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Question

How do think global energy system would transform itself?

Mehmood Ahmad's picture
HSE Manager Renewables, Utility

I am working with renewables projects solar PV and wind throughout their life cycle from development to operations. I am also managing a personal blog about renewables http://renewablesoutlook.com/

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  • Dec 5, 2022
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"Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will require nothing short of the complete transformation of the global energy system" IEA (International Energy Agency)

How do think global energy system would transform itself?

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I think that as I spent most of my adult life promoting energy efficiency as the only resource that was cheaper than fossil and nuclear power, it is now a great relief to have utility scale wind and utility scale solar also cheaper than fossil or nuclear power.

Whether you think that climate is a problem, or fossil fuel addiction, or nuclear waste, or soot and smog, it doesn't matter.  None of the progress has much to do with environmental concerns.  And now that clean energy is cheaper than dirty energy, nothing is going to slow it down until we run out of opportunities to displace dirty energy with cheaper more abundant clean energy.  

There are only ten countries out of 195 countries in the world that have enough fossil fuels to export more than a small fraction of what they consume.   Nuclear power also comes from most of those ten countries, and has become insanely expensive.  So much that the only recourse nuclear advocates have is to lie about the costs of the plants and pretend that the fuel costs and not the combined fuel and operating costs are all that matters.

What that means to the world of entities that fund new generation is la la la nothing nada zip zero.  China and South Korea can build nuclear plants for less than half as much as Western countries, but they can also build wind and solar for less than half of what Western countries can.  The Gobi Desert is host to the world's largest wind farm, 10,000 MW's, at a cost of $875 per KW it is so cheap that Chinese wholesale rates could pay for this plant in a single year.   They plan to double it in two or three years.  Their "cheaper" nuclear plants are the same price the SMR crowd pretends it can achieve, $6000 per KW, which is why China and South Korea are slowing things down.

I spent a LOT of time following climate science back in the day.  By 1990 scientists knew that the reason the world's deserts had increased 10% from 1940 to 1970 was soot and smog, which causes moist air to rain over the oceans instead of carrying moisture over land to have it cause rain when the air moves over landmasses and experiences pressure changes.  Why we don't remember that today is a measure of the success of the climate disinformation efforts.  But it still doesn't matter because wind and solar farms are cheaper than fossil or nuclear plants and electric cars are cheaper than gasoline cars (Tesla's are a low cost luxury car, but there were ten fully electric cars on U.S. showroom floors in 2018 for less than the average new gasoline car price).

Today's rate of wind and solar growth will still take about thirty years to eliminate fossil and nuclear power, but it won't stop until people stop making money, and that won't happen until we have built a much larger electric supply than today's. 

ALL chemicals and fuels we get from fossil fuels can be replaced with identical green chemicals made from air and water.  Whether it is hydrogen, methanol, ammonia, chemical feedstocks for plastics manufacturing, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, methane, or something else, it doesn't matter to me.  All of them will be cheaper than today's fossil versions when we have a mature wind and solar resource.   They will simultaneously serve storage and replacing the challenging bits of the modern energy world.

There are very distinct economic priorities which dictate things that many hours are spent debating.  We DON'T need storage until there is something to store.  As long as the grid can take wind and solar generation directly, it is more profitable to the wind and solar producers than making something to be stored, or using batteries.  Storage is already cheap enough that solar plus storage is beating natural gas peakers in auctions for capacity, but we won't see really cheap storage until some parts of the world have really large wind and solar resources, and power is available for at least a couple of days a month in excess of what the grid needs.

The only thing I can see from current trends for sure is that the U.S. won't be where storage develops unless a lot of people get a lot smarter a lot faster here.  The UK makes a good case for being the world power of storage development.  But several other places are in the running.

One really important, really understated observation before I go:  in 2019 58% of the world's solar panels were installed in developing nations.   This means that a lot of solar development isn't turning off fossil and nuclear plants, but rather providing power to people who couldn't have afforded fossil or nuclear power.  Wind may be doing the same, but I haven't seen the data.  This should be powerfully instructive to people who are estimating the future market for wind and solar generation. 

It's all in the economics.  I call myself an environmentalist, but I knew in 1985 that I had to push for clean energy solutions that saved money.  The U.S. spends $7 billion per year on utility efficiency programs, saves $30 billion per year, and could double that in a few months by raising the efficiency programs in 44 states to the current level in the best six states.  

But it is a hell of a lot easier to push wind and solar than it is to push efficiency.  No one is interested in how to optimize any of this.  If I ever found a discussion of optimizing our energy choices with other qualified people I'd be close enough to nirvana that I wouldn't care about the difference.

Larry Eisenberg's picture
Larry Eisenberg on Jan 3, 2023

Ned: Excellent comments and analysis. I am right there with you.  I am as "green" as anybody but it is all about the economics.  

Thanks, Larry

 

Achieving zero CO2 emissions by 2050 may not be realistic, but I believe the main technology changes for transformation of the Global Energy System will be in the transportation and power sectors, recognizing that CO2 is also produced from heating and industrial processes.

 

In the power sector, the transformation from fossil fuels to renewables is critical and great progress has already been made. In the US, for example, before 1989 no electricity was generated from either wind or solar power and very little from geothermal and biomass. After years of growth, the combined US generation from wind and solar surpassed hydroelectricity in 2017. In 2020, sixteen states generated more than 10% of their electricity from wind and three generated more than 40%. Natural gas has replaced coal, which was responsible 53% of the US electricity generation in 1998, dropping to 19.3% in 2020. Similarly, the world did not see any electricity generation from wind until 1985 and none from solar until 1989. In 2020, wind generated 6% of worldwide electricity and solar generated 3%, more than half of hydroelectricity at 16.2%. In 2020, renewables made up 27.9%. A continuation of these trends in the leadup to 2050 will results in dramatic reductions in CO2 from the power sector.

 

For the transportation sector, the key is to have a transformation from fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs). This transformation will require an increase in the power sector to meet the EV fuel demands, reduction in the cost of EVs, the ability to store electricity generated from renewables, an increase in the range of EVs, and most importantly easy access to rapid charging high voltage systems. To meet the US fuel demands for a vehicle pool of about 280 million, for example, electricity generation would need to increase about 25%, based on the assumption of 120 miles per gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) for EVs compared to the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of 25 mpg for vehicles. As the transformation of the vehicle pool will be gradual, this is a goal that should be achievable. To reduce the cost and increase the range of EVs, auto manufacturers are investing large sums of money. For example, Ford will invest $29 billion and GM $27 billion on EV development through 2025. There is also legislation to ban the sale of new diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles. The EU struck a deal in Brussels in October that will ban these sales, starting in 2035. Similarly, the UK has a plan to ban sales by 2035. China is planning a gradual elimination of gasoline cars, targeting 75% to be hybrids or EVs by 2030.

 

Electricity storage is also generating a lot of research to accommodate the intermittent generation of renewables such as solar PV and wind. Undoubtedly, there will be a continued focus in areas besides battery storage, such as chemical (e.g., hydrogen), pumped storage, and thermochemical storage using reversible chemical reactions.

 

Finally, it will be critical to greatly extend the number and location of fast chargers with at least 480 volts. Most EVs currently have ranges less than 300 miles, so the access to these fast chargers will be essential to remove the range anxiety common when EVs are taken on long road trips. In the US, the $2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed in 2022 includes 500,000 new fast charging stations by 2030, that will allow charging EVs to 80% in 10-20 minutes.

 

In summary, the main route to significant reduction in CO2 emissions will be to remove fossil fuels from both the power and transportation sectors, a goal that can be achieved by more renewable power stations with some type of energy storage, reduction in the cost and increases in the range of EVs, and an infrastructure that provides easy access to fast chargers. Even though some new technologies will be needed, these appear to be attainable goals. Fossil fuels will still be needed for plastics, chemicals, and jet fuel, but removing them from power plants and vehicles will go a long way towards meeting this goal.

I’ve written about this before, but in brief, The only “Global Energy System” are LNG Tankers. We are seeing these in action now, helping Europe deal with Mr. Putin’s obstinacy, by supplying Europe with large amounts of natural gas. See “Reasonable Transition…” earlier post.

 

In the future the “natural gas” in LNG will be supplanted with be supplanted with liquefied biomethane, and then liquefied ammonia (a clean hydrogen carrier). See my earlier post about crackers (and other subjects).  LNG Tankers already carry these clean fuels

There is no “climate crisis” as statistical data unquestionably prove. The “crisis” is a manufactured marketing ploy to enrich special interest groups. The real crisis is a profound lack of integrity on the part of some who stand to amass immense amounts of wealth and power by manipulating the public.

Let’s step back and consider basics. The earth’s climate is driven by the sun’s energy and the complex processes that move that energy around the globe, which is a water planet. CO2 involves a minor fraction of the sun’s energy spectrum and is a minor fraction of the earth’s atmosphere.

Further, let’s consider two of our neighboring planet’s, namely Mars and Venus, with CO2 ppm levels +90,000 and +15,000 respectively. Mars is cold and Venus hot. Simply focusing on CO2 levels is not a particularly sound way for assessing a planet’s climate. Obviously, planetary climates are exceptionally complex and involve a large numbers of considerations.

Yet, we are suppose to believe those who claim we are all doomed by simply focusing on the ppm levels of a trace gas.

Ultimately, reality will demonstrate that the “climate emperor” has no cloth on, with “zero carbon” just another scam to enrich the few.

Energy policy needs to be based on the prudent use of our resources. That is the proper and rational transformational goal for 2050.

 

 

Mitchell Beer's picture
Mitchell Beer on Dec 13, 2022

The only way I can comment on this post and stay within the rules of decorum for the site is to *not* assume it contains any substance or logical flow worthy of discussion or debate. Because climate denial is not worthy of discussion or debate. Exxon scientists and leadership, the American Petroleum Institute, and others in the fossil industry knew that in 1977. We need to know it, acknowledge it, and act on it, unanimously, in 2022 and beyond.

I'm not sure who you think is being enriched by trying to confront one of the key existential threats facing humanity when it's the fossil industry receiving $11 million per minute in taxpayer subsidies. Including the link this time at the bottom of this post.

@MattChester, I'm deeply committed to Energy Central as you know, and a few bad apples won't spoil that. But I've long had issues with the site letting climate denial and other forms of blatant greenwashing stand without challenge. That's the main reason I'm being...a bit provocative here.

I will make best efforts *not* to engage beyond this one response, partly because I don't want to waste everyone else's scarce time reading the back-and-forth, a bit selfishly because I already volunteer 60 to 80 hours a week on this file (so I'm really enriching myself, Michael -- making it up on the volume, dontcha know) and don't have any of that time to spare.

 

 

Kudos to Mitchell Beer on his answer to this question. Although I am a perpetual optimist, I have serious concerns about whether the human race will still be around in 2050 due to climate change. All plans to address climate change need be focused on 2030, not 2050.  The real pace of climate change is much more rapid than most predictions have assumed. The key to survival is to take every possible action now to conserve energy and switch to renewables energy in all of its forms.  Recent reports also suggest the need to immediately scale up efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

Energy conservation needs are pretty straightforward.  ALL light bulbs should be LED and should be equipped with daylighting and occupancy sensors. Need to be rapid deployment of heat pump technology to heat and cool all buildings everywhere.  All buildings need to be insulated to their maximum potential. All windows need to be triple pane and need to use the latest PV technology that allows them to convert any form of light back into electricity. Natural gas use needs to be phased out immediately. We should be wiring buildings with DC electricity and all items that use electricity should be offered with a direct DC electrical use capability. The energy savings possible by 100 % DC availability are huge.

Carbon removal technology is available, but it needs to be pared with carbon reuse technology to make it financially viable.  Even with the viability of the human race at stake, I do not see governments being able to pour in the vast amount of money that will be necessary to scale up carbon removal technology. A solid private sector profit model could do wonders to make this capability real at the necessary scale.

New energy generation technologies are being identified are almost a daily basis.  There are two forms of geothermal technology, deep closed loop and deep drill technology, that are on the verge of commercialization. The capability offered by both is unlimited energy availability that could easily meet the need for electricity at any spot in the world at a very reasonable price.  Imagine a hole in ground by every current power generating station, fossil fuel and hydro, supplying the electricity to the grid served by those facilities in a completely non-polluting 24/7 100% reliable supply that uses the existing grid. Where the grid does not exist, drill the hole and build the local grid to utilize the electricity generated. That is the promise of these new technologies. Possible anywhere on land in the world.

Technology exists to convert wave power and the kinetic motion of rivers into electricity. The technology is placed in or under the water and the electricity is fed to land and distributed by the grid. The technology exists, had been proven and now shown to be commercially viable. 

To make PV and wind truly viable and a resilient source of electricity to meet all needs, we do need a rapid expansion of cutting-edge battery technology (including the storage of hydrogen gas for use in fuel cells).

The Inflation Reduction Act measures are a great step in the right direction, but we need to fully unleash the vast amount of private investment capital that is out there to really provide the huge amount of funding that will be needed to meet this global challenge and create the rapid transformation that is needed to protect the human race from extinction. 

If we start out from the depth and urgency of the climate crisis -- and I can think of no starting point that matters more -- the transformation has to emphasize the changes in technology, policy, business models, day-to-day practice, and public attitude and expectations that give us the fastest emission cuts, ideally at the lowest cost per tonne of carbon or equivalent.

If that's the goal, and if we really mean it, the priorities sort out pretty quickly.

We know that drastic energy efficiency improvements, distributed renewables like solar and wind, and now energy storage are practical, affordable, and ready to scale. Blue hydrogen has the same global warming potential as coal, small modular reactors still look a lot better on a PowerPoint than they do in real life, and IEEFA reports that 10 of the world's top 13 carbon capture and storage projects accounting for 55% of total global capacity have failed to one degree or another. So what are our realistic priorities to transform the system to meet the IPCC's immediate target, which calls for a 45% global emissions reduction by 2030?

When we know that a unit of energy demand that we prevent is cheaper and more effective than ever having to supply it again, why would we ever accept another energy futures model or energy plan that doesn't have deep efficiency measures at its core?

With Russia's war in Ukraine shining a light on past energy efficiency clawbacks that are costing UK households £800 million this winter, and similar stories across Europe and beyond, do we really think that continuing reliance on fossil fuels from anywhere, ever is the best way to prevent anyone from ever having to choose between food and fuel?

We know that small, local efficiency and renewables projects can move faster than utility-scale, and they improve local resilience when they're done right. So while we get started now on those longer-term prospects, which options do we count on over the next two to five to eight years, when the door to a 1.5°C future will either be jammed open or slammed shut?

If the barriers to this particular transformation are all about human and regulatory systems, not the technology nor even the economics, how quickly can we shift those systems to align with the 45% by 2030 target? And why aren't we already trying harder?

And for anyone who thinks we don't have the money to make the change -- and to cover loss and damage costs in vulnerable countries while we're at it -- how about redirecting the US$11 million per minute going into fossil fuel subsidies, every minute of every day of the year, according to the International Monetary Fund as of October, 2021? Those subsidies buy an awful lot of advertising and lobbying, including continuing financial support for the climate denial machine, which in turn makes it a lot harder than it should be to build public consensus for system transformation.

It really comes back to whether we want to get this done, and whether key decision-makers really get it that we have no choice. After that, the details of how to get it done are complicated, because people are complicated (even when they're operating in good faith). But really, it ain't rocket science.

(*Shall I tell you how I really feel? :) )
 

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