By Pamela Largue, Power Engineering International

As carbon emissions and temperatures continue to rise, there is increasing pressure on the power generation sector to decarbonize at pace. Of all the challenges facing the sector to bring about green transformation, it seems cost is causing the biggest headache.

This sentiment was expressed by Kevin Lauzze, Vice President and Project Director at Sargent & Lundy, who spoke at POWERGEN International in New Orleans. When asked what keeps him up at night, his answer was unequivocal, “cost”.

“It’s easy for people to want this until they know their power bill will go up,” he said, adding that results of up-front studies result in shock because of the high costs.

But the cost of doing nothing is more, he agrees, so it’s better to pay more now than to pay a higher price later, referring to the cost of the impact of climate change.

Said Lauzze, “It’s not just [about] do it all and spend infinite amounts of money or spend nothing,” but rather, he suggests, it’s about finding the balance, something in the middle that will offer the best return.

Varied decarbonization pathways – it comes down to the bottom line

Lauzze went into detail about what he referred to as an ‘all of the above approach’.

As electricity demand continues to increase due to market growth and electrification, he recommends a varied energy mix, including hydrogen, renewables and nuclear, together with carbon capture.

However, despite the opportunities offered by each of these pathways to decarbonization, the common theme is clearly how to mitigate the high cost associated with maximizing these opportunities. 

Renewables, for example, is clearly here to stay and when coupled with energy storage, holds great promise for our decarbonization journey, said Lauzze.

However, without the required transmission and distribution infrastructure build out, a costly endeavour indeed, there is a soon-to-be-reached ceiling for renewable deployment.

Hydrogen, a useful zero carbon emission fuel and well-suited for use in peaking applications, is currently without the infrastructure needed for a well-functioning value chain. And not surprising, Lauzze points to the significant investment needed to make this a reality. 

Finally, one of key pathways to decarbonization and arguably one of the most costly, Lauzze, points to carbon capture.

“Fossil-based generation is not going away,” he said. “We will have dispatchable power, but you need to make the power less carbon intensive.”

Proponents say carbon capture is a proven technology that can be deployed now on existing and new fossil assets and industrial sources that are hard to abate. However, despite the production and investment tax credits, and the fact that the Department of Energy is actively funding project development, the biggest hinderance to deployment of carbon capture tech is cost, he said.

According to Lauzze, carbon capture requires double the space and double the investment of a combined-cycle facility.

Despite these concerns, the sentiment overall is optimistic, with Lauzze suggesting we will meet our 2050 decarbonization goals.

However, it seems the next few decades will be filled with some sleepless nights, as the sector works to mitigate the high cost of going green.

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