Energy Sustainability Requires Innovation

The single most important transformative technology to address global climate objectives is broad, commercial deployment of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). We finally understand that CO2 can be something more than an emission to dispose of – it is a product that can be utilized for commercial benefit as well. The marketplace has very recently come to embrace CCUS technology as a proven, commercially available means to produce nearly 100 percent carbonfree, 24/7 baseload power. CCUS has had global investment and R&D development for nearly 20 years and a significant milestone has been achieved in transformative technology that the fossil fuel industry can and must embrace for energy sustainability. This applies not just to coal but to natural gas as well. Carbon-free power can be produced competitively in the electricity marketplace, providing a zero carbon alternative and a continuing baseload option. It is reliable, resilient, available 24/7 and is a critical component of resource planning that is of global importance.

The two slides on this page were utilized recently at the annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), a gathering of regulators from across the U.S.

Slide A points out the opportunity that CCUS presents in resource planning and the Integrated Resource Planning process.

Slide B brings home the point that decarbonization is a global issue, and that the best U.S. contribution to the solution is the deployment of technology that can be adopted and accretive to energy security for countries all over the world.

U.S. industry has the opportunity not only to participate and lead in the global challenge, but to do so with accretive technology advancement. CCUS is not the answer everywhere. And this is not to say that renewables do not have a significant contribution to make in emissions reduction. But what it does say is that if decision-makers are not considering CCUS for what it is and can deliver, they could be choosing higher cost, less reliable options under a false premise of being “progressive”. Renewable options are NOT more cost-effective in all cases, as has been clearly identified in exhaustive studies that consider the externalities and embedded costs of renewables today. This includes the recent report by the Institute for Energy Research and America’s Power assessing the levelized cost of electricity from existing generating resources compared to new resources that might replace them, such as wind and solar.

Emissions management is not about “keeping it in the ground”. Using less coal and fossil fuels is not the solution for lowering global CO2 emissions and effectively meeting growing energy needs. Simply stated – hate the emissions, not the fuel! Technologies and investment in transformation are a far more effective approach to solutions. CCUS is not only an option, it is a requirement. So are renewables, batteries and storage, expanded rights-of-way for pipelines, rail and electric transmission, ports and terminals for imports and exports, and energy infrastructure that produces more energy with a lower carbon footprint. With this blueprint, the U.S. can become the model for the world to embrace for the transformation.

There is a societal cost for emissions reduction and the cost to deliver energy will be impacted but we cannot simply price whole populations out of the market and doom them to continue to live in energy poverty by imposing high-cost options. The U.S. can impact the world through the technological leadership we have always been counted upon to deliver globally. Other countries don’t want our ideology – they want to be able to thrive economically, and to lift their citizens out of energy poverty in a cost-effective and environmentally progressive manner. They want our technology!

Renewables are part of the future and will be deployed at a remarkable pace in the coming years. Coal and gas are equally important – especially on the global stage in developing countries. Energy sustainability is not an academic debate but one that requires real solutions and analysis. There is no single answer either in terms of fuel, technology or imposed policy. We must demand a full and fact-based analysis and that must include all options and impacts. Solutions globally must recognize the unique and challenging circumstances in any given area. Technology and the global migration of the know-how and capabilities of our industries and marketplace are the only means to win the day.

Charles McConnell formerly served as Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy and is currently the Executive Director, Carbon Management and Energy Sustainability at the University of Houston.