Placing context into the Energy Transition-part one

Abstract Sandy Dessert credit: @USGS

The energy transition we are undertaking is highly complex, and it is multiple ecosystems interacting, some parts being replaced, others introduced. It has a significant “layering effect”.

We have to strip away some parts and equally add new layers but we need to maintain the integrity of the energy system (supply) at all times.

Providing energy is as embedded as deeply as you can get into the socio-economic system we are all part of. Changing the energy-generating composition is critical in reducing climate warming but it is incredibly hard to manage the transition. It is as complex as it can get.

A sustaining, dedicated effort will take us twenty to thirty years to make the “basic” transitions. To maintain it, strength it and reinforce it will be well beyond all our lifetimes, actually all of the 21st century, to (fully) reverse the global warming effect we are experiencing, and return our planet into a more balanced one where the “human effect” gets fully mitigated.

We need to bring it back into a natural balance as we are the primary cause of its present “unhealthy” state. For this planet to be sustaining and all the demands we place on it, in how we want to live but EQUALLY, in harmony with nature and other living species, our job is to return it back into balance, this becomes crucial. Otherwise, we will live in a very different world, bereft of much of what surrounds us in natural beauty and what we see as ‘earth’s wonder.’

We are facing the most significant challenge of climate warming where our planet is getting progressively warmer; we see disasters, crises, flooding, droughts, and living conditions that will become highly challenging in the next ten to twenty years for most of us. Our planet is growing increasingly unhealthy, and our reliance on fossil-related energy is causing this with a serious build-up of the greenhouse effect.

Reducing the greenhouse effect

“The greenhouse effect is the process by which radiation from a planet’s atmosphere warms the planet’s surface to a temperature above what it would be without this atmosphere. It traps the heat. Radiatively active gases in a planet’s atmosphere radiate energy in all directions”. source: Wikipedia

Since the beginning of industrialization, the presence of long-lasting greenhouse gases has been increasing dramatically. We need to reverse this and quickly as the build-up of these gases is unhealthy for us and all living species on this planet.

What makes up Greenhouse gases?

Mostly we talk about carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4), and these trap heat in the atmosphere. With higher-than-natural concentrations, they lead to unnatural warming and increasingly unhealthy air conditions or air pollution that is making it uncomfortable to live “normally” in many of our cities or in many places across the world.

The enormous impact of fossil fuel-based reliance within our industrialization period has caused increasing harm to the ecosystem of the planet. Fossil fuel usage (burning) requires a profound restricting within any future energy system.

The new energy system does need to be based on clean energies, or renewables, as we know them. Most of the existing solutions currently being offered to replace existing energy sources are wind and solar solutions; these are expected to replace the fossil-related ones.

Understanding a complete energy transformation requires us to urgently find other solutions where there still is some level of dependency, based on the conversion of minerals that might still be carbon-based into new energy solutions as they extract the carbonization. Such solutions are seen today as hydrogen conversion as well as carbon capture techniques.

Deep carbonization needs to be our mantra

If we are going to complete the energy transition, the future energy systems must be all about “deep decarbonization” solutions must come from new solutions and technological innovation breakthroughs but at a pace of unprecedented speed and scale.

This “deep carbonization” means to eradicate the use of fossil fuels that generate so much of our emissions and rebuild our energy needs on renewables of solar, wind, hydrogen and biomass.

The other need is to capture and extract existing carbon levels where we still will have some dependency on carbon emissions.

There are emerging promising solutions to achieve carbon capture but to scale this at a global level is presently regarded as today’s hunt for a holy grail. We need to accelerate this concept as soon as possible and see if we can turn this from mystery and fascination into tangible solutions.

The alternative offered of simply planting trees will only take us so far; we need a technological breakthrough that captures, contains, and reduces carbonization.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) (or carbon capture and sequestration or carbon control and sequestration) is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide (CO 2) usually from large emitters such as a cement or chemical plants with the concept of transporting it to a storage site, and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere, normally in some form of underground geological formation. The aim is to prevent the release of large quantities of CO 2 into the atmosphere. “

Hydrogen at scale needs realization

There is a lot of promise in the scaling up of Hydrogen solutions, from renewables. The argument is that hydrogen is the missing link in the energy transitions we need to make. Dealing with variable renewable energy (VRE) from Solar or Wind requires storage, and solutions like electrolyzers can help integrate VRE into power systems and grids by using this renewable energy sourcing.

The use of an Electrolyser is a device that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity and becomes the carrier of renewable energy and complements the ability to deliver electricity.

The hydrogen produced through this method is very pure, it can be based on location, it can be stored or “injected” into the energy system required and can become a much cheaper method than the use of gas shipped in. If ‘finished hydrogen’ is shipped in then the cost equation radically differs and if this solution is considered needs some fairly radical resign of the supply chain to make this price competitive with the alternative fuels.

Many hydrogen technologies are maturing at present and are at the point of scaling up that will help accelerate the substitution of fossil fuels that have this higher heat attribute required by industries like cement, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel, foundries and glass manufacturing.

Today hydrogen is produced mostly from natural gas in refineries for ammonia production, and hydrogen using solutions like electrolyzers, based on renewable resources, that splits a water molecule (H2O) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). can replace fossil fuel-based feedstocks, where we have high carbon emissions today.

Today we are witnessing the degradation of this one vital ecosystem we are all utterly dependant upon, our planet.

To achieve any energy transition needs a sustaining effort over twenty to thirty years just to reverse where we were going, towards an unhealthy planet, using increasing levels of fossil fuet that are a primary cause of our planet warming.

We are moving towards a crisis due to the over influence we as a human has imposed. We are facing such far-reaching change and well-being, in industrial and rural regions, in the way we live.

If we do not tackle our energy system by replacing the current carbon-driven economy we will pay the price of this in providing an environment we will find it increasingly hard to exist in ways we currently know. If we continue to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, it will not only become unhealthy but for much of our living as we know it today will radically alter, for the worse.

So to understand the energy transition we do need to break down the parts of the ecosystem that the change in its management forms around. This is an opening part, no more, no less.

As I stated the energy transition is a complex “beast” to understand and then attempt to describe or redesign, so we can all relate to the changes that are needed to be undertaken.


Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems and the energy system

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.