21 Mar The Electrification of… Well, Everything
Electricity has already touched nearly every aspect of our lives, from transportation to homes to healthcare and beyond, but there are still so many things that could be improved with the advancement of electrification and battery power. The electrification of everything isn’t just some far-off dream anymore – it’s already here, and it’s going to keep expanding at an incredible rate over the next decade.
The Story Unfolds
Battery technology will dramatically advance this year, applying to everything from airplanes to basketball shoes. Every day, we see a trend in the direction of electrification. It is not uncommon for buses to run on silent electric engines, homeowners to put power-generating roof tiles on top of their roofs, or even some athletes to wear shoes with electronic sensors that adapt themselves to the shape of their feet. These examples still feel like novelties. This is not likely to last much longer, though…
Corporate, investor, and government investment in the technology is expected to surge in 2022, and cheap sources of renewable energy are expected to become more abundant. Meanwhile, a variety of well-funded corporations and startups are poised to achieve breakthroughs in battery technology that will pave the way for widespread electrification in a number of industries.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are a major contributor to this upward trend. Tesla, the first electric car company, is now worth more than $1 trillion, more than the rest of the top ten global automakers combined. In 2021, the US government promised to electrify its entire federal fleet of 645,000 vehicles. GM, Volvo, Honda, and other automakers have revealed plans to convert their whole portfolios to electric vehicles.
From airlines creeping toward electric flights to logistics companies aiming to be carbon-neutral, more and more corporations are taking notice of the emerging electric revolution and developing their own plans. According to McKinsey, industrial companies could electrify up to half of their fuel use today using existing technologies.
The number of mentions of electrification on earnings calls reached new peaks in 2021, as executives discussed sustainability goals and ways to capitalize on electrification potential. It is expected that 2022 will see a flurry of announcements regarding electrification.
The Downside of Electrification
However, electrification comes with its own set of problems. To meet a high spike in demand, clean power generation will need to be rapidly scaled up, complicated processes will need to be rethought to suit electricity’s capabilities, and far-reaching infrastructure will need to be installed to support it all. Battery dependence can also be problematic. As mining metals like lithium and cobalt become more popular, supply chains are strained and environmental concerns arise. There is also a possibility that a supply shortage may lead to renewed global tensions and saber-rattling.
In many ways, however, these issues pale in comparison with the benefits of electrification, particularly with the steady expansion of renewable technologies such as solar and wind – leading to an abundance of clean electricity in many countries – and disruptive advances in energy generation on the horizon. New technologies are also emerging that will facilitate better supply chain management. The quality of batteries will likely be a more significant factor in the electrification trend.
The Battery Tech Barrier
In general, the more energy a battery can hold, the more applications it can be used for. Lighter, longer-lasting batteries might help emission-free planes take to the skies, increase the use of commercial electric vehicles, make on-premises energy storage more affordable for property owners, and much more. Progress in this field has accelerated, and more major announcements and launches may well be imminent.
Apple is rumored to be aiming to release an electric automobile by 2024, following reports that the company has made a breakthrough in battery technology. Meanwhile, innovations involving sprinkling silicon into batteries to increase energy density are making their way from the lab to the consumer. Silicon battery technology from Sila Nanotechnologies, a unicorn startup with roughly $1 billion in investment, was brought to market for the first time by fitness tracking firm Whoop in late 2021. Sila says that its battery has a 20% higher energy density than standard lithium-ion batteries, allowing it to reduce the overall size of the wearable by a third.
Deals to startups in the space have doubled over the past year, and funding has increased fourfold. Investors anticipate a big jump in energy storage demand in 2022. From large-scale storage for power grids to battery recycling to novel technology like solid-state batteries, investors are investing in a wide range of battery tech businesses.
In the following year, as battery technology continues to improve, more aspects of our economy will move toward electric power. Despite the fact that much depends on investing in capital-intensive infrastructure and fledgling technology, an increasing number of major firms are betting that the transition to electrification is just getting started.
But, Do You Really Mean That?
We don’t really mean everything when we say “electrification of everything.” Changing from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas to low-carbon fuels like hydrogen may prove more practical, cost-effective, and technically feasible for some energy-intensive activities. This is due to the fact that it is still difficult to build a battery large and light enough so that it could be used in a long-distance jet or large ship, and hydrogen would be better suited for some heavy industry applications.
These are, however, the exceptions. Electricity, in most cases, is more than adequate. We now have to make sure that it is available when we need it.