The Cost and Vulnerability of the Energy Transition and Finding the Solution
With commodity prices increasing and supply shortages looming, including the vulnerability to energy supplies (in Europe) — will clean energy become something only for the rich, or are the ways to solve these issues? How can we ensure affordable energy prices, and how do we put deep decarbonization into action?
Demand and Supply
As consumers and customers, we are hearing from car dealers and manufacturers that there are delays for almost all models (no chips, sorry), with resulting price increases (supply shortages, and the cheapest Tesla Model 3 is now at $46,999 (1). Not very cheap.
Those driving a gasoline/diesel powered vehicle (and most are!) — have also seen tremendous increases to gasoline prices (US): Sunday, March 27, the average price per gallon is more than $4!
We are still in winter or early spring in Europe, are exposed to ridiculously high electricity prices (Europe) due to increased natural gas prices(2).
Life is not easy for us consumers.
So what about shifting to a vehicle with better mpg or an EV?
The dealer will probably respond: “We are sorry, there are delays in supplies” because we also have a supply shortage of smart chips; this supply issue might stretch into 2023. The war in Ukraine has also brought a supply shortage of neon gas used for semiconductor manufacturing (3), even though there seem to be quite good stock inventory rates.
The policy shifts are forcing traditional automotive OEMs to transition to no-emission vehicles, meaning that battery electric-powered vehicles will be the mainstream solution for new car sales short and mid-term. Is this at all comforting?
So far so good, lithium-ion battery prices had a reduction of 89% in the period 2010–2020. However, that was in a period before the significant shift for the whole automotive market to go for battery electric vehicles. EV battery demand is forecasted to grow 15-fold from 2020 to 2030, with an output of 2,576GWh required. Battery manufacturers have announced plans to have about that capacity by 2025. Also, the supply of minerals and metals is expected to be sufficient but also assumes a comprehensive battery recycling value chain(4).
But perhaps that outlook did not consider the latest disruptive events, as the precious metals prices are increasing, meaning that the increased supply chain costs will end up at the customer’s wallet who is to buy the vehicle. We have seen the price hikes by Tesla, Rivian, etc.
And the lithium balance seems to be on the back heels, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Additional price hikes can quickly become the solution.
So what about the semiconductor issue? How is this going to be solved?
The race for national self-sufficiency for chips is ongoing with heavy investments in the USA, Europe, and Asia: the US proposes the Chips for America Act 52 billion $ funding over five years to the semiconductor industry. Intel, Samsung, and others have announced massive investments in new US plants. Europe — EU aims to double its global chips market share to 20% by 2030 and is mobilizing some 43 billion € (5). We ( the US and Europe) are on the right track!
I think it is excellent that we are bringing manufacturing back to the US and Europe, but it comes at the cost of massive additional carbon emissions and toxic pollution. And we still have to sort out a lot of materials production and processing (oil and gas production and refining). One outcome should be scrutinizing the processes, efficiencies, and ways to improve/mitigate waste and emissions. We should also make existing assets and infrastructure work as efficiently as possible.
Processing and Manufacturing
The total GHG emissions from material production increased 120% from 1995 to 2015, to 11 Gigatonnes, with a global share of 23% (6). Iron and steel production is the highest polluter (31%). Then, cement, lime, and plaster production (24%) and rubber and plastics with an additional 13%.
in Q3 2021 by HYBRIT (7), so it is on the right track. But to move the needle, we need a significant impact and scaleup.
Another exciting project taking ambition to action is the Polestar 0, with the moonshot project to create a carbon-neutral vehicle by 2030 (8).
IEA states that the total carbon emissions share from manufacturing industries are at 20% of the total (9) for direct emissions.
However, if you consider both direct and indirect emissions, the total increases to about 30% (10). It is a vital sector to decarbonize, to make an impact with deep decarbonization.
The oil and gas industry has a tremendous task to reduce its carbon footprint. The oil prices are generating a massive amount of free cash flow on record levels. Should they continue pumping and then hit a new bust? Shell, as an example, is investing 25 billion GBP in the UK energy sector; 75% goes into renewables, EVs, and hydrogen (11). A smart move, as we need to look at the future with the energy transition, and at the same time ensure that existing hydrocarbon production assets can be optimized — to deliver more with a lower carbon footprint.
Back to the semiconductor side and the manufacturing. It might be a surprise to many, but semiconductor manufacturing is highly polluting and energy-intensive:
“In the US, a single fab, Intel’s 700-acre campus in Ocotillo, Arizona, produced nearly 15,000 tons of waste in the first three months of this year, about 60% of it hazardous. It also consumed 927m gallons of fresh water, enough to fill about 1,400 Olympic swimming pools, and used 561m kilowatt-hours of energy.” states the Guardian (12).
But they are not alone; the same is valid for all the major manufacturers. In the article “The chip industry has a problem with its giant carbon footprint” (13), Bloomberg’s report shows that semiconductor manufacturers are worse polluters than automotive manufacturing companies.
Can these issues be solved?
I firmly believe that they can. Some of the answers lie in open innovation and collaborations. To enable the impact of new technology is to be integrated into the systems and solutions; startups work jointly with established corporate customers and suppliers.
Part of the solution
We at ROCSOLE (14) are part of the solution. Not only is it our technology and solutions that can bring novel and unique insights to the complex and harsh conditions in manufacturing and other processing. Electrical tomography is making its’ way into process control. But we already work with many international corporates that have a road map to improve efficiencies and remove bottlenecks — and these solutions are leading to improved financial performance and reduction of the carbon footprint.
But we cannot do it alone; we are building cooperations, part of innovation ecosystems, and successfully started our process control innovation forum with customers to share both best practices and challenges.
We are looking at strengthening our connections to system integrators, who have the scale to implement. The synergies are strong and make all of us winners. ROCSOLE has several patents and international innovation awards. Our team is dedicated, and we all have pledged to make global industries safer, better, and greener. We know we have some magic juice, which will become even more evident soon and in the coming times.
We have started with the insights we generate for the oil and gas and processing industries. A significant issue is the incumbent solutions and technologies being one of the primary root causes for failure of critical equipment and malfunctioning instrumentation causing unplanned shutdowns. These are causes for significant additional emissions and low productivity/uptime. But we are not stopping there; with the proof of concept and piloting we are doing for various manufacturing industries, we see that the needs are enormous. We are solving real problems and delivering added value. We are not fully ready yet with everything, but the road map is clear.
The geopolitics, markets, and policies are hard to read. The coming years will probably see a substantial investment wave on infrastructure and assets.
McKinsey & Co(15) “The world will see a once-in-a-lifetime wave of capital spending on physical assets between now and 2027. This surge of investment — amounting to roughly $130 trillion — will flood into projects to decarbonize and renew critical infrastructure.”
This is great; we will see a lot of new infrastructures needed for the energy transition and improve existing assets and infrastructures. Renewables will become an even more critical part of the energy mix.
Now consider the massive scale: Only Germany’s ambition to add 600 GW of wind power will require the building of 200,000 additional assets (efficiency improvements and new technology not mentioned in this context). That will require a large workforce, materials, and hydrocarbons. At present, this equation looks very challenging.
Secondly, and this is by no way very encouraging:
- Capital projects mostly have an overrun on time and budget.
- Schedule delay: 6–24 months, based on 427 major projects data.
- The schedule delays share is 52% of the original schedule.
- The average cost overrun: 1.21 billion $, based on 532 major projects data.
- The cost overruns are 79% of the original budget.
If we look at this data, it should raise significant concerns on how quickly and to what budget we can make the energy transition; it might be more expensive and take longer than planned.
And the moment we mix in new technology and deployment, it will get even more complicated. Ensure that the new technology is risk assessed and managed. A highly suitable model is to follow the NASA/DoD derived Technology Readiness Level (16) criteria and adequate qualification methods.
Remember to ensure to do the Manufacturing Readiness Levels (17) similarly — we want to scale up and impact the energy transition, so be sure to be able to deliver and manufacture.
There will be a lot of hurdles and speed bumps. But what I have learned from both the corporate world as an entrepreneur commercializing about 30–35 products and technologies is that you cannot do it all by yourself. Things take a longer time than expected. Ensure to collaborate and build new solutions that create synergies and move us toward safer, better, and greener global industries. Make your effort for a better planet for future generations.
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Sources and references:
Other sources quoted directly in the text or in the pictures.