Decarbonising sectors such as aviation, heating and industry has proved difficult via direct electrification. Hence, the synthesis of carbon-neutral fuels and feedstocks from renewable electricity has received much attention in recent years. However, in European countries such as Belgium, the theoretical amount of renewable electricity that may be produced is known to be insufficient to supply current energy demand levels, which is compounded by problems of social acceptance of renewable energy and infrastructure projects. In addition, the economics of renewable electricity production directly depend on the quality of the underlying resource, and very-high-quality resources are abundant in remote regions such Patagonia, Greenland and North Africa. The idea of synthesising renewable fuels there and transporting them back to demand centres has therefore been proposed. This paper introduces a novel optimisation modelling framework to study the economics and efficiency of such remote renewable energy supply chains in an integrated, spatially and temporally-resolved fashion [URL Paper]. The framework has also served as a basis for the development of an open source optimisation modelling language [URL Tutorial Modelling Language] and tool [URL Gitlab Repository], which facilitate problem encoding and post-processing, promote model re-use and improve portability. In the paper, the framework and tool are leveraged to study the synthesis of carbon-neutral methane from solar and wind energy in North Africa and its export to Northwestern Europe. Results suggest that the cost of synthetic methane production and delivery would be slightly under 200 EUR/MWh and 150 EUR/MWh by 2030 for a system supplying 100 TWh (higher heating value) annually that relies on solar photovoltaic plants alone and a combination of solar photovoltaic and wind power plants, respectively, assuming a uniform weighted average cost of capital of 7%. The cost difference between these system configurations mostly stems from higher investments in technologies providing flexibility required to balance the system in the solar-driven configuration. Synthetic methane costs would drop to roughly 124 EUR/MWh and 87 EUR/MWh, respectively, if financing costs were zero and only technology costs were taken into account.
URL Paper: http://hdl.handle.net/2268/250796
URL Tutorial Modelling Language: http://hdl.handle.net/2268/256705
URL Gitlab Repository: https://gitlab.uliege.be/smart_grids/public/gboml