Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
This week we look at where we are going with climate action. China and US have agreed to take action on climate change. Despite mixed reactions, the message is clear. The key leaders are seeing the need for immediate action. Business understands climate action comes with risk but they are seeing the potential benefits of climate action so they continue to lobby for policy guidelines. If returns on low carbon investment can be between 27% and 81% then the motivation for action is high. Javi Masa sees this as a swing towards climate action which, in the US, may actually yield an economy acceptable to both Republicans and Democrats.
Emerging research is showing that zero carbon emissions by 2070 is the required target to avoid catastrophe. A recent study by UNEP shows that all their scenarios have to include negative emissions if we are to prevent climate disaster. The US-China deal is therefore a mere starting point. The scene is no-longer to just reduce emissions but to capture carbon from the air and even apply geo-engineering solutions to reject heat back into space. With this pressure to take action, do we have the key elements for the required renewable technology revolution?
The time seems right for a sudden change in energy technologies. The countries that were in recent years viewed as stumbling blocks are now taking leading action to reduce coal use and invest earnestly in renewable energy. If major market players like China and India are shifting away from fossil fuels to renewables it is natural to see the traditional financiers for fossils fuels now changing rhetoric and acknowledging that a lot of the fossil fuel reserves are un-burnable. James Goodman, in his article, senses this could be the beginning of a renewables revolution where finance for high carbon investment would become “wishful thinking”.
The World Bank tends to lead development finance policy. While they fund some difficult projects they now say they will shift towards renewable energy and only fund coal in cases of extreme need. The declaration may be silent on financing for other fossil fuel exploration but this is a statement posing indirect commitment to mitigation for those bank funded countries that may, in the past, have shunned making statements on climate change mitigation.
Nuclear energy does not appear to be considered a key carbon alternative anymore. The global market for nuclear power is shrinking as governments see the lifecycle cost too high. With renewable energy offering realistic solutions that may be better value for subsidies, governments are not keen to keep subsidising nuclear energy.
China may have some nuclear power projects underway but their rooftop solar programs are claiming a growing market share. A supportive policy environment hinged on need for cleaner air and a need to demonstrate commitment to climate action, is driving the rooftop solar market. Solar PV prices have fallen and the coal market share has shrunk while solar electricity market share in China has now exceeded nuclear power.
A village in German has successfully integrated small scale renewable energy technologies into one mini grid that sells excess energy to a major grid. Smart grid technology is used to address the technology issues whilst each energy user, household or business, is able to make near real time decisions on trading excess energy.
In China electricity will soon take to the air in the form of an electric plane that carries 480kg and can cruise for 90 minutes at 160km/hr. The cost of flying for one hour is put at 20 yuan (NZD4.13). Toyota is putting into commercial production it’s fuel cell powered car. US Government has a $1 million prize for a solution to fuel the car cheaply at home. Already fuelling stations are going up in many countries.
A rapid deployment of renewable energy technologies will come with new challenges. Renewable energy is dependent on non-renewable materials and production processes. Spent technologies present a potential hazard and their disposal has to be managed. Mike Hower gives examples of how low cost lights in Malawi need to be designed for recycling so as to avoid pollution through inappropriate end of life disposal.
Recycling will also help the increased demand for materials for a growing clean technology market. Research by Staples shows that Americans generally hoard electronics. This probably applies to many other countries where old devices are stored for lack of knowledge or opportunity to recycle. The short term impact of hoarding is extraction of raw materials with associated damage to the environment. The E-Stewards initiative by Basel Action Network is therefore timely.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.