The energy transition needs to re-design around a global energy system built on clean, renewable energy.
We need an energy revolution. Let me explain this in brief:
A unique part of the energy transformation we are presently undertaking is how complex this is. The change requires a massive overhaul to reduce not just our carbon emissions but to put in place radical solutions on how we generate, distribute, store, and consume energy in totally different ways than the present.
Our present dependence on fossil fuels needs us to drive exponential growth in renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and water, to achieve this change in our energy system.
The need is to decarbonize and replace our sources of energy rapidly.
Today we are pushing for a carbon-neutral economy as fast as we can. We require wind and solar replacing coal, oil, and gas. Yet this only goes part of the way within the energy system. We need an energy vector that adds to green electrons with green molecules, and that seemingly is hydrogen.
Delivering clean sources of electricity through wind and solar is well on the road to a sustainable and growing future, increasingly cost-competitive to eliminate large sectors based on coal, oil, and to some degree, natural gas but replace those hard-to-abate sectors are in very early stages and need to be proven at commercial scale.
Overcoming real hurdles in any energy shift is like climbing Everest for the first time, seemingly impossible until we have mastered it.
We have buildings that rely on fossil fuels to provide the heating and are high emitters of carbon dioxide. To replace heating and air systems within buildings needs a massive shift to heat pumps, using renewable energy sources.
The difficulties in retrofitting our buildings or put in place the incentives to design our future buildings, so they are environmentally friendly, is a real mountain to climb. This is like an unconquered Everest, a challenge to overcome needing ingenuity, resolve, and to be prepared to tackle a hostile environment.
Even harder to overcome is to crack the changing of the gases we rely upon, across many high-level CO2 emissions industries (cement, steel, chemicals, industrial feedstocks) or transport systems (aviation, shipping, heavy trucking). Here heat, combustion, and weight/efficiency/ delivery of the fuel are critical to the process. Electrons can’t deliver full replacement solutions in these, it needs a molecule.
We have the theory and most approaches to solutions to make the energy transition to green. At present we have limited prototypes validating these solutions, but making these solutions economically attractive or scalable to replace what we have been reliant upon for so many past decades to drive our industrial output needs a shift in how and what we decide is economically acceptable and the arguement is building for imposing carbon or consumption taxes.
Carbon generation from fossil fuels needs to be eliminated or dramatically reduced. The argument is to tax it, in its consumption and its emissions. We need to find disincentives to curb use or impose severe penalties for all harmful greenhouse gases emitted by human activity.
The other part of any tax change is in our consumption habits. We consume far too much; we waste at very high levels that are not sustainable and deploy many inefficient systems to recycle. The pressures on our agricultural systems, on our unhealthy management and use of natural resources, is bringing us as humans into conflict with our natural environment.
Nature, as we know, it is under severe human attack.
We need to change our habits; in how we live and go about our daily lives and bring back a better balance, as humans, in far more harmony with all that is around us.
We need to move our economic activities into far more climate-friendly ones. The economic and social costs will radically alter how we assess and judge any new equation.
We have been through different industrial revolutions, so it is time for the Energy Revolution.
Today we are in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution, mostly based on transforming the industrial environment with technology and turning this into the digital age, reliant on all things being connected up, to deliver greater efficiency and productivity.
There is talk of further taking the 4th revolution even further into a 5th round. In my view, the revolution we should be addressing is the Energy Revolution.
We need to find a climate-friendly energy source that overcomes those current end-use sectors that are hard to electrify as they need to require high-intensity heat levels than coal and natural gas provides. These high-grade industry heat sectors, known as hard-to-abate, such as steel and chemicals, some heavy transport, aviation, shipping, agriculture, and industrial feedstocks, need to have in place a clean energy carrier.
Any call for the 5th Revolution must be based on an Energy revolution.
We need to reinvigorate and repurpose our economic activity, based on new sources of energy in renewables and new technology design.
Enter Hydrogen, reinvigorated and repurposed based on Renewables and new Technology designs
Presently Hydrogen is the only feasible route for at-scale decarbonization. It is a highly versatile, clean, and flexible energy vector. So many have evaluated the potential of the hydrogen sector by sector that ramping up.
Hydrogen is needed to achieve any energy transition in an efficient and economically attractive way. It is the catalyst for this energy revolution.
Identifying the essentials that are needing a change
Within any revolution, the essential need is to identify what you wish to change. In the energy revolution, the essential need, no easy task, is to achieve total replacement of existing fuels or processes. This needs to be achieved with a minimize disruption and careful replacement.
We need to offer the same or better commercial return or provide a compelling logic to make the necessary change and pay a premium, such as pressures imposed for the clear need to switch to clean energy for competitive or societal pressures. (Taxes again).
Revolutions are in the air.
Because there’s something in the air
We’ve got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution’s here, and you know it’s right
And you know that it’s right
We have got to get it together now.”
Revolutions are never easy, often messy, but once you embark, it is very hard to go back; it is the vision that drives the revolutionary zeal. In this case, clean air to breathe, a different economic logic, and a new way to appreciate natural resources, as we grow even more reliant on them, give us a sustainable future based on wind, sun, and water.
A revolution that offers a new reliance on our precious renewables of sun, wind, and water needs to be fully harnessed to reduce our harmful emissions of greenhouse gases that are throwing our planet out of balance. Can we rebalance it? We need to try as we have no other (easy) option.
We need a new economic logic, one that can still offer us a market-driven or consumption-conscious one, one that can harness not harm. An energy transition becomes a socially-driven one, compelling the existing market structures to change, harnessing, and balancing nature with all that needs to co-exist on this planet.
Any change of this magnitude needs a very focused effort; it does need this Energy Revolution, the 4th Industrial revolution is child’s-play in comparison.