The Changing Global Energy Mix

Emerson’s Thomas Snowdon, a member of the Power & Water Solutions team, shares his thoughts on the changing global energy mix.

A recent Power Magazine article, Global Gas Glut, made much of the prediction that shale gas production and its use is likely to grow from 14% of all gas in 2009 to 48% in the U.S. from 2009 to 2035. The article’s authors note:

We predict it will undermine the economics of renewable and nuclear projects, providing a path for quicker reductions of carbon and other emissions than expensive retrofits of solid fuel power plants and the means to keep electricity prices in check for years to come.

They then conclude that shale gas, “Eliminates the need for carbon reduction legislation” because an MIT study found that:

Increased utilization of existing natural gas combined cycle power plants provides a relatively low-cost, short-term opportunity to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by up to 20% in the electric power sector, or 8% overall, with minimal additional capital investment in generation and no new technology requirements.

My professional career has included a long history of supplying equipment for the fossil and nuclear generation industries. I worked the first 18 years for electricity generating companies involved in all those technologies. I’ve recently begun working supplying equipment to renewable energy plants in addition to the fossil fuel-based ones. It’s likely that the growing global need for energy will require contributions from all of these sources—fossil fuel, nuclear, and renewable sources of energy.

There are strong feelings and intense political views on how the world can meet its need for energy, and the impact of energy consumption on the global climate. I’ll leave those political discussions to others.

How process automation can help is to make every form of energy production as efficient and clean as possible. For fossil fuels, clean comes in the form of optimum combustion by closely controlling the fuel/air ratio and matching the electrical energy production with energy demand. For the growing supply of shale gas, it means finding ways to incorporate it more broadly into the energy mix to begin to offset less efficient forms of energy consumption.

For alternative energy sources, it means scaling up the successful pilot-scale processes to commercial production scales. For nuclear energy, it means closely adhering to an IEC 61511 IEC 61513 safety lifecycle approach to mitigate the risks inherent in this source of energy.

As the political debates around climate and energy continue to play out, finding ways to transition the energy production mix toward greater efficiency and reduced emissions would seem to make sense.

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Update: Thank you to the reader who emailed me to correct me on the applicable global IEC safety standard for the nuclear industry, IEC 61513. I’ve fixed the reference in the post.