Renewable energy – not fossil fuels – strongest link in energy supply chain, new study finds – News


RESEARCHERS have developed a method to thoroughly assess the risks associated with fuel supply chains, showing in a UK case study that renewables are less risky than fossil fuels and nuclear power, unlike previous studies which imply that renewable energies carry a greater risk.

The energy crisis dominates securities lately, particularly in the UK where a shortage of truck drivers ultimately led to a gasoline shortage, exacerbated by panic buying. This is in addition to the rise in gas and electricity prices – which has occurred due to a complicated mix of factors – had ripple effects such as the forced closure of fertilizer factories and a subsequent shortage of food grade CO2.

Understanding and mitigating risks in fuel supply chains therefore seems more relevant today, especially as countries seek to move away from fossil fuels. A new to study on these risks has been published in the journal IChemE Sustainable production and consumption by Colin Axon, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Energy Futures at Brunel University in London, and Richard Darton, Professor in the Department of Engineering Sciences at the University of Oxford.

The study indicates that many previous models examining energy security did not take all risks into account, often focusing on long-term risks such as the climate crisis or short-term risks such as power line outages. The new research performs a detailed analysis of the entire supply chain for each of the 27 fuel categories identified. It includes renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear, as well as “demand reduction” – caused primarily by improved energy efficiency and behavioral changes – as a hypothetical fuel.

Transportation is often overlooked in energy system models, which can minimize the risk associated with transporting large amounts of fuel.

Examine every step of the supply chain

Studying the individual stages within supply chains makes it easier to identify where different risks may arise, and the authors have divided the supply chains into six stages: exploration, exploitation, conditioning of the raw fuel resource. , conversion of fuel to its final energy form, distribution of energy and use by consumers. For each step, they looked at the activities that take place and how these might be impacted.

Transport risks are considered at every stage where it becomes relevant, and the authors note that transport is often overlooked in energy system models, which can minimize the risk associated with transporting large amounts of fuel.

Analysis of the entire supply chain of each fuel has shown that certain steps are not relevant for certain fuels, for example, offshore and onshore wind where wind energy is converted into electricity at the source . Other renewable energies such as low quality thermal energy from underground do not have a distribution step because the energy is used locally.

Identification of risks

They defined a total of 34 risks falling into seven different categories: economic, environmental, innovation, manufacturing, policy, skills and technical. The environmental risks group integrates the effects of climate change through risks such as natural hazards and the lack of available water.

They devised a method to calculate a composite score for the overall risk of each fuel, based on a risk matrix examining both the likelihood and the impact of each risk.

Darton said The chemical engineer that most people think that energy security is mainly related to political and financial risks in international markets, and although this is a real risk, there are many others that are not taken into account. “There are a lot of risks, not commonly appreciated, which are closer to home and which are really important. For example, we have identified “skills” (lack of) among the potential causes of risk to the energy system, [including] “Lack of vocational training for local labor” “. He said this factor could apply to heavy truck drivers where there is currently a shortage.

One of the many issues that are contributing to rising energy prices today is a decrease in wind speed. Previous studies have indicated that the highest risks for renewables are factors such as dependence on weather conditions and uncertain production volumes, but the new research classifies this under “fuel source quality” in the category. of the environment. Axon explained that viewing weather as a quality risk shows it’s something to consider when thinking about technology portfolios at the national level. However, their study examines the long-term risks, which shows that changing policies and regulations are much more likely to inhibit renewables.

“The point is that changing policies and regulations inhibit capital investment and investment support for innovation, having effects over many years,” Axon said. “In the 1990s and 2000s the UK government released a series of white papers on energy, each saying something different, sometimes completely contradictory, adding new ideas or hinting at shifts in policy direction. It does not promote long term decision making.

An overview also allowed them to determine whether particular risks were high or low across the different stages of the supply chain. For example, for oil and gas exploration, the lack of access to capital is considered very important compared to biogas which requires minimal investment for exploration.

They also found that sharing infrastructure across supply chains can also reduce risk as it reduces the different types of infrastructure needed. Sharing can lower the barrier for new fuels that can use the same infrastructure, but the reverse is also true and helps explain why initiatives like district heating are difficult to implement because they require new infrastructure.

UK case study

They carried out their risk analysis on the 19 fuel categories relevant to the UK as a case study. Using their risk score, they created a table ranking the fuels according to risk. Non-renewable energies, including nuclear, present the highest risk and renewable energies the lowest. Biofuels are ranked in the middle, which is higher than expected. This is because the chemical treatment required is similar to that of conventional fuel sources, which they say is why biofuels don’t have as much of an impact on the market as people had hoped.

Fuels with similar scores were classified in groups A to E, E being the least risky group and A the most risky group. Group A includes unconventional gas (such as shale gas and coal gasification), conventional gas, petroleum and nuclear which are ranked 1 to 4 in terms of highest risk. Group E includes solar (electric) and solar (thermal, water) which are classified 18 and 19 because they present the lowest risk. The groups and their risk rankings can be seen in the figure.

UK Case Study: Total Risk Scores For Fuel Categories Aggregate Into Large Groups. Copyright: IchemE. Sustainable production and consumption, 2021, 28, 1663

Copyright: IchemE. Sustainable production and consumption, 2021, 28, 1663

When asked if the study could have predicted current issues such as gas shortages and gasoline shortages, Darton said: “Of course we cannot predict a particular risk event, nor can we predict any particular risk event. ‘a climate change scientist can’t tell you if it will rain tomorrow. But taking a full look at all risks in the energy system, we draw attention to a very wide range of risks and identify the most important ones, for which planning and precautions must be taken.

“We couldn’t foresee such turbulence in the near term, but we drew attention to the high-risk nature of fossil fuels (they are all in the riskiest fuels group, along with nuclear). This is not the result of prejudice on our part, but simply of examining all the risks in their supply chains – and there is a lot of risk in this cluster! So it’s a great idea to diversify into alternative fuels – renewables, for example – regardless of the climate benefit. This is a conclusion quite opposite to what was a dogma disseminated for many years, namely that renewable energies were Following riskier than fossil fuels: the wind stops blowing and the sun, unfortunately, disappears at night. Renewable energies are of course not safe, they are just, on the whole, less risky than fossils.

Use more renewable energies

The study concludes that energy security can be improved by maximizing the use of low-risk fuels, but it cautions that it failed to take into account whether resources are available in the quantities needed. They said it will take a lot of adaptation to replace fossil fuels with renewable energies.

Although the document includes a case study for the UK, the overall conclusion would be similar for other countries with similar resources, which is why the fuels have been grouped into groups. The exact order in which the fuels are classified is less important than the group to which the fuel belongs, as it is less likely to vary for similar countries. Future work will focus on examining how risk might change as the energy system evolves.

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