The Glasgow Climate Pact – signed in the thick of a multilateral discussion held at COP26 – reaffirmed global commitments to establish the 2020s as a decade of climate action, facilitating the transition from widespread fossil fuel use in Asia towards cleaner energy sources, such as gas power and renewables, and innovative solutions such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS)
A year later, on the heels of the recent COP27, it is important that we take stock of the progress made thus far while re-examining the ongoing challenges and actions forward in what it truly takes to achieve the region’s net-zero targets.
Where is Asia today?
While several governments in Asia have reaffirmed their commitments to cut emissions, many economies are still grappling with growing energy demand (with capacity set to increase 70% from 2021-2031) and the need to keep power affordable. This means actions to address the region’s energy trilemma – affordability, reliability, and sustainability – are not a straightforward trade-off and are only further complicated by the emerging focus on energy security.
In light of this prolonged uncertainty, and still evolving policy support, many green energy projects have taken a backseat in favour of existing systems to keep the power up and running. As such, while a recent McKinsey & Company report estimated green and emissions reduction technology investment in Asia to potentially amount to US$5 trillion by 2030, many of these initiatives have yet to truly take off or impact communities, including nearly 90 percent of global hydrogen projects.
While uncertainty often emboldens tested and proven ways of working – including revitalising systems heavily reliant on coal – it is precisely these structures that have hindered crucial efforts to diversify energy sources, dampened our resilience against external market shifts, and ultimately slowed our progress towards net zero.
At the heart of it all, we must double down during such periods to truly accelerate the energy transition and keep the commitments made at COP27 in view, where a major focus was on increasing access to sustainable, reliable, and affordable energy, particularly in developing countries.
A holistic approach is key
While renewable energy has become the energy transition’s north star, the question lies in how we can advance the transition to this from fossil fuels, whilst mitigating long-standing issues around intermittency and dependability.
Here, markets could look to optimise existing fuel sources like gas power, which already provides a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to coal immediately, to build grid stability.
Gas power, with zero-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen and ammonia – in pre-combustion or CCUS technology in post-combustion – has the flexibility to gradually support the decarbonisation of the generation portfolio, whilst building the pathway to net-zero emission technology in the future, making significant headway in achieving climate goals.
Plants like the Sultan Ibrahim Combined-Cycle Power Plant in Johor, Malaysia, for instance, which operate on GE’s 9HA.02 gas turbines, are built to be able to burn hydrogen levels of up to 50 percent in the future, even after its extended service on traditional fuels like natural gas, to further decrease its carbon emission footprint over time.
In Australia, the Talawarra B Power Plant will operate at a blend of 5% hydrogen in their new 9F.05 gas turbine when it begins operations targeting 2025. The potential of the use of hydrogen as a fuel source to bring power generation to net zero is further reinforced with the recent demonstration by New York Power Authority at Brentwood Small Clean Power Plant on Long Island, which successfully burned up to 44% green hydrogen using a GE LM6000 turbine in the first such retrofit of a US natural gas plant.
Eventually, gas technology will help pave the way towards technology that is truly net zero. Using 100% hydrogen as fuel for a gas turbine will lead to the elimination of essentially all carbon emissions. Since hydrogen does not contain any carbon, it does not produce any carbon when burned in a gas turbine. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management announced the selection of two GE proposals worth more than $12 million as part of their efforts to accelerate the path towards a 100% hydrogen combustion future, further strengthening the role of gas technology as the net-zero emission technology of the future.
While these efforts are focused on generation, significant attention is also necessary to develop decarbonisation opportunities in the grid system, as well as digital technology to enable reliable and predictable operations. With a holistic approach that addresses different aspects along the energy value chain, we can create resilient and future-ready energy ecosystems that are not only able to provide the supply needed to tide through growing demands, but also have the potential to seamlessly evolve alongside new, greener developments.
Collective collaboration a foundation for reliable power
Given the complexity of the issue, and the potential across the value chain, these transitions require collaboration and partnership of various solution providers, leveraging their respective strengths and domain experience.
For example, GE, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with DL E&C Co Ltd and Carbonco. This partnership brings together GE’s in-depth understanding of Combined Cycle Gas Turbine Plant optimisation and intellectual property around carbon emission management, together with DL E&C and CarbonCo’s extensive carbon capture technology experience, creating a powerful solution with differentiated efficiency in carbon capture technology.
Impactful change should also start with advancing greater emission efficiencies for manufacturing technology within the energy and industrial sectors, which accounted for close to 89% of carbon emissions in 2021 globally. An example of such step changes could be the deployment of new repair and advanced manufacturing systems that allow greater self-sufficiency in essential plant maintenance.
Cross-industry collaboration is key. While governments enforce and execute national commitments, the industry will continue to have a strong role to play. In the recent COP27, the Corporate Coalition for Innovation and Technology toward Net Zero (CCITNZ) was announced. Founded by six leading innovation companies GE, Bechtel, GM, Honeywell, Invenergy, and Johnson Controls, the initiative will endeavour to support governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders in bringing innovation and technology to the table to address climate change.
Governments need to pave the way
At the heart of it, more integrated work between industry associations and governments across the region – including renewed alliances bridged during international platforms like COP27 – to ensure stable, affordable power throughout external market shocks, addressing more immediate challenges, whilst also continuing to work on making progress with longer-term change drivers.
How the energy industry and governments decide to work together to price power solutions and put strategies and pilot programs into motion will be the most critical factor in solving and reaping the benefits of addressing the energy trilemma.
It is these very partnerships between energy providers and policymakers that are key to ensuring green alternatives, like hydrogen and CCUS technologies, are also kept affordable for the local community.
Actions across the globe, such as the U.S’ Inflation Reduction Act – the country’s ‘most aggressive’ commitment to date – as well as Singapore’s latest hike in carbon taxes are great examples of how governments can support the power generation sector to accelerate the deployment of greener technologies.
The time for everyone to act is now. Despite the challenges and uncertainties ahead, it will be in the best interest of all stakeholders to be aligned on taking the right actions for net-zero goals. Accepting the complexity of the issue, adopting the portfolio of technology solutions, and creating the right policy support structure to create an enabling ecosystem for solution providers to work together – with the right flow of funding – will be critical as we move towards a future that is sustainable for our children and future generations to come.
This article is written by Kazunari (Kaz) Fukui, Decarbonisation Leader for Asia at GE Power