Electrify, localise and optimise, three actions that will transform our energy systems making them cleaner, affordable and more secure
Posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2022
Posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2022
We have been quiet on the blogging front since the middle of February. The reasons for this were two-fold. Firstly we’ve been busy building momentum in our CausewayGT business, as well as doing several webinars and working on policy consultations.
War in Europe
The second reason for our relative silence was our own horror and anxiety at Russia’s illegal invasion and desecration of Ukraine. Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people. The ramifications of the invasion on energy prices, already stressed by supply-demand tension as we emerged from the effects of the Covid pandemic, are deeply worrying for all of us – we all rely on affordable and secure energy.
The Ukraine crisis, and the need to punish Russia through reducing our demand for their oil and gas, has for us simply exemplified the trilemma of reasons why we need to wean ourselves off of hydrocarbons.
The energy crisis
We have “overshot” the use of the natural resources of oil and gas and in combusting these resources for energy unleashed a terrible force on the stability of our climate and ocean systems. Worse still we are past the peak of affordable oil and hence when supplied to us at true cost of supply undermines the fabric of our hydrocarbon-based growth economy. What remaining fossil resources are left are unfortunately often concentrated in countries that could and do use them for geopolitical power or worse.
Europe’s ability to respond with strength to Russia’s actions, and for Russia to have the geopolitical power to negate Europe largely comes from its supply of energy, gas and oil, to fuel our homes and businesses. Almost 60% of Europe’s energy needs are met by imports, with over 40% of oil and circa 25% of gas coming from Russia.
In this blog we return to the topic of energy transition and illustrate what needs to happen in the next ten years or so if we are to quickly attain secure, affordable and sustainable energy for our society. We are using Sankey diagrams again and make a projection of a future state in the mid-2030s. Again we use the energy system of the island of Ireland as our illustrative example but the same story, just at a larger scale is playing out in Germany and across Europe and much of the world today.
The Sankey energy flow diagrams are for all Ireland in 2018 and our projection for a transformed system in 10 or so years’ time. The data for the charts are from SEAI and NI DfE. The charts and the assumptions for the 2035 project are the responsibility of CausewayGT and like all models are wrong and not actual facts or accurate projections of the future, but very useful for discussion and development of policy and business strategy! The key assumptions we have made in the 2035 model include:
Big points of insight from the conjecture
We have written before about how the energy transition, or perhaps better described as the energy transformation starts with radical reduction. In our 2035 model, we deliberately did not assume an increase in used energy because we face a societal choice of prioritizing energy needs and opportunities for growth and degrowth. For example, moving data round the world, that data stored in power-hungry data centres, might be better for the planet and the economy than moving people to the data and back again, but there are facts to be confronted and compromises to be made within such choices. Perhaps Ireland’s data centre growth could be made into an energy opportunity if waste heat from the data centres is more often conserved and used to meet demand in neighbouring homes and businesses as in the Tallaght project. Together with Ulster University, Atlantic Hub and Enisca, we are looking into this opportunity and geothermal could play a role in a research and development project backed by the Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy. This aligns with the first element of European strategy which is conserve and use waste heat.
In our projection, we took big credit from converting inefficient fossil thermal systems (e.g. 60% efficiency of a fossil power generation plant) to highly efficient electrified systems (90% efficiency in wind and solar conversion). The electric vehicle is the prime example of such efficiency and another favourite of ours is of course the heat pump. These efficiencies in generation of electricity directly from wind and solar, as well as the efficiencies through the optimisation of end use combine to radically reduce final energy use by around 25%. We think this illustrates the potential of degrowth in energy: still meeting our energy needs but imposing less demand on natural capital. Much less energy is wasted in conversion, transmission and use at the final point than in the 2018 base case.
Aligned again with European policies second step in decarbonisation our “electrify (most) everything” strategy has a stunning impact on fossil fuel demand. Coal, most of oil, and a lot of natural gas demand in Ireland is eliminated. Ireland has no domestic sources of coal and oil so this helps enormously with energy security as well as fighting climate change. Similarly, by 2035 Ireland’s last remaining gas field, Corrib, will be depleted, so any remaining gas will come through the Irish Sea pipelines from Scotland. Reduced dependency on this gas, whether friendly or not, is another good outcome of our projection.
Instead wind becomes the dominant primary energy source and oil is relegated to fifth place. A reduced gas flow is still in the picture because without a credible long term storage mechanism we will need peaker type plants to cover longer periods of calm. Nevertheless, a diversity of other clean energy sources such as biofuels, geothermal, solar thermal and solar PV become significant parts of the energy supply, collectively more than gas. It’s also very important to note that the clean energy sources we have included, with the possible exception of biomass, are all locally sourced. Irish wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal boreholes delivering clean energy to Irish homes, businesses and services.
Transformation to a more affordable, secure and secure energy system is possible. Moreover, all the technologies assumed in our projection are proven and we are not relying long wavelength applications such as nuclear and hydrogen. There are of course profound implications for markets, infrastructure investment and business models, as well as mentioned above societal expectations.
We’ll probe into those issues in future blogs.