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Report: HVDC powerlines and green hydrogen are most cost-effective way to decarbonize global energy system

Powerlines
Credit: Randy Laybourne on Unsplash

As countries move to decarbonize and adopt renewable energy, many are finding it difficult to do so cost-effectively due to fundamental limitations in solar and wind resources. For countries to fully decarbonize without breaking the bank, they must develop renewable energy carriers and build new zero-carbon energy supply chains, says Lux Research.

In the new report, “Evolution of Energy Networks: Decarbonizing the Global Energy Trade,” Lux Research examines renewable energy carriers as well as countries and companies developing them.

Lux evaluated the lifetime costs of 15 different renewable energy carriers from electricity, hydrogen, synthetic methane and ammonia to liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs), vanadium and aluminum.

Delivering energy via land-based infrastructure becomes expensive at long distances as a result of inefficiencies of powerlines and capital costs of pipelines. However, delivery via ship is much most cost-effective at long distances.

Lux’s analysis also found that across all renewable carriers, low-cost solar energy can be delivered to resource-constrained regions at 50% to 80% lower cost than generating solar locally.

Lux predicts the tipping point for deploying renewable energy import infrastructure will be in 2030, when imported electricity via new HVDC power lines becomes cheaper than low-carbon natural gas turbines. The next tipping point will occur in 2040, according to the report, when imported liquid hydrogen becomes cheaper than low-carbon stream methane reformation.

These predictions allow 10 years for companies to develop partnership and pilot projects to demonstrate such a transformative energy paradigm. Major companies like Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsui & Co., Equinor, and Shell are already developing decarbonized energy trade routes in Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia.

Tim Grejtak, an analyst at Lux Research and the lead author of the report states that, “Countries representing $9 trillion of global GDP cannot meet their energy demands solely through domestic renewable energy production and will require the import of renewable energy from more resource-rich countries.”

“Our analysis shows the expanded buildout of AC and DC powerlines will be the most cost-effective way of importing low-cost solar energy from distant regions, though only up to roughly 1,000 km. At farther distances, other renewable energy carriers like synthetic fuels are less expensive. It’s important to note that imported energy costs can be competitive against other zero-carbon technologies, but no current energy carrier can offer costs low enough to completely replace liquid natural gas (LNG) or oil,” Grejtak adds.