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Renewables and Carbon Capture Storage: How will they impact the future of fossil fuels?


I was recently asked about my opinion on the future of fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world. After reviewing suggested materials that generated this question, it was interesting to note how quickly the supporting materials have become outdated, particularly with regards to the increasing role of renewables. For example, Portugal´s renewable energy output grew exponentially in 2020 and 2021 and, on a number of occasions, the renewable energy output exceeded 100% of the country´s energy requirements. Portugal´s ability to generate significant energy from renewable sources appeared to catch the EU by surprise, clearly evidencing there is no cohesive energy policy across Europe. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, flagged Portugal´s "surplus of renewable energy" and advised the EU would explore how Portugal could transport its renewable energy through Spain and France to “other countries where this energy is needed”. This, of course, is a huge challenge for the EU: power grids in all EU countries are antiquated and were built to support energy generated by coal and other fossil fuels; they are not designed to support renewable power generation fluctuations and the ability to export renewable energy across the EU is minimal. Until such time there is a strategic re-think and reinvestment in existing grids and supporting technologies, it is doubtful that there will be an EU reduction of fossil fuels to produce household and manufacturing energy for quite some time. In the interim, many voices are calling for an increase in the use of Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) as a tool to reduce the impacts of fossil fuel emissions. CCS technology has been around for some time, however the economics are still off scale hence, as noted by the billions of dollars raised in 2021, there is a growing interest by the investment community to identify and support new CCS technology that is more efficient and cost effective. One additional factor should be considered when investing in CCS technology: CCS technology´s own energy impact. As noted by Carbon Brief´s Deputy and Policy Editor Simon Evans, “capturing all that carbon, compressing it and injecting it underground uses some of the power that would otherwise have gone to the grid or factory requirements”.