Combining engineering and economics to understand our future electricity supply

coal-88063_1920This time on the Energy Futures blog we have Clara Heuberger who works in both the Centre for Environmental Policy and the Centre for Process Systems Engineering. Clara’s work is a whole system approach to creating low carbon electricity.

The UK needs low carbon electricity but what does that mean and how can we make it happen? The latest piece of research I am doing revolves around these very questions and requires inputs from a diverse range of people and disciplines.

I am a PhD student at Imperial College London investigating low-carbon technologies, in particular how we can burn fuels without producing excessive carbon dioxide. My research looks at multiple levels of the problem, from the chemical reactions right up to the national energy system.

My research is focussed on low-carbon energy technologies, particularly Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), as it could be a solution to the problems created by the world’s current reliance on fossil fuels. CCS is a wide range of technologies that aim to reduce harmful greenhouse gases out of power plant emissions so that we can reduce their environmental impact. I am also interested in how to achieve carbon-negative energy production whereby the net effect of generating electricity would actually reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Currently I am working on a project for the International Energy Agency (IEA) with colleagues in Imperial College’s Business School. The study is looking at the future use and impact of power plants equipped with CCS technology. CCS power plants will have to meet flexibility requirements to balance the increasing amount of intermittent sources from renewable energy production. We will try to analyse the value added by available CCS technologies and understand their position within the UK’s energy market. Considerations go from the economic aspects, like how much people are willing to pay for a reliable electricity supply, to the technological, such as the details of the different CCS technologies used.

The IEA project is looking to answer questions about the market for flexible low carbon electricity and the political support mechanisms for such systems. Ultimately my work is combining engineering and economics to identify an optimal configuration for CCS systems as well as their value to the UK’s energy economy.

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