Q&A Series: Alejandro Alle discusses importance of financing renewable projects in El Salvador and throughout Latin America

Alejandro Alle is currently a Managing Director at The Network Company in El Salvador with more than 35 years experience in energy. He is a mechanical engineer with a career that started with a specialization in nuclear engineering scholarship at the Argentine National Board of Atomic Energy in 1987. Since then, Alejandro has worked as the General Manager at Puma El Salvador (Trafigura), co-founded Quantum Energy and was Executive Director of Energía del Pacífico.

Question: Please describe yourself and your work.

Alejandro: I am a mechanical engineer with 35 years of experience in the oil and gas, energy and investment banking sectors in Latin America. Born and educated in Argentina, I started my professional career in the Atomic Energy industry in the middle of the 1980s, later transitioning into the engineering and construction industry. In the early 1990s, at the dawn of the privatization of the natural gas business in Argentina, I joined the natural gas industry as a business developer.

In the 2000s, I moved to Central America and worked more than 10 years as the General Manager for Puma El Salvador, a subsidiary of the oil company Trafigura. During the next decade, I co-founded Quantum Energy, a venture capital to develop energy projects in Central America. Quantum was successfully awarded several projects, including Energía del Pacífico (EDP), a 378 megawatt liquefied natural gas (LNG)-to-power mega-project developed together by Quantum and Invenergy (US), the company that became the controlling partner. I served as Executive Director of EDP from inception to final investment decision, which was reached in December 2019 with the signature of four multilateral institutions (IFC, IDB Invest, Finnvera/KfW and DFC). It is the biggest project in the history of El Salvador.

Q: What made you want to join the Path to 100%?

Alejandro: Out of an interest to be forward-thinking and ahead of the curve, particularly regarding issues related to the net-zero economy, renewables, powerfuels (renewable power-to-X via the electrolysis) and the integration of energy sources. 

Q: Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put it into practice in El Salvador.

Alejandro: At our investment bank, we help investors reach a financial close in their renewable projects. For example, we recently closed a solar PV financing deal and are moving forward with another client on the financing for a hydropower plant. And that is only in El Salvador! In other countries, we are involved in several transactions that include development and financing for our clients on renewable and natural gas projects.

Q: How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale?

Alejandro: I would like to keep promoting and developing megaprojects, such as the $1 billion LNG-to-Power Energía del Pacífico. On this project, I was involved from its inception up to its successful financial close reached in December 2019.

Q: What do you think are the best areas of opportunity for the renewable energy sector in El Salvador?

Alejandro: The biggest areas of opportunity are in the integration of renewable energy and promotion of powerfuels, along with a deep change in regulation that allows customers to become “prosumers” via a real net-metering/behind the meter approach. Distribution companies should be paid well for the essential service they provide in securing power, but there is no reason for them to make money selling energy – this produces a bad incentive for the market.

Q: Now, what do you consider to be the main barriers or challenges El Salvador faces on its path to clean and affordable energy?

Alejandro: For me, it is the bureaucracy, especially as it almost derailed the aforementioned LNG-to-power project. Other barriers include a lack of understanding of the importance of being an early first mover in renewables and a need for inspiration like Chile and its hydrogen economy focused on exports. Also, El Salvador should pay attention to both large-scale and small renewable projects, not just the most impactful ones.

Q: Finally, how can El Salvador lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy? And what progress do you foresee for the region in the coming years? 

Alejandro: The country should focus on the integration of solar PV and geothermal (a very specific energy that El Salvador has the good luck to count on) to produce powerfuels. El Salvador will soon have natural gas entirely replace oil thermal power, so it is time to use  natural gas for other uses, such in transportation and boilers, not only in energy production. We also benefit from the fact that we are a dollarized country with close ties to the United States.

 

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Google Earth Now Shows Decades of Climate Change in Seconds

At-a-Glance:

Google Earth has partnered with NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab to bring users time-lapse images of the planet’s surface – 24 million satellite photos taken over 37 years. Together, they offer photographic evidence of a planet changing faster than at any time in millenia. To learn more, read “Google Earth Now Shows Decades of Climate Change in Seconds.”  Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Timelapse, the name of the new Google Earth feature, is the largest video on the planet, according to a statement from the company.
  • The tool stitches together more than 50 years of imagery from the U.S,’s Landsat program, which is run by NASA and the USGS. When combined with images from European Sentinel-2 satellites, Landsat provides the equivalent of complete coverage of the Earth’s surface every two days.
  • Timelapse images are stark: warmer Atlantic waters and air temperatures are accelerating ice melt, and tree loss in Brazil surged by a quarter from 2019 to 2020.
  • Google Earth is expected to update Timelapse about once a year.

Path to 100% Perspective:

In 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that global emissions would need to reach net-zero (or carbon-neutral) by 2050 to prevent severe climate change impacts. Google Earth’s new tool shows that climate change is real and already having an impact. Electric utilities and governments across the world are moving toward 100% carbon-free energy. To succeed, they need to increase renewable generation while rapidly reducing the use of fossil fuels. Renewables and storage alone cannot rapidly decarbonize our power system fast enough. Optimizing power resources, renewable energy, and flexible fuels is the way to pave the Path to 100%.

 

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Biden Commits U.S. To Halving Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 2030

At-a-Glance:

President Joe Biden has committed to cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. The ambition is a significant advance on the previous target, set by President Barack Obama, of a 26-28% cut from 2005 levels. But it stops short of doubling that target. Now, climate leaders are waiting to see how the U.S. proposes that that target will be achieved.To learn more, read “Biden Commits U.S. To Halving Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 2030.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The White House said in January that the president’s plan would put the country on a path to a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.
  • Other countries have recently ramped up their climate ambitions. On April 21, the European Union announced that it would commit to further emissions cuts by 2030 and ensure its 27 member nations achieve carbon neutral status by 2050.
  • The U.K. has set an even more ambitious target, committing to a 78% cut in emissions by 2035.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for all nations to submit ambitious new climate action plans ahead of the COP26 climate summit, scheduled for November.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Countless governments have set ambitious carbon neutral targets, but these are yet to be matched by realistic strategies and firm action plans. The path to decarbonization can only be accelerated by modelling power systems and developing strategic plans to futureproof the path to 100% renewable energy using technology that is available today. But the path to net zero will not materialize through incremental steps and organic change. An unplanned, step-by-step journey risks energy systems being burdened with technologies that do not support the transition to 100% renewable energy.

Governments and utilities must adopt clear strategies to drive action, developed in collaboration with all sectors of the economy and setting clear milestones for transformation.

 

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Texas Nearly Went Dark Because Officials Misjudged Weather

At-a-Glance:

Texas came uncomfortably close to another round of rolling blackouts on the night of April 13 because grid operators misjudged the weather. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of the state’s grid, had counted on a mild cold front sweeping the state, lowering demand for power. It didn’t happen. As a result, demand on the grid was about 3,000 megawatts higher than anticipated. To learn more, read “Texas Nearly Went Dark Because Officials Misjudged Weather.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The forecasting error came as 25% of power generation was offline for seasonal repairs and served as a reminder of the vulnerability of Texas’s grid.
  • Texas has long taken a laissez-faire approach to its power grid, allowing market forces – rather than regulations – to ensure there’s enough power on hand to satisfy demand.
  • The market is designed to operate with thin reserve margins. Unless lawmakers intervene, weather will continue to beget volatility in the power grid.
  • The summer months will present another test for grid operators. Almost 75% of Texas is gripped by drought and more than 91% of the state is abnormally dry.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The latest close call in Texas shows there is an urgent need to adopt common-sense regulations that lead to grid reliability and ratepayer protection. While extreme weather was not to blame in this case, many believe climate change will make extreme and unpredictable weather more commonplace. There must be adequate, dispatchable power for unusual weather events, especially as global reliance on renewables continues to grow.

 

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Power CO2 emissions fall 7% across Europe’s top 10 economies in 2020: Wartsila

At-a-Glance:

CO2 emissions from electricity generation among Europe’s 10 largest economies fell by 7% in 2020, according to the latest figures provided by Wärtsilä’s Energy Transition Lab. To learn more, read “Power CO2 emissions fall 7% across Europe’s top 10 economies in 2020: Wartsila.”

Key Takeaways:

  • CO2 emissions fell by 36.7 million mt to 489.1 million mt as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic combined with an ongoing phase-out of coal for electricity generation in many European countries.
  • Austria led the way with the largest percentage drop in emissions in 2020, down 28.8% from the previous year, reflecting the closure of the country’s largest coal-fired power plant in April 2020.
  • The pandemic combined with government-mandated coal phase-outs to accelerate the pace of the energy transition, with the share of renewables reaching levels not previously expected for another 10 years.
  • “One year since lockdowns began, we must now focus on a strategic, scientific, and intelligent approach to cutting carbon emissions that enables us to achieve the Paris Agreement while actually benefiting our economy and improving our quality of life,” said Tony Meski, senior market development analyst at Wartsila Energy Business.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Although record breaking carbon reductions have been recorded, the global economy has been put under intense strain. One year since lockdowns began, the focus is now moving to a strategic, scientific, and intelligent approach to cutting carbon emissions while benefiting the economy and improving quality of life. Energy demand will rebound and emissions with it. Innovators, leaders, and policymakers need to capture this moment and be ambitious with investments in renewables and flexible technologies while they remain highly competitive.

The Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab is a free-to-use data platform to help the industry, policy-makers, and the public understand the impact of COVID-19 on European electricity markets and analyze what this means for future energy systems. The goal is to help accelerate the transition to 100% renewables.

 

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Switching to renewable energy is sometimes dirty. Tech like blockchain can help

At-a-Glance:

The worldwide push to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require advances in green technologies – particularly tech associated with renewable energy – but simply waiting for future tools to emerge isn’t a viable solution to climate change. To learn more, read Switching to renewable energy is sometimes dirty. Tech like blockchain can help.”   Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • According to McKinsey, electricity will occupy 30% of the global demand for power by 2050 – up from 19% today. The International Energy Agency expects renewables to generate 80% of global electricity demand within the next decade, as the cost of renewable generation plummets below the cost of fossil fuels.
  • “Clearly, there’s a great danger that we simply replace a hydrocarbon-based economy…with a metal economy,” says Robert Lee, professor of law at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., referring to the metals that are required to make batteries, such as lithium. Mining those metals is a polluting process itself, and properly disposing of batteries at the end of their shelf life is a looming issue.
  • Digital technologies can help address the challenges involved in switching to renewable energy and electricity. For example, the European Union passed legislation requiring battery manufacturers to stamp battery units with a digital “passport” tag so the battery can be traced through its lifetime.
  • Energy saved by efficiencies introduced through digitalizing will offset the energy consumed by digitalization. This would come through actions like energy suppliers using remote sensors and AI oversight to monitor power demand and distribute electricity efficiently.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The average estimated life of a Lithium-Ion battery is about two to three years or 300 to 500 charge cycles, whichever happens first. Lower costs and increased spending on renewables are driving deeper penetration of renewable energy around the globe. Renewables will certainly play an integral role in powering mining operations because of the benefits they offer in terms of cost and sustainability. Economically it makes sense. The levelled cost of electricity (LCOE) is lower than ever, and renewables are becoming increasingly cost-effective as organizations seek efficiencies and breakthroughs.

 

 

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What does negative net zero carbon mean?

At-a-Glance:

Negative net-zero carbon. The phrase sounds redundant or oxymoronic. But it is a real thing. You can have less than net-zero carbon emissions if you capture and use emissions that otherwise would be released as greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. To learn more, read “What does negative net zero carbon mean?”

Key Takeaways:

  • Renewable natural gas (RNG), or biogas, is derived from organic waste material. Biogas can be captured and used as fuel in place of traditional natural gas.
  • According to a University of California Davis study, there is so much organic waste available in California that more than 20% of the state’s residential gas needs could be met with RNG.
  • California Air Resources Board (CARB) data shows that the average “carbon intensity” of all renewable natural gas vehicle fuel in the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program was negative for the first time in program history.
  • RNG made up nearly 90% of all natural gas vehicle fuel in the low carbon fuel program and consumed in California in the first half of 2020, up from around 77% in 2019, according to CARB data.
  • According to an EPA study, if you capture all the methane coming off of RNG capture potential areas, you could run about 200,000 trucks on renewable natural gas every year.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The role of natural gas in power generation is increasing as it is being more widely utilized to run power plants that are integrated with intermittent wind and solar systems. As the share of wind and solar capacity increases and the net load to thermal plants decreases, gas power plants can also provide peaking to system balancing. Renewable natural gas can be leveraged as a fuel source to replace fossil-fuel based natural gas, thus moving the world one step closer to decarbonization and a 100% renewable energy future.

 

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Toyota Motor North America: Committed to hydrogen fuel cell electric technology

At-a-Glance:

In light of mounting global environmental issues, Toyota Motor North America is continuing to take measures to achieve net zero carbon emissions and make a positive environmental impact. The Mirai, a signature innovation for the company, is just one development at the heart of such commitment, with Toyota openly expressing its passion and commitment for hydrogen. To learn more, read Toyota Motor North America: Committed to hydrogen fuel cell electric technology.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Toyota is committed to hydrogen fuel cell-electric technology because it is a clean, versatile, and scalable electrification platform that can meet a broad range of customers’ mobility needs with zero emissions.
  • Since 2015, over 6,600 Mirai have been sold or leased in California making it the most popular fuel cell vehicle on the road today.
  • A new, second-generation fuel cell system along with the additional hydrogen capacity gives the second generation Mirai a range of over 400 miles – as much, or more, range than a traditional gas-powered car.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Hydrogen has a high potential of becoming the fuel of the future, helping societies move towards decarbonization. So far, the market for hydrogen engines has been limited, but the need for them is beginning to emerge as the use of fossil fuels is gradually reduced and finally banned. Because hydrogen was not used as a power generation fuel in the past, the technologies to combust and use it in different applications need to be developed. Wärtsilä is testing concepts for both blending hydrogen into natural gas as well as pure hydrogen operation. The R&D process will continue, testing the fuel first on a small scale to define optimal dimensions and parameters for hydrogen engines.

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JPMorgan Chase wants to be the commercial bank for ‘green economy’ companies

At-a-Glance:

As the world’s largest financial institutions jockey for leadership positions in financing the transition to a clean economy, JPMorgan Chase is creating a team dedicated to building deeper relationships with companies that sell “environmentally-friendly” products and services or that focus on environmental conservation. To learn more, read “JPMorgan Chase wants to be the commercial bank for ‘green economy’ companies.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The new Green Economy team is explicitly tasked with providing services for companies — notably private entities in need of capital — that are poised to benefit from the transition.
  • The group will initially be focused on four sectors — renewable energy, efficiency solutions, agriculture and food technology, and sustainable financial firms that provide capital or project finance.
  • While many renewable energy companies are mature, many are just getting started and they will need capital and advice to innovate and evolve efficiently in a changing world.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Since March 2020, policy makers worldwide have made decisions that will shape the energy sector for decades. Enormous recovery stimulus packages have been announced to support industries and communities to get back onto their feet, with hundreds of billions of dollars allocated to the energy sector alone. Investment firms such as JPMorgan Chase have identified the need to invest in decarbonization innovation. These investment decisions are designed to counteract the financial shocks of the pandemic, but they will also determine whether the world meets its long-term energy and climate goals.

 

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2020 Set A New Record For Renewable Energy. What’s The Catch?

At-a-Glance:

All over the world, the growth of green energy is accelerating. More than 80% of all new electricity generating projects built last year were renewable, leading to a 10.3% rise in total installed zero carbon electricity generation globally, a new report shows. Yet in spite of reduced energy demand in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, fossil fuel electricity generation also continued to grow. So, therefore, did carbon emissions. To learn more, read “2020 Set A New Record For Renewable Energy. What’s The Catch?” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The report, from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), revealed that 91% of new renewables last year were wind and solar projects, with solar generation having grown the fastest, up by 127 gigawatts—a 22% increase from 2019.
  • But the IRENA report also found that, in spite of lower energy demand and the larger share of renewables in 2020, fossil fuel capacity also increased, though not by quite as much as seen during the previous year, rising 60 gigawatts as compared with 64 gigawatts in 2019.
  • A plan to retire and replace coal and gas plants is essential to reduce emissions, as well as enable workers from those industries to transition into the renewable energy sector.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable energy is widely acknowledged to create more jobs than fossil fuels. McKinsey Sustainability, for example, reports that for every $10 million USD of government spending on renewable technologies 75 jobs are typically created, compared to 27 jobs in the fossil fuels sector. Additionally, renewable energy generates more labor-intensive jobs in the short run, when jobs are scarce, which boosts spending and increases short-run GDP. In the long run, renewable energy requires less labor for operation and maintenance, which frees up labor as the economy returns to capacity.

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Q&A Series: Leonardo Beltran Speaks About Mexico’s Energy Transition Act and his Passion for Renewable Energy

Leonardo Beltran is a non-resident fellow at the Institute of the Americas, an executive fellow of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and is serving on the Board of Sustainable Energy for All. 

Question: Please describe yourself and your work.

Leonardo: My career in energy includes 13-years in public service in Mexico government, which includes being the longest-serving Deputy Secretary of Energy (2012-2018). In this capacity, I led the Ministry’s coordination of Mexico’s National Energy Strategy, a policy document that served as the foundation for energy reform in 2013. I also serve on the Board of Directors of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico’s national oil company and the world’s 10th largest oil producer and was alternate Chairman of the Board of Directors of Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), Mexico’s national power utility and a Global 500 company.

Additionally, I was the Chief Technology Officer and chaired the boards of the national laboratories of the energy sector (Mexican Petroleum Institute; National Institute of Electricity and Clean Energies; National Nuclear Research Institute) and presided the board of a billion-dollar R&D trust fund that created the Mexican Centers for Innovation on Energy (biofuels, CCS, geothermal, ocean, solar, and wind), the largest clean-energy technology innovation networks in Latin America, and invested in the biggest talent development effort in the energy sector in the country. I have been named several times as one of the most influential leaders in the energy sector in Mexico and personality of the year in renewable energy (including in 2018).

Q: What made you want to join the Path to 100%?

Leonardo: Today, we operate in a far more complex setting than we could have imagined. One where the environment; geopolitics; economics and trade; water security; and technological development must all be considered in any energy policy decision. The current energy system, as we know it, is unsustainable. Thus, the global energy sector as a whole must aim towards accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. Today and in the future, governments need to use their networks, their collective knowledge, and their influence to be a catalyst for change in global development policy, to help the world towards a sustainable future. Thus, joining a community where thought leaders and industry experts create a dialogue on how to achieve an operationally and financially realistic approach towards a 100% renewable energy future is an amazing opportunity to embrace the future and take action from our respective responsibilities.

Q: Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put it into practice in Latin America and the United States.

Leonardo: I am passionate about renewable energy because I had the chance to serve in the public sector in my country and learned firsthand about the advantages of renewables, in terms of job creation, regional development, and innovation. Not only did I learn that, but I also had the opportunity of being exposed to the international community. For instance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated with a high degree of confidence that if we are to limit the risks from global warming by 1.5°C, transitions should include widespread adoption of new and disruptive technologies and practices and enhanced climate-driven innovation. Therefore, we need to act now and speed up the process toward a net-zero path.

Moreover, had the chance to promote the enactment of the Energy Transition Act (second country after France), a law that made operational the constitutional reform of the energy sector in Mexico by embracing sustainability across the value chain. In this act, we were able to first raise the importance of energy efficiency to be equally important as renewable energy and then set a target for 2050. Secondly, we established a decarbonization pathway by setting progressively increasing renewable energy targets to meet at the time an aggressive goal, i.e. 50% of renewables by 2050. Thus, I have been able to experience the challenges of bringing to the table all stakeholders, understand their concerns, and generate consensus based upon scientific evidence, key elements for a regional initiative to advance towards the “Path to 100”!

Q: How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale?

Leonardo: The ultimate forum for creating change at a global scale on climate change is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. If we are to inform the discussions taking place at the UNFCCC, we would be able to bring to the table relevant experiences, expertise, and knowledge that can help move the needle to the “Path to 100.”

Q: What do you think are the best areas of opportunity for the renewable energy sector in Latin America?

Leonardo: I think the best areas of opportunity are both in public procurement at the national level and with the private sector, especially the automotive sector and manufacturing.

Q: Now, what do you consider to be the main barriers or challenges Latin America faces on its path to clean and affordable energy?

Leonardo: Policy changes are the main challenges the region faces, because the energy sector is highly capital intensive, and the maturation of the projects are for the long-term. Therefore, a policy change in the short-term can have lasting effects if decisions are made for a given asset, i.e., for instance developing a new fossil-fuel based power plant or investing in new oil and gas fields that have lifecycles that span for decades.

Q: Finally, how can Latin America lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy? And what progress do you foresee for the region in the coming years?

Leonardo: I think the leading exporting sectors are the ones that can spur innovation and have to compete globally. Consequently, if these sectors do not lead the change, they will bear the costs and the opportunities will be grabbed by the competition.

Latin America and the Caribbean are in the best position to consolidate their leadership. Today, this region has the cleanest energy portfolio, having 60% of renewable installed capacity. The region can enjoy the first-mover advantage, and their exporting sectors can enjoy that competitive advantage if there is a possibility to align incentives, strengthen regulation, benefit from the large renewable resource endowment of the region, and work hand-in-hand with the private and public sectors.

 

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Carbon Capture Has To Get As Big As Oil Industry In Less Than 30 Years

At-a-Glance:

The nascent industry that captures and stores carbon dioxide has to scale to the size of the oil industry much faster than oil did, according to the head of the Global CCS Institute. To learn more, read  Carbon Capture Has To Get As Big As Oil Industry In Less Than 30 Years.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The oil industry moves about 5 gigatons of oil and gas per year. To meet climate goals, the world has to remove at least that weight of carbon dioxide – 5 to 10 gigatons – from the atmosphere each year.
  • Hard to decarbonize sectors – steel, chemicals, cement, fertilizers, and plastics – will generally need carbon capture and storage to address their emissions.
  • The Global CCS Institute is an international think tank seeking to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture and storage. It knows of 26 operating CCS facilities and 40 more that are either in development or suspended.
  • If all 66 facilities were operational, they would collectively capture and store 102 megatons of carbon dioxide each year. Capacity may have to increase 100-fold by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Accelerating decarbonization efforts is the subject of discussions, research and multiple organizational goals. Carbon capture technology is gaining interest in the energy sector around the world as industries seek innovation, traction and affordability.

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