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Energy Progress- the best of 2020 leads to a great 2021

image credit: Adapted by paul4innovating
Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation Knowledge Provider Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Dec 29, 2020 11:15 am GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-01 - State of the Industry, click here for more

Being restricted, not able to travel has its benefits, you gain more time to climb into your own reading, research or passions. For me, this has been my “Energy Transition” year.

The sheer amount of articles, reports or webinars around all aspects of energy have been partly overwhelming but significant in their reference and knowledge gaining. This intensity of purpose towards the energy transition has given me an enormous boost in its understanding.

When I reflect back on this 2020 year, recognising the needs to make a significant energy change has really gained a very high awareness.

2020 advanced the commitment to the shift from fossil fuel to renewables that has real momentum in the coming years. 2021 will be the breakthrough year where the energy transition has the unstoppable forces happening.

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Let me summarize my top six energy developments that built-in 2020 that have given a potentially lasting momentum to the energy transition that will, in my opinion, have a real impact in 2021. Plus my seventh one, a personal one, boosted my energy understanding and confirmed a growing recognition by others’ of my contributions.

Firstly, let’s look at my top six energy enablers to significantly impact the energy transition that is being undertaken. Each will have a massive impact on 2021.

ONE – We are entering the autumn of fossil-fuel generation

Coal, Oil and Gas are really on the ropes, fighting to stay relevant against the onslaught of renewables. Coal is on its way out that is for sure, the early retirements of dozens of coal plants in 2020.

Global coal consumption was such way down due to Covid-19 and renewables’ pace. Growing positioning has become far more competitive and offers real confirmation that renewables can bridge much of the energy demand.

Gas is not so far behind. The scrapping of plans to replace coal with gas and opt for clear energy portfolios and cancelled previously planned pipelines are among the issues that are putting huge pressure on the Gas Turbine business.

Power generation will be the major battlefield in 2021 to see if the “interim” argument, the bridge, takes hold or the longer-term one, of going straight for renewables wins.

The issue of a legacy for investing in Gas Turbines that have a life of thirty years or more of normally useful lifetime returns is at risk. They could quickly become stranded assets or wrongly positions in the new energy designed a system where renewables are more central.

I feel early retirement debates and required decisions to not invest in fossil fuel generation will dominate 2021. Fossil fuel-fired generation is heading for a very tough year in 2021.

TWO – The commitment to Carbon Neutrality

The commitments of both China and now the incoming US administrations recommitting to the Paris Agreement is highly significant. The whole raft of more vigorous policies, support programs and regulatory measures to tackle the CO2 emissions and the increased “drumbeat” to decarbonization will become much louder in 2021. Governments really need to “drive” change.

The continued push to carbon-free electricity is happening at an increasing rate, with the application and acceleration of clean energy technologies, and the power grids to manage and run increasingly on zero-carbon power. The energy system is being argumented with increased sector coupling management, and increase storage alternatives will be one of the top investment focus in 2021. Decarbonizing is central to all we do.

THREE.- The Race towards Hydrogen at Scale requires lower cost points.

For me, hydrogen became the big talking point of 2020. We have been deluged with Hydrogen opinions, suggested options and so much advice on how and when this “hydrogen economy” emerges into one that gives real commercial scale. Hydrogen is moving towards the alternative energy source to solve the harder-to-abate areas, bridge the wind and solar variability, and provide transport fuel alternatives in power-to-x solutions.

Green hydrogen is the place to get to, as quickly as possible. What needs to be announced in 2021 is significant breakthroughs in electrolyzer technology that can significantly upscale volume and show the promise of rapid cost reduction. The scaling trajectory will have a similar pathway that solar and wind took to get to the point where they are today where costs are required to fall dramatically to gain acceptance and adoption.

The disruptive technology breakthroughs for green hydrogen need to be delivered in 2021 to kick-start the Hydrogen revolution.

In 2021 the Hydrogen Council has to make some hard decisions. Does it continue to back all Hydrogen shades (grey, blue, green) or shape its memberships focus to one and only one Hydrogen choice, that of Green hydrogen?  Green Hydrogen is generated by the different renewables and technology solutions available; mostly solar, hydro, and wind feeding into electrolyzers.

Investment decisions and technology clarity need to be fully determined on Hydrogen Those decision and clear pathways for Hydrogen need to be nailed down in 2021.

FOURThe focus will shift further to reducing Greenhouse Gases in 2021

The transport industry, aviation, and shipping need to make definite inroads to find their fuel alternatives in 2021. There are options, but a winner or two needs to emergy and the industries consolidate behind these.

Methane Gas has to be given much sharper attention too, and that continues to push the oil and gas industries into getting their emissions in real shape. All greenhouse emissions in building, in industry, in transport need to be “forced” to act by Government edict and have clear time commitments to make the necessary changes to clean energy.

Bans on Gas Vehicles needs even more legislation incentive, the two or so decades needs shortening, so the laggards in the car industry finally get the incentive to commit.

2021 will see Gas Emissions becoming central to policy and which technological breakthroughs being determined as the ones to put the investment capital behind.

The one really grey area for me is translating all the talk of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) into real compelling and globally commercial solutions. If they can’t see the shift to decarbonization through renewables and green hydrogen, all the political, technological, and industry solution providers combined weight behind them to provide commercially viable CCUS solutions with blue hydrogen takes increasing hold on future energy designs. CCUS needs to have clear, scalable and proven solutions.

FIVE Getting our Storage, Battery and Grids capable of delivering Electricity Stability

As we recognize the largescale deployment of energy storage, this has the real potential of overturning any business as usual for any electricity market needs. If it is to satisfy instantaneous demand, smooth out discrepancies between generation and loads, provide flexibility in load shifting and position both batteries and storage as the ancillary service for managing all the present and future options in power generation and consumption self-consumption.

As batteries and storage costs continue to fall and the amount of energy these can store will shift the economics of power across the grid,  displacing and disrupting plants and grids in their design, flexibility, and capabilities. Storage will upend many industry structures.

Storage system design will take a more central role, where lithium-ion, ölead-acid, flow-cells and other emerging technologies will optimise value to the needs on hand. Storage is recognized as giving two critical aspects of any energy transition, resilience and insurance to manage stability and fluctuations.

Energy storage and battery hold a critical part of the future, and 2021 will see these energy-storage systems become broader solution sets, not one-off positioning. They will become an integrated design feature, and this will emerge in 2021.

SIXThe Financial Energy Commitment Year of 2021 needs to be substantial

Financial institutions and Banks are finally making their move. Banks always want risk certainty, and they have really struggled over the investments at scale in emerging technology or alternative fuel solutions. The pretence (no other word for this, in my opinion) of their deep commitment to the energy transition has been lacking.

Banks and Financial Institutions should be “called out” and recognize their pivotal role in ‘forcing’ reducing carbon intensity as primary investors. They need to move with greater intent and purpose away from fossil fuel-related investments to renewable ones and resolve to back pioneering technologies in greater ways.

The boom of investment return needs to be seen, where Government Economic policy sends that powerful signal to the markets to commit in deeper, sustaining ways. We need to get past piecemeal or pilot projects to assess risk over a protracted time, we need bolder investment visions in investments in clean energy solutions.

Banks need to reorganize their portfolio of energy investments in radically different ways. Taking carbon intensity reduction as the core investment focus does begin to regroup individual segments in a new way of evaluation. 2021

Banks and Financial Institutions in 2021 need to finally come off the fence of backing both fossil fuel and renewables and make this reduced carbon intensity central to their investment decisions going forward.

My seventh one is my own deliveries in 2020 that I hope will lead to a significant “return” in 2021 for all who want to engage.

SEVEN– In the past two-plus years, the whole Energy Transition has been my platform to apply my innovation learning and ecosystem thinking. The Energy story has really changed my focus on where I offer support.

Firstly in December 2019, I launched the site www.innovating4energy.com and have posted over 50 articles in this twelve-month period across the whole energy spectrum. This dedicated site enables me to consolidate my thinking previously spread out over different posting sites and gave me the dedicated focus point to build my view of the energy transition, described below.

In this year, 2020, I was singled out to be in the top ten energy transition influences by Onalytica in their Who’s who in IIoT in there recent September report.

In November 2020, I was delighted to be included within the top ten hydrogen influencers that included @mariofornarelli @h2gazette @hydrogenenergy @reuters @climate @hydrogencouncil @h2europe @siemens_energy @ft and finally myself@paul4innovating. That seems great company to me!

The link to this hydrogen evaluation is via Node Graph Gallery. It provides a detailed graph representing a network of 4 588 Twitter users whose recent tweets contained “hydrogen energy” or replied to or mentioned in those tweets. It is an interesting visualization to help sort out social media and thought leaders. The evaluation was undertaken in November 2020.

I came in 16th in the Ecosystem thought leaders on Thinkers 360, a premier thought leader and influencer marketplace to top it all off.

Ecosystems are the way for business to evolve and my decision to, again, separate my thinking, and provide a dedicated posting site ecosystems4innovators allows that separation, identification and focal need.

Turning towards commercial reality

The last part of my 2020 year has been the sheer determination to follow up on research within the energy transition.

I have been building an extensive library of topics, articles and reports, hundreds of GIFs, partly built into an extensive Microsoft OneNote energy system and also within an expanding filing system. This work has become a real battle to index and build, but it is getting extensive and highly valuable.

For me, 2021 needs to be realization time.

My best of Energy Wishes to you in 2021. Let’s search for synergies and making connections that are mutual and rewarding.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 29, 2020

Gas is not so far behind. The scrapping of plans to replace coal with gas and opt for clear energy portfolios and cancelled previously planned pipelines are among the issues that are putting huge pressure on the Gas Turbine business.

I love the analogy of putting fossil fuels in their 'autumn,' but I'm not as confident as you are that we're setting that slow down in gas. From LNG export ports being built to newly built gas generators to gas being responsible for picking up a notable portion of generation left behind by coal, it feels like gas is poised to stick around for a while. The risk of stranded assets is certainly there, but the people who have those investments also appear to have a notable amount of sway to prevent policies from coming into play that would tackle the overreliance on gas as a power source head on. If nothing else, though, I think we'll get more clarity as to which direction this is all going during 2021!

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Dec 29, 2020

Hi Matt,

Of course you are right gas is around for a long time. It will replace in many places coal until a clean fuel scalable solution is available.

I was reading a great article  in Sciencemag.org 4th December 2020 issue 6521 entitled "Fossil electricity retirement deadlines for a just transition" setting 2035 for decarbonizing U.S electricity leaving only 15% of fossil fuel capacity-years.  Most current fossil fuel-fired power plant capacity reaches the end of its life span by 2035.

The juggling of fuel generation is going to become a hotter topic in 2021 as the costs of renewables continues to be increasingly lower.

The article points out there are 10,435 fossil fuel-fired generators in 2018 producing 63% of U.S. electricity with 841 GW of capacity. Retirements are already underway. Policy interventions will only accelerate this.

The challenges for all is when, how and what is right for making the shifts. Gas generation suppliers (GE, Siemens etc) argue for the bridge. The lobbyists versus the clean energy pressure groups. 2021 should give a greater direction and clarify what and who is backing what fuels.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 29, 2020

Thanks for the follow up, Paul. For anyone else wanting the link to the Science Mag article Paul referenced, here it is: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6521/1171

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jan 26, 2021

Paul - this was a great read!  Thanks for sharing with the Energy Central Community.  I notice that you did not talk about Nuclear.  With new technologies on the rise for Nuclear Power do you see this playing a role in 2021 and perhaps in the Clean Energy agenda?  

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Jan 27, 2021

Hi Audra,

I avoided Nuclear as so much is unclear about it. Not in what it is capable of producing to support the clean energy drive and I think it has a major role but in the emotions and sentiment around "nuclear". The small sized plant sounds the way to go but the investment and enthusiasm needs momentum and this might be a few years out still. 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jan 27, 2021

Thanks, Paul.  It does seem like Nuclear Power Plants' role is still up in the air.  It will be interesting to see as things progress. 

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