Ringside Seats at the Decarbonizing Energy Horserace


It’s interesting to me that as a group, the technology prediction community appears to be much more humble about predicting the future than the climate modelling community.  We discussed that here.

Decision-makers and investors would benefit from learning more about why they were caught unawares by the shale revolution, and how they can be better prepared the next time such a surprise occurs. The answer to that second question is not immediately apparent. Tautologically, if we were prepared for them, surprises would cease to be surprises. But perhaps a start is for decision-makers to adapt to an increasingly uncertain and dynamic world by creating a more imaginative discourse, one that welcomes nuance and doubt as spaces for opportunity and transformative change, and sees forecasts as the beginning of a policy or investment discussion rather than the end, and forecasters not as Delphic oracles of outcome, but as the people who know best why attempts at prediction must fall short.


And of course, climate modelling itself depends on assumptions about technologies (and land use, and so on).  But even in our own relatively tiny world with questions like “is using wood better than concrete for the environment, including climate”?  And “what is the impact of using natural gas (and the relationship of environmental concerns to extraction and use) on Federal lands”, we need to keep track of the horses in the horserace.

X Prize winners were announced, using carbon from a natural gas and a coal plant.

Selected by a panel of independent judges, both winning teams developed solutions aimed at reducing CO2 emissions associated with traditional concrete, which is currently the world’s most abundant human-made material and accounts for seven percent of all global CO2 emissions. The two team’s award-winning technologies will be, and already are, game-changers for global decarbonization and the fight against climate change.

Launched in 2015, the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE was a five-year global competition developed to address rising CO2 emissions by challenging innovators around the world to develop breakthrough technologies that convert the most CO2 into products with the highest net value.

The competition included two tracks, the Wyoming track that focused on the conversion of emissions from a nearby coal-fired power plant, the Wyoming Integrated Test Center in Gillette, WY, and the Alberta track which used emissions from an adjacent natural gas-fired plant, the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre in Calgary, AB. The winning teams, one from each track, converted the most CO2 into products with the highest value, while minimizing their overall CO2 footprint, land use, water use, and energy use.

Here’s another one about a zero emissions gas plant:

For the other plant, 8 Rivers is working with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Growth Fund in Colorado. Both projects will be designed and developed this year, which 8 Rivers says requires spending tens of millions of dollars. A final decision on whether to go ahead with the facilities is due in 2022.

Net Power’s technology uses a new kind of turbine to burn natural gas in oxygen, rather than the air. As a result, the plant only produces carbon dioxide and water as a byproduct. The water can be frozen out of the mixture and the pure stream of CO₂ can be buried in depleted oil and gas wells or similar geological structures.

What’s interesting about the latter is this quote:

Though the power plant won’t produce any pollution, environmentalists are concerned about the continued use of natural gas. The production and transportation of the fossil fuel does lead to emissions, which companies that rely on natural gas will have to mitigate.

Doesn’t it seem like the question would be “what are alternate sources of energy, now, in the short term and the long term, and what are their pros and cons vis a vis the environment?  Is a pipeline or trucking worse for the environment (including, say, sage grouse) than new solar and wind installations with new powerlines? How do you balance land impacts with carbon impacts?
Does every industry “have to” mitigate its transportation emissions (say agriculture)?  Who decides which industries “have to” and which don’t? Is this rational, or is there an underlying desire to have a “scape-industry”?  Which leads back to the interview with Michael Webber here.

1 thought on “Ringside Seats at the Decarbonizing Energy Horserace”

  1. See: https://www.cpr.org/2021/04/19/southern-ute-reservation-zero-emission-power-plant-natural-gas/

    Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director with the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians, wrote in an email that he’s “incredibly skeptical” that the project will ever be built due to costs and “the commercially unproven nature of carbon capture and sequestration.”

    “I say more power to the Southern Ute Tribe. It’s certainly not our place to second guess what they view to be a good investment,” Nichols wrote. “If the Southern Ute Tribe wants to stay locked into dependence on oil and gas, that’s their right. Even if it costs them opportunities to develop more viable and affordable means of energy production, that’s their prerogative.”


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