“The promise of quasi-infinite and free energy is here,” says Thierry Lepercq, head of research, technology and innovation for Engie SA. He thinks the cost of solar power will drop below $10 a megawatt-hour ($0.01 per kWh) before 2025 in the world’s sunniest places. Engie recently conducted a “very deep modeling” of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region of France, which has about 5 million inhabitants. The study showed those regions could run entirely on renewable energy for about 20% less than the price of electricity today.
Lepercq also predicts that oil will drop to around $10 a barrel by 2025. “Even if oil demand continues to climb until 2025, its price could drop to $10 if markets anticipate a significant fall in demand,” Lepercq said at his office near Paris. “Solar, battery storage, electrical and hydrogen vehicles, and connected devices are in a ‘J’ curve,” he said. “Hydrogen is the missing link in a 100 percent renewable energy system, but technological bricks already exist.”
A big supporter of hydrogen power, Lepercq thinks hydrogen may be as cheap as liquefied natural gas in less than 10 years. “We’ll have the possibility to transport energy (liquid hydrogen) that’s produced very cheaply in remote places,” Lepercq said. He is encouraged by the construction of the first liquefied hydrogen carrier by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. as part of a Japanese plan to import hydrogen from Australia and believes “hundreds” more will be launched in the coming decade.
Engie was once the natural gas monopoly holder in France. Over the past decade, it has invested in renewables while it selling off coal fired plants and exploration assets to shield itself from commodity price swings. It is now the world’s largest non-state owned power producer with operations around the globe. In September, Engie bought a stake in Heliatek, a German start-up developing photovoltaic films that can be applied to the exterior of buildings. It also acquired an interest in Symbio FCell, a French manufacturer of fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity to run vehicles.
The company plans to spend more than $1.5 billion by 2018 on technologies including grid-scale battery storage, hydrogen output, “mini-grids” that serve small clusters of homes, and smart buildings that link up heating, lighting and IT systems to save energy and cut costs. “In the months to come, we expect to announce the first major steps of projects, investments, partnerships and potential acquisitions” in these areas, said Lepercq, a former banker and entrepreneur. In 2006, he co-founded Solairedirect, a solar developer that was bought by Engie in 2015. “We’re talking about technology platforms in which massive value can be created from comparatively small investment.”
For decades, futurists have been predicting a time when electricity would be “too cheap to meter.” If Lepercq is correct, that time is less than 10 to 15 years away.
A tip of the hat to Leif Hansen