Integrated energy: a new model?

This 14-page note lays out a new model to supply fully carbon-neutral energy to a cluster of commercial and industrial consumers, via an integrated package of renewables, low-carbon gas back-ups and nature based carbon removals. This is remarkable for three reasons: low cost, high stability, and full technical readiness. The prize may be very large.


Four building blocks for a zero-carbon energy mix are outlined on pages 2-5. They include wind, solar, gas-fired CHPs and gas-fired CCGTs. Costs, CO2 intensities and key debates are reviewed for each technology.

Taking out the CO2 requires high-quality nature based carbon removals, for any truly ‘carbon neutral’ energy mix. Meeting this challenge is described on pages 5-7. There will be nay-sayers who do not like this model. To them, we ask, why do you hate nature so much?

Finding a fit requires combining the different building blocks above into an integrated energy system. We find the optimal fit is for renewables capacity to cover 110% of average grid demand. The balancing act is outlined on pages 8-10.

The gas supply chain that backs up the renewables must minimize methane leaks and use the gas as efficiently as possible. Our suggestions are laid out on pages 11-12.

The commercial benefits of this integrated model are described on pages 13-14. We think this is an excellent opportunity to provide fully carbon-neutral energy, using fully mature technologies, at costs well below 10c/kWh and highly bankable price-stability.

Offshore wind: will costs follow Moore’s Law?

Some commentators expect the levelized costs of offshore wind to fall another two-thirds by 2050. The justification is some eolian equivalent of Moore’s Law. Our 16-page report draws five contrasts. Wind costs are most likely to move sideways, even as the industry builds larger turbines. Implications are explored for companies.


Deflating wind costs are explored on pages 2-3. Deflation is important. But consensus forecasts could be dangerously wrong in our opinion.

Our report lays out five reasons why wind looks different to Moore’s Law, which has doubled computing performance every 18-months since 1965.

(1) Offshore wind costs are not following Moore’s Law yet. And after reviewing 50 patents from one of the world’s leading wind developers, we think the industry’s largest focus is not on costs (pages 4-5)

(2) Making turbines ever-larger is “the opposite” of making transistors ever-smaller. We review the physics and a simple issue around extrapolation (pages 5-6)

(3) Larger turbines face larger challenges. Unlike Moore’s Law, physics “work against” the up-scaling of wind turbines (pages 7-9).

(4) Larger turbines are more carbon intensive, using advanced materials that are 10-25x more costly and CO2-emitting, paradoxically requiring more fossil fuels. This looks like “the opposite” of the bootstrapping that helped propel Moore’s Law (pages 10-13)

(5) Wind turbines crowd out wind turbines, as grids ultimately become saturated with highly inter-correlated wind generation. This re-inflates marginal costs. Again, this is the opposite of bootstrapping (pages 14-15).

Our conclusions for companies are drawn out on page 16.

Shifting demand: can renewables reach 50% of grids?

25% of the power grid could realistically become ‘flexible’, shifting its demand across days, even weeks. This is the lowest cost and most thermodynamically efficient route to fit more wind and solar into power grids. We are upgrading our renewables ceilings from 40% to 50%. This 22-page note outlines the growing opportunity in demand shifting.


Renewables would struggle to reach 50% penetration of today’s grids, due to their volatility. Pages 2-7 quantify the challenges, which include capacity payments for non-renewable back-ups, negative power pricing >20% of the time, >10% curtailment and 30% marginal cost re-inflation for new projects.

But a greater share of renewables would help decarbonization. This objective is explained on page 8, showing the relative costs and CO2-intensities of electricity technologies.

Renewable electricity storage is not the solution. It is costly and thermodynamically inefficient, which actually dilutes the impact of renewables. Costs and efficiency losses are quantified for batteries and for hydrogen on pages 9-11.

Demand shifting is a vastly superior solution. Pages 12-17 outline half-a-dozen demand-shifting opportunities that have been profiled in our research to-date. Companies in the smart energy supply chain are also noted and screened.

What impacts? We model that up to 25% of the grid can ultimately be demand-flexible, while this can help accommodate an additional 10pp share for renewables in the grid, before extreme volatility begins to bite (see pages 18-19).

Europe leads, and we now assume renewables can reach 50% of its power grid by 2050, with follow-through consequences for our gas and power models (page 20).

Our global renewables forecasts are not upgraded, as the bottleneck on a global basis is simply annual capacity additions, which must treble between 2020 and 2050, in our roadmap to ‘net zero’. (pages 21-22).

Vertical greenhouses: what future in the transition?

Vertical greenhouses achieve 10-400x greater yields per acre than field-growing, by stacking layers of plants indoors, and illuminating each layer with LEDs. Economics are exciting. CO2 intensity varies. But it can be carbon-negative in principle. This 17-page case study illustrates how supply chains are localizing and more renewables can be integrated into grids.


The first rationale for vertical greenhouses is to grow food closer to the consumer, which can save 0.6kg of trucking CO2 per kg of food. Eliminating freight is much simpler than decarbonizing freight (pages 2-4).

The second rationale for vertical greenhouses is that they are 10-400x more productive per unit of land, hence they can free up farmland for reforestation projects that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere (pages 5-6).

The third rationale for vertical greenhouses is that their LED lighting demands are flexible, which means they can absorb excess wind and solar, in grids that are increasingly laden with renewables. They are much more economical at achieving this feat than batteries or hydrogen electrolysers (pages 7-10).

The overall CO2 intensity of vertical greenhouses depends on the underlying grid’s CO2 intensity, but the process can in principle become carbon negative (pages 11-13).

The economics are exciting. We model 10% IRRs selling fresh produce at competitive prices, with upside to 30% IRRs if fresher produce earns a premium or operations can be powered with low-cost renewables when the grid is over-saturated (pages 14-15).

Leading companies in vertical greenhouses and in their supply chain are discussed on pages 16-17.

Prevailing wind: new opportunities in grid volatility?

UK wind power has almost trebled since 2016. But its output is volatile, now varying between 0-50% of the total grid. Hence this 14-page note assesses the volatility, using granular, hour-by-hour data from 2020. EV charging and smart energy systems screen as the best new opportunities. Gas-fired backups also remain crucial to ensure grid stability. The outlook for grid-scale batteries has actually worsened. Finally, downside risks are quantified for future realized wind power prices.


This rise of renewables in the UK power grid is profiled on page 2, showing how wind has displaced coal and gas to-date.

But wind is volatile, as is shown on page 3, thus the hourly volatility within the UK grid is 2.5x higher than in 2016.

Power prices have debatably increased due to the scale-up of wind, as shown on page 4.

But price volatility measures are mixed, as presented on pages 5-6. We conclude that the latest data actually challenge the case for grid-scale batteries and green hydrogen.

Downside volatility has increased most, as is quantified on pages 7-8, finding a vast acceleration in negative power pricing, particularly in 2020.

The best opportunities are therefore in absorbing excess wind power. EV charging and smart energy systems are shown to be best-placed to benefit, on pages 9-10.

Upside volatility in power prices has not increased yet, but it will do, if gas plants shutter. The challenge is presented on pages 11-13, including comparisons with Californian solar.

Future power prices realized by wind assets are also likely to be lower than the average power prices across the UK grid, as is quantified on page 14. This may be a risk for unsubsidized wind projects, or when contracts for difference have expired.

Energy transition: is it becoming a bubble?

Investment bubbles in history typically take 4-years to build and 2-years to burst, as asset prices rise c815% then collapse by 75%. In the aftermath, finances and reputations are both destroyed. There is now a frightening resemblance between energy transition technologies and prior investment bubbles. This 19-page note aims to pinpoint the risks and help you defray them.


Our rationale for comparing energy transition to prior investment bubbles is contextualized on page 2, based on discussions we have had with investors and companies in 2020.

Half-a-dozen historical bubbles are summarized on pages 3-4, in order to compare the energy transition with features of Dutch tulips, the South Sea and Mississippi Companies, British Railway Mania, Roaring Twenties, Dot Com bubble and sub-prime mortgages.

Five common features of all bubbles are considered in turn on pages 5-16. In each case, we explain how the feature contributed to past bubbles, and where there is evidence of the feature in different energy transition technologies.

Important findings are that many themes of the energy transition can achieve continued deflation or profitability, but not both; while a combination of increasing leverage and curtailment on renewables assets could leave many assets underwater.

Implications are drawn out on pages 17-19, including five recommendations for decision-makers to find opportunities and avoid the most dangerous aspects of bubbles surrounding the energy transition.

Backstopping renewables: cold storage beats battery storage?

Phase change materials could be a game-changer for energy storage. They absorb (and release) coldness when they freeze (and melt). They can earn double digit IRRs unlocking c20% efficiency gains in freezers and refrigerators, which make up 9% of US electricity. This is superior to batteries which add costs and incur 8-30% efficiency losses. We review 5,800 patents and identify early-stage companies geared to the theme in our new 14-page note.


Refrigerators and freezers comprise 9% of the US electric grid, of which half is in the commercial sector, across 4,200 warehouses, 40,000 supermarkets and 620,000 restaurants. This report argues that a new class of materials, Phase Change Materials (PCMs), can effectively store excess renewable energy as coldness in these fridges and freezers, improving their efficiency by c20% and without requiring power prices to increase.

The energy economics of cold storage are explained on pages 2-4, outlining the energy consumption of cold storage facilities as function of different input variables (which will also help you understand how to save energy at your fridge-freezer at home) .

Phase change materials are explained on pages 5-6, explaining what they are, how they work, and how they can lower energy consumption by c20% at a typical fridge/freezer.

The economics are modelled on pages 7-8, showing an 8.5% IRR under recent costs and power prices, rising into double digits with a CO2 price, and above 30% with recent deflation in the costs of PCMs.

A comparison with battery storage is provided on page 9-10, showing a clear preference for PCMs. Batteries decrease efficiency and raise electricity costs. PCMs increase efficiency and do not raise electricity costs. Batteries have further challenges.

Who are the leading companies commercialising PCMs? We answer this question on pages 11-14, by reviewing 5,800 patents. We find promising venture-stage and growth-stage companies in the space, plus listed companies in the capital goods, materials and automotive sectors.

Ten Themes for Energy in the 2020s

We presented our ‘Top Ten Themes for Energy in the 2020s’ to an audience at Yale SOM, in February-2020. The audio recording is available below. The slides are available to TSE clients, in order to follow along with the presentation.


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Updated 2nd April, 2019.

Thunder Said Energy Policy for the Processing of Data Governed by GDPR

Thunder Said Energy may collect, process or handle Personal Data relating to its customers or prospective customers (“customers”) in the European Economic Area (“Personal Data”).

Thunder Said Energy’s relationship with its customers is governed by our terms of use (above), privacy policy (above), and potentially other commercial agreements. It is also legally bound under the EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (“GDPR”) in its collection, uses, and processes around Personal Data.

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Decarbonized power: how much wind and solar fit the optimal grid?

What should future power grids look like? Our 24-page note optimizes cost, resiliency and CO2, using a Monte Carlo model. Renewables should not surpass 45-50%. By this point, over 70% of new wind and solar will fail to dispatch, while incentive prices will have trebled. Batteries help little. They raise power prices by a further 2-5x to accommodate just 3-15% more renewables. The lowest-cost, zero-carbon power grid, we find, comprises c25% renewables, c25% nuclear and c50% decarbonized gas, with an incentive price of 9c/kWh.


Pages 2-4 illustrate the volatility of wind and solar generation at today’s grid penetration, providing rules of thumb around intermittency.

Pages 5-6 illustrate the strange consequences once renewables surpass 25% of the grid, including curtailment, negative power pricing and financing difficulties.

Pages 7-9 quantify and explain how much curtailment will take place in a typical grid as renewables scale from 25% to 40%, 50% and 60% of gross generation, using a Monte Carlo approach. The model shows when and why curtailment is occurring.

Pages 10-20 quantify and explain the costs of batteries, to backstop renewables as they scale from 25%, to 40%, 50% and 60% of the grid, while avoiding curtailment. Real world conditions are not conducive to competitive battery economics.

Pages 21-23 quantify the residual reliance on natural gas. Amazingly, even our most aggressive battery scenarios only permit 10% of gas-power capacity to be shuttered. Low-utilization gas is costly. High-utilization gas is less costly. And the economics of decarbonized gas are superior to any renewables plus batteries combination.

Page 24 concludes that natural gas will emerge as the ‘best battery’ to backstop renewables, estimating the most likely shares in an optimal power mix.

Could new airships displace trucks?

In 2019, TOTAL co-filed two patents with an airship-technology company, Flying Whales, aiming to lower the logistical costs of moving capital equipment into remote areas. An example is shown above. The LCA60T is envisaged to carry up to 60T of cargo (c4x the capacity of a truck), with a range of 100-1,000km. This short note assesses the opportunity, and whether these new airships could displace trucks, or lower diesel demand. We are most excited by the impact for onshore wind.


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