Electricity from photovoltaics and wind power is unbeatably cheap in more and more regions of the world - but it also fluctuates. Sometimes the sun does not shine, sometimes the wind does not blow. Sometimes there is even too much electricity in the grid. The technologies to absorb these fluctuations are already available, but of course they are not yet fully developed. Why should they be? Almost nowhere is the share of renewables in a country higher than 50 percent, so the problem does not yet arise with ultimate consequence, as the flexibility options available to date are still sufficient. What is more important, therefore, is the transformation in the minds of those involved: The idea that large power plants capable of meeting base load requirements but unsuitable for peak load are following a more or less constant consumption is obsolete. In the future, all other players in the electricity system will organise themselves around the cheapest - and most volatile – technologies: photovoltaics and wind. A heliocentric view of the world is thus finally finding its way into energy supply - after decades of thinking, particularly in the coal and steel industry, that the world of electricity revolves solely around coal, oil and gas.
This also entails that some consumers are transformed from passive to active participants in the electricity system. Some consume more electricity when it is available in abundance and postpone their power consumption to later times when there is too little electricity in the grid. Today, this is already happening to some extent with industrial and commercial consumers, but in an intelligent distribution network this will also be possible with household electricity consumers. What is still needed for this is data exchange at shorter intervals between consumers, producers, grid operators and electricity markets in order to deliver price and grid signals to the consumer, as well as regulation that is rewarding flexible electricity consumption rather than penalizing it.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the last two hundred years of the history of technology, it is these two: On the one hand, industrialisation and the associated availability of power, and the relief from manual labour, has made life exorbitantly easier for us humans and led to technological and medical developments that actually only allow the conclusion to be drawn: At no time in history have people on Earth been better off than today. On the other hand, we are beginning to understand that this availability of unlimited power is so detrimental to the planet that at no time since the Stone Age has the survival of mankind as a whole been so threatened as it is today. A dilemma from which we should learn. Even if we succeed in the transformation to a world of 100 percent renewable energies, we should use the energy available to us more efficiently. After all, renewable energies also entail environmental risks. Quite apart from the fact that our energy systems will change more rapidly if the target level - our energy consumption - is set lower.
What has the oil industry had to do with the coal industry in the past? What did the car industry have to do with a large energy supplier? Not much. Now, however, there are signs that the energy system of the future will be much more dominated by electricity than in the past and that entire branches of industry will either (want to) become completely part of the electricity industry or at least move closer towards it. The effects of this development would be gigantic. Six of the world's top ten companies in terms of revenue are now oil and gas companies, and only one comes from the electricity industry. If the "transport" and "heat generation" sectors of the global economy are based in future on (renewable) electricity and no longer on oil and natural gas, huge new sales markets will open up for electricity companies. Technological advantages also result from sector coupling, for example to counteract the fluctuating power generation from photovoltaics and wind power - for example with power-to-gas systems or the batteries of electric cars.
It is no longer the domination of space and the licence to extract hydrocarbons that is decisive for producing energy, but the possession and mastery of small-scale, relatively inexpensive technology. You can buy a PV system from IKEA today. Energy cooperatives jointly operate wind farms. This is the energy companies' nightmare, as has often been noted before. The ownership structure of energy production will therefore be much more pluralistic than in the past, and in Germany it is already increasingly so today. Buyers will become sellers and self-sufficient. Power monopolies will decrease over the course of time. More people will benefit from the (today) lush margins of energy production.
The import dependency of those states that were unlucky in the past not to have oil, coal or natural gas will decrease as the sun shines on every country in the world and the wind blows everywhere. This will also reduce the foreign policy and diplomatic dependency of today's energy importers - and incidentally, the economic costs of providing energy will fall in the importing countries. If there is to be something like a successor to the petrostate, these will probably be countries with exorbitantly good locations and free areas for solar and wind power, which can then export either green electricity or hydrogen. Or they will be countries that have the raw materials that are needed for photovoltaic systems and batteries. The geopolitically neuralgic points of energy supply may soon no longer be large power plants or the straits through which oil tankers sail, but the power grids themselves. After all, they are the only element in a decentralized energy system that can be put out of action, at least temporarily, with major system damage following suit.