Achieving Net Zero at Scale Requires Creative Collaboration at Scale
The urgent need to achieve global decarbonization requires an
unprecedented level of cooperation, across industries and geographies
For more than a century, fossil fuels helped drive a breathtaking array of human progress. They enabled the proliferation of reliable electricity that advanced industries, built national economies, raised the standard of living for people the world over and enabled advances in transportation that simultaneously connected and shrunk the geographies. But our prosperity has a cost, and the shift to cleaner forms of energy is a monumental moment. We’ll need to produce twice as much power over the next three decades just to keep pace with rising demand.
Even with the progress we’ve made toward cleaner energy so far, the world’s aggregate demand for fossil fuels isn’t due to peak until 2027. Achieving net zero carbon will be a historic milestone, one comparable to the arrival of the steam engine, electrification or the internet.
“We get almost all of our energy right now from fossil fuels, and we’re remaking all of that while reinventing our power grid at the same time,” says Drummi Bhatt, Vice President of Market Intelligence & Strategy at Mitsubishi Power Americas. “As challenges go, this is as big as it gets.”
Like those previous transformative advances, decarbonization will be a collective achievement by the entire world. It has to be: The technical, societal and governmental challenges embedded in the energy transition require an unprecedented level of innovation, creativity and collaboration across industries and geographies. Industry leaders must be open to many paths to net zero, encompassing both new and old technologies in innovative ways to reach this big, bold goal.
The emergence of hydrogen infrastructure, led by Mitsubishi Power and its partners, is a prime example of the type of big thinking that will create the progress we need at the speed and scale necessary.
Decarbonizing the Western United States
The world’s largest long-duration renewable energy storage operation is taking shape in Delta, Utah.
When complete, the project will feed two major transmission lines supporting the electrical grids in Utah and California and be capable of distributing 1 gigawatt of clean energy enough to make the Western states carbon neutral.
Since 1986, the IPP site has hosted a large coal-burning power plant that provides energy to a network of municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives. When the state of California changed its energy policy in 2006 to start drastically reducing its carbon emissions, demand for coal-fired power dropped precipitously. The Intermountain Power Agency (IPA), which owns IPP, faced a crossroads: Shut down the plant or reconfigure it to produce electricity from other fuels.
Because the IPP has 35 participants spread across six different states, collaboration is in its DNA. To transition from coal, the IPA added a new strategic partner, Mitsubishi Power. The company, a power solutions brand of Japan-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, will supply hydrogen-capable gas turbines that are expected to come online in 2025 when IPP’s previous contracts expire.
The heavy-duty gas turbines are currently capable of running on a mixture of 30% hydrogen and 70% natural gas, and Mitsubishi Power plans to run them on 100% hydrogen in time to meet the state’s net zero goals. These capabilities put the site on track to move from electricity production via coal, the highest-emitting fuel, to a zero-carbon power source, with intermediate steps that can reduce emissions and ensure resource adequacy.
“This is one of the most collaborative projects I’ve ever been involved in,” says John Ward, spokesperson for IPA. “But this type of collaboration doesn’t happen overnight.” The project’s participants have developed power generation infrastructure over four decades, and their transition to renewable power has been underway for over a decade.
Strategic locations for hydrogen infrastructure
As hydrogen-fueled power production ramps up, the hydrogen will have to come from somewhere, creating the need for another key technology. The Advanced Clean Energy Storage project sits on top of a geological salt dome in Delta, Utah, where Mitsubishi Power is partnering with Magnum Development to produce and store green hydrogen.
As the supply of renewable power increases, there is an opportunity to use green hydrogen to store that energy, like a battery, but with distinct advantages. “One salt cavern filled with green hydrogen can store as many megawatt hours of energy as probably every grid-scale battery that exists in the world combined — 150,000 megawatt hours,” says Rob Webster, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of Magnum Development. “And it doesn’t degrade over time like a battery does.”
As solar and wind generating capacity increases, the excess power produced during especially sunny or windy days can be used to power electrolyzers that convert water into green hydrogen. That green hydrogen, in turn, can be stored for weeks, months or even seasons, until it’s needed as a fuel either to generate electricity or for other applications, such as industrial operations or transportation.
Having a hydrogen production and storage facility next door does more than support the IPP project. It becomes the foundation for the next phase of decarbonizing multiple industries. “Once we have green hydrogen production, ample storage via salt domes and build pipelines from the site, then we can go wherever hydrogen is needed to support decarbonizing power, transport and other industries across the region,” says Ducker.
Solving the hydrogen distribution challenge
For companies like Mitsubishi Power that are building hydrogen-fueled technology, a major priority is developing infrastructure that not only produces green hydrogen at scale but also distributes it effectively. On that front, Mitsubishi Power has partnered with Entergy, the fifth-largest utility in the United States, to create a viable hydrogen hub that can be a model for others around the world. Using Entergy’s 1,700 miles of hydrogen pipelines, the partnership will increase hydrogen’s footprint on the Gulf Coast in the same way that the partnership with Magnum will increase its footprint in the western United States.
Mitsubishi Power is partnering with Bakken Energy in the Midwest on another clean energy hub. The partnership will produce hydrogen from natural gas using carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) technology. The hub will provide access to clean fuel for immediate carbon reduction, while enabling further hydrogen infrastructure buildout.
These moves have drawn attention from other industry players as well. In September, Chevron agreed to a framework to acquire an interest in the hydrogen storage side of the Magnum project. This move comes as part of the energy industry’s broadening efforts to scale the hydrogen market: These new and growing collaborations provide a launchpad to drive the production, storage and transportation of hydrogen into other areas as demand continues to grow. Mitsubishi Power is already looking to replicate its joint work with Magnum and IPA with partners operating on the East Coast.
“The progression from West to East is already happening, and much faster than we ever thought it would,” says Ducker. “We’re leading the market in all aspects of decarbonization, especially hydrogen.”
A future of cascading gains
The partnerships that Mitsubishi Power and others are putting into place today will benefit the energy transition in multiple ways. They advance key technologies such as long-term renewables storage and more efficient ways to transport hydrogen. And by bringing new decarbonization technologies to scale, they introduce cost efficiencies on which the next generation of innovations can build.
But perhaps most important, they serve as a model for other collaborations by showing what’s possible. The more we demonstrate their impact, the more the industry will seek to emulate them, creating the self-perpetuating dynamic necessary to reach net zero.
“We’re trying to be the leader in figuring out the hard part of getting to net zero,” says Ducker. “If you want to do something that matters for the world, you need partners that can do big things.”
See our Blueprint for Decarbonization to learn more about our vision for a net zero and reliable power industry.