Structural Evolution of the UK Electricity System in a Below 2°C World

The world collectively has failed to address climate change with the required urgency. In their recent reports, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have highlighted that insufficient action means we now need to rely on large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to avoid catastrophic climate change. Efforts by governments have largely focused on encouraging investment in renewable energy sources, not carbon dioxide removal (CDR). This paper shows that an electricity system that is dominated by variable renewable energy sources (wind and solar) is unable to deliver the extent of climate change mitigation necessary to meet the Paris Agreement target. Instead, the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) used with bioenergy power plants—thereby creating a method of CDR—is critical. Additionally, there is potentially a role for direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—a technology known as direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS). The falling costs of renewable energy technologies, however, mean that small-scale or isolated power systems are increasingly commercially-viable. Current policy direction recognises this and encourages the decentralisation of energy services. A power system dominated by utility-scale power plants requires extensive transmission and distribution networks to be maintained. Pursuing decentralisation in the near- to medium-term may therefore hinder deep decarbonisation efforts by allowing for infrastructure that appears critical in the long-term to disintegrate. We therefore urge governments to recognise and value technologies and services—that is, CCS and CDR—that are critical for long-term climate change mitigation goals. Read the paper here.


Nigeria and Climate Change: Global Trends and Local Challenges

Nigeria’s burgeoning population and tropical climate—where temperature is expected to increase faster than the global average—leave its local ecosystems vulnerable to climate change. In the June/July issue of The Republic journal, I discuss the how climate change is likely to impact the Nigerian economy, and offer solutions that reconcile development and climate change mitigation/adaptation efforts. Read my essay here.


The implications of delivering the UK’s Paris Agreement commitments on the power sector

Discussions on climate change focus on the technological innovation necessary for mitigation. This paper assesses the power system transition necessary to meet long-term emissions reductions targets in the UK. We find that the potential implications of meeting these targets include: increased reliance on imported fuel (particularly biomass) and imported electricity—which compromises energy security; prevalence of under-utilised power plants thereby resulting in stranded assets; increased cost of electricity generation which is likely to be passed on to consumers; reliance on unpopular technologies such as Nuclear, Onshore Wind and CCS. These implications highlight that the sociopolitical barriers to climate change mitigation may outweigh the technological. Therefore, innovation in policy design is also critical to delivering the energy transition. Read the paper here.


The role and value of negative emissions technologies in decarbonising the UK’s energy system

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5 degrees reasserted that avoiding catastrophic climate change would require deep decarbonisation of the global energy system, including the deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies. This study investigates the potential role of two CDR technologies — bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air capture and storage (DACS) — in meeting the UK's emissions reductions targets. We show that to achieve power sector decarbonisation, a system dominated by firm and dispatchable low-carbon generators with BECCS or DACS to compensate for their associated emissions is significantly cheaper than a system dominated by intermittent renewables and energy storage. By offsetting CO2 emissions from cheaper thermal plants, thereby allowing for their continued utilisation in a carbon-constrained electricity system, BECCS and DACS can reduce the cost of decarbonisation. Allowing some this value transferred to accrue to NETs offers a potential route for their commercial deployment. Read the paper here.

Conceptual diagrams of the proposed circular economy of power-to-fuel (left) and power-to-DAC (right) processes.

Conceptual diagrams of the proposed circular economy of power-to-fuel (left) and power-to-DAC (right) processes.

Closing the carbon cycle to maximise climate change mitigation: power-to-methanol vs. power-to-direct air capture

Climate change is largely attributed to the rise in greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use for industry and mobility since the Industrial Revolution. To avoid its potentially devastating consequences, there has been a recent push to decarbonise the economy. Significant strides have been made in the electricity system; renewable energy penetration (capacity relative to the whole system) is rapidly rising in some countries, including the UK. Renewable energy technologies (wind, solar power) are intermittent because of the variability of their supply. Consequently, incidences arise where renewable energy generation surpasses demand, storage capacity is filled and/or it is difficult to ramp (up or down) other low-carbon generators such as nuclear power. Renewable energy operators are therefore required to curtail their generation to maintain grid stability and operability. It has been suggested that this curtailed electricity can be used to achieve further mitigation by using it to power carbon capture and utilisation and storage (CCU) processes, e.g. converting CO2 - the most abundant greenhouse gas - into fuels. This study assesses the climate change mitigation potential of using curtailed electricity to produce methanol for use in gasoline-powered cars, and compares it to the mitigation achievable if the electricity was used to remove CO2 from the air directly via a novel technology known as direct air capture (DAC). Read the paper here.


The New Normal: A Brief History of Climate Change

Climate change is the greatest challenge that humanity faces today, but it has taken 200 years of scientific and political debate for that to be accepted. In the June/July issue of The Republic journal, I discuss the history of the climate change debate from the science to the emerging socio-political barriers to climate action. Read my essay here.