In order to deliver a low carbon economy, we must move away from our current low efficiency, high carbon energy system. Our new energy system must be much more efficient, and low carbon.
This will mean abandoning the linear system of large scale, centralised energy production from fossil fuels.
The replacement should be a non-linear system where electricity is produced at widely distributed sites, at various scales, using renewable sources of energy.
This future low carbon energy system can only work if the way we generate and consume energy becomes much more flexible, and is able to respond rapidly to external weather and price fluctuations.
Matching supply with demand, particularly when a significant proportion of electricity is being generated by intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar, will require energy storage.
Whilst options such as batteries and large-scale hydro facilities are what commonly spring to mind when considering energy storage, a less explored option is to use energy intensive industrial sites as balancing nodes.
Chemical and manufacturing plants both consume and generate large amounts of energy through reactions and combustion processes. This embodied energy in chemicals can be viewed as stored energy – to be released on demand via chemical conversions.
Combined with energy efficiency measures to reduce demand, chemical plants could provide a crucial part of the future low carbon energy system.
Read our blog post on energy efficiency: Why are we wasting so much energy in industry? #COP21
Of course, chemical engineers are also involved in the development of renewable energy technologies, particularly those that involve chemical conversions. Examples of these include energy-from-waste and so called “air fuels”. This is where renewable sources of electricity are used to provide energy, reacting hydrogen (derived from water) with carbon dioxide emissions – forming methanol and other hydrocarbon chemicals.
The above examples illustrate how chemical engineers are involved across the entire energy system, and how our expertise already provides systems solutions to the climate challenge.
Earlier today, the IChemE Energy Centre Chair, Stefaan Simons, spoke in Paris at the COP21 side event ‘Technology solutions for a 2 degree world‘. You can follow what was said on social media using the hashtag #climatetech.
Alternatively, the Energy Centre will also be hosting an evening panel discussion at IChemE’s London office, where a screening of the COP21 side event will be shown. So make sure to register for this free-of-charge event.