowing.

The Three Gorges Dam in China is actually the largest energy plant of any kind in the world and generates just under a hundred terawatt hours per year all by itself.

So, hydro is kinda perfect. The problem is, it’s location-specific.

If you don’t live by a large river, you’re not going to be able to use it. Luckily, most cities were built near rivers, but not all rivers are large and powerful enough to make enough difference to justify the cost of building them.

Which is also a problem. While they produce free energy for decades and even centuries after they’re built, hydroelectric dams are huge engineering projects that cost tons of money up front.

(By the way, the whole ‘expensive at first but then free for decades’ thing is a common theme amongst renewable energies)

They also create reservoirs and lakes that flood a lot of land whose landowners may not want to give up.

There are some concerns about the disruption of fish habitats, but… that’s not at the top if my list of concerns.

So each hydroelectric plant is a birds nest of legal and construction challenges to overcome but even so, the number of hydropower plants are expected to double by 2050.

Another base load energy source is geothermal energy.

Geothermal uses the heat from natural geologic hotspots to turn turbines that generate electricity.

Iceland and the Philippines are major producers of geothermal power, which can be used in huge commercial plants to power entire cities or just pump the heat directly into homes for heating.

It’s a consistent flow of energy so it never runs out, but the efficiency isn’t great. Only an average of 12% efficiency.

Which really just means it will take longer for the investment to build it to pay off because once it’s turned on, it’s just free energy basically. And the efficiency is getting better, with newer plants getting over 20%.

Even in Iceland, which is covered in hotspots and has a very progressive attitude toward clean energy, it only accounts for 30% of their energy production.

So it’s not likely to become a major source of energy worldwide

And as if all that wasn’t enough of a bummer, it also turns out that geothermal can produce greenhouse gasses.

Geologic hotspots churn up all kinds of stuff from inside the Earth, stuff like sulfur dioxide and silica emissions, and heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and boron.

These can get in the reservoirs and eventually the water supply.

Oh, and by the way, one of the methods they use to open up geothermal wells is hydraulic fracking. Yeah. That hydraulic fracking.

Let’s drill down and inject extremely high pressure water and other chemicals… Right over a volcano.

What could go wrong?

Earthquakes. That’s what.

Just like fracking for natural gas has caused earthquakes in Oklahoma…

(zoom in)
Earthquakes. In Oklahoma.

A geothermal well that was drilled in Switzerland set off an earthquake that measured a 3.4 on the Richter scale.

Geothermal… Why do you hurt me so?

I used to think geothermal was really cool. Used to.

So am I wrong about this? Do you have experience using geothermal, or working in hydro plants? Are my numbers garbage? Let me know in the comments

The next video in this series will focus on biomass energy and harnessing the motion of the ocean to make power.
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20 thoughts on “The Future of Renewable Energy”

  1. It bothers me every time people talk about base load power as if it is something we want. Base load power plants are limited based on the minimum load of the power grid. Base load power plants are only tolerated because they are cheap. If a non base load power source were cheaper than the best base load power source, we would stop using base load power and be happy about it. Most of our power grids, before renewables really started to kick off, we had coal base load plants, which are cheaper to run, and natural gas peaker plants, which are more expensive to run. Why would we even have the more expensive natural gas at all? Because you can't turn the coal plants off, and if you run all the coal plants needed for peak load at their minimum output, it would be more than the base load, and things would explode. Or you could turn off some of the coal plants, which is more expensive than using a few natural gas plants. Hydro is not a base load power source, because it isn't limited. You can shut the valve completely, and even if the reservoir is completely full, you can let any additional water run out bypassing the turbine. You can run 100% of your grid on hydro, no matter how small the base load is, as long as there is enough water coming through the reservoir to meet the total demand, and the plant is big enough to meet peak demand. A base load power source is limited by the base load of the grid. Base load = limited.

    The other problem is the talk about efficiency. Percentage efficiency is pretty meaningless when talking about different sources. Hydro gets 95% of the potential energy of water, solar panels get 15% of solar energy hitting the panel, a high efficiency natural gas plant gets 50% of the chemical energy in the gas. To really compare, you have to look at a common source, but you can't. There just isn't a sensible way to compare the efficiency of capturing energy by the sun evaporating water and it falling down and flowing through a turbine to it getting captured by an ancient plant and processed by natural geology and biology, to sunlight directly hitting a solar panel. A much better comparison is $/Watt and $/kWh, in other words, how much money do you have to spend to power your home, and how much to charge your car. When the available energy is so drastically different, and so ridiculously abundant in the cases of wind and solar, it doesn't matter how much energy you aren't collecting, it matters how much you are collecting.

  2. In Scotland what they did with Dams is relocate settlers in the Glens and sent them elsewhere and flooded them. You can still see they old chimneys and low water. They also did it in Wales but on a huge scale. It was the highland clearances 2.0 back in the day

  3. I agree with you nuclear is its own category really I mean with new generation reactors hopefully a lot of that waste can become fuel.

  4. Have you heard of the time some geothermal guys drilled into a magma pool accidentally? Produced so much pressure it broke the turbine on the generator and they had to plug the hole cuz they weren't prepared for the massive energy

  5. The argument Basis ist wrong. Question always has to be: how much effort (resources) required for a 1MWh energy gain?

    Example: to replace the energy of just 1kg Uranium 8-15 Tons of ressources are required to do that with solar.

    This is calculated as EROI. Energy returned on energy invested. Solar, wind and bio masses are very very very bad.
    Solar brings about 1.9MWh for every MWh invested. Wind about 2.8. Coal about 28. Nuclear about 75.

    Also: what we consider nuclear waste is ENERGY AND NOT WASTE!
    The Chinese are already today operating a nuclear power plant that can burn off that waste and produce safe and reliable energy from it.
    Example: with the nuclear “waste” produced in Germany in the past 40 years the same country could be powered for over 1000 years using this today already available technology.

    Lots of things that people don’t know about.

    Also: inform about MSR Thorium reactors please (LTFR). This will be our future. Surely not “renewable energy” since it’s not renewable and it destroys our nature because its immense ressource demand!

    The lifetime energy of 1 person can be covered with just about 0.2kg of Thorium while you require about 5 Tons of Material in Solar. Think about that.

  6. Geologist here: It is not necessary to do fracking in geothermal energy production. If you are lucky to find a reservoir which is porous enough you do not have to frack it open. Fracking usually is applied if the water body is hot enough but not as permeable as wanted. Besides you can already produce electric power by letting down Bioenzymes whose gas phases start at 60°C. As you said, if you wanna provide water (for local heating/cooling) it is possible to install such a system to every household.
    AND: there are a lot of restrictions already which say not to inject any chemicals 1000m near a water supply well. Drinking water is usually produced in depths of 100-200m in reservoirs which do not have any contact with the deeper hot-water-reservoirs. i am still looking forward to this technology!

  7. Awsome sentence: «If my numbers are garbage, please let me know.»
    Thank you for the intellectual honesty, your awsome.

  8. Hydroelectric is renewable so long as the weather keeps delivering the water.  Mess with the weather and you may lose renewability.

  9. I have only done a limited amount of reading on the subject, but it appears that closed cycle geothermal power systems essentially eliminate many of the negatives involved in other geothermal power systems. In a closed cycle system the thermal exchange occurs deep underground and is airtight. The only thing extracted and exchanged is thermal energy. The medium of exchange cycles through the system rather than being withdrawn from the environment. High pressure water is sent down to the geothermal zone and the high temperature and pressure water returns to the surface where it is turned to steam. However, there may be negative aspects of this technology of which I am not aware.

  10. I lived in Nevada near geothermal wells and Nevada is an earthquake prone area anyways. So a 3.0 earthquake in an area prone to it, which the West Coast is and is awash in geothermal potential, it doesn't matter much when we get 5's every so often. Also, geothermal is relatively cheap when compared to using Solar or wind. It can sell at a minimum of 6 cents per kilowatt hour vs the whatever PG&E is charging me which was almost 20 cents last I checked, or they want to increase it to about that much? I also know a geothermal field near me uses waste water in the wells. Its got a lot more potential than some other forms of renewable energy.

  11. Coke brothers? Is that a drugs reference or a soft-drink reference?

    Also, you're saying that almost ¼ of world power is generated from renewable sources? That's fucking awesome!!! You're absolutely correct that we still have 'a ways to go yet', but still, ¼ of total world electricity coming from renewable sources is a LOT more than I expected.

  12. Solar is really going to crush all the rest until something ridiculous like nuclear fusion comes around. It has no moving parts and is relatively simple to manufacture. Giant wind turbines and river dams are going to be to expensive by comparison.

  13. I've always been suspicious of geothermal energy because the earth's core energy isn't infinite and is kinda a big deal if we speed up its cooling. I know the vents are natural and that heats escaping anyways but if we lose our em field were fucked. I'm not well informed on the details but the idea of hundreds of deep geothermal boreholes being dug all over the planet, then venting our cores heat to spin a turbine might not be the best idea.

  14. Very good videos, as always!
    I have two things to had to your point about geothermal energy :
    1- I had experience with a geothermal project. I was on the urban side of the decision making people (not on the technical side) for this particular area in the suburbs of Paris (France). This was perfect, this winter, 5000 families will have free energy, deconnected with the aleas of the fluctuations of the energy markets… until I discovered that actually it was an exception to the rule. In the Paris area (and in some others around the world) there exist some geological strata, generally between 1 and 2 km deep, where you dont need fraking : the hot water is there, in a sandy porous layer, just hot enough and pressurised. You just have to drill a hole and it comes right up, hot like you want. Ok, I made it easy : drilling a 2 km hole is no light endeavour and with water come other chemicals, natural, but no less detrimental. Nevertheless it is vey doable (and it is done!). But it is not universal. It's like dams for which you need to have a suitable revier nearby. It is only for the lucky places that have this kind of not so common geological statas and urban developpement on top of it…
    Oh by the way : you said that a third of electricity is generated by geothermal sources in Iceland. But, besides electricity, it provides nearly 90% of the needs for heating houses (in a near polar region…) and providing hot water. So it is providing around 60% of the energy needs of the island.
    2- there is surface geothermal energy (I don't know the exact denomination in English) where you use the soil (not profound, a few centimeters to a few meters) with the same physical principle as a heat pump. It is not a global solution whatsoever, but it is cheap, easy to implement (without any need for rare earth or difficult to produce materials). It can provide a lot of savings for a household and is quite adapted to individual houses in temperate climates. It is like solar water heating systems, but less intermitent : an individual solution that can be a part of the global solution. Very decentralised…

  15. Just to makes sure that people dont get the wrong idea, Iceland uses renewable power for 99.99% of it´s power needs. 73% comes from hydroelectric and 26 from geothermal.

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