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Process heat will need electricity, gas to lower emissions

First Gas says a new report by Transpower signals that a combination of electricity and gas will be needed to quickly lower emissions from industrial heavy heat users.

The report, Taking the Climate Heat out of Process Heat, found that a third of current “process heat” users could easily switch to electricity now, but the other two-thirds have a more complicated path. Some industries may never find electrification feasible.

“Process heat” refers to equipment and processes used to reach the heats required to manufacture things like aluminium and steel, warm schools and greenhouses, pasteurise and dry milk, and fabricate all manner of products.

It found that 20% of process heat was “challenging” to convert to electricity because it required temperatures over 300 Celsius. This underscores the Interim Climate Change Committee’s recent finding that the last mile of electrification may be technically and economically unfeasible.

In between these industrial heat requirements (100-300 Celsius) are a range of users, equipment, fiscal conditions, and technology solutions.

First Gas chief executive Paul Goodeve said practical and physical realities meant the goal ought to be emission reduction by any means, not a future powered solely by electricity.

“Every year, the emissions should get lower and lower. More work is clearly required on future electrical technologies, but we need to get on with using the technology we have at hand today.

“Rather than hoping that new technology will arrive, and the economics will stack up, we can reduce emissions now by using a mix of lower carbon electricity and gas equipment.

“The emissions reduction target can be met if we are agnostic about how. For example, we can halve process heat emissions from the current quarter of all energy if we convert coal power machinery to gas.

Mr Goodeve said the task facing all industrial users was two-fold:

• Immediate emission reductions of up to 55% by converting existing coal-fired equipment to gas for tasks requiring heat over 100 degrees;
• Immediate emission reductions by swapping to new electric-powered equipment for those industrial processes requiring heat under 100 degrees Celsius.

“That would give us up to two thirds of the potential emission reduction in process heat within the next three years without having to wait for the very uncertain new technology and economic conditions in a decade or more,” Mr Goodeve said.

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