Choices, choices


Choices, choices

It’s the one thing we are all clear about – our energy system needs to transform. It needs to be affordable, secure and clean, but as soon as we look at the detail then opinions on the best choice differ.

Our work on energy options for transport, launched last month, compared the implications for adopting different pathways that use mainly biofuels, electric or hydrogen. Each has its own advantages and challenges, for the vehicles themselves and also for the infrastructure and the energy resources needed.

The transport report has a matrix of 16 fuel options that can be assessed against 12 criteria of transport modes, priorities and interactions.

Our work last year on the flexibility of the electricity system made it clear that we need some new low carbon firm capacity, but of the three options – nuclear, CCS or biomass – it did not see a clear winner.

Looking at heat infrastructure our co-chair, Dr Keith MacLean, has recently published a report that compares the three main options there – hydrogen, electric and district heating – and each has some positives but at least one “red flag” area of significant cost, either with the energy resources required, the network, customer disruption or need for regulation.

So each sector has three main pathway options, but within that lie a multitude of variations.

  • The transport report has a matrix of 16 fuel options for 12 transport modes, priorities and interactions.
  • Within the three options for firm generation capacity there are many variants – coal or gas CCS and which capture technology -compact, small or large nuclear and which reactor technology and of course how much wind, solar and supporting storage to add to the mix as well.
  • Hydrogen for heat could come from electrolysis or reforming of natural gas, there are many heat pump variants and district heating energy sources.

And then of course there is the demand side – it’s critical we reduce demand alongside, and in some cases before, transforming supply, but does that come from light-weighting, insulation or efficiency gains. Will consumers help reduce energy service demands or flex their requirements?