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💬 "Climate Tech’s Surprising Bottleneck – Land Access"

Catalyst with Shayle Kann

Photo by Dave Hoefler / Unsplash

Host: Shayle Kann
Guest: Andy Lubershane | Managing Director of Research | Energy Impact Partners
Category: 💬 Opinion | Land Access

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Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[9:49] “The last 200 years […] was this really anomalous time in human history when we didn't have to think so hard about land. And that came from this big unlock of finding fossil fuel underground, this incredibly concentrated source of energy. That did have to do with land. Different forms of fossil fuel are somewhat concentrated geographically around the world. And we had to figure out how to harness that fossil fuel in the form of steam engines, and then later on turbines, and electrical generators. But fundamentally, compared to how humans have thought about land in the past, fossil fuels separated human energy needs from the land. And if you think about the history of the last 200 years, it's really a history of taking fossil fuel and trading it for stuff from the land […] at just an extraordinarily accelerating and kind of ruthless rate.”

[11:42] “One way you can conceive of the energy transition […] is kind of reversing the trade we've made for the past 200 years. So instead of always trading cheap fossil energy for more land and more material, we're going to be starting to make trades where we have to use land and give up some land and some material in exchange for low cost clean energy.”

[12:52] “The first thing most people think about when they think of wind and solar in terms of their constraints is their intermittency. And that's true, intermittency is a big challenge for wind and solar. But […] in a way, the more obvious thing, when you look at a wind farm, or a solar farm, compared to a coal plant, is actually how much space they take up. So when you look at some of the more recent, really sophisticated and excellent studies of getting to net zero carbon, not just in the power sector, but economy wide, over the next 30ish years, one of the consequences is you often end up with very high levels of wind and solar penetration in electricity supply. And typically, […] that wind and solar takes up something like 5-10% of the total land in the continental 48 states.

[14:06] “We're talking about across much of the Midwest of this country turning a lot of current agricultural land and to combine agricultural and wind farms, sprinkling solar farms across the Southeast, and the Mid Atlantic region, pretty much anywhere […] you can kind of find an open field, lots of giant solar farms across the West as well. And then offshore wind blanketing the horizon almost anywhere you look off the Northeast coast, and maybe with floating offshore wind off the West coast as well. So, this is going to impact the landscape for people in ways that when you get to really net zero scale, I don't think people are fully contending with the potential risks in terms of public acceptance.

[16:17] “Unlike a lot of the transmission capacity today, which is mostly intra state, or at least intra region, this new transmission capacity is going to have to be moving massive amounts of wind and solar among multiple states in between between regions, which historically have just not been good at coordinating and collaborating on all the approvals you need to build that kind of transmission. And if there's one empirical fact of the past decade plus of wind and solar development, it's that transmission on that magnitude is incredibly difficult to site, and permit, and build.

[18:30] “Converting that wind and solar electricity into a form that is easier to move with less impact on the landscape [is] probably a molecular fuel like hydrogen. […] It's still […] often […] more than five times cheaper to move energy on a joules per mile basis in the form of a gas through a pipeline than it is in the form of an electric transmission line. […] I really think that one of the highest and best uses for clean hydrogen is as a transmission mechanism, where you can go out to these really remote areas […], build just incredible amounts of the cheapest possible wind and solar you can, forget all about grid connection, and move it via pipeline to big demand centers.”

[25:10] “So the next [land ramification] is […] underground, […] described as pore space. So we're looking for pores underground, that you can put one of two things mostly - either hydrogen, so either you're creating clean hydrogen, and then looking for locations underground, where you can just store massive quantities of it. […] And then the second thing, we're almost certainly going to be putting a bunch of underground in these pores is carbon dioxide. So CCS at any significant scale, is going to have to be sequestering carbon most likely, in permanent geological repositories.”

[26:42] “The challenge here is not is not a macro level amount of pore space, it's finding the right places to inject these gasses underground. And also making sure you have the right to put it there. Because the thing about injecting, say CO2 underground is that once you start putting it underground, it kind of seeps through these pores, and it's hard to control exactly where it goes. […] So I do think we're going to see more competition around securing rights for pore space in strategically relevant areas.”

[28:58] “The energy transition requires two things. It requires more metal and it requires different metals. And the more metal piece is probably less impactful in the long run. […] I think the big one is […] the different metals impact. So we're going to need a lot more copper, for example to electrify vehicles, and for generators, and wind power, for example. And then, of course, there's rare metals, lithium being the by far most obvious one. But also things like cobalt, and zinc and nickel, where we see in most cases global supply being sufficient to meet the needs of the energy transition, but just an enormous concentration of supply in certain areas that pretty much you can think of as rewriting the rules of global geopolitics. So again, it comes back to land and which land you need and which land is the most valuable, globally speaking.”

[37:17] “The two parts that I'm most concerned about are constraints on wind and solar development and the transmission that we know is needed to make wind and solar happen at a much larger scale. […] I really just don't believe that the market has digested the public acceptance and siting and environmental permitting risks to net zero scale, renewables and transmission. […] And that's one of the reasons I believe that renewables are not all we'll ever need for power sector decarbonisation. […] And then then the second area that I'm concerned about is energy transition metals. So, rewriting global politics is complicated and comes with challenges that we don't we don't fully understand yet. […] I think we're going to have some surprises […] over the next couple of decades to come.”

Rating: ☁️☁️☁️☁️

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 40 min | 🗓️ 06/02/2022
✅ Time saved: 37 min

Additional Links:
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