Net zero emissions by 2050 needs higher use of hydrogen, bio fuels: Study

Topics Climate Change

Representational image (Photo: Bloomberg)
India’s energy transition towards net zero emissions could be met by 2050 if it grows the power sector by four times but dominated 90 per cent by renewables and with phasing out of coal, according to a new scenario sketch by The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) and Shell released today.  

“We have tried to examine whether technology solutions exist to fully de-carbon the energy sector. We also highlight areas which do not have choices for full carbonization. And, we see the levels each of these sectors could achieve net zero by 2050,” said Ritu Mathur, Director, Integrated Assessments & Modelling at The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI).

The scenario was drawn by back sketching keeping 2050 as the goalpost. To reach a net zero emissions (NZE) energy system by 2050, India needs a suitable policy and innovation driven context to deploy clean energy technologies on a massive scale. It requires more and faster deployment of large-scale solar, wind and hydro power to enable greater electrification across the country. It also requires the development of new fuels, such as liquid biofuels and biogas, as well as hydrogen produced from electrolysis. Energy efficiency must improve significantly, and carbon removals (from technology and nature-based solutions) will have a critical role in moving towards zero emissions.

Nitin Prasad, chairman, Shell companies in India, said: “The challenge actually provides an opportunity for India to embed sustainability principles while achieving its developmental priorities – and minimise the risk of stranded investment in high emitting infrastructure. This approach has important implications in accelerating economic growth, local manufacturing, job creation and energy security.” 

According to Mathur, "The energy sector alone does not have enough choices with the technologies available today to achieve net-zero by 2050. The industry sector, in particular, lacks technological solutions. Additional options for sequestration through nature-based solutions and CCS/CCUS would need to be adopted if net-zero were to be achieved by 2050."

More than 12 countries have announced plans for net zero emissions by 2050, including China, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and Canada.

Apart from the emphasis on renewable power, it also talks about targeting 13 per cent hydrogen in final energy, including as a fuel for industry and transport and transforming bioenergy with liquid biofuels surpassing petroleum products by 2040 to fuel industry and transport, including hard-to-abate sectors such as aviation.  Although electricity becomes a growing and important energy carrier in India, electrification of all energy services remains elusive, admits the study. Some industrial processes and various forms of heavy transport need very high temperatures or very high energy-density fuels, which cannot be delivered by electricity technologies in the near term. Hydrogen emerges as the solution here for the NZE scenario. “It can be burned directly in furnaces, used to reduce iron ore and offers an alternative to battery-electric systems for heavy transport when used in a fuel cell electric vehicle. Green hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis using renewable energy." It sees the hydrogen economy beginning to operate in the early 2030s, putting India at the forefront of emerging hydrogen industrial technologies.”

To support the scenario, investment in processes, technologies and end uses is required to improve energy intensity per unit of GDP by almost 60 per cent by 2050, a rate of improvement nearly twice historical levels. Besides, adopting economic mechanisms, such as carbon trading and/or pricing to facilitate reallocation of capital and resources to support commercialization of new fuels and technologies

To remove carbon emissions, it also suggests resorting to carbon sequestration to an extent of around 1.3 Gt CO2, using nature-based solutions and /or carbon capture and storage (CCS)to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The way in which countries emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic could shape the course of the energy system. One way of reacting was to repair the economy with a focus on wealth first with other underlying societal and environmental pressures receiving less attention initially until their relative neglect provokes backlash reactions. Alternatively, governments and societies may decide to focus on their own security, with a new emphasis on nationalism threatening to unravel the post-World War 2 geopolitical order. The normal course of equipment and infrastructure replacement and the deployment of cleaner technologies bring progress and eventually net-zero emissions, but the world overshoots the timeline and does not achieve the goals of the Paris agreement – a slow transition. Another possibility is that the response to the crises of 2020 could be a renewed focus on the broader issue of societal well-being – a health first approach. Lessons learned from shared best practices, alignments of diverse interests and institutional improvements help create a pathway to the welfare of people and society and the health of the environment, including meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

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