Each month, ANGEA Senior Advisor Neil Theobald provides his viewpoint on key issues in energy transition. In this first edition, Neil assesses the global objective of net zero, where – after the optimism of CoP26 in Glasgow and its ambitious emissions reductions commitments – focus is now turning to realities and real world consequences of delivery.
The global road to net zero is so challenging that it is hard to see a credible pathway to success and it is not clear which of many strategies will be the most effective in moving towards mid-century targets. We do know that the development of technology will be the primary way to make significant progress, but it is not clear which technologies will bear fruit and which will be dead ends.
Despite this uncertainty, many have firm and seemingly immovable views on which technologies are appropriate and which aren’t. Technologies that could make significant contributions are being ruled out based on ideology rather than logic.
An example is nuclear power, which has one of the lowest carbon footprints of any of the power generation alternatives. Opposition to nuclear power is now usually couched in economic terms – that it is too expensive or too slow, but the reality is that the opposition is often ideologically based.
Contributing to the poor cost and schedule outcomes of recent nuclear projects has been the on-again, off-again policy support for nuclear power in many countries. With a long-term commitment to investment, costs could be driven down through a “design one, build many” approach and nuclear could provide a lower-emissions, reliable baseload energy source in many countries.
Safety and waste management concerns must also be addressed, and community concerns listened to, but nuclear is a technology that is understood and has a realistic pathway to making a significant contribution to our emissions targets while supporting power grid stability and reliability.
Another example is carbon capture and storage (CCS), which will be vital if we are to have any chance of reaching our targets as it allows the continued use of available fossil fuels while storing emissions. This technology has been around for decades and there is a clear pathway to scaling up capacity. Opposition is again often couched in economic terms, but is rooted in ideology – that using CCS is somehow cheating by allowing the continued use of fossil fuels.