Utilities bringing power to the people
More than 1.6 billion people do not have electricity in their homes. They burn what is available to them at the time – coal, wood, dung – to create energy for cooking and for warmth. That’s more than a billion fires burning every day sending tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
There are ways and means to mitigate such a bleak scenario for the people and for the planet. That’s where the Global Electricity Initiative steps in to support major electrical utilities’ efforts to tackle climate change and improve energy access.
Global Electricity Initiative aims to provide a platform to enable the increase in electricity access in a sustainable and affordable manner. It plans to showcase the early voluntary actions by the energy industry to increase access to affordable, reliable and environmentally friendly electricity, by uniting the resources and knowledge from the world’s electrical utility community.
“We hope that GEI will pave the way for more efficient and sustainable company strategies and government policies, while establishing a global benchmark to demonstrate and share best practices for decision-makers,” says Philippe Joubert, executive chair of the Global Electricity Initiative.
GEI’s industry leaders Advisory Board, which is made up of some of the utility sector’s heavy hitters such as James E. Rogers of Duke Energy in the U.S. to Brian Dames of Eskom in South Africa to José da Costa Carvalho Neto of Eletrobras in Brazil, is tasked to provide the initiative with strategic guidance and industry insights.
“We need to listen to the CEOs because an important part of the work will be the vision of the CEOs,” says Joubert, who is the former president of Alstom Power and CEO of the Alstom Group. “Not a lot of countries are really listening to the leaders of the utilities before they are establishing guidelines or restrictions. We never ask the CEOs and we often don't listen to the guys who know, which is a big mistake.”
That is one of the main ideas behind the Global Electricity Initiative, according to Joubert.
Combined Global Effort
GEI was launched in 2011 at the COP-17 summit in Durban, South Africa. The organization’s leaders planned to scale up the initiative and cover a larger group of electricity utilities around the world. Approximately 10 percent of the world’s electricity production in 2011 was represented by GEI participating companies from every continent.
The first phase was announced in 2012 at COP-18 in Doha, Qatar, to study what utilities were doing and what could be done. The initiative is now driven by three of the largest industry-based and sustainability networks in the world:
- World Energy Council (WEC);
- World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD);
- Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP).
The World Energy Council is the principal impartial network of leaders and practitioners promoting an affordable, stable and environmentally sensitive energy system for the greatest benefit of all. Formed in 1923, WEC is the UN-accredited global energy body, representing the entire energy spectrum, with more than 3,000 member organizations located in over 90 countries.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a CEO-led organization of progressive companies that spurs the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment. The WBCSD’s 200 member companies, who represent all business sectors, and have combined revenue of more than $7 trillion, share best practices on sustainable development issues.
The Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership is a CEO-led non-profit international organization, composed of the world's leading electricity companies, whose mission is to promote sustainable energy development through electricity sector projects and human capacity building activities in developing and emerging nations worldwide.
“Bringing secure, affordable, and clean energy for the world’s seven billion people requires coordination on a global scale. Of course it requires the action of policymakers, businesses, and consumers, but importantly it is the utilities that have the know-how and the financial capacity to make this happen,” says Christoph Frei, secretary general of the World Energy Council.
“The combined network of the GSEP, the WBCSD and the WEC is unique in its global reach deep into the utility sector, and it will provide a very powerful platform to push forward the objectives of the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative,” Frei says.
Act Locally, Think Globally
The need for increasing electricity access and driving forward climate change action have become a priority amongst the many issues that electricity utilities are faced with. In the last decade, utilities around the world, in both developed and developing countries have put plans in motion to utilize cleaner energy solutions and to widen access.
According to Joubert, to further deliver on these goals, it is important to assess the progress that has been made and the lessons learned.
One of the GEI’s case studies of a utility working to connect its population is on Eskom, the national utility in South Africa. The electrification rate is 75 percent in the country, but there is a backlog of about 3.4 million households that do not have access to electricity. Eskom has electrified more than four million households since the inception of the electrification program in 1991.
According to GEI’s report, Eskom has a 10 year plan to spend an estimated cost of R32 billion over the period to deliver about 2.6 million connections. The utility forecasts that it can meet the government’s target of 3.4 million households in 2021/2022 at an estimated cost of R36 billion. The company is in the process of reviewing options to accelerate its electrification program.
In developing countries, electrification has increased rapidly over the past 30 years. Only 49 percent of the world’s population had access to electricity in 1970. By 1990 it had increased to almost 60 percent, and it was 74 percent in 2002, according to the GEI report.
“Perhaps everything will be fine and everyone will have access to electricity by 2020,” Joubert says. “But if this is not the case, I hope that we will go and look at what we can do better to make sure that goal is fulfilled.”
The Next Phase
GEI’s first findings will be unveiled at the 22nd World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea, at a roundtable discussion with the CEOs of the world’s major utilities on Oct. 17. After the Congress, GEI will build on their recommendations and present the initiative’s core findings to key energy leaders and ministers.
The plan is to involve more utilities after South Korea to increase the weight of the collective opinion, then collectively promote and discuss the findings on a regional level and global level for the first trimester of next year. The results will then be recommended to the policymakers.
“Personally, I am optimistic because I am an extremely worried, which is a paradox, but I think what we are doing to at the moment is not going in the right direction,” Joubert says. “It would take a lot of rule changes to direct the boat in another direction.
“But I think it will come. I am talking a lot with all these CEOs and see they are all extremely aware of the situation and see where we are going and know that they have a possibility to change this situation. That's why I am optimistic.”
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere