In 2005, who would have thought that by 2015 the U.S. would be nearly independent of oil outside of North America, an electric vehicle would have won Motor Trend's Car of the Year, and solar energy would be one of the fastest growing forms of new energy generation?
While the energy industry hasn't been known as a place where Innovation flourishes, the past decade has shown that new technologies may be ready to compete against the energy sources we've been using for the past century. All told, we could be in for a renaissance in the energy sector. Here is a detailed look at the numerous ways the energy industry could experience nothing less than a renaissance.
Distributed power will be commonplace
Just five years ago it was rare for a homeowner or business to generate energy for its own use. By the end of 2015, over a million rooftops around the country will have some form of solar electricity generation, and while solar accounts for just around 1% of total electricity generation in the U.S. the importance of this milestone cannot be overstated.
A decade from now, millions more rooftops will have solar energy, and the power over the future of energy will lie with consumers. But there's one big advancement needed to take this energy shift to another level.
Energy storage will transform the grid
Solar energy can only go so far to transform energy, because it's an intermittent energy source and has to rely on access to the electric grid. But with energy storage, the dynamic changes quickly. Consumers could conceivably leave the grid altogether, businesses could use whatever energy source is most cost effective no matter the time of day, and even utility-scale storage could stabilize the grid.
A lot of companies are already seeing energy storage as a huge market in the future. Of course, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) recently launched the Powerwall and Powerpack for the residential and large scale markets respectively and is building the Gigafactory in part to supply energy storage products. If everything goes as planned, it will sell storage to utilities and directly to consumers in deals with installers like its sister company SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY.DL).
SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) is also in the storage market, partnering with Sunverge-- both companies are investments of French energy giant Total (NYSE:TOT)-- to provide residential energy storage solutions. Like SolarCity, it could add value to solar customers by bringing energy storage and energy management services into the fold. A decade from now, this could give consumers total control over their energy.
Electric vehicles will be a very real option
Just think how far electric vehicles have come in just the past five years. According to InsideEVs, in 2011 there were 345 electric vehicles sold in 2010 -- all in December -- and in 2014 there were 320,713 electric vehicles sold. Tesla Motors alone plans to make 500,000 electric vehicles in 2020 and by a decade from now the electric-vehicle market should be many millions of units annually.
This will not only shift demand from oil to electricity, but it will also allow consumers to fuel their vehicle with energy they produce (solar) and even bring the electric vehicle into energy storage management.
No doubt, there will be major technology advancements in electric vehicles over the next decade, making 300-, 400-, or even 500-mile trips possible on a single charge. That will be the game changer that electric vehicles need.
Something you've never heard of
I've covered a few of the energy revolutions we can already see coming, but there will undoubtedly be new technologies that will disrupt energy in the next 10 years.
Toyota is working on hydrogen vehicles, Bill Gates is funding research for fusion reactors, Audi is making diesel from the sunlight. It's also very possible that electric vehicles will come outfitted with their own energy production, as Ford is testing (seen on the right). Given the speed at which innovation has happened over the past decade, it's easy to see that even more innovations are coming in the next decade.
Choice will dominate energy in the future
Never have so many energy sources been so accessible to consumers and businesses as they are today, and that trend will only grow over the next decade. If you want to live a carbon-neutral life, you'll be able to. If you want to generate all of your own energy, that option will be available. Or if you just want the lowest cost possible, you can do that as well.
No longer will we be tied to one energy source for transportation and another for powering our homes, with little choice on where that energy comes from or what it costs. The future will be full of choices that may seem impossible even today.