About 46% of power company executives in Europe and North America recently surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predict an increased risk of blackouts up until 2030, citing worries about the affordability and the pace of infrastructure investment, and future energy security.

PwC’s 12th Global Power & Utilities report,  “The shape of power to come,” publishes results from a survey conducted between October 2011 and April 2012. Participants included senior executives from 72 power and utility companies in 43 countries around the world. The survey sought responses to questions such as what executives thought the electricity world would look like in 2030.

The investment outlook for the sector based on industry opinion indicates it is robust, the report suggests. A majority of survey participants (68%) said they were making “major or very major investment” in upgrades and replacement generation. New gas generation heads the generation priority list. About 55% are making major or very major gas generation investments versus only 21% for new coal and nuclear generation, 24% for offshore wind, and 37% for onshore wind generation.

The financial crisis had a high impact on capital for infrastructure projects. “Overall, more than twice as many survey participants say obtaining finance for generation and transmission is tough compared to those who are finding it relatively easy,” the report says.

About 80% of survey participants rated “a regulatory environment that encourages network investment” as the top policy priority, followed by “removal of strategic infrastructure planning bottlenecks,” and “increased interconnection between different electricity systems.” The report concludes that “the policy message from the industry to governments is a clear one—if the demand challenge is to be met, put potentially disruptive market reform on the back burner and focus on the removal of planning bottlenecks and the promotion of an investment-friendly regulatory environment.”

More than 80% of survey participants, meanwhile, said they thought onshore wind, biomass, and all forms of solar would not need subsidies to compete by 2030. “There is less confidence in offshore wind but, even so, 69% say it will be competitive by 2030. 66% also think marine energy will be competitive by 2030,” the report says.

A majority of survey participants said they expect their fuel mix to change from 66% fossil fuels versus 34% non-fossil fuels today to 57% versus 43% in 2030. Overall, survey participants expect gas’s share of their companies’ fuel mix to rise from 29% now to 33% in 2030. But “Despite all the shale gas hype, many questions still remain about its accessibility in some locations and its environmental safety,” the report suggests.

Two-thirds (66%) of participants saw the ability to recover costs fully from customers as a barrier to meeting demand growth, while half saw a medium to high probability that the number of customers in fuel poverty would increase significantly over the next 20 years (particularly in Europe and South America).

In Europe, 53% of survey respondents predicted an increased risk of blackouts in the period to 2030 compared with only 16% expecting a decreased risk. In North America, 40% anticipate an increased risk versus 20% who say blackout risk will drop. “In developing markets, where power cuts are a current fact of life in many countries, industry sentiment is moving in the opposite direction,” the report shows. “Modernisation of power systems is expected to reduce the incidence of failures in these regions.”

The issue that most divided respondents concerned energy efficiency: About 55% said they were optimistic that energy efficiency would help the supply and demand outlook in the decades ahead, but the remainder said there was a medium to high probability that energy efficiency will largely have failed to fulfill promises by 2030.

Sources: POWERnews, PwC