Four transformation areas vital to achieving zero emissions by 2050

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The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) have released a new report highlighting the four key areas in need to be transformed for the energy sector to achieve zero emissions by 2050.

In addition, the two parties have formed the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative, a five-year global collaborative designed to identify and accelerate the development of promising technologies capable of ensuring and accelerating the transition to zero-emissions energy systems.

The initiative aims to inform key stakeholders and the public about technology options and potential pathways regarding the transformation of the four key areas vital to a low-carbon future.

Neva Espinoza, EPRI vice president of energy supply and low-carbon resources, said: “Our Research Vision is a culmination of more than a year of work and engagement with hundreds of advisors across the energy industry.

“It reflects global participation and collaboration and identifies the areas where this initiative can be most impactful. The LCRI’s value chain approach acknowledges the importance of understanding the integration of new technologies, interdependencies of a complex energy ecosystem, and various pathways that support the transition to a decarbonized future.”

The four transformation areas identified in the report as being vital to ensure that no fossil-based fuels are used to generate energy include:

1. Energy efficiency

EPRI has provided some four recommendation to boost the energy efficiency sector. They include:

  • The modernisation of government standards (for appliance or vehicle efficiency).
  • Upgrading of and increasing investments in utility energy efficiency programmes (aimed at overcoming barriers to achieve economic efficiency).
  • Invest more in the research and development of solutions and ensure more collaborations to enable technology spillovers from the rapid advances in consumer electronics.
  • Increase investments in intelligent/automation.

EPRI states that energy efficiency has a key role to play in helping the energy industry to decarbonise. For instance, in the US alone, electricity consumption has been reduced by more than 50TWh owing to energy efficiency programmes over the last two decades. This development has paved way for the retirement of fossil-fueled power generation used mainly to meet base load demand.

The Environment America Research & Development states that building electrification over the next 30 years is not only vital for the US to meet growing energy demand but to achieve its 2050 carbon emissions reduction goal.

 2. Cleaner energy production and delivery

Although the pace of renewable energy deployment has increased over the past years and many governments pledging to accelerate rollout over the coming years, EPRI recommends more investments to be made to increase the capacity and flexibility of the electric infrastructure.

EPRI’s forecasts and comparison of energy generation from renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear. Source: EPRI

EPRI says increasing energy storage capacity will help address the inherent variability of power generation and loss of firm capacity and reliability services currently supported by fossil assets. Energy storage will play a leading role in unlocking the full potential of renewable energy in decarbonising the energy sector and in meeting energy demand during times when consumption is high, according to the paper.

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EPRI projects between 20 GW and 100 GW of 2- to 4-hour batteries to be deployed over the next 15 years to provide short-term flexibility in the US alone.

However, there will be a need to leverage electricity produced from some combination of bioenergy, hydrogen, and/or natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to fill gaps during periods of high load or low-renewable generation production.

Investments will also be needed to upgrade both the electric transmission and distribution systems to connect regions with high renewable energy generation potential with regions with high energy demand and low energy generation.

3. Efficient Electrification

Although using renewable energy resources such as wind and solar will reduce carbon emissions and ensure that no fossil fuels are being used to meet energy demand, the electrification of the transport and buildings systems is key to ensuring zero emissions energy systems, according to EPRI.

EPRI calls for increased electrification of the transport and of buildings’ heating and cooling systems for reduced carbon emissions without the need to modernise energy generation infrastructure.

For instance, electric passenger cars have lower emissions than comparable cars with internal combustion engines even when powered by fossil-based electricity, and using heat pumps to produce low-temperature heat in the industry is up to five times more efficient than conventional boilers.

4. Deep carbon reductions

The report calls for increased focus on the development and adoption of solutions that can address hard-to-decarbonize sectors and achieve deep carbon reductions in others. Alternative energy carriers such as hydrogen, ammonia, biofuels, and synthetic fuels can be used to more easily transport and/or store energy for use in sectors such as mining.

In this case, for instance, a mine will use stored and transported hydrogen to meet energy demand or to back an onsite solar plant at the same time avoiding the use of diesel generators.

Mike Rutkowski, GTI senior vice president of research and technology development, adds: “Continued collaboration and leverage will advance the technologies needed at scale to transition our energy system to low-carbon by midcentury in a safe, resilient, affordable, and customer-focused manner.”

Find out more about the report.