Currently, renewables are the fastest-growing source of new power generation capacity and meet increased demand for electricity.
This renewable growth, expected to continue well into the future, is a combination of a growing public awareness of climate change issues, the realization that the continued scale of cost declines provides cheaper generation, continued advances in solar and wind technologies, and favourable policies have provided this dramatic shift.
I will be looking across power generation in a series of posts in the coming weeks- so taking this as my opening post.
Is this renewable shift enough on its own to manage the future Power Generation needs?
Wind and solar are still under ten per cent of global generation. However, in the last year of enforced shutdowns, imposed covid-related measures, renewables’ strength grew in its use as it offered increased flexibility to manage power generation differently.
Renewables are being constantly tested and validated in different energy demand needs. They are increasingly becoming a well-established part of the energy power generating mix. We must also remember the renewable that still contributes the most is hydropower, and we are only just at the beginning of tidal power. The whole renewable story for power generation is gathering increased momentum.
Predictions into the future between now and 2040 indicate a 3X increase in wind and a 6X increase in solar installed capacity. As we “tap into” water generation power, we combine the three natural available and abundant resources of the sun, wind and water we have available to us on this planet.
Dealing with well-entrenched power generators is going to be slow, painful, and needed.
Between the wind and solar, 75% of global net capacity additions up to 2040 will be in these renewables, so where does this leave those traditional power generators based on fossil fuel? The easy answer is still very well entrenched and in place.
Coal and current Gas plants have 30 to 40 years of productive life and can be extended and upgraded in selective core ways and replacement parts. The power generation mix of managing the existing and blending in the new will become critical to the energy transition’s success.
We are not going to see the dramatic shifts many expect away from fossil fuels but a planned transition over many years. Renewables will only be around par with coal and gas power even in 2040 unless the need to accelerate climate change determines more dramatic decarbonization changes. The change in power generation takes years and decades to translate and shift.
We are witnessing a shift from coal to gas in many regions. China and India’s position is radically different due to still relatively “young” investments in coal generating electricity in these countries. Coal still accounts for 40% of electricity generation and will remain that way for some decades to come.
Will decarbonization force the pace of change?
The acceleration of renewables alongside gas power can be the force to change the trajectory for climate change. The managing of gas power generation is going to be crucial in this decade to manage. Gas generation is continuing to advance the technologies for low or near zero-carbon power generation.
The future mix is dependent on the known variants we have today and often governed by the decisions made locally. These include resource availability, the current infrastructure, the existing policy positioning and the concerns over stability and security to meet the power demand are critical factors in the power generation mix.
In many ways, renewables, where an abundance of wind and sun can be providing electricity directly or can combine through water and hydrogen production, offers the very best solution path. Storage becomes critical to renewable advancement as well, but a different view expands upon at another time.
Using an alternative fuel can offset gas or compliment gas through both technologies to generate gas and hydrogen in the same gas turbine or blend them into a current or future pipeline.
Gas power is becoming positioned as a backbone where it co-exists alongside the continued advancement of wind and solar alternatives. As it dramatically reduces carbon emissions, this combination will be a significant pathway for advancing and accelerating coal assets’ retirement.
The continued abundance of affordable natural gas drives a coal-to-gas switch as this switch can reduce Co2 by half.
We do have the tools to do the job of shifting Power Generation.
The fuel mix needs to have far more climate change impact in existing and future decisions for future investment in coal, gas, or renewable options. No question, today the power industry does have at its disposal the tools to do the job of making an energy transition to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions today and in the immediate future.
The question is not taking the technology solutions available simply on their own standalone merits but to build out complex power generation pathways that have this ‘pathway’ to decarbonize in each country and region at a growing scale that meets net-zero emissions by 2050.
The story we need to build in power generation is the scales, multiple choices, the breadth of options over transparent timelines and offer the technological depth of logic, economics and consideration to many local dependencies and national concern df energy security.
Use the Low or near zero-carbon Power Generation mix constantly in the future.
For decades to come, we will have power generation providers offer a suite of complementary solutions. The importance of balancing renewables based on the sun, wind and water, with gas-fired, nuclear, and smart grid and digital technologies is essential to get right.
We need clear decarbonization pathways, constant replacing the existing infrastructure and energy power generation systems. The replacements need to demonstrate the decarbonization way, consistently and aggressively reducing the dependence of high fossil fuel power generating capacity.
The need is to change today’s unacceptable greenhouse gas emissions levels dramatically. Still, realistically this will be a site, region and country step-by-step approach needing an organized and systematic process of designing the decarbonization pathway in each change.
We need to be alert and challenge vigorously when the desired power generation results planned to be installed only to extend existing power generation. Today we all very aware of all the known consequences. Regretfully they are far too often driven by political motivation or narrow considerations.
Be alert, defend and always have justified Power Generation that does not have renewables at its core is important.
Any future addition of new high GHG emissions by Power Generation needs questioning. Each plan needs to provide a decarbonization pathway in carbon capturing or the progressive moves towards renewable alternatives.
The power industry must frame the climate challenge and solution pathway into any future investment justification for any new, or renewing or even extend the life of existing fossil power generating assets. This pathway should be part of any investment decision.
There needs to be a clear recognition that any transition to a zero-carbon future needs “fuel solution” bridges. Investing in natural gas solutions over the next ten to twenty years is required to maintain and support the energy demands.
It is the technical solution and decarbonized pathway surrounding the investment that needs a deeper evaluation. Renewables will continue to attract far higher investments, but total generation capacity needs a mix of power generation solutions in the foreseeable future to ensure the stability of demand.
Decisions need to clarify and justify any investment position that does not provide carbon capture or zero-carbon power generation as central.
Any investments that fail on this transparency of not clarifying the decarbonization pathway must be publicly challenged and questioned by the investors. It is surely unacceptable with all the power generation options available when we are in this race to decarbonize.
It is down to the good judgement of making sound investment decisions based on decarbonizing what we have and finding balanced solutions that have an end goal of zero-carbon in the next thirty to forty years at the latest.