The Five Things Keeping Us From Going All-Electric
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The Five Things Keeping Us From Going All-Electric

The ‘electrification of everything’ gets talked about a lot these days. But it isn’t going to happen soon. Nor should we want it to.

Mon, Jul 24, 2023 9:10amGrey Clock 7 min

Electrification is all the buzz.

As more governments, corporations, investors and consumers commit to reducing the world’s reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels, they are frequently turning to electricity as the power of choice. The International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, projects that close to half of world energy consumption could be in the form of electricity by 2050, up from about 20% today.

It makes sense: Electrification is often the fastest and cheapest way to decarbonise our energy consumption. The technologies to decarbonise electricity already exist and are, for the most part, readily deployable at a large scale by the private sector.

But here’s a sobering fact about all the talk of the “electrification of everything”: It isn’t likely to happen. At least, not soon. We can’t go all the way down the electrification road for a host of reasons—nor should we want to. For one thing, it would place unnecessary limitations on other viable solutions to rising greenhouse-gas emissions. It also ignores existing technical, regulatory and strategic constraints on electrification.

None of this is to say the world shouldn’t be shifting to new—and cleaner—electricity. And not just because of its role in fighting climate change. Among other things, electrification via renewable energy is playing a pivotal role in energy security for a variety of countries where oil and gas is scarce and expensive, and where volatile fuel prices threaten economic growth and fiscal stability. Clean energy helped Germany and other European countries cope with the loss of natural-gas imports from Russia last year. New clean energy is also helping key economies like China and India reduce air pollution.

But even with its environmental and strategic benefits, electrification won’t be the be-all and end-all for the foreseeable future.

Here are five reasons why:

1. Some things can’t be electrified

There are a lot of industries that are too difficult or expensive to be electrified for the foreseeable future. Do you want to know why there is no major commercial airline currently operating electric long-distance flights? It’s because the battery weight needed to hold enough energy for a trans-Atlantic flight would be greater than that of the airliner itself.

The weight of the battery and driving range is also a barrier for electrifying 18-wheeler trucks, though that electrification technology is further along than that for large jets. Freightliner has a big rig called eCascadia, but its range is only 250 miles, recharging takes over 90 minutes, and the e-truck is two to three times more expensive than its diesel-fuel version.

That may change as the battery and charging-station technology develops. A new study by the Environmental Defense Fund says that long-distance battery electric trucks could be cost effective by 2030, but other solutions are also possible by then, such as hydrogen, waste-to-energy, biofuels and tailpipe capture. (More on that in a moment.)

High-heat industrial processes, such as those for blast furnaces, cement kilns and petrochemical plants, are another commercial activity that will be hard to electrify, because electric high heat can be challenging and expensive for some industrial applications.

One key problem is that any unplanned downtime or fluctuation in temperature levels—caused by electrical fluctuations or disruptions from weather, accidents or a failed circuit breaker—not only can ruin the end product but also possibly damage billions of dollars of industrial equipment. While that scenario can be averted with automated backup energy systems, as is done routinely for nuclear plants to prevent a meltdown, it’s still an expensive add-on cost.

Protecting against disruptions in electricity supply could be expensive for some heavy industries that currently use coal or natural gas to fuel their heat processes. PHOTO: MASON TRINCA FOR THE THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
2. Cheaper alternatives may be coming for the most difficult-to-electrify areas

Electric power doesn’t have a monopoly on innovation. As a result, it could be risky for some industries to invest in some electrical solutions at the moment, knowing there might be a superior, cheaper technical solution down the road. Alternatives such as biofuels, hydrogen or biogas and fossil fuels with carbon sequestration offer the potential to be superior sources of power.

For instance, Remora, a startup based in Wixom, Mich., is designing a device that can collect tailpipe CO2 directly while a truck is in operation, compressing it for later sequestration or sale. Several airlines have started to use jet fuel made from purified biogenic waste that can be mixed with oil-based diesel fuel—so-called drop-in fuels that don’t require special or new fuel-transport infrastructure. Hydrogen made from renewable energy also could eventually be a solution for fueling planes and trucks.

Heidelberg Materials, a global manufacturer of building materials, is studying carbon capture and storage for its Mitchell, Ind., operations that would allow it to continue to use a fossil-fuel energy source while adding equipment that would separate CO2 emissions from other waste gases before, during and/or after combustion activities. Heidelberg would then transport its waste CO2 to be permanently injected into deep geological storage or to be reused making other products in a way that it doesn’t wind up back in the atmosphere.

These examples have the advantage of using existing energy infrastructure rather than retiring it before its end-of-life service.

3. Access to land, a surfeit of complaints

Yes, there is plenty of uninhabited land in many countries, and especially in the U.S. But uninhabited doesn’t always spell accessibility.

For one thing, in highly urbanised regions or densely populated countries, it can be difficult to find sufficient empty land to support alternative-fuel installations. Around the world, in places as diverse as India and Africa, renewable-energy developers often have trouble getting permits to buy or lease the necessary acreage. And in many areas, including the U.S., local populations can object to living near wind and solar farms, or near the power transmission and distribution lines that they require.

Consider this: It would take a wind farm on about 100,000 acres to generate the same amount of electricity as a one-gigawatt nuclear plant that typically occupies less than 1 square mile, or 640 acres. Princeton University estimates in a high-renewable-energy scenario, where solar and wind would account for virtually all electricity generation for the U.S. in 2050, the number of wind turbines would require roughly 244 million acres of uninhabited land—even assuming efficiency improvements. The current U.S. electrical system only uses about 20 million acres for the power generation business, including fuel-source production (e.g., coal, natural gas, solar, wind, nuclear and hydro), and power plants. Today’s power lines take up 4.8 million acres in the U.S., but that could increase sharply the more renewables that are added.

For a small country like Japan, that renewables-footprint requirement seems insurmountable, even if its nascent offshore wind business gets off the ground. But even for a large nation like the U.S., construction of wind and solar farms often gets held up by groups who want to use the land (or sea) for something else. In the entire U.S., there are two small offshore wind platforms currently in operation, with a third, larger one, nearing completion. The Biden administration is trying to change that at the federal level, but local factors are often hard to sort out.

Moreover, all that uninhabited U.S. land isn’t necessarily contiguous with large energy-using metropolitan regions or located where the most commercial-scale resource of renewable energy is available. For instance, many large U.S. cities aren’t contiguous with Midwest or offshore wind resources or Southwest solar.

4. Difficulty getting the necessary permits

Since the energy resource used for electricity generation often isn’t located in populated areas, that means more transmission lines will be needed, and more lines means more permitting, which can be a time-consuming, multiyear process.

In addition to potentially requiring new transmission lines, new renewable projects also have to receive technical approval to be allowed to connect into existing grids to prove that adding more electricity won’t destabilise existing service. Again, that can take years for regulators to study and approve. The U.S. Congress has talked about permitting reform, but a solution to the problem isn’t currently on the horizon.

The U.S. isn’t the only place with transmission-construction and grid-connection obstacles. In India, land permitting for solar energy can be a bureaucratic nightmare and remains a barrier. In Germany, local opposition to new high-tension transmission lines to carry offshore wind energy from the country’s northern shores to its southern factories blocked projects for years before the Ukraine crisis. In Africa, governments that can access foreign aid for construction of wind and solar installations have had more difficulty financing the transmission lines to carry the power generated to populations and industry. All of this will continue to slow down electrification.

5. Electricity grids are highly interruptible

It isn’t just the occasional squirrel that’s the problem. In recent years, we have witnessed weather systems that knocked out power for huge swaths of the U.S. at once. The war in Ukraine is a reminder that cyberattacks against the grid could be catastrophic if too many aspects of daily life are tied to a singular infrastructure. Already, there are many vital services that cannot be conducted without access to electricity, like lighting, telecommunications, data centres and financial services. Broadening that to our entire fuel system and industrial operations seems risky, if not downright irresponsible.

There will be technical solutions to the risks of electricity disruptions, but it will take time and money to implement them. Households, governments and regional grids will all have to invest in backup systems that can be turned on seamlessly using automation when the larger grid goes down. That could take decades—and an enormous amount of money. BloombergNEF estimates that it could take as much as $17.3 trillion to expand the grid and $4.1 trillion to maintain what is there now, for a total of $21.4 trillion.

Ultimately, there is little doubt that the world is heading for the electrification of a lot more things. And that’s good—for energy security, stable economic growth and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.

But it’s also clear that a goal of electrifying everything is neither possible nor desired, and putting all our power eggs in one basket would be a fool’s errand. Innovation is by no means isolated to the electric domain. Many forward-looking businesses are experimenting with new ways to squeeze emissions out of industrial processes, and to replace fossil fuels in transport and building applications, in some cases with assistance from governments. Power to them. Rather than naysay what’s not electricity, let’s hope they unlock superior solutions.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.

Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.

“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.

“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.

While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.

“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.

While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.

Anti Ageing and Beyond

“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.

On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.

Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.

Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.

Data-Driven Wellness

Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.

“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”

Human connection is a central draw for guests at Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.

Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.

Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.

Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Sanctuaries for Longevity

Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.

Banya Spa House at Aman New York.
Robert Rieger

The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.

“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.

Resetting the Mind and Body

Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.

Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.

“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.

Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.

While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”

“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”

Banya Spa House at Aman New York provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being.
Robert Rieger

This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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