UBC building

Part 2 – Energy transition

2.0 the energy space

fuelcellbusDavid Victor: Energy now has become an extremely innovative space. Frankly this was a very dutiull industry. You kind of knew what the technologies were, and the job was just to keep scaling them up. And now we have all kinds of new ideas. Some involve scaling up old technologies. Some involve radically new ways of for example, very small modular nuclear reactors, a lot of exciting stuff in renewable energy and storage which links to renewable energy so that you can have a reliable supply of electricity.
DavidVictorSome people are looking at capturing the carbon dioxide pollution directly from the air putting it under ground. Almost everywhere you look you see in the early stages of these technologies not just pure or private Eureka moments by a smart guy in the shower or a smart woman in the shower who comes up with a new idea and the next day they have a new technology. But you see a combination of Eureka, hard work, and then a whole array of policy instruments that help people manage risk and bring the technologies across of the valley of death into the commercial marketplace.

LafargeNarrator: And not only the commercial marketplace but in every sector, across the world economy: in heavy Industry, transportation, buildings, and the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions over all, electric power generation.

2.1 transition in electricity generation

crowOnPoleNarrator: Electric grids are called the world’s largest machines. Generators on one end countless gadgets on the other, all connected by millions of kilometers of wire. To obey the laws of physics, grid operators must maintain a balance between electric generation and electric load.

donDon Sievertson: Our load is pretty consistent. Essentially in the middle of the night, it will bottom out around around 3 in the morning and then it curves up a peaks out around 15 hundred. So we know the shape pretty much, we just don’t how high or how steep.

meterNarrator: In modern economies grid operators are monopolies, so they are regulated. And in some jurisdictions, they have a legal obligation to be reliableDon Sievertson: Our overall charge is to make sure we can cover the projected loads on any given day, and have adequate generation and transmission resources to meet those needs, with adequate reserves.

chiefjosephdamGrid operators generate their own electricity or buy it from independent producers. It all adds up to minute-by-minute management of the amount of electricity generated in the system. Primary energy harnessed for the grid has always been the cheapest available, and has had good baseload capacity, meaning steady power 24/7. Low cost and reliability made the grid what it is today.

hydroturbineAnd coal, running water, and nuclear energy emerged as the main sources of primary energy for the grid. All three sources are highly concentrated. This hydro electric turbine can generate 500 megawatts, enough to power about 300 thousand homes.

frontendloaderBut around the world, coal has become the dominant source of energy for the grid. And in recent times it has also been the fastest growing source of energy, due largely to economic expansion in China and India. Coal fired plants are typically built close large coal deposits, and near good supplies of water. Like nuclear plants and gas fired plants, facilities this size can use hundreds of millions of litres of water a day for plant operations including cooling.

coalstackCoal plants must dispose of ash which contains concentrations of naturally occurring metals such as arsenic, uranium and cadmium. But it is the carbon dioxide emissions of coal which have put electricity generation at a turning point. Progressive governments on every continent are mandating a shift to low-carbon energy for the grid.

dokeyThe specifics are different for every jurisdiction. But the commonality is that new energy systems must be designed, approved, built and integrated with old systems. California is one example. Like other dry regions, it has a huge solar energy endowment. And it has plenty of geothermal and wind energy. All of which is more than enough to meet all electricity demand. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is one of several dozen electric utilities in the State.

mikewebsterMike Webster: Our customers bear the cost for this transition. The long term pay off, though, is by transitioning into different forms of energy, like renewables, it is a hedge against what could happen, in the future, so volatile natural gas costs… Of course by getting off coal we won’t be exposed to volatile coal prices.

Narrator: And so the utility is undergoing fundamental change. And new generation facilities are only part of the cost.

copterMike Webster: We do need to build some transmission so we can get into solar-rich areas of the Owens Valley, of the Mojave area. Mojave is very near the Tehachepis so there’s additional wind resource in that area. And at some point transmission down in Imperial Irrigation District which is very very rich in geothermal resources. So there will be some very strategic transmission lines built to renewable areas.

charliNarrator: Energy coming from wind and solar must be stabilized. The near term solution is to install quick start natural gas turbines.

CharLi Dong: Again, Pete, I’m looking towards the south right now. This is where the steam turbines and generators are located… At any time when the renewables become unavailable, we can count on six of these units to come on line, which can start from cold to 100 megawatts in ten minutes. And they have unlimited start and stop cycles, which is a remarkable breakthrough. And the department is able to take advantage of that feature to help the conversion of our energy portfolio to more productive use of renewables.

4turbinesNarrator: Stabilization is improved by using geographic diversity.

Mike Webster: If it’s not windy in the Columbia River Gorge, it may be windy in the Tehachapis, and using geographic diversity helps stabilize the volatility of the renewables. Solar works exactly the same way.

Narrator: With with wind and solar becoming a dominant source of energy in California, energy storage technologies, such as large scale flow batteries will improve stabilization even further. In 2013 such devices were mandated for the California grid, and will add to older technologies already in place.

mikewebster2Mike Webster: Now DWP is blessed because we built, in the 70s the Castaic pumped storage system. So what we can do is store energy by pumping water up the hill. And then we can release that water at other times in the day. This is like a 12 hundred megawatt battery.
Narrator: Transition also involves managing the use of power.
Mike Webster: Lets look at energy efficiency. Lets figure out how much we can reduce our load so we don’t need to replace all of that coal powered power plant. For example, electric vehicles are one of those things that we have to plan for. Instead of charging them during the peak of the day, are there ways we can charge during night time, so we don’t have increased loads and we offset that. Also, electrification of industrial processes is another area where we may find significant load increases.

solarpanelsNarrator: Transitioning to solar energy in particular means that a lot of generation can be distributed throughout the grid. So new systems and rules need to be set up.

mikeWebswter-3Mike Webster: We are launching a 150 megawatt feed in tariff program where a customer may have a rooftop, like a large warehouse. Load’s very small, large roof. So it might make sense for them to put solar on that large roof, and we will purchase that energy over twenty years as part of our renewables program.And then we also have our renewables incentive program. There are customers who have a rooftop and just want to provide their own electricity. So they build a solar plant behind the meter and offset the requirements for us to supply them.And lastly, one of the… most important, is to make sure or system is reliable. We have an aging infrastructure. We have power poles that are over a hundred years old and they’re supposed to last about sixty years. So we need to invest in our infrastructure so that it’s sound for the next hundred years
BoundearyDamNarrator: Grid operators in other jurisdictions have similar transition issues. However, their options for zero carbon energy can be very different. A utility manager with a state of the art coal plant sitting on top of vast coal reserves would likely see capturing carbon dioxide as a way forward.
CCSanimationCaptured CO2 can be permanently buried deep underground where geologic pressure keeps it in a liquid state and where cap rock prevents migration to the surface. The process is not new. For decades, CO2 has been pumped underground to force oil out of otherwise depleted oil fields. The procedure means more CO2 emissions later when the oil is used as fuel.
coalshuteFor coal fired power plants, the low carbon solution is permanent storage without oil recovery. However, the procedure requires energy – which could use up to 30 percent of a power plant’s output. Carbon capture and storage — or CCS — works in sedimentary geological formations, such as found in western North America.
EricBeynan-1Eric Beynon: So when you put CCS on the back of a coal plant, you’re getting 90 percent or more of the CO2 emissions associated with that coal plant. At the same time we are sitting on top of what’s called the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. Which is one of the largest basins that’s amenable to CO2 storage anywhere in the world. We also know a lot about it. From a hundred years of oil and gas exploration in the region, we know how it works. The potential there is enough to store over 200 years of all of Canada’s industrial emissions.

garbagetruckNarrator: Without a substantial world price on carbon, CCS is not likely to happen at the scale needed. There are other non-fossil choices depending on the types of primary energy available in a given area.In some regions, a limited amount of power can be derived from biomass. Wood waste from logging operations and sawmills. Biogas from food scraps and yard waste. Municipal waste can be burned, but the plastics in it are made from petroleum, so emissions can equal those from burning natural gas.

nuclearplant-2A nuclear power plant can be built almost anywhere, but fears about safety make new facilities a hard sell. Not all power producers can afford the construction costs. Safer designs are in development. And so are less expensive modular designs that can be built in factories and shipped by rail. They’re small enough to replace the guts of a coal plant. They’re scaleable. Impeccable quality control in the factory would be necessary.

powerdam-1In developed nations which have water resources, most rivers are already heavily exploited. In North America, the Columbia River system supports over 40 large and small hydro electric dams. And, as in many jurisdictions, there is public resistance to more habitat destruction and flooding.

MontoMorrison-3Geothermal energy is only available in certain geographical regions and even then often requires a lot of investment up front to find the productive geology.
Monte Morrison: Geothermal resources must have three very unique and specific characteristics. The first is ancient volcanics that are close to the surface. The second is groundwater adjacent to that heat source that can be heated to superheated levels. And the third item that’s needed are fractures or porosity that allow you to move that hot water to the surface…even with all this technology and the advances made in the last ten years, it is still difficult to hit a geothermal well every time.
Narrator: Over all, there are plenty of zero carbon electricity solutions, each with specific challenges to implementation. Most are more expensive than fossil fuels. So the main concern is finding the least costly alternatives. In 2013, wind became cheaper than coal in Australia and the US.
turbineparkWhile utilities are busy integrating new sources of energy into the grid, there is an additional challenge. Renewable energy, and solar technologies in particular are disrupting the grid’s business model. They lend themselves to distributed power: power generated on private rooftops, in industrial parks, close to where the power is used. Places other than at a large central power plant – opening the door to private power generation.
PaulRaiPaul Rai : When we come here, first thing we do is we install these standoffs. On top of those is a racking system. Right. The panels go up with these clamps on the sides. Then we wire it in. This meter here is a smart meter. So what he does is during the day, he’s selling power back to the grid, right? He’s been doing this for the last few years which results in him not paying for power.
crowandwireNarrator: A new line of business, solar leasing, makes all this affordable. It allows homeowners to have equipment installed by a third party with little or no up front costs. The savings on electric bills of course cut into the revenues of utility companies. So in the face of disruptive business models, and expensive new technologies , progressive grid operators are reinventing themselves while making day to day life appear normal.

2.2 transition in buildings and heavy industry

gasmetersNarrator: Buildings and industries that now use fossil energy, will likely do so until such systems wear out, or until synthetic fuel is available. Until then, CO2 emissions are reduced through energy efficiency. And the supplementary use of zero carbon primary energy. Solar, geo-exchange and wind are essentially free primary energy sources, so up front installation costs are recovered in long-term energy savings.

karstenThis cultural centre in Copenhagen was renovated to maximize use of natural light. A combination of features has reduced energy consumption by 60 percent.

Karsten Duer: The main idea behind the design of the building is to have secondary rooms such as this hallway facing north while activity rooms are facing south bringing lots of daylight and passive solar energy into the rooms. This is a very energy-efficient building design, and as a matter of fact the use of roof windows is the most energy-efficient way of bringing high levels of light into buildings. In this building it has been combined with a large use of natural ventilation which ensures a good indoor climate and a healthy environment for the people who are using the building.

Narrator: For new construction, a combination of such design elements can add up to a carbon neutral building, such as this demonstration home in Denmark.

sverereSverre Simonsen: We can register on our screen how much we are consuming each day. I think we have an average consumption of 10 kilowatt hours per day, but we can also see that our solar cells and our solar heating system is producing a surplus of energy. On a sunny day we are producing four to five times as much energy as we consume. We have started a journey as a family, doing a common project, and we a learning how we a spending our resources and how we are influencing the climate.
pumpsNarrator: For a cluster of buildings, district heating increases efficiency by connecting those buildings to a single heat energy source. Any kind of energy source can be used. This system in British Columbia extracts heat from municipal sewage. And the system supplies about 70% of annual heat demand for a new housing development. Waste heat can come from conventional sources. Steam produced by this electricity co-generation plant in Massachusetts has heated nearby buildings since 1949.
windowplantThis plant in Germany burns sawdust from its own manufacturing process to produce hot water and provide heat for its buildings and various plant processes. And where buildings require electricity, many building owners, large and small, are producing their own.The same dynamics are being played out in the heavy industrial sector, where emissions come from burning fossil fuels to produce electricity, and heat for production processes.
steelmillIn Europe, a consortium of major steel companies, engineering firms, and universities is working to reduce the CO2 emissions of steel making by at least 50 percent. Alternate manufacturing processes have been proposed, including the use of electrolysis in the iron ore reduction process.
cementplant-2Over half of the emissions from Portland cement manufacturing come from processing limestone to produce clinker, a basic component of cement. Substituting other raw materials such as fly ash can lower emissions. The remaining emissions come from burning fuel to create the high temperatures needed in the production process – typically coal or natural gas.
syntheticcoalSo heavy industries which require heat energy are beginning to use carbon-neutral biofuels. A German company is developing hydrothermal carbonisation a process which converts biomass into a synthetic fuel similar to coal. Commercialization of such alternatives takes time, so heavy industries, such as steel and cement manufacturing, are looking at carbon reduction strategies that, for now, include fossil fuels.
EricBeynan-5Eric Beynon: In my mind there are three buckets that the world has to reduce CO2 emissions. There’s one on using less energy, so that can be demand side management, energy efficiency… essentially just using less energy. The second is creating new energy forms. And that’s renewables, it’s nuclear, it’s geothermal, those energy forms with a lower CO2 footprint. The third one is to continue to use fossil fuels – we’re not going to be able to change over night – but cleaning them up. And that’s where CCS comes in. It’s that tool that we can use, apply it to our existing energy base, and reduce the CO2 impact of it.

2.3 transition in transportation

Sequence 01.Still023Narrator: In the transportation sector, zero carbon energy means changing propulsion systems. It has happened before, and it is happening again … along with certain health benefits.
solarimpulseFor air tranport, the specialized design requirements of modern aircraft limit the propulsion options. Jet engines could be modified to burn hydrogen, but there’s no way to store hydrogen in the wings of a conventional aircraft. Super efficient, hybrid designs will help, but they are at the concept stage. Using solar power is possible, but for now only for a single pilot. So the way forward for large passenger aircraft is some sort of carbon neutral fuel.
AntonioAntonio De Palmas: OK, we believe that the key for reducing emissions in aviation is the technology. The first one is developing and delivering more efficient aircraft. The second area is getting more operational efficiency which comes with modernized ATM (air traffic management) systems. And the third one is arguably the most important is about changing the fuel. We’re talking about sustainable aviation biofuels.
nrcjetNarrator: Blends of up to 50 percent biofuels were certified for commercial jets in 2011. In 2012, this was the first civilian aircraft to fly on 100% biofuel. The jet’s engines did not have to be modified.
babbitRandy Babbit: I watched kerosene being made from algae. They can be complete replacements and burn just as if it was typical petrochemical kerosene.
Narrator: Current research and development aims to make bio-fuels cheap enough to replace the 250 billion litres of fossil fuel the airline industry uses every year.
jetontarmacThis means building a reliable fuel supply chain worldwide based on various feedstocks from different geographical regions. Algae, the most productive feedstock by far, could supply all the fuel required with a grow area of about 70,000 square km. Sustainable biofuel production would mean no negative impact on biodiversity or food production.

RayMabusThe advantages of low carbon propulsion systems are well understood by the military.

Ray Mabus: We’re going to be using American produced energy that will create jobs in the United States, will create a far more secure source of energy for us, and will make us better environmental stewards because we will be contributing less to climate change, and burning much cleaner fuel.

containershipNarrator: The shipping industry is increasing energy efficiency with larger ships and improved hull design, and is looking to other energy sources to achieve zero emissions. There is renewed interest in nuclear power, which been used on Russian ice-breakers since 1959. From 1962 to 1970, the Savannah, an American merchant ship, served as a demonstration project. She had a range of 300,000 nautical miles. Most of the nuclear ships now in operation worldwide are navy submarines and aircraft carriers.
sailingshipWind power is getting a boost with computer controlled sails like the ones on this 88 meter luxury yacht. These kites, deployed from a ship’s bow, are commercially available now and can reduce average fuel consumption by up to 15 percent.
ferrtdecjFor short haul shipping, electric power is an easy fit. A small ferry could carry hydrogen fuel, or carry batteries that use a fast charger while in port.
And electric power is the likely future for rail transportation. In addition to overhead wires, electric locomotives could use hydrogen fuel cells. For the long haul, extra hydrogen could be brought along for the ride.
markdelucchiAnd the advantages of electricity are most obvious in the automotive sector. An electric motor is three times more efficient than a gas engine.
Mark Delucchi: They have almost instantaneously available low end torque. They’re long lasting, they’re efficient, they’re quiet, they’re easy to use. So this means you can have more different kinds of transportation options, that can be made relatively easy. You can have big vehicles, small vehicles, little mopeds…
FCEVNarrator: Two technical advances have made electric power practical in today’s automobiles. One is vast improvement in the hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen fuel is stored in a high pressure tank.
The other advancement is the high capacity lithium ion battery which stores electricity from the grid.
Electric vehicles, powered either by fuel cells or batteries currently have a range of up to 400 km. While electric vehicles gain market share, emissions from conventional car engines can be reduced.
MaryBethMary Beth Stanek: As we move into electrification, there are still some options that are going to have a big effect on our economy. And that’s advanced biofuels.
Narrator: Ethanol, made from a variety of sources, is used in flex fuel vehicles in Brazil, the US and Europe. Either blended with gasoline or straight up.
syntheticfuelLow carbon biofuel can also be made with renewable energy. Electric power is used for to produce hydrogen through electrolysis. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon dioxide from a biogas plant. The car thinks it’s running on natural gas. But in the automotive sector, the supply of bio fuel will never meed demand.
priusSo, to navigate the road to electrification, automakers rolled out a transitional vehicle which works with the old and new systems: the gas-electric hybrid. In one configuration (plug-in hybrid), a battery powers an electric motor for short trips, which account for most vehicle usage.
PatrickPatrick Wang: I can drive almost every day on electricity only. I don’t need to use gas except when I go visit my parents down in the South Bay, which is about 60 miles away. And even then, I don’t need to use very much gas. So I get the benefits of an electric car most of the time, and then just using a little bit of gas when I need it.
collisiontestNarrator: As in other sectors, energy transition is expected to occur while maintaining standards of safety, performance and reliability. Shiny surfaces and smooth operation are the result of intensive and sophisticated design methods.
ericEric Gassenfeit: Behind me in this room are ten thousand processors, some of which are water cooled, because of the heat they generate, which solve millions of equations millions of times a second to simulate new vehicle development like the batteries or the electric motors or the software controls that are in the Volt. This is what it takes to develop the new propulsion strategy in just a few years rather than in several decades.
unplugNarrator: So, with reliable electric propulsion now in place, the next big step is building fuelling infrastructure. For battery electric vehicles, the backbone of distribution is already provided by the grid. So charging machines can turn up almost anywhere.
High speed charging stations are more elaborate.
SeanASean Allan: And so the fastest way to charge this vehicle is with a machine like this. This is a DC fast charger. So it takes DC energy and feeds it directly to the battery. This allow you to charge up the car in about 25 to 30 minutes. The vehicle and the station actually talk to each other via CAN-BUS which is a car machine language.

installerNarrator: Swapping a battery is even faster. A system like this one takes less than two minutes. Meanwhile, electric infrastructure will be extended to countless residential units worldwide.

Gary Kissel: On the wall here we have a 240 volt charge station. This device has to be professionally installed. It too comes with the standard plug to charge the vehicle and can charge the car in about four hours.

pluginNarrator: Charging vehicles from the grid will not require the equivalent power needed for a gasoline vehicle. Electric propulsion requires less energy. And battery charging options are flexible.
They can be recharged during periods of low electrical demand.
grid-evVehicle batteries could even be used to store power for the grid. In jurisdictions that use a lot of renewable energy, they would supply electricity when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. The process would be reversed to charge the car. Or, the grid could be bypassed altogether.

seanallen-2However in some jurisdictions, regulations that would allow such developments need to catch up to the technical know-how.

Sean Allan: This is not a new game. And electricians all around the world are familiar with installing this kind of equipment. The new thing is the charging station itself. So the trick is how do you get the electric cables or the electrical supply from inside to all the way outside in the parking lot.

FCEVdriverFCEV driver: We go around the world my friend.

Narrator: Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles using hydrogen fuel cells is taking a different path. There are several ways to produce hydrogen fuel from low carbon sources, for example as a byproduct of biodiesel production, or with electrolysis, using green electricity. There are at several ways to then transport the hydrogen.

seanallan-4Sean Allen: So this is an example of a power cube. A power cube is a way of delivering and moving hydrogen. So this is something that could be picked up by a truck and delivered to the site of a hydrogen refuelling station. So contained inside the power cube is a group of cylinders. And so we have a receptacle and nozzle combination, and this little quick-connect is all that’s necessary to connect the hydrogen station.

MarkDNarrator: Specialized tanker trucks do the job, and so do pipelines. Fuel transport is practically eliminated when hydrogen is produced by electrolysis.

Mark Delucchi: You can distribute the electricity itself all the way to the end-use centres and then have little decentralized hydrogen production facilities, because electrolysis is relatively easy to do, it’s not a big huge industrial process. For example you don’t need a lot of space and a lot of industrial equipment.

SeanANarrator: Equipment for final delivery to the customer has safety in mind.

Sean Allen: There’s actually codes and standards which dictate the way the piping should be built, the way bollards and protection systems should be built, the way emergency shutdown systems should be built, so there’s an emergency shutoff button right here. This particular system also has this little infrared camera and in the event that there would be a fire, this photo eye will shut down the entire installation.This station can refuel vehicles at both 10 thousand psi and 5 thousand psi. And so when you disconnect the nozzle, there’s a little “pshuuu” whooshing sound as that gas is vented. And rather than venting it right at the receptacle nozzle, they vent it at a vent stack away from the user. And so hydrogen is 14 times lighter than air, so if you do have a leak, the hydrogen gas dissipates quite quickly. This is much safer than gasoline. Gasoline is both a flammable liquid and a flammable gas, because you can have gasoline vapours, and gasoline vapours are actually heavier than air, so they sink. Gasoline car fires are so common that it doesn’t really make the news anymore when there’s a car fire.

benzNarrator: So while the automotive industry has made an almost seamless transition to electric propulsion, electric vehicle buyers are adjusting their expectations as fuelling infrastructure catches up.
paulPaul Gustavsson: The families have been positively surprised that the car has fit so easily into their everyday life, and the driving range of a hundred or a hundred and fifty kilometers has not been perceived at all to be a restriction. They just plan for it. We have seen that the electric car fits into the life of a modern family and it meets the transport needs. The technology works and we can really see that it’s a solid base for the future.

2.4 removing CO2 from the air

yellowFCEVChinaNarrator: While low carbon alternatives are taking hold in all sectors of the world economy, the momentum of current practices may still push greenhouse gas accumulations past a dangerous threshold. However, CO2 accumulations can be gradually reduced in two ways. First, by restoring the biosphere’s function as a carbon sink, through such practices as soil conservation and reforestation. This has the potential of reducing atmospheric CO2 by some 50 ppm.
DACunitsSecondly, carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere with direct air capture technology.
Unlike carbon capture on coal plants, large direct air capture facilities could remove CO2 from the air faster than it is produced.
geoffGeoff Holmes: With air capture, like I said you’re capturing from this big, essentially infinite source of CO2 in the atmosphere, so there not really a technical limit on how much CO2 you can capture per year. The limit is more social, or economic in terms of how many of these plants people are willing to permit and build and invest in.
refineryNarrator: Direct air capture is suited to capturing CO2 from transportation. And it could reduce emissions that have accumulated since the industrial revolution. Like CO2 captured from the stacks of an industrial plant, it can be buried. Or used to make products such as synthetic fuel for transportation, or synthetic limestone for cement manufacturing.
Direct air capture plants would also have certain advantages.
geoff-3Geoff Holmes: The capture can be done anywhere. CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere, so a tonne captured or removed from the atmosphere in China is just as good as a tonne captured and removed in the Sahara. And you get to co-locate with either good storage sites for the CO2 or places where there is an industrial demand for that product. So we get this fixed, uniform abatement cost, that allows us to put a sort of worst case cap on how much it costs to reduce economy wide emissions. And one of the real big advantages of air capture is we think we can make this cost effective and economically viable in today’s market. And by so doing we can start building and learning our way through this technology and bringing further down in cost and further up in scale, so it’s tooled up when we really do get serious about climate policy, and we really do start to need more of these type of technologies.

« Part 1 | Part 3 »