The future of energy supply: Controlled by third parties and fossil fuels
energy concepts | Smart energy | What will our energy supply look like in the future? This is a difficult question for which there is no clear-cut answer. But we can describe alternative developments - that's exactly what we're doing with our Foresight series. In our second scenario, the world's energy system is under central control – however, the electricity does not come from renewable energies but from highly developed coal-fired power plants. The effects of climate change are very unevenly distributed in this alternative future and are accepted by the majority of people.
On this Monday morning, the world in Springville, California, is pretty fine. Even though Matilda, who just turned 14, is a little annoyed that she can’t wear her favorite white knit hat in school today. “You know we can’t wash until Wednesday,” sighs her mother. “We just have to think a little more ahead, that’s how it is nowadays.
“Slightly sulking and a little rushed, Matilda leaves the house to reach the e-school bus in time, which holds down the road. When her friend Maggie texts her that some guy from the “coal idiots” is going to visit her class today, her mood drops to a low point. “Instead of talking, let them make our washing machine run when I want…”, she types into her smartphone hastily before getting on the bus.
Coal-fired energy from the “brown giant”
“We were able to increase efficiency levels significantly thanks to new types of power stations and to outperform all rivals, such as wind and solar energy– it is only thanks to this that your parents now have this ultra-cheap flat rate for electricity,“ Chester McMurphy, the UN Director for Global Energy Issues, reports to Matilda’s school class. Like every year, he is again on a goodwill tour through the USA, during which he visits at least two high schools every day.
He also has a pressing need for a little goodwill, as complaints from customers were growing louder and louder. Electricity production was no longer able to keep up with consumption, and so the “brown giant” – the nickname given to the “UN for energy” – now determines who should switch on their washing machine when or whose turn it is to recharge their electric automobile. This was not a popular decision, although nobody can actually complain about a low standard of living. Besides, McMurphy has no real worries, for the energy market is so well protected that it is rare for new players to come along to compete with it.
Climate change is no longer a subject of interest
“And what about climate change?” Matilda asks skeptically. “Has it not caused whole countries to disappear under the sea?” This question comes up in every class, and McMurphy had, of course, a long time to prepare his answer. „Come on, it’s just the Netherlands,“ he jokes, and today, the room laughs with him, yet again.
Hardly any protests were to be expected, for people have become accustomed to the limited impact of global warming, which has become a problem only on a very local scale. Besides, the people of the Netherlands have been given a very nice area of land in Kazakhstan in which to make their new homes. Indeed, many are wondering: “First we created this powerful ‘UN for energy,’ and then climate change was only half as bad as we had feared. Was it perhaps just much ado about nothing?”
Future of energy supply – a foresight project by thyssenkrupp
Our scenario of centrally regulated energy supply based on fossil fuels is only one possible future vision of our work. As part of our foresight process, our experts have developed sketches of very different futures. They describe future worlds that could just as easily occur. That does not mean that they will just as easily occur. It is also not the case that our Foresight team of many different subject matter experts would prefer certain scenarios. The most important factor to them is that we understand the alternatives and based on this decide where to go. Foresight enables us to actively shape our future.
“The foresight process is continually developing”
Leaving the comfort zone and thinking outside the box – this is what the Foresight Process invites everyone to do. The topic of “Future of Manufacturing” was only one of several major topics that the Foresight team has dealt with in recent years. These include “last mile mobility,” “water management”, and “upgrading megacities”. However, this is only the beginning, explains Andreas Meschede, Innovation Manager at thyssenkrupp: “The foresight process is continually developing, and we will definitely be adding more themes in the future.”
Looking beyond customary horizons
At the very start of the foresight process, the foresight team identified 21 fields where the experts expected appreciable changes in the future – such as energy and raw materials. “In a workshop, our heads of strategy and the heads of development of our business areas ranked the topics. They allocated virtual money from a virtual development budget to individual themes to identify those fields with the highest impact on existing businesses. In addition, the participants had a certain amount at their disposal that they could invest, like venture capitalists, in a completely new area.” While, for example, production and mobility were the top votes in the first group, agriculture and water management were the winners of the second one.
A clear methodology for creating foresight scenarios
There is a very clear methodology behind the scenario technique. “First, determine the central influencing factors for a particular theme in workshops. This could mean fewer than ten or fifteen individual factors, including, for example, technology, training, or data management”, according to Meschede. “In the next step, we develop three to five different directions in which each of these influencing factors could develop, independently of all the others. In this way, we obtain several dozen projections, depending on the number of factors.”
These projections are the ingredients of the scenarios. What’s missing is the recipe to bring them together. “To find out which projections match together, we need to consider the consistency of individual projections. We do this by evaluating projections pair by pair: The better the match, the higher we rank this combination. This ranking is the basis for algorithms that extracts various consistent “bundles of projections” from the many possibilities. These should not overlap and should be as widely spread as possible – something that we can also calculate mathematically. It is this methodical approach that distinguishes our scenarios from any science fiction stories.”