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My take on electricty production to reduce co2 emission

To fight climate change we have to reduce our Co2 emission, and as a big chunk of co2 emissions comes from electricity production we should find a way to decarbonize it. The second thing is we should decarbonize the emission of the transportation area. The main solution today is to convert our car/trucks/bus/plane to electric and produce green electricity.

The sole objective of this post is to present in my opinion the best durable way to reduce co2 emission in the context of electricity production (the smaller co2/kwh). But I'm not an expert, so this should not be seen as the final solution.

We more or less have 5 ways to produce electricity:

  • Use gas, petrol and coal a lot of co2, but can produce at any times at a relatively low cost

  • Use nuclear, few co2, can almost product at any time but has perceived security issues, and limited fuel available on earth

  • Use Hydro, few co2 but we have almost reached full potential today, can produce at any time

  • Consume from stored energy (batteries, hydrogen,...) very expensive, still research and can have big environmental impact

  • Solar and wind, few co2, relatively cheap (and cost are decreasing) but produce only when it wants, requires a lot of space

From that list the order of preference to decrease co2 seems to be : Hydro, Solar and wind, nuclear, stored energy and fossil fuels

Hydro is already more or less at maximal capacity so let's focus on the others.

Solar and wind alone can't work because they produce only what they want, and so as long as we want to not change our habits of consumption we have to find something in addition to that.

There are three ways to produce energy when solar and wind don't produce enough.

  • The first solution is to use stored energy (that was stored when wind and solar produced enough), but the problem with storage is that it has to be planned for the worst. Eg. We can't just say on average there is sun everyday so we need to plan for storage for the night. We also need to say, well sometimes during 3 weeks there is barely any sun or wind. So in that case we need to have three weeks of electricity storage, which at today's time we don't know how to do

  • The second solution is to say, well when wind is not producing in France, maybe wind is producing in Germany or Russia or China and we will transfer electricity from the place where there is currently sun or wind to places that don't. The reality is that we don't really know yet how to transfer a large quantity of electricity over long distances, so even if that solution can work between France or Germany or 2 touching American states for example it is unlikely to solve our issue. If the places are close the weather conditions are going to be similar and it will not be enough.

  • The last solution is to use a dispatchable source of energy like nuclear, hydro, gas, petrol, coal. Nuclear is expensive in this case as a nuclear facility has a fixed cost but gas/petrol/case have a high co2 emission rate. So there are choices to be made here. Especially since storage is also expensive, but is it more or less expensive than nuclear ? And just to expand on fossil fuels, having coal facilities that work only under extreme scenarios, like once a year because there is really really no wind of solar is not really an issue, they will be a lot of co2 emission during that period but the rest of the time they will be no emission at all from those.

So for me we should follow this path:

  • Invest in wind massively (especially maritime one that have better effectiveness)

  • Invest in solar massively (especially in place that have a lot of sun)

  • Invest massively in research to send big quantity of energy over long distance

  • Invest massively in research around hydrogen production and storage so that we can store big excess production of wind and solar

  • Ideally you would want to spread nuclear facilities around the globe, especially countries that don't have a lot of hydro (but nuclear can only work in stable countries for security reasons). Or you could invest in nuclear now to reduce as fast as possible the co2 emission, in the long term it will not make a difference.

  • Invest in carbon capture, there are potential but we are not investing enough

  • Invest in house insulation, in bicycle infrastructures, in batteries

Money is not going to be an issue, we are all going to die, so this should not be seen as a big factor. What will make a big leap is if we are able to store big quantities of energy and transfer electricity over long distances, all others are small factors.

But at the end of the day, this is not going to really solve the long term issue, the reality is that we are too many people on this planet and no matter how much we consume it will be too much, especially if we keep growing. But can the world work if the population is decreasing ? or even if the population stays constant ? I have no idea