Discussion Paper

Energy trilemma and the case for powerfuels

Chapter 2.3

The energy trilemma of energy system transformation encompasses security of supply, public acceptance and economic affordability.
From the security of supply perspective, the fluctuating generation of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and sun poses new challenges:

  • the short-term, current stability of electricity grids
  • the "temporal" and "spatial" displacement of electricity.


Even with greater electrification in the future, powerfuels will ensure security of supply. Today, as in the year 2050, the annual peak load is covered in particular by secure, controllable power plant capacities and by demand-oriented control, storage and electricity imports. Gas-fired power plants as well as larger and smaller combined heat and power plants are mainly used today to secure power plant capacity. Powerfuels increase the range of possibilities for balancing energy systems of the future.

From the public acceptance perspective, powerfuels can be used as drop-in replacements for present-day fossil fuel use. This minimises the amount of change that end-users have to make in the energy transition process. Also public acceptance for new infrastructure investments (for example the construction of new electricity transmission lines) has been marred by not-in-my-backyard phenomenon. Since powerfuels can be transported with existing gas and liquid fuel transport infrastructure, the need for new infrastructure is minimised.

From the economic affordability perspective, energy transition approaches must be compared based on entire system-level costs (also referred to as cradle to grave costing). Evaluating energy transition approaches only based on the tank-to-wheel basis ignores the other critical cost components of the complete energy system. If system-level costs are considered, powerfuels offers a lower total cost pathway that is complementary in nature to the other energy transition approaches.

These points are further explained in the next Chapter.

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