U.S. DOE Workshop on Modelling and Analysis of Energy Challenges to Meeting U.S. 2050 Goals


By Abdul'Aziz Aliyu

13 October 2021

A two-day virtual workshop on modelling and analysis of energy challenges with the aim of meeting the US 2050 goals was held by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) on the 28th and 29th of September 2021. The aim of the workshop was to address and institute new and innovative ideas with regards to designing models that reflect future energy challenges. A team of 50+ experts from across the globe (though predominantly from the US and predominantly modellers) representing a broad spectrum of specialist fields were invited for the two-day brainstorming sessions to tackle emerging themes such as how energy models could better reflect environmental justice, carbon dioxide removal (CDR), electricity reliability and sustainable hydrogen production.

Jae Edmonds and Jarad Daniels of the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) opened and welcomed the participants to the workshop while introducing the significance of identifying, collating, analysing and modelling data in a manner that will best capture the challenges of the energy landscape in 2050 and beyond. Jeff Hoffman (DOE FECM) presented the overview and goals of the workshop, whilst reiterating the importance of identifying energy modelling challenges and encouraging expert inputs to address these challenges during the sessions. Emily Grubert (DOE FECM) gave the keynote address and expressed the need for understanding the role modelling has in future energy security and opportunities for informed decision making. Furthermore, she articulated the need for better understanding of the sensitivities of advancing models by examining and probing assumptions made e.g., physical and cost constraints, data relevance, data gaps and the limitation of the data.

José Benitez (DOE FECM) presented an overview of what it means to achieve net zero by 2050, the role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in different sectors, the constraints, reliability, and affordability. He raised pertinent questions that will form the basis of the workshop: what does the term ‘net-zero by 2050’ signify, how do we design energy models adaptable to the changing energy landscape, do corporate polices provide sufficient drive to accelerate deep decarbonization efforts, do we change the aggregate of hard-to-decarbonize products e.g. cement, do we change the process engineering of e.g. steel manufacturing to encapsulate the decarbonisation endeavours, how can a plant’s retirement be negotiated with the added CCS system and, ultimately, how can we design energy models to be more reliable and responsive in light of future energy challenges.

Benjamin Sigrin, an Energy Systems Modeller in the DOE’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Office spoke about DOE’s commitment to integrating the principles of EJ in energy models. This he proposed would better enable the pursuit of the DOE’s mission and goals to treat people fairly and to achieve meaningful involvement of communities, irrespective of race, colour, national origin or income with regards to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.

Jim McFarland, EPA spoke about the goals of the Energy Modelling Forum study on deep decarbonization and high electrification scenarios in North America. The study seeks to improve the representation of deep decarbonization pathways in economy-wide energy system models through exchanges between modelling groups and sectoral experts.

Kaarthik Sundar, Los Alamos National Laboratory, presented a conceptual hydrogen energy system and highlighted the emerging technical challenges for an overall net-zero 2050 strategy for hydrogen storage and distribution (see fig. 1). Key operational challenges to the emerging hydrogen economy include the design of an advance dynamic pipeline flow model to account for heterogeneous compositions in terms of mass flow, density, concentration and equation of state. Geoff Blanford, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), discussed the potential for hydrogen use in low-carbon scenarios and potential hydrogen utilization pathways. He highlighted modelling priorities that include the design of an integrated energy system model that captures the potential role and value of hydrogen. A presentation on developing a hydrogen market module in the U.S. EIA’s National Energy Modelling System was delivered by Pete Whitman, OnLocation. He underscored the importance of designing a conceptual hydrogen market model within the National Energy Modelling System (NEMS), establishing details of the new market model structure and providing an implementation plan. He also emphasized the need to get rid of colour taxonomy in identifying the different types of hydrogen and appropriately indicate the type of technology used to produce the hydrogen. 

Fig. 1Conceptual Hydrogen at scale energy system

On the second day of the workshop, Suchi Talati, DOE-FECM, drew attention to the importance of the siting of energy projects, with community support and engagement lying at the core of meeting the principles of EJ. Steven Drayton, Drax, presented Drax’s Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) project – see schematic of the process in Figure 2. He reported that the World Resource Institute estimates that the US will need to remove approximately 2 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2050 to reach net zero (approximately 30% of the US greenhouse gas emissions in 2017). He further stated the importance of stronger policy incentives, optimal location of facilities, sustainable biomass programme and power purchase agreement as key drivers for BECCS.

Fig. 2 Simplified schematic of BECCS

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) options via natural process such as enhanced weathering were presented by Greg Dipple, a geologist at the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science of the University of British Columbia, where he reported on 2050 cost estimates and the potential of various carbon removal of CDR pathways (see Fig.3). Certain rock types e.g., serpentinites, are highly reactive with atmospheric CO2, forming carbonate minerals. Thus, identifying the locations, distribution, abundance and quality of serpentinite deposits is key to unlocking the potential of carbon mineralization as a reliable decarbonization pathway.

Fig. 3: Chapter 4 of the Special Report Global Warming of 1.5, IPCC 2018

Aidan Tuohy, Programme Manager at EPRI, and Mark Lauby, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), presented the role of renewables in a net-zero grid. They pointed out that increasing reliability and resiliency for the decarbonized grid requires development, demonstration and deployment of new and improved technologies and standards. Aidan highlighted resource planning issues to be addressed such as the role energy storage will play in a low carbon power system with high penetration of renewables, how the distributed energy resources (DERs) can be accommodated and relied on within an energy system and how cost efficiency and environmental performance can be balanced in systems with high renewables penetration.

The two-day workshop came to a conclusion after stimulating and interactive sessions of brainstorming. Questions were raised regarding the emerging challenges of the ever-evolving energy landscape and how models might be redesigned to reliably interpret and project future energy outlooks in the light of emerging energy themes that include sustainable hydrogen production, EJ, CDR and electricity grid reliability.

Abdul’Aziz A. Aliyu

13th October 2021

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