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We must soon “run the world on renewables” but cannot, and should not try to, accomplish this entirely with electricity transmission. New, abundant, low-cost, unconventional natural gas supplies are finite; burning adds CO2 to Earth’s atmosphere.
Humanity’s goal must be nothing less than: Transforming the world’s largest industry from ~80% fossil to ~100% renewable, CO2-emission-free energy sources as quickly as we prudently and profitably can.
We should now carefully consider using pipeline networks, rather than the electricity grid, for solving the three salient technical problems of renewable energy (RE) at lower cost:
- Transmission: from diverse, stranded, remote, rich RE resources
- Storage: intermittent RE becomes annually firm and dispatchable
- Integration: with conventional, extant energy, for firm quality supply
Electricity systems are not well suited for gathering, transmission, storage, and delivery of time-varying solar, wind, and other renewable energy resources. The renewable energy industry should consider emulating the natural gas and ammonia industries, because:
- Gaseous hydrogen (GH2) fuel may be stored in large, deep, solution-mined salt caverns for ~$0.20/kWh capital cost;
- Liquid anhydrous ammonia (NH3) fuel may be stored in large, refrigerated, steel, “atmospheric” surface tanks for ~$0.10/kWh capital cost.
We need to supply all energy, not just electricity, from diverse renewable energy (RE) resources, both distributed and centralized, where the world’s richest RE resources – of large geographic extent and high intensity – are stranded: far from end-users with inadequate or nonexistent gathering and transmission systems to deliver the energy. Electricity energy storage cannot affordably firm large, intermittent renewables at annual scale, while carbon-free gaseous hydrogen (GH2) and liquid anhydrous ammonia (NH3) fuels can.