North America’s Decarbonization Progress Has ‘Blind Spots’



Credits: Thenamaris

North American progress towards a full decarbonization of its energy systems is slow and “should be stepped up” if the region is going to be a net-zero role model for the rest of the world, a Jan. 23 Siemens report said, says an article published on SP Global.

The 5 categories

Regions were grouped into five categories: Europe, North America, Latin America, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific. North America achieved the top mark with an energy transition readiness score of 34%, owing to the region having kept energy consumption levels constant while still achieving economic growth over the last decade. Europe was runner-up in the index scoring with 33%, followed by Middle East and Africa (26%), Asia Pacific (25%) and Latin America (22%).

“Different countries have different degrees of industrialization and globalization, different standards of living and, consequently, different interests,” said Torsten Henzelmann of Roland Burger in the Siemens’ report. “Against this background, it is hardly surprising that different regions view climate neutrality differently. Rather than coordinated pan-global efforts, a more effective approach would likely be cooperation between like-minded countries. These clusters of countries, by working together, can set a course that others can then follow.”

North America’s ‘blind spots’

Although North American emissions are responsible for about 15% of global emissions, the region’s emissions have dropped by 18% since 2005 compared to 24% in Europe over the same time period.

Yet while North America is perceived as having recently made major progress towards energy decarbonization, Siemens said “there is still room for improvement” – mainly, by reducing coal-fired power, which still comprises about one-fifth of North American power generation.

“A number of small blind spots exist,” Siemens said. “The design of emission markets has not even begun, and sector coupling remains in the planning stage. Overall progress on many energy priorities is slow, and the pace should be stepped up so the region can act as a role model for the rest of the world.”

A large part of North America’s emissions reductions is due to coal-to-gas switching in the power sector. In 2005, coal made up 50% of US power generation, according to the Energy Information Administration. That share dropped to 23% in 2019. Across that same time period, natural gas generation increased from 19% to 38%. Deployment of utility-scale renewables have also help to offset coal generation retirements.

But the coal-to-gas switching trend is projected to get more challenging in the wake of elevated natural gas prices spurred by the Russian-Ukraine war. According to the EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, the share of electricity generation from coal is expected to continue to fall in 2023 and 2024, but at a slightly slower pace.

“Decarbonization is successfully underway but still not moving quickly enough in regions where emission levels have fallen since 2005, thanks to deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures,” Siemens said.

Hydrogen blending

Siemens highlights one medium-term solution in particular – natural gas and green hydrogen blending in the power sector, where “blending even small amounts of the two gasses could significantly impact power emissions.”

“Adding just 10% by volume of hydrogen would reduce CO2 emissions by 2.7%, resulting in a reduction of 1.26 million mt of CO2 for a 600-MW combined cycle power plant that runs for 6,000 hours a year at an average 60% efficiency,” Siemens said.

“Natural gas and hydrogen also complement one another when it comes to pipeline infrastructure,” it said. “While most pipelines today are designed to transport fossil fuels, natural gas pipelines can be repurposed to carry hydrogen blends or even exclusively hydrogen when they are no longer used for gas.”

However, the idea that blending hydrogen in natural gas pipelines is a natural fit was recently challenged by the Pipeline Safety Trust. On Jan. 19 the group released a report that found blending hydrogen in natural gas pipelines at volumes approaching 5% raises a number of concerns for public safety, the environment and end-use applications.

Several molecular qualities of hydrogen make it more likely than methane to leak and explode, the report said, which makes hydrogen transmission in gas pipelines “substantially more dangerous than conventional natural gas pipeline operations.”

The American Gas Association refuted the Pipeline Safety Trust’s report saying that it “contains many inaccurate statements, misinformation and ignores researcher, past experience” and current blending projects.

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Source: SP Global