Sun for Future II - Outlook for 2050
First published May 03, 2019 - Version of February 11th, 2020 - time to read: 10 minutes
It would be very desirable to stay below the 2-degree target in the long run. But it might be wise not to hope for only 1.5 to 2 degrees temperature increase, but to anticipate 3-4 degrees for the next 40 to 60 years.
In any case, the effects of the climate crisis and the forecasts of climate researchers offer me enough reasons to consider not only the energy transition but also the food supply of the future.
That is why I plead for a conversion of industrial agriculture to extensively managed agroforestry systems with a variety of crops, in order to avoid complete crop failures in extreme weather conditions. The forest maker Tony Rinaudo in the Sahel shows why agroforestry systems make sense when temperatures rise. However, this will probably not be enough to guarantee a secure food supply. Therefore, weather-independent production of food in vertical farms and greenhouses or other protected environments will increase.
For even more safety, I also recommend the production of proteins, fats and carbohydrates using bacteria in bioreactors.
Agriculture 5.0 in 2050 in Germany
This could be the case in 2050:
In the year 2050 approx. 3 million hectares of formerly almost 17 million hectares of agricultural land will be used for for so-called biodiversity agricultural solar parks. A variety of open-land habitats have developed there. In vertical farming systems, food is produced independently of the weather with the help of solar park electricity. This means to a total of approx. 3,000 terawatt hours of electricity per year. The entire cross-sector energy demand is covered cost-effectively and more than adequately.
All solar parks are equipped with battery accumulators to compensate for daily fluctuations and with redox flow accumulators for long term storage so that the huge fluctuating, unsafe supply with sun, cloud, day, night, summer and winter fluctuations can reliably provide the electricity required. In this way, the solar parks deliver controllable electricity to the power grid and to Power-to-X plants distributed regionally throughout the country that produce hydrogen, e-methane, e-methanol and e-heat.
They are stored and distributed via gas pipelines, ships, trains, trucks and heating networks. Demand-driven re-generation is carried out with the help of fuel cells, gas-fired power plants and CHP plants. This is a job for municipal utilities, network operators, housing cooperatives, industrial companies, DB energy. The waste heat generated during all conversion processes is also used via heating networks.
Reducing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere to the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm has become an urgent project to slow down the further rise in temperatures and eventually reverse it. Carbon dioxide is taken directly from the air for this purpose. CO2 has developed from a climate killer to a valuable raw material.
In the form of carbon fibre compounds, they supplement and replace wood, steel and concrete in the construction sector. Aviation fuel, fuel for internal combustion engines and heating systems for buildings is produced from it. The chemical industry is pleased with this alternative to oil.
These projects were launched on a large scale when most of the energy supply was switched to 100% renewable. This is because a great amount of energy is needed to reverse more than 200 years of fossil carbon burning within a few decades.
In greenhouses, also on roofs, car parks, office buildings, schools, exhibition halls, etc., vegetables, herbs and flowers thrive. The electricity from photovoltaic modules in the roofs and walls of the greenhouses powers the CO2-neutral air conditioning. Especially in the increasingly hot cities, they also serve as weather-independent meeting places with cosy seating areas and cafés. If you want to grow something there yourself and don't have a green thumb, farmbots can help you with your work.
The remaining agricultural area of approx. 14 million hectares is extensively and sustainably managed with agroforestry systems, afforested or converted into nature protection areas. Even formerly drained moors are once again what they once were: Plenty of water and valuable CO2 reservoirs.
If necessary, food could also be produced in bioreactors. This is an old idea of NASA for the supply on long space flights, rethought on the spaceship earth. Bacteria shorten the carbon cycle and produce carbohydrates, proteins and fats directly from CO2. Food technologists supplement this with micronutrients and bring it into edible, appetising forms. The Bavarian radio station explains very clearly what this bio-food could look like.
Since this type of food production does not require large-scale technology, there are local bio-food production facilities that do not require large transport routes.
This is how it could look in 2050 if we gradually and construc
tively deal with the diverse demands of nature and species conservation, the energy transition, the consequences of the climate crisis and a growing world population.
The projects Energy Transition, Agricultural Transition, Nature Conservation and thus the preservation of a biosphere worth living in confront the entire human race with an enormous challenge. However, this transformation is not only a worthwhile challenge for nature but also for the economy.
My thoughts may seem hard to digest at first glance. There is no question that we need a paradigm shift in many areas of our lives. To preserve the biosphere in such a way that all the inhabitants of the earth can live well in it cannot succeed without changing our way of life. Thinking globally, acting locally is indispensable in the end.
Food from vertical farms, greenhouses or even bioreactors seems more reasonable to me than to hope that our "old" agriculture will simply cope with the consequences of the climate crisis.
Photovoltaics is more efficient than photosynthesis in harvesting sunlight. Solar-powered vertical farming, greenhouses, agroforestry systems and bioreactors provide sufficient and safe high-quality food. This means less pressure on agricultural land and no monocultures in the field.
The maltreated nature (soils, plants and animals) will be grateful and can recover. We use the areas that become available for reforestation. This would additionally reduce the CO2 concentration of the air.
It could therefore be a good strategy in several respects to produce food differently from today, because:
- Extreme weather conditions and rising temperatures will make agriculture more expensive, riskier and sometimes impossible. Vetical farming, greenhouses, agroforestry systems and bioreactors are used to ensure the safety of the food supply in all weather conditions.
- Agroforestry systems and afforestation reduce the CO2 content in the atmosphere. Flora and fauna recover and offer ecosystem services forever.
- There is a secure, cross-sector energy supply from renewable sources.
- Power-to-X technologies are used to produce fuels and basic raw materials for the energy, mobility, building heating and chemical industries.
- Additional benefits: If we deal with the climate crisis in this way, it will be easier to get over it if the 2-degree target cannot be met.
Addendum 1: Railway in 2050
The railways have invested heavily in infrastructure in recent decades. It is not only microplasty made from car tyres that has resulted in every village in Germany having a well-connected railway station. The allocation of the external costs of automobility to the motor vehicle tax has also contributed to a radical reduction in the number of private cars. In addition, all major cities have been declared almost car-free. The railways have become the mobility provider par excellence.
It is also an electricity and heat supplier for industry and private households throughout Germany. The railway has expanded and converted its power supply systems. Solar and wind farms supply electricity to the nearest railway substation in the storage facilities operated there. The railway thus operates its hydrogen production by electrolysis. The oxygen released is sold, the hydrogen produced is fed into the hydrogen pipelines (similar to today's natural gas network) and stored in local long-term storage facilities.
With the addition of CO2, delivered in wagons from cement factories, hydrogen is additionally converted into methane suitable for gasification with bacteria in the substations. The biological methanisation with bacteria works synchronously with the fluctuating power supply from solar and wind farms at 10 bar pressure and 65 degrees Celsius. The resulting heat is used via the heating network (see below). This eliminates the safety and operating requirements of technical methanisation, which takes place at 30 bar pressure and 400 degrees Celsius.
Energy from the sun and wind is transported to households, industrial plants and gas-fired power plants via the natural gas network to which all substations are connected. At filling stations, E-CNG (compressed renewable natural gas) is the CO2-neutral fuel for automobiles.
(Note: CNG instead of diesel cars and trucks would, by the way, already be the now possible solution to the nitrogen oxide issue. In 2019 CNG will consist of fossil natural gas and in 2050 of e-methane. CNG is massively underestimated as a reasonable alternative to battery technology in the mobility sector.)
From the solar and wind power buffered in batteries in connection with the electricity production from the stored hydrogen and methane, the railway not only generates the railway power, but also supplies the medium or high-voltage grid with electricity safely and as required.
The waste heat from electricity production - 30-50% of the energy stored in hydrogen or methane - and the waste heat from biological methanation, is distributed via heat networks to large and small consumers in the region, who use it for heating or cooling. Businesses with permanent or temporary surplus heat can additionally use the heating network to feed in their heat instead of giving it unused into the environment.
Addendum 2: Energy mix of the future
The price issue will be an important criterion for the energy mix of the future. If the following long-term costs in euro cents per kilowatt hour are realistic
- 2 (solar parks)
- 4 (on-shore wind)
- 5 (PV roof systems)
- 6 (off-ohore wind)
then the annual costs are in euros for 3.000 terawatt hours of electricity:
- 60 billion, (solar parks)
- 120 billion (on-shore wind power)
- 150 billion (PV roof systems)
- 180 billion (offshore wind power)
For comparison: In 2016, Germany imported fossil raw materials in the form of natural gas, mineral oil and coal for approx. 52 billion euros.
In addition to monetary costs, the concerns of environmental protection (external costs) and acceptance by citizens (political costs) must also be taken into account.
This is particularly evident in the current discussion on wind power, which is well illustrated in Geo-Heft 8/2019. Click here to go directly to the article. It is well known, there is also an acceptance problem with the expansion of north-south power lines, which allegedly have no alternative.
With a maximum potential of 200 gigawatt peak roof and facade systems, the 3,000 gigawatt peak PV output required in total will mainly be generated by solar parks for reasons of price, environmental protection and acceptance. Unless someone invents something even more clever.
Addendum 3: Energy network of the future
Currently we have about 100 gigawatts of conventional power generation capacity on the grid and that is also the maximum amount of electricity that the electricity consumers take as maximum instantaneous consumption without the grid collapsing. It is likely to be a very risky undertaking to want to directly link the volatile supply of renewable energy with consumption if the majority of renewable energy is generated by photovoltaics in 2050.
Thinking consistently from the end and to the end, it would make sense to decouple renewable energy sources and energy consumption. Another advantage of a complete decoupling would also be that you can simply bet on the cheapest renewable energy source with a sharp pencil.
The role between supply and demand would then be played by the "X" from - hopefully soon to come - Power to X or X to Power plants.
X can be hydrogen, methane gas, methanol, heat, batteries, etc. Then the old power plant park could be converted to a X2P-capable power plant park in the next decades. Gladly also at locations of biogas plants. If P2X and X2P plants were distributed regionally throughout Germany, then no additional heavy power lines would be needed, but rather gas lines and well-developed local and district heating networks. X2P-suitable plants can very well be combined heat and power plants operated by municipal utilities, fired with hydrogen or methane gas.
These provide electricity and heat in villages and city districts. The waste heat generated by all P2X and X2P processes could be used in this way and not just blown into the environment.
The energy network design of the future requires joint planning of electricity, gas, district and local heating networks.