Can carbon capture and storage save the California grid?

California’s ambitious emission reduction plans are leading the state towards a more expensive and less reliable energy system, as this vision of the future is based on a 100% renewable future, rather than focusing on reducing emissions.

Natural gas, combined with carbon capture and storage, offers a compelling alternative to meeting California’s emission reduction targets compared to a 100% renewable system.

The state has legislated 40% emission reductions by 2030, carbon neutrality by 2045, and net negative emissions thereafter. But with the 5e-the world’s largest economy, decarbonization will be tricky. Even with the extreme deployment of renewables over the past decade, California’s primary energy is still 72% fossil fuels (mostly natural gas and petroleum), 12% non-renewable energy. hydraulic, 4% hydroelectricity, 2% nuclear and about 9% imports, the sources of which vary over time.

For power generation alone, California has 43% natural gas, 14% solar power, 7% wind power, 8% nuclear, about 20% hydropower, and 8% other renewables. , all produced in the state, with about an additional third of that being imported with a varying mix of fossils and non-fossils.

The California government has released a roadmap to meet its long-term goal of 100% clean energy, California’s Electricity System of the Future, while an immediate state of emergency has been declared amid concerns that the electrical system will be grappling with heat waves this summer.

As stated in the report, “California’s clean energy goals are fundamentally about reducing reliance on gasoline. [these] natural gas power plants ”while noting that“ between 136 GW and 208 GW of clean energy technologies must be built by 2045 to reach the goal of 100% clean electricity ”, against around 15 GW of energy solar installed on a large scale and 10 GW of distributed solar energy. generation from 2021.

“This means solar and wind construction rates are expected to almost triple and battery storage construction rates are to be multiplied by eight,” the report said.

Governor Newson, in his state of emergency proclamation, notes that California “currently faces an additional projected energy supply shortage of up to 3,500 MW during the afternoon ‘peak’ period. and the evening of high demand for electricity on days when there are weather conditions “and a” shortage of up to 5,000 MW which is now forecast for summer 2022 “.

In the recent publication, California needs clean, firm energy just like the rest of the world, the authors of Princeton University, Stanford University, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) state that “extensive electrification and increased reliance on renewable energy sources weather conditions could create new reliability challenges requiring proactive planning. Solar and wind supplies drop by about 60% from summer to winter. In some cases, the state may get little output from solar and wind power for weeks at a time. These lulls may also coincide with periods of increased demand, further compounding the challenge. “

The general conclusion is that the reliable production of the electricity needed in 2045 from solar and wind energy would require increasing to almost 500 GW of power generation capacity (as well as 160 gigawatts and 1000 gigawatt hours again. storage). That’s about half the capacity of the entire power generation system in the United States today, including nuclear, gas and coal, hydro, and everything in between.

This is because of the intermittence of renewable energies and the need to support them with firm distributable power. Thus, the concept of Clean Firm Power was born. This includes nuclear, hydropower (as long as water supply is not an issue), geothermal energy, and natural gas with carbon capture and storage (NG-CCS).

California decided years ago to hate nuclear power, hydropower is limited by water for the foreseeable drought-ridden future, and geothermal is limited by productive sites. This leaves NG-CCS. Which is very desirable because if you set up CCS you can just run many of the current gas plants and only need to build relatively few new ones.

The California Public Utilities Commission largely ignores the role CCS can play in a low-carbon future. In fact, they seem to ignore the realities of the challenges they face today while doubling down on the goal of a 100% renewable future.

“However, we are less confident about the short-term operational realities during the transition period and about maintaining system reliability in the interim. The middle of this decade represents an inflection point and a transition that we must successfully go through to achieve our goals.

Indeed, many of the production resources withdrawn during the period 2023-2026 are firm or distributable resources, which are not easily replaced by variable renewable energies available in terms of capacity factors and values, as well as of their impact on network operations.

So how is it possible to set up so many CCS?

Very possible, says Craig Golinowski, president and managing partner of Carbon Infrastructure Partners. “California is home to a vast CO2 storage resource that can be used with CCS to generate clean, firm energy. A near-zero emission baseload, clean and firm distributable power will help meet the state’s emission reduction targets while maintaining grid reliability and energy affordability. Meeting the increasing demand for electricity from a rapidly growing electric vehicle fleet will require significant increases in base load and distributable power that can be cost effectively met with Clean Firm Power enabled by CCS.

Modeling in “California needs clean, firm energy just like the rest of the world ” concludes that 25 to 40 GW of clean farm electricity could eliminate the need for approximately 250 to 400 GW of additional renewable energy capacity.

Like the UN’s IPCC and all of the world’s leading climatologists, Golinowski understands that nuclear is essential to meeting energy demand and reducing emissions, being the ultimate clean energy. The 2.2 GW of clean base power produced by the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California, which is slated to close by 2025, will need to be replaced by non-fossil fuels. This will take more than 9 GW of solar or wind power, not counting back-up production.

But how mature is carbon capture and storage, and can it be accelerated quickly enough to meet decarbonization goals?

CCS uses a few technologies to remove CO2 from power generation and hydrogen production, and then uses pipelines to move it to where it will be used or stored. There are 10 major CCS projects in the United States, 21 around the world, and their pipelines are tens to hundreds of miles long.

The Energy Futures Initiative and Stanford University believe it can be accelerated fairly quickly, as stated in their 2020 report, An Action Plan for Carbon Capture and Storage in California. According to them, California’s industrial and electrical sectors have significant technical potential to integrate CCS. Their study identified 76 facilities suitable for carbon capture, with the capacity to remove nearly 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) per year by 2030.

“If we were to store 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year in California, you could do so for over 1,000 years,” said Sally Benson, lead author of the study, and faculty director of the Stanford Center for Carbon. Storage. . And we know how to seal those wells so that CO2 doesn’t escape into the atmosphere.

Compared to the state’s current GHG emissions of over 400 million MtCO2 per year, this is significant but not the silver bullet. Decarbonization has to happen for the majority of sectors by actually getting rid of fossil fuels.

However, 60 million MtCO2 / year is roughly what the power sector emits, so this level of CCS could completely decarbonize power generation in the state.

The CO2 would be stored primarily in depleted oil reservoirs and salt formations, many of which are found in the Central Valley and as far as Los Angeles. The same geological formations and structures that trap oil and gas trap CO2. But the length of the pipelines needed to transport and store 60 million MtCO2 / year will be significant, as will the large number of injection wells, an infrastructure need rarely mentioned.

Indeed, despite the $ 5 billion allocated in the infrastructure bill for CCS, there is not much planning on how to implement CCS or how to overcome mundane obstacles like revising the CCS. EPA rules for licensing wells and pipelines for this purpose.

There is a way to increase the CSC potential a thousandfold. Dr Pete McGrail, head of a group of scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, discovered and demonstrated in the field how to inject carbon dioxide into rock so that it turns into rock itself, reducing the volume of CO2 and increasing CCS potential in California by a factor of over one thousand.

It is enough to inject thousands of tons of CO2 dissolved in water 800 meters deep in a particular volcanic rock, called vesicular basalt that California is teeming with, so that the CO2 naturally precipitates in the form of limestone and others. carbonate minerals. Being a solid instead of a gas means no worries of CO2 leaking into the atmosphere, no worries of induced earthquakes and less space worries.

The PNNL project has demonstrated in the field how to reduce the passage time of CO2 from the gas phase to the solid phase from one thousand years to just two. And California has a lot of basalts at different depths.

So just like the technological breakthroughs that still occur for nuclear, energy storage, and many other energy-related technologies, CCS is no different. It should be part of any decarbonization plan.

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