CCS, renewables and others!!

IPCC report in 2007 concluded that CO2 emissions has to be cut by 50% by 2050 compared to 2000 to stabilize the global average temperature increase at 2 to 2.4 °C above the pre-industrial levels. This has led to a series of debates on CO2 sequestration, offsetting fossil fuel based power by renewables…solar pv, wind, biomass, geothermal hydro,. developing renewables giving encouraging incentives etc etc etc etc. After 5 years we have not made any breakthrough in our aims and objectives. In several cases BAU prevails. The case of CO2 and policy makers  is like lilliputs trying to tie Gulliver on an island!!

According to a  recent news item titled “CCS is a necessity for a world hooked on fossil fuels”  IEA  feel that only 1/5 of world energy supply is from renewable sources thus making fossil fuels as the primary source of energy and will continue be so for a long time. Similarly in another publication IEA indicates that without CCS it is difficult to contain CO2 emissions and with out CCS it is difficult also to reduce the cost of CO2 emission by 2050. In a way we are conceding to the fact that fossil fuels will be there to rule for the next two decade in spite of the efforts (??) being made by international panels and national governments to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by offsetting their use through renewables.

In its “Blue Map”, IEA  indicted that cost incurred in CCS technology from 2010 to 2050 will be of the order of 2 to 3 trillion US$ distributed  over as many as  3400 CCS projects. These projects envisages about 62 Giga tonnes of CO2 capture from coal based power plants, 9 Gt from gas based power plants and  7 Gt from biomass based power plants. The big question is, will the technology to contain such large volume of CO2 in geological formations be in place by 2050?   One has to wait and see. Perhaps some other CCS technology may emerge by then!! One thing for sure is, carbon capture and transport technology may mature by then but storage in geological formations may not. Geological formations do not behave the way we wish!  Capturing CO2 from fossil based power plants is expensive as the process of capture reduces the net out put of electricity by about 20% thus attracting penalty. But, the current concern on global climate change and the deliberations of IPCC may reduce the penalty in future. This is not an incentive for the coal based power plant to go in for CCS but reduces the burden on consumers.

During the same period another publication by IRENA reads “…….as the world embarks on the transition to a truly sustainable energy future, the world’s renewable resources and technologies increasingly offer the promise of cleaner, healthier and economically and technically feasible power solutions and sustainable energy access for all. With over 100 gigawatts of renewable power generation capacity added in 2011 alone, renewables have gone mainstream and are being supported by a “virtuous circle” of increasing deployment, fast learning rates and significant, often rapid, declines in costs”” (IRENA 2013).

To the reader the two reports are at variance!!

Electricity from renewables may be cheaper compared to fossil fuels generated electric power. A recent report published by IRENA on the cost of all the renewables indicate a wide variation in the LCOE. This is mainly related to the geographic location of the site, available source and climate.  The cost of PV Solar ( in some regions CSP) power is the highest, varying from 15 to 55 US cents/kWh, the highest being in Asian countries ( except India and China). The cost of electricity from these two sources in China and India shows cost variation with the cost in China (15 to 30 US cents/kWh; LCOE 21 US cents/kWh) is lower than India (15 to 39 US cents/kWh; LCOE 24 US cents/kWh). Although the LCOE from wind in China and India is more or less same, the variation in India is large (5 to 20 US cents/kWh) compared to China (5 to 12 US cents). The reason is very obvious. China has a monopoly in manufacturing magnets as it has a full control on the world REE market and is a major supplier of wind turbines.  This will help China to control wind turbine market of the world and drive other international manufacturer’s to bankruptcy. This  has happened  and continue to happen in the solar field. Companies that make glass that is used to cover and protect the solar cells are up in their arms against China for selling this product below the production cost. As long as one has the Govt.’s blessings, no one can do anything about such costs and the companies that are dumping the products into other countries. China has entirely a different strategy. This has made several US companies to down their shutters!!

Even though the cost of CCS is much higher (that reflects in the unit cost of electricity sold to customers) compared to that of renewables, the installed grid connected power supply is considerably low from the above sources except for geothermal.  Solar PV and wind may be attractive in rural areas where villages are connected to the grid. In both the sources, batteries are required.

The deployment cost of  3400 projects projected to mitigate CO2 through CCS between now and 2050, as per the road map of IEA, would be around US$ 3 trillion amounting to 3% of the low carbon technology investment that is required to achieve the envisaged CO2 emissions in 2050. Since the CCS activity runs across a wide range of geographical locations with varying socio-economic group of countries, an additional cost of 125 billion US$ per year is anticipated between the above years..

These are all estimates. There is no large scale commercially proven technology available to check these estimates.  But the cost estimates of generating power from renewable sources are realistic. Thus it is difficult to judge whether the costs related to CCS is cheaper or expensive relative to the cost of generating power from renewable sources. One can get more details on cost and performance of CCS technology from a working paper published by IEA in 2011. Since costs of renewables are realistic, then, contrary to the IEA view, world should encourage renewable sources that have the advantage of reducing the cost and reducing the CO2 emissions.  Again going through the target achieved by renewables and projected numbers, renewables, especially solar pv and CSP have a long way to go to supply grid connected power in par with hydro or geothermal.

Recalling the views expressed by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in TOI of 8 August 2010, Aiyar  said   ‘’The National Solar Mission has set a target of 20,000 MW of solar electricity by 2020. This may be desirable, but at today’s solar technology costs, it will be economic suicide……”.

A 1MWe solar PV needs 6 to 10 acres of land and a 100 MWe PV solar power plant needs 600 to 1000 acres of land. (1 acre is equal to 4047 sq. m or 43200 sq. ft). In fact the world is hopeful of getting a break through in Solar PV but that did not happen even after 30 years of research. To generate power from solar PV, an intermediate device is needed. Solar PV remains, according to S  A Aiyar, “hopelessly uneconomical even today”. Today power generated from roof top solar PV coasts any where between Rs. 9 to 10/ unit. Technological breakthrough hopefully may bring the unit coast crashing down in the coming decade.   All the major Western and European companies involved in the manufacture of PV cells are pushing millions of rupees to keep solar PV hype at high level for their own survival. S A Aiyar puts this truth in his sarcastic comment……..  “Swami the Government. knows all this. But it needs to do something in global climate negotiations. The US will not come on board unless China and India are seen contributing, and with out US participation the climate talks will fall. So we have made a fancy long term projections 20,000 MW by 2020, 100,000 MW by 2030- getting good publicity. But our near term target of 1000 MW by 2013 implies no more than some pilot projects. This will keep climate negotiations going at little cost”” Solar PV and Solar thermal are land intensive and site specific. It may be possible to get large stretch of land in Rajasthan desert to install solar power plants. But where do we get water for cooling towers? and to clean the dust over the panels to maintain efficiency?

Solar PV and wind are very popular in Sub-Sahara countries, although the unit cost is much higher compared to thermal. For example, LOCE of grid supplied  solar PV is about 15 to 30 US cents in areas with good net work connectivity while the cost escalates to one dollar per unit in remote areas in Ethiopia.   Diesel generated power costs between 35- 50 US cents per unit, while fossil fuels generated power cost ranges between 5 to 12 US cents, according to the recently published cost of renewables report by  IRENA . Thus in certain regions diesel and solar PV are on par with each other as for as the unit cost is concerned while unit cost of electricity from geothermal is in par with hydro and fossil fuel based power (IRENA, 2013). The only difference is diesel has to be transported from the nearest sea port Djibouti, which is several hundreds of kilo meters away from Ethiopia.

Compared to solar PV, geothermal power in Ethiopia is very competitive to all the renewable and with an estimated resources of 60000 MWe spread over the entire East African Rift  valley.  The Aluto Lungano geothermal field alone is capable of generating 500 MWe. Unit cost of geothermal power is about seven US cents. The advantage here is to have local grid systems that can supply power to clusters of rural areas. Small geothermal power plants that can generate 5 to 10 MWe are most suitable and cost effective in the entire rift valley.  A 50 MWe geothermal power plant may need only one acre of land (1 acre is equal to 4047 sq. m or 43200 sq. ft). This is far less compared to the land requirement of solar. In future, with the hot dry rock technology taking shape, power can be generated in everyone’s back yard! Let’s hope that this will happen before the next young generation retires!