Why Aren’t Power Flows Diagrams Used Extra To Inform Decarbonization?


The US Lawrence Livermore Nationwide Laboratory (LLNL) power circulate Sankey diagram main this text is one thing I take advantage of always in discussions, displays, and consultations associated to decarbonization, and to help in my very own analyses and pondering. It’s easy. Main power for an economic system comes within the left. It’s cut up into its varied areas of use — pure gasoline to electrical technology and heating for instance — the place the portion that isn’t misplaced to effectivity goes into power companies, and the place the power is simply misplaced to waste warmth, doing nothing helpful for us.

A month in the past I spent a while working by its annual publication to evaluate how the US is doing. Reply: not good. I additionally wrote an explainer, leveraging ChatGPT as an experiment, on the importance of rejected power. Power circulate diagrams are nice for understanding total power effectivity, because the wasted power, referred to as rejected power within the LLNL diagram, is clearly proven.

There’s one thing referred to as the first power fallacy which far too many individuals fall prey to. Mainly, the fallacy is the belief that the entire power in the entire oil, gasoline and coal we burn as we speak should be changed. We don’t want to switch it, we have to change the unwasted power companies. Electrify every little thing is the mantra as a result of utilizing electrical energy in processes designed for it’s all the time extra power environment friendly than burning one thing. That’s why it’s #1 on my quick checklist of local weather actions that may work. Inner combustion engines are actually inefficient. Thermal technology is basically inefficient. Electrical energy generated by a wind turbine being utilized in an electrical motor or electrical arc furnace could be very environment friendly. That’s why rejected power is two-thirds of all power within the US.

Invoice Gates’ favourite analyst, Vaclav Smil, solely acknowledged rejected power in 2021, presumably after a bunch of individuals like me identified that it was lacking from his assessments, and as such they have been far too pessimistic. 36 or 38 books price of pessimism, in truth. This miss is a part of why Invoice Gates and the Breakthrough folks usually have been placing their cash into the improper issues for effectively over a decade.

Sankey diagram of hydrogen vs warmth pumps for the UK by David Cebon, P. Eng, professor of mechanical engineering, Cambridge

Certainly one of my present favourite examples of Sankey power circulate diagrams was created by David Cebon, professor of mechanical engineering at Cambridge and head of the Centre for Sustainable Street Freight (SRF) and a founding member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition. I revealed concerning the SRF’s most up-to-date convention final month, the place it was apparent that the politicians, OEMs, and teachers targeted on highway freight are clear that battery-electric is the reply for highway freight, not hydrogen gasoline cells.

However Cebon’s Sankey diagram is about warmth pumps and hydrogen. It makes it clear visually that utilizing inexperienced electrical energy to make hydrogen for constructing heating would require at minimal six instances the renewable power as utilizing warmth pumps as an alternative. Absurd quantities of rejected power within the hydrogen situation, and plenty of power from the atmosphere utilizing warmth pumps. Much more costly, in fact, doubtless over ten instances as costly for every constructing.

I clearly love me some power circulate diagrams. So I used to be delighted just lately when Samuel Vaillancourt, founding father of the Canadian NGO Power Calculator, reached out to see if I’d be desirous about serving to construct a model and situation calculator for Canada. He has a bunch of others concerned and has been engaged on this with them since 2021 round their day jobs.

Whereas the LLNL diagrams are wonderful, helpful, higher structured, and extra legible than the IEA equal (see the Canadian diagram which is an eye fixed chart even on first rate sized laptop computer display screen), they’re additionally static.

IEA energy flow Sankey Diagram for Canada for 2020

IEA power circulate Sankey Diagram for Canada for 2020

To do the evaluation of change within the US over time, I needed to manually transcribe the rejected vs non-rejected power. There isn’t any time evaluation. The IEA diagrams have the flexibility to get time profiles for particular power flows over a number of years, so the traits could be noticed considerably.

However neither is ahead wanting. Each are traditionally oriented. That’s helpful, nevertheless it’s not as useful for making choices. For this reason Vaillancourt and Power Calculator are wanting on the British instance.

Energy Flow Sankey Diagram from UK 2050

Power Movement Sankey Diagram from UK 2050

That is from the deprecated basic mannequin from 2010, which was changed with the Mackay Carbon Calculator in December of 2020. I used to be enjoying with the unique mannequin as lots of the authentic crew are individuals who Power Calculator has talked to in assessing how a lot effort can be required for a Canadian model. Reply? Not very a lot, however greater than one thing that some folks can hack collectively off the edges of their desks if they need it to be of any use.

Why is that this mannequin attention-grabbing? As a result of you may make a bunch of choices of what the longer term will appear to be and get situations and outcomes to help in coverage and planning.

Energy Flow Sankey Diagram from the UK 2050 energy calculator tuned for a decarbonized future

Power Movement Sankey Diagram from the UK 2050 power calculator tuned for a decarbonized future

There are some attention-grabbing issues to notice from this set of examples. Certainly one of them is that rejected power is far more precisely depicted within the LLNL diagrams than within the others. The calculation of wind and photo voltaic is imperfect, however the diagram makes it a lot clearer how a lot power we waste. Given our cognitive biases, meaning power planners and coverage makers utilizing the IEA and UK fashions (the Mackay mannequin has the identical drawback) aren’t confronted with all of that waste and in consequence don’t put ample deal with electrification. As Kahneman places it in Considering, Quick and Gradual, what you see is all there’s. If it’s not proven, 90% of the time our brains don’t add it.

So my first perception for the Power Calculator crew is that the power circulate outcomes should be like LLNL’s, not just like the UK’s or IEA’s. Canada’s coverage makers have to see the wasted power in an enormous manner, and they should see that it shrinks massively in an electrified future. Within the two examples from the 2010 calculator, the losses weren’t massive and bought smaller, however think about the LLNL losses shrinking that a lot. That’s a visible story.

This is likely one of the head-scratchers concerning the Mackay calculator.

UK Mackay Carbon Calculator energy flow diagram with high ambitions in every calculator

UK Mackay Carbon Calculator power circulate diagram with excessive ambitions in each calculator

Yeah, the excessive ambition situation has completely large losses, whereas the as we speak, enterprise as normal situation doesn’t. I think that’s a bug, because it is not sensible in any respect.

The 2010 UK mannequin was additionally odd because it had solely two decisions for nuclear: none or absurd quantities. Hinkley was introduced in 2010 together with seven others that are understandably stalled, and accepted in 2012. But the 2010 mannequin had no nuclear with the subsequent increment being 30 GW of latest nuclear. Not notably helpful. The Mackay mannequin clearly is buggy, as the utmost ambition mannequin has no wind or photo voltaic and absurd quantities of nuclear within the Sankey diagram, however wind and photo voltaic do present up within the underpinning choices. On condition that Hinkley was already a debacle in 2020, far behind funds and much over schedule, a really optimistic situation that’s very nuclear heavy is a bizarre alternative, and sure ideologically influenced. Let’s see if I could make it ship one thing extra life like.

Wind and solar tuned UK Mackay energy flow diagram

Wind and photo voltaic tuned UK Mackay power circulate diagram

That’s extra prefer it. That’s an really formidable goal, not the defaults for ambition within the Mackay calculator. What do these formidable defaults embrace? Nonetheless numerous pure gasoline and absurd quantities of hydrogen for power.

However that stated, this mannequin nonetheless has some odd quirks. The remedy of nuclear is merely totally different, not essentially higher. Hinkley is predicted to be on-line someday within the subsequent couple of years, and is predicted to function till 2050, in order that may very well be the baseline. However the mannequin’s minimal nuclear capability is 4.5 GW, so one other massive reactor or a few small ones must be added to the three.2 GW of Hinkley. And even so, a situation with out nuclear in any respect can be helpful to replicate upon.

For Canada, that’s related. Solely two provinces of 10 provinces and three territories have nuclear crops. New Brunswick’s one reactor goes away, resulting in all types of irrational conduct within the province like funding a perpetual movement seawater to hydrogen rip-off to the tune of $23 million CAD.

Ontario has an over abundance of nuclear within the combine, 58% of annual demand in 2021, with the outcome that there are common surpluses that they must pay neighboring jurisdictions to take off of their arms and so they must curtail what wind and photo voltaic farms they didn’t shut down when the Ford Conservatives ripped up 758 renewables contracts on coming into workplace in 2018. All of these reactors are ageing out, with the youngest being 33 years previous.

Ontario has additionally contracted with BGE Hitachi Nuclear Power for a 300 MW small modular reactor on the Darlington nuclear facility, and website prep is underneath manner. That’s a primary of a form, by the way in which, just one has been contracted for thus it’s giving up some great benefits of constructing numerous them, and it’s additionally giving up the thermal technology benefits of GW scale, so the mixture suggests it’s going to finish very poorly for Ontario. I’m very doubtful about SMRs having the ability to discover an economically viable candy spot on the dimensions vs modularity curve. No modularity. No thermal benefits of scale. First of a form. What may go improper moreover every little thing?

And new nuclear is way slower to construct out than numerous wind and photo voltaic. The pure experiment of nuclear vs wind and photo voltaic I’ve been publishing on in China since 2014 makes it clear that if you would like numerous low carbon electrical energy, wind, water, and photo voltaic are the way in which to go, not new nuclear reactors of any measurement. As Professor Bent Flyvbjerg factors out in his simply revealed ebook, How Large Issues Get Executed, photo voltaic, wind, and transmission tasks are 1st, 2nd, and 4th of megaproject classes that hit time and funds targets, with offshore wind billion greenback tasks within the deeply hostile North Sea and Irish Sea being accomplished in underneath a yr, a staggering achievement given {that a} quick megaproject takes 4-5 years. In the meantime, nuclear energy technology is twenty third of 25 in tasks which have price overruns, often large. In consequence, projections of deployments with nuclear in them must have massive error bars in any helpful Power Calculator visuals, or it’s merely deceptive.

In consequence, a Canadian calculator has to have a reasonably nuanced view of nuclear. It ought to be potential to haven’t any nuclear, because the SMR deployment in Ontario turning right into a cancelled debacle is a really robust risk, in addition to being a one off that’s not repeated.

One of many many oddities of the Mackay calculator is that as you add CCS for 3 hydrogen choices, losses really go down within the Sankey diagram, which is clearly improper. CCS provides 15% minimal to losses. The Mackay calculator may be displaying losses inaccurately within the Sankey diagram, however I think it has some deeply dodgy assumptions underlying it. Any CCS choices in a Canadian calculator must embrace the losses for CCS, clearly.

The transportation file within the Mackay mannequin is odd as effectively. A number of scales of highway transportation and aviation are included, however marine delivery, rail, and pipelines are lacking in motion. As marine bunkering is an issue of the identical magnitude as aviation, it’s an odd combine. And whereas rail and pipelines are the bottom carbon type of floor transportation, they nonetheless devour lots of power. All ought to be included in any power flows mannequin because the pathways to decarbonization are totally different.

I simply revealed a world evaluation of 4 main geographies for rail decarbonization, and out of doors of the US electrification is the overwhelming winner. On that file, Canada may moderately go its personal manner, as we’ve got principally a linear set of tracks that’s excellent to route the aforementioned HVDC together with solely two carriers, CNR and CPR, together with a scattering of occasional use by some US carriers in locations. Canada isn’t the US, so the federal authorities may really construct the HVDC grid and electrify the tracks, leaving CNR and CPR to transform their locomotives to run on overhead catenary and preserve and function the catenary system. CNR additionally operates in 18 US states, or not less than it did when it was my shopper a bit over a decade in the past, nevertheless it’s an intelligently run agency and will determine it out. Full electrification of rail ought to be an possibility within the mannequin.

For marine delivery, Canada has a large inland delivery quantity with Nice Lakes and St. Lawrence Waterway, and naturally has massive ports on the east and west coast. In my projection of marine delivery refueling by 2100 I mission that every one inland and most nearshore delivery will electrify, principally with port-charged containers of batteries which can be shared with rail carriers as that mode electrifies. A 3rd of nearshore and all deepwater delivery will go to biofuels in my effectively documented opinion. That ought to be within the mannequin in fact.

And pipelines principally are going to go away. It’s not like hydrogen or artificial fuels or biofuels are the way forward for pipelines, HVDC is the substitute for pipelines. The over 3 million miles of pipelines within the US and all of their power, methane leaks, and spills are principally going to be scrapped for metal, not be refilled with extra molecules for power. That’s a part of the rationale it’s so odd that British Columbia’s public worker pension fund simply invested billions with Macquarie within the UK’s nationwide gasoline grid and metering enterprise, taking a 60% possession place with an possibility on the final 40%. As a reminder, about 11% of all power globally is used to extract, course of, refine, and distribute fossil fuels, in order they disappear, the bonus must be added in.

On that observe, in my evaluation of the LLNL diagram it turned clear that the power wasted in extraction, processing, refining, and distributing fossil fuels was thought-about productive power companies versus one other type of rejected power. In spite of everything, transmission losses for electrical energy are counted, so treating the entire power embodied in getting fossil fuels out of the bottom and to power companies ought to be counted as effectively. This can be a hidden rejected power story that I don’t assume the Power Calculator crew ought to shirk from.

The Mackay mannequin can also be attention-grabbing as a result of it’s unattainable to eliminate pure gasoline and hydrogen. That’s deeply skewing the angle. A pure gas-free situation is a really cheap factor to search for, and because the Cebon Sankey diagram exhibits, hydrogen is an absurdly costly and lossy strategy to retailer and return power, so it having a big function in power flows in the long run situation is deeply unlikely. Whereas Canada’s fossil gasoline trade is desperately attempting to make hydrogen a service of power in order that they will make it from their soon-to-be-stranded fossil gasoline reserve property and fasten costly and lossy CCS to it at nice public expense, Canada isn’t fairly as embedded within the hydrogen for power hype as Europe and clearly the UK is at current.

There’s one other distinction between the UK 2010 and 2020 fashions that’s price noting. The 2010 mannequin had the flexibility so as to add not less than some transmission interconnects and pumped hydro. The 2020 mannequin doesn’t. Strategic power interdependence with HVDC interconnects is a serious a part of the power resolution of the longer term, and Europe is already pivoting towards that with Romania-Georgia, Morocco-UK, and Tunisia-Sicily interconnects inexperienced lit and in some instances began development already. The UK already has two HVDC interconnects to the continent, with a 3rd underneath manner, and is inexperienced lighting pumped hydro tasks in Scotland, so it is a bizarre oversight within the Mackay mannequin.

For Canada, that’s essential. There’s a rising realization that the trans Canada power hall we’d like is an HVDC superhighway linking each province, with connections down into the US in a number of places. We have already got transmission interconnects in a number of locations to the States and between provinces, however they should get loads greater to permit Manitoba’s and Quebec’s hydro to be shared extra broadly, to permit Canadian and US Prairies wind and photo voltaic electrical energy to be shared extra broadly, and to provide flat Saskatchewan extra entry to pumped hydro storage in neighboring provinces.

Canada, just like the US, has large pumped hydro potential as a result of mountain ranges which can be close to every coast, however the heart of the nation is a little bit of pancake. So maximizing pumped hydro and HVDC interconnects ought to be an possibility within the Canadian calculator.

What else? One of many limitations of the Mackay and 2010 calculators is that they each have a 2050 timeline in thoughts. In consequence, they seem to make some pragmatic choices about how little of some issues like gasoline are more likely to exist. I feel that’s a weak spot. Each the 2010 and 2020 calculators have 4 choices for levels of ambition, though clearly the Mackay one has some head-scratching assumptions about what constitutes ambition, and both 2050 ought to be the third degree with the fourth being stretch, or a fifth stretch goal ought to be added. A whole decarbonization possibility ought to be current. There’s pragmatism, after which there’s the local weather disaster and precise ambition.

The IEA and LLNL fashions are good as a result of they permit for historic perspective concerning the price of change underneath totally different political, technical, and financial circumstances. At minimal it will be good if Power Calculator have been in a position to get funding to replace the baseline yearly, and protect the earlier years’ actuality within the mannequin. The most effective case situation can be if they may get ample funding to backcast to 1990, when decarbonization efforts began in earnest in different components of the world. It wouldn’t be a reasonably image as Canada’s very power and CO2e intensive oil sands have been principally developed after 1990, resulting in a bleak outcome for Canada. In actual fact, Canada would have been effectively on our strategy to attaining our local weather targets resulting from issues like Ontario deliberately shutting down its coal technology within the 2000s if it weren’t for large will increase in emissions in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Equally, we adopted American automotive measurement escalation far more than Europe did, the place autos stay far more moderately scaled and extra environment friendly.

Energy Services vs Rejected Energy in the USA

Power Companies vs Rejected Power within the US by Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Technique Inc

It will likely be essential to get the mannequin proper the primary time. This chart is the results of my historic evaluation of America’s power flows from the LLNL mannequin. They adjusted it twice, so far as I may inform, with a serious adjustment in 2015 that rather more precisely mirrored rejected power. For a software to be helpful, it must be correct and for it to be helpful yr after yr and for comparability of outcomes, it could possibly’t change a lot that it loses worth to look backward. The power to see how the US was actually doing was solely legitimate from 2015, which isn’t a lot of a assist. As some extent, I contemplate the ratio of rejected power to power companies to be a key nationwide goal and key outcome (OKR) metric. It’s a key high degree indicator of the diploma of effectivity of power use, and strongly helps electrification.

Whereas I do know the crew has talked to among the 2010 BEIS members, it will be good if they may discuss to each the Mackay and LLNL groups, and have a look at the controversy over how wind and photo voltaic are calculated within the LLNL mannequin. There’s a transparent indication that the crew is critically desirous about high quality management, because the preliminary request to me was whether or not I’d be desirous about testing the output.

One factor lacking from the calculators is financial and inhabitants adjustments. A stagnant or fading economic system could have very totally different power development situations than a vibrant and booming one. For the UK, leaving Brexit is the reward that retains on containing a lump of coal. For Canada, we’ve got a good immigration program, about 20 instances the size of web immigration because the US as a ratio to inhabitants, nevertheless it ought to be aiming increased. And being subsequent to an empire in decline and being tied to it economically is a serious concern. It will be good to incorporate a development slider, because the nation goes to vary radically in some route within the subsequent three a long time. Amongst different issues, at as we speak’s degree of immigration, that’s one other 12 million folks, a couple of 32% enhance by itself.

The final remark is that the Mackay mannequin makes it clear that power circulate diagrams are political. What’s in, what’s out, the way it’s counted, and whether or not an power use is taken into account a service or a waste is topic to lobbying and bias. Actually I anticipate to have numerous good artistic battle with different crew members and stakeholders because the mannequin coalesces, and I feel I’ve staked out the main positions I maintain on this piece. Canada is, in spite of everything, a rustic which has 5%-7% of its GDP instantly associated to the sale of fossil fuels, and is consistently sounding odd notes from the highest ranges about how fossil fuels are key to local weather options.

The Mackay mannequin, as one instance of this, places lots of inventory in mechanical carbon seize and sequestration schemes that are utterly nonsensical in actuality. There’s a motive why IPCC 6 has organic pathways to carbon draw down as the primary, second, third, and fourth decisions, and mechanical seize and sequestration on the backside of the checklist. And there’s a motive why a world assessment of various nations’ plans round drawdown discovered that solely fossil gasoline producing nations have been contemplating mechanical CCS as an alternative of organic drawdown pathways. Sure, Canada will likely be pushing for CCS and pretending it’s viable regardless of its failure right here in Saskatchewan at Boundary Dam.

And, to place a special political lens on it, 4 of Canada’s provinces are hoping, regardless of the dearth of any precise merchandise or confirmed efficiency, that small modular reactors will save their local weather bacon, and Canadian agency Brookfield, which purchased the bankrupt Toshiba Westinghouse just a few years in the past, is robust on small modular reactors. Numerous highly effective folks have a vested curiosity in nuclear as a pathway as an alternative of the less expensive and decrease threat wind and photo voltaic technology pathway.

After all, all of that is me pondering my manner into the area, most of it has doubtless been thought-about, and all of it could be in plan for Power Calculator in any occasion. My engagement has been just a few messages to this point, and the primary dialogue is upcoming. And my obsession with Sankey diagrams and correct and dominant visualization of rejected power flows is probably not aligned with the crew. There are lots of visualizations in each the 2010 and 2020 UK fashions that come earlier than the Sankey diagram I contemplate so essential. Additional, I may discover out, which might be dismaying, that the crew is intransigently bullish on hydrogen for power, nuclear, artificial fuels, and CCS, and as such I must gracefully bow out (I think that’s not an enormous threat on condition that Vaillancourt reached out to me). It’s going to be fascinating to interact and work by priorities and the artwork of the potential.

We now have reached out to LLNL and the UK Division for Enterprise, Power & Industrial Technique with some follow-up questions, and can replace this text once we hear again.


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