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The solution to the energy ‘trilemma’ of Spain and Europe | Digitization | Technology

The solution to the energy 'trilemma' of Spain and Europe |  Digitization |  Technology

Between the wall of inflation and the sword of Russia, a different Europe appears in the will to liberate itself. Get rid of your foreign energy dependency and also your own mistakes in sustainable transition. The soaring energy prices and the new geopolitical strategy point out the contradiction of financing suppliers that threaten with the tap of gas or oil, if not with a nuclear warhead.

For Manuel García Hernández, general director of Energy Policy and Mines at the Ministry for Ecological Transition (MITECO), reducing such dependence on third countries, “especially if they are unreliable”, is a necessary consequence of the crisis. That strategic autonomy had been neglected “perhaps because we all took it for granted that the supply would always be guaranteed”.

That sovereign objective also requires protecting economic health in order to recover environmental health. It is what Mariano Marzo, Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences at the University of Barcelona, ​​defines as trilemma of the Union, the balance on three simultaneous fronts: reducing global environmental impacts —your planet— and local ones —your city—, preserving the economy from state accounts to business competitiveness, which ultimately pays for the sustainable transition, and ensuring a reliable and quality energy supply.

It’s the juggler’s challenge. “If we opt for one of them, as has been done since before the invasion, we run the risk of neglecting the other two and losing the battle for sustainability. We cannot settle for a safe and relatively cheap but environmentally dirty supply. And neither with a clean supply at the cost of neglecting safety and/or costs”, explains Marzo.

For the president of Fundación Renovables, Fernando Ferrando, this European weakness goes back a long way. “We have seen basic goods industries relocated for not being able to compete in energy prices with other countries that are less scrupulous in their use of energy and its consequences.” Welcome, according to Ferrando, the change of course if Europe reduces the “double standard” of fighting climate change while maintaining dependence on fossil fuels.

Now, this equilibrium of the results implies the equilibrium of the solutions. For García Hernández, recovering sovereignty passes yes or yes through renewables “more competitive than fossil energies in electricity production and eminently indigenous”, which reduce the bill to consumers to protect that competitiveness. In Spain, renewable generation has reached 47% of the demand and the Government aspires to 67% the day after tomorrow, in 2026.

We cannot settle for a safe and cheap but environmentally dirty supply. Neither with a clean supply at the cost of neglecting safety and costs

Marian March. Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Barcelona

This jump reduces the resource of gas to generate electricity and would only be possible through technological management. And beyond, thanks to the previous cultural change. Hence, March calls for governance based on science, “not on ideologies, prejudices, sectarianism and a priori”. Purging dogmatism would be an indispensable condition for the great public-private pact, of the entire society, which this quasi-refoundation of the economy needs. A flexible pact that applies “the principle of technological neutrality; that is, we must bet without determinism or prohibitions” on those solutions that limit emissions as much as possible with the greatest positive impact on industry and employment. “All technologies should be able to compete,” adds Marzo.

Also the transformation of minerals and rare earths essential for the energy transition and abundant in the Spanish subsoil? MITECO prepares the Roadmap in this regard to “achieve strategic autonomy in a carbon-neutral economy, guaranteeing sustainable management… and security of supply of mineral raw materials in key sectors for the ecological and digital transition”.

“The time has come to be transparent,” says Ferrando. “When we talk about high electricity prices in the EU, we forget that they are caused by the marginalist system and the price of gas. The lack of competitiveness has been motivated by fuel prices, not renewables”. Therefore, he is committed to modifying said system of setting rates, electrifying demand and the real freedom of consumers when it comes to producing energy in self-consumption mode. “Technology is fulfilling its forecasts faster than expected —continues Ferrando—; the problem is the regulatory delay to change the model. The technology goes much faster than the legislation”.

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Development of new technologies

But that cruising speed will not be enough. According to the International Energy Agency, the technologies available today would have the potential to reduce global emissions by 83% in 2030, but in the following two decades that percentage would fall to 50%. “In other words, we need to perfect a whole range of new technologies, without them we will not mitigate climate change,” says Marzo.

“Innovation makes it possible to achieve environmental objectives while increasing the competitiveness of the company that sells it,” says researcher Clara Blanco, coordinator, together with Antonio Chica, of the Interdisciplinary Thematic Platform (PTI) + TransEner, of the CSIC, which promotes, with state funding, the balance between sustainable development and economic development in the energy transition.

If that balance was not already complex, it also incorporates the contrast of time: on the one hand, the crisis imposes urgency; on the other, technological maturation imposes years. If Europe depends on Russia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia or the US for fossil supplies, renewables depend on the sun and the wind. Its great technological challenge is to store and manage them in the long term, and to make operational, ergo profitable, the main candidate to compensate for their intermittency or to electrify difficult sectors: green hydrogen.

Only technological development accompanied by a new mentality to grow differently can get us out of this situation

Clara Blanco, coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Thematic Platform

Antonio Chica confesses moderate optimism. Spain has experience in changing the model and the support for wind and photovoltaic for 15 years, few in the time scale of maturation, has turned it “into a power in green generation”. “Today they are much cheaper than gas or coal and others, such as offshore wind power, geothermal energy and energy from the sea, more constant, will be implemented.”

But this time the transition will be massive, against the clock, and requires irreversible social change, as Clara Blanco recalls. “Only technological development accompanied by a new mentality to grow in a different way can get us out of this situation.” She talks about circular economy, awareness, also about “new references of what is good and desirable, of how we want the lives of those who are here and those who will come”.

As Ferrando says, technology is doing its part. In the last few weeks alone, headlines have accumulated about advances in vanadium batteries, iron or the flow system to limit the dependence on finite materials such as lithium; a technological institute and a startup propose new methods of electrolysis, in theory hundreds of times cheaper than the current ones.

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“Technological evolution cannot be improvised, it takes human capital, financial capital and years,” says Millán García-Tola, director of Green Hydrogen at Iberdrola. “We are asking renewable H2 for several qualitative and quantitative leaps at the same time: efficiency, materials, technology, industrialization and manufacturing capacity… There is tremendous interest in making this happen and trying to put in the means, but it takes time.” How many? “I think that its maturation will be faster than that of renewables but, due to its complexity, I would be very satisfied if this happened before 2030″.

And there will always be the breakthrough hope. That so many investments for so many needs cause a Eureka! in some laboratory, the discovery of a revolutionary process that turns those years into months. The CSIC researchers are cautious: “We all dream of technologies that come to solve problems in an almost magical way. But there are many that are already here and need a push to reach the commercial level”. That would already be disruptive.

Towards a distributive management model

“Energy systems have to integrate and work in a coordinated and efficient way. When do we consume from our photovoltaic system on the roof of the house? When from the network? When do we store? How do we integrate weather forecasting? And the cost of energy at each moment? All this must be done automatically by an intelligent control system that maximizes the economic and energy savings of the system”, says Antonio Chica, a CSIC researcher.

For his part, Fernando Ferrando, president of Fundación Renovables, maintains that “the future is not marked by supply management but by demand management, which is to speak of digitization, big data, blockchain or artificial intelligence. We are moving to an increasingly distributed model with a multitude of plants, joined by consumers who produce and manage energy. Their number and the relationship between all of them is only possible with a significant advance in ICT and computing.

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– Article Written By @Juan Pablo Zurdo from https://elpais.com/tecnologia/digitalizacion/2022-05-03/la-solucion-al-trilema-energetico-de-espana-y-europa.html

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