The Energy Mix: A Strategic Approach to Get to Decarbonization
STORY INLINE POST
During COP27, Mexico announced an increase in its climate commitments. The Mexican government announced its intention to deploy more than 30 additional gigawatts of combined wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric capacity by 2030, reaching more than 40 gigawatts of combined wind and solar energy.
According to a Foreign Affairs Ministry press release, the new efforts build on major announcements that Mexico has made jointly with the US and Canada at the North American Leaders' Summit (NALS) and subsequently over the last year, including a pledge by Mexico and PEMEX to eliminate routine flaring and venting across oil and gas operations, supported by an implementation and investment plan of close to US$2 billion, and a shared goal to achieve a 50% sales share for zero-emission vehicles in 2030.
Achieving these objectives implies implementing an energy matrix that gradually decarbonizes our reality in order to be sustainable: an energy mix that is a combination of various renewable and low-carbon energy sources used to meet the energy demand of a given location or system.
In this article I would like to share some of the options available that can complement the use of renewable energies in a decarbonization project. Natural Gas is an essential part of the energy mix: renewable gases, particularly biomethane and green hydrogen, are key to the energy transition.
Natural Gas: A Major Player In the Transition
Natural gas is generally considered to be a better option than coal or oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. When burned, natural gas releases lower levels of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, compared to coal and oil. In addition, natural gas has a lower carbon content than coal, which means that it emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced.
In Mexico, natural gas is already part of the decarbonization strategies, as it is used for the following purposes:
to meet the needs of sectors for which direct electrification is not possible, which is the case for many industries, heavy transport and, often, heating.
to limit the costs of the energy transition, as a complement to electricity.
required for the existing and future resilience of the energy system, given the intermittent nature of renewable energy. Thermal electricity production from decarbonized gas will provide the flexibility needed.
Biomethane, the Alternative Energy Source
Biomethane is the result of using biogas produced from the decomposition of organic matter. It is a renewable gas composed mainly of methane and carbon dioxide. It is obtained from the anaerobic degradation, without oxygen, of organic waste. Thus, what could be considered waste becomes raw material for an energy source. It is considered biomethane when it has already undergone a treatment process that brings it to levels of 95% methane, of the same quality as the natural gas we use in our daily activities.
It helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because it has a significantly lower carbon footprint than traditional fossil fuels. When produced from organic waste, it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90%.
Can be used in a variety of applications, including as a fuel for vehicles, for heating and electricity generation, and as a feedstock for industrial processes.
Reduces landfill waste by reducing the need for incineration.
The anaerobic digestion process to produce it can also generate fertilizer and soil amendments.
Green Hydrogen: Essential Component
Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, and typically involves the process of electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen. This is done by passing an electric current through water, which causes the water molecules to break apart into their component parts.
Green hydrogen is a great alternative to transition from the consumption of gray hydrogen, which currently is widely used in industry all over Europe and in other countries, including Mexico. This hydrogen is produced by “cracking” gas, a process that emits large quantities of CO2. In almost 94% of cases in France, gray hydrogen is used as a raw material in a number of chemical processes that also emit CO2: the production of ammonia, the refining of oil, the production of steel and cement, among others. Replacing this “fossil” hydrogen with green hydrogen would decarbonize industry on a massive scale and protect the environment in the long term.
Green hydrogen can be stored and transported on demand, forming an ideal fit with electricity. How? Thanks to power-to-gas, a solution for the future that transforms electricity from renewable energies into hydrogen gas for storage. This green hydrogen can then be injected into the distribution networks when the renewable energy sources do not produce enough electricity, so that supplies can continue and peaks in demand can be covered. Other reasons why green hydrogen becomes an interesting alternative:
Develop more sustainable forms of mobility.
Decarbonize industrial processes that use it as a feedstock, such as ammonia production, and that currently rely on fossil fuels. By replacing fossil fuel-based feedstocks with green hydrogen, industrial processes can become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The development of green hydrogen technology can drive innovation and technological advancement in the renewable energy industry.
Regarding mobility, hydrogen-powered vehicles do not produce any carbon or fine particle emissions, while offering a range of up to 700km. This fuel is three times more powerful than gasoline and boosts an unmatched storage capacity. It takes four hours to recharge an electric bus. It takes 20 minutes to recharge a hydrogen-powered bus.
For the shipping industry, a sector that accounts for 3% of worldwide CO2 emissions, 15% of sulfur oxide emissions and 17% of nitrogen oxide emissions, it may also prove to be an interesting alternative to reduce its carbon footprint. The International Maritime Organization wants to halve the sector’s carbon emissions by 2050 (compared with 2008). To achieve this goal, heavy fuel oil will have to be replaced by solutions that produce fewer emissions. The power of green hydrogen could be a future solution for the decarbonization of maritime transport. Today, the renewable hydrogen produced by power-to-gas technology seems to be the only 100% green solution capable of meeting the needs of the shipping sector.
Mexico: In Pursuit of a Sustainable Approach
The fact is that a very large economic effort is required on the part of governments and companies to achieve these objectives, in addition to a process of culture and market adaptation that gradually will also lead us to an energy economy transition. That is why now is the time to continue pursuing them.
By using an energy mix with a sustainable approach, we can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward a more sustainable and resilient future as well as provide economic benefits, such as job creation in the renewable energy sector and reduced energy costs in the long term.
We know that this type of implementation depends very much on the characteristics of each country, so each energy mix must be adjusted to the conditions it faces. In any case, the goal is to achieve an optimal mix of renewable and low-carbon energy sources to meet energy demand in a sustainable and cost-effective manner, improve energy security and promote innovation and economic growth in the energy sector.
In Mexico, we have a long road ahead of us, which will require us to continue to evaluate the potential of renewable resources, work on the regulatory and political framework, and develop infrastructure, among other aspects that will allow us to implement these alternatives to satisfy our consumption needs.