Report details the breakneck pace of renewables needed for a net-zero


Replacing the U.S. grid’s fossil fuel base with clean energy three decades from now will require societal transformations on an equally daunting scale, concludes a new report from an Australian energy and engineering company.

“[I]It won’t be enough to gradually improve traditional infrastructure delivery processes: we need to change the processes themselves, ”the report from Worley Ltd. “Businesses and governments need to find solutions to deal with all aspects of the process. Unless deadlines are drastically squeezed and projects started sooner, we will fail. “

Worley based his findings on a 345-page survey of America’s clean energy challenge, “Net-Zero America,” published by researchers at Princeton University in December 2020.

To get on the path to President Biden’s goal of a zero-carbon economy by 2050, the United States would need to invest at least $ 2.5 trillion in clean energy over the next decade, according to the Princeton report, quadrupling wind and solar power generation capacity while still having 50 million electric vehicles on the road.

“We have to imagine a transformed way of life that preserves the environment and human lifestyles. We have to imagine the many technologies, techniques and resources that we can harness, ”Worley CEO Chris Ashton said in the latest report. “We have to imagine how all of this can be done within our social expectations. “

The new focus on the Princeton report comes as Senate negotiators on Sunday released details of a bipartisan infrastructure bill with new spending targets of $ 550 billion over five years, most for projects of traditional construction, not transformational energy expenditure (Energy wire, July 30).

As scientists and engineers charted paths to pursue next-generation storage batteries, build offshore wind farms and new nuclear reactor designs, progressive lawmakers have recognized that there is still no leaf. of road to bring the Congress to take up the climate challenge (Climate wire, July 29).

Pivotal towards sustainability

Worley, a global engineering services company with $ 8.3 billion in revenue in fiscal 2020, has begun to pivot its oil and gas operations towards sustainable energy.

“The reality is that if we develop energy infrastructure as we always have, we will not reach net zero by 2050 – not even close. We need imaginative solutions that scale aggressively – and we need them now, ”said Clare Anderson, who heads Worley’s sustainability group.

To dramatize the challenge, the report cites the number of new solar installations the United States would need in any of Princeton’s “middle-of-the-road” scenarios. Two new 400-megawatt solar farms, each about the size of Tokyo’s 130 Olympic stadiums, are expected to be built weekly for the next 30 years.

He noted that a recent US project half this size took about 3.5 years to build.

Worley, whose clients include multinational oil and gas companies and national oil companies in the Middle East, emphasizes the need for natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration as a ready backup source for renewable energy.

The Worley Report contrasts two of the five potential development scenarios of the Princeton Report. One includes large-scale investments in new nuclear and gas power plants with carbon capture and storage, or CCS. Renewable energies are limited to current construction rates. In the second case, only renewable energies are authorized; there is no CCS and no new nuclear power plant is being built.

Worley noted that in a renewables-only scenario, the amount of onshore wind and solar power expected to be built between 2041 and 2050 would be more than 10 times greater than the lower “constrained” renewables scenario.

Worley is a leading service provider for liquefied natural gas plants. It supports Chevron Australia’s Gorgon CO2 injection project, which aims to sequester 400 million tonnes of CO2 each year in an underground reservoir off the coast of Western Australia, reducing carbon emissions by 40% by the Gorgon LNG plant.

“All new nuclear and CCS facilities must be in the planning stage by 2030 if they are to be operational by 2050. For more flexible deadlines, creative solutions can shorten the process,” the report said.

“We could reallocate and replenish existing sites where possible, upgrading eligible power plants and industrial facilities with CCS solutions. And several projects could share pipelines and storage hubs, ”he added.

Calling for transformational changes in investment and policy, the Worley report suggests this could be done without heavy government leadership, leveraging financial incentives and private sector initiatives.

“We need to make it more attractive to invest in low-carbon energy than in high-carbon energy,” the report says.

The report sits in the midst of one of the critical obstacles to large new energy projects: citizen opposition. On the one hand, he says regulatory approvals need to be speeded up.

On the other hand, it advocates a strong sensitization of the communities affected by the new energy projects. “We need to involve the people who will be affected by the infrastructure or the transition in the process,” he said. “We can encourage communities to get involved in projects and strengthen their participation in change.”

Faster regulatory action must be transparent, “so that people continue to trust governance processes,” the report says.

This story also appears in Climate wire.

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