Category Archives: Energy & emissions

Should humans try to modify the amount of sunlight the Earth receives?

By Daniel Ross – Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes. As scientists, policymakers and politicians keep one increasingly startled eye on climate change’s ticking clock and the other on the ongoing, upwardly mobile trend in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s no wonder possible solutions that have been long dismissed as fringe slices of science fiction are making their way into the mainstream.

Enter center stage geoengineering, a hitherto black sheep of the fight against global warming.

Geoengineering is a broadly encompassing term with a few close etymological cousins—namely climate engineering and climate change mitigation—along with a sizable stable of associated technologies. Some of them, like afforestation and ocean iron fertilization, fall under the umbrella of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in that they seek to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But these are techniques that would in all likelihood shift the climate change needle relatively slowly.

In comparison, technologies under the rubric of solar radiation management (SRM) are expected to work on a much faster timescale, and as a consequence, generate arguably the greater buzz. Solar engineering is the idea that humankind artificially limits how much sunlight and heat are permitted in the atmosphere, and includes the thinning of high-level cirrus clouds to help infrared rays more easily escape upward, along with the brightening of low-level marine clouds to help reflect sunlight back into space. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Protecting people from a changing climate: The case for resilience
Our new study lays bare the potential impact of climate risks for people across the globe—and underscores the need to protect the most vulnerable and build resilience.
By Harry Bowcott, Lori Fomenko, Alastair Hamilton, Mekala Krishnan, Mihir Mysore, Alexis Trittipo, and Oliver Walker – The United Nations’ 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated—with higher confidence than ever before—that, without meaningful decarbonization, global temperatures will rise to at least 1.5°C above preindustrial levels within the next two decades.1 This could have potentially dangerous and irreversible effects. A better understanding of how a changing climate could affect people around the world is a necessary first step toward defining solutions for protecting communities and building resilience.

As part of our knowledge partnership with Race to Resilience at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, we have built a detailed, global assessment of the number of people exposed to four key physical climate hazards, primarily under two different warming scenarios. This paper lays out our methodology and our conclusions from this independent assessment.

Our findings suggest the following conclusions:

  • Under a scenario with 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2030, almost half of the world’s population could be exposed to a climate hazard related to heat stress, drought, flood, or water stress in the next decade, up from 43 percent today3 —and almost a quarter of the world’s population would be exposed to severe hazards. (For detailed explanations of these hazards and how we define “severe,” see sidebar “A climate risk analysis focused on people: Our methodology in brief.”)
  • Indeed, as severe climate events become more common, even in a scenario where the world reaches 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2050 rather than 2030, nearly one in four people could be exposed to a severe climate hazard that could affect their lives or livelihoods.
  • Climate hazards are unevenly distributed.

more>

Updates from McKinsey

The energy transition unfolds
The transition to zero-carbon energy isn’t going to be a single shift, but a set of interrelated, system-level shifts. What will it take to get things moving quickly toward net-zero emissions?
McKinsey –  Decarbonizing the world’s economy will largely be a matter of overhauling the global energy system. And the necessary changes made to policies, technology, finance, and business models will affect the way that all individuals and all institutions produce and use energy.

Today McKinsey convened leaders from different points in the energy system to share observations on the state of the energy transition and the factors that might accelerate it. A few of the comments made during the session, edited for clarity, appear below. A full replay of today’s session can be found here.

Charting green hydrogen’s path to affordability: “The starting point is stone age: little [electrolyzer] units made by hand welding and hand cutting. The minute we are able to automate a process, with robotic welding machines and long factories assembling fast, phenomenal scale will come in. In renewable energy, the price has come down. Producers still need to bring down the cost of the electrolyzer and the balance of the system. We are very confident. … There is no reason why green hydrogen cannot end up competing with gray hydrogen. No reason whatsoever.”
—Paddy Padmanathan, president and CEO, ACWA Power

Rethinking the financial risk of new technologies: “We’ve had a long period when the perceived risk associated with new solutions for the climate problem has been higher than it really is. Now we’re starting to get to a point where that is tipping. It’s becoming obvious how carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and direct-air capture are fitting into the climate equation. And therefore finance can start to factor them into credible transition pathways for clients.”
—Zoë Knight, managing director and group head, Centre of Sustainable Finance, HSBC more>

Are “net-zero” climate targets just hot air?

The US, Australia, Japan, and even Saudi Arabia are aiming for net-zero. Does it mean anything?
By Umair Irfan – Corporations and countries around the world are promising to eliminate their contributions to climate change. But many of their targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are prefaced by a slippery phrase: “net-zero.”

More than 130 countries have set or are considering net-zero emissions goals, and many are stepping up as they prepare for next week’s COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. The United StatesNew ZealandCosta RicaJapan, and Argentina all aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The European Union aims to be “climate-neutral,” another way of framing net-zero. Even Russia and Saudi Arabia (the world’s top oil exporter) now have net-zero emissions targets.

Private companies are getting into the game, too. At least 20 percent of the 2,000 largest companies have set net-zero emissions targets, including giants like Apple, Ford, and Microsoft.

But “net-zero” is different from zero emissions, and this nebulous term can obscure a lot of important differences in how countries and companies actually plan to limit their contributions to climate change.

There are no standards that govern what activities actually count as net-zero. “The ‘net’ is always there in front of the ‘zero,’ but the ‘net’ part is a bit vague, especially with country-level commitments,” Derik Broekhoff, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told Vox.

When a country aims for net-zero emissions — as opposed to simply zero emissions — it’s essentially promising to balance out its climate pollution, so that overall, it doesn’t harm the global climate. more>

Meet General Electric’s flexible power transformer

By Ben Geman – A Mississippi utility is installing what’s being billed as “the world’s first large flexible transformer” — an Energy Department-backed project aimed at boosting grid resilience and smoothing integration of renewables.

Driving the news: GE Research and Prolec GE, working with the Mississippi power company Cooperative Energy, this morning are announcing the launch of a six-month field demonstration at a big substation in Columbia, Mississippi.

Why it matters: The “flexible” transformer has advantages over traditional models customized to specific voltage levels and other conditions, the companies and DOE said.

The big picture: The companies, which released this video promo, said it can better withstand extreme weather and is also an easier and faster replacement when extreme weather has damaged a traditional transformer. more>

Why Europe needs a climate-forward innovation policy

By Lee Beck and Eve Tamme – Orca, the largest direct air capture and storage facility to date, recently commenced operations in Iceland and is expected to suck some 4000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere annually. With increasing climate ambition and the new climate neutrality target, the role of technological carbon removal is emerging as one of the critical points of debate in the European Union. On the one hand, it is evident from mid-century net-zero pathways that steep and transformational emission reductions must be prioritized over carbon removals. On the other hand, it is also becoming clear that carbon removal technologies will likely be needed to balance out residual emissions and reduce the stock of CO2 already in the atmosphere. This begs the question – how can we get this technology to Gigaton scale, so it is available as a decarbonization option? History has taught us that scaling technologies takes decades – time we do not have as the clock is ticking while the climate crisis rages. We need to get the policy framework right today, and there are two significant gaps to fill: commercialization and accounting.

The EU is already a climate leader and policy pioneer. However, the current EU sectoral policies will likely drive investment in advanced decarbonization tech only once technology-specific innovation policy has commercialized them. Considering that it has taken on average more than 20 years for technologies to reach crucial inflection points in deployment, we do not have time to test current, widely adopted decarbonization technologies as the main mitigation strategies before deploying technologies that are not commercially available.

With increasing climate ambition and our emissions reduction timelines shortened, carbon removal technologies will also need to be available sooner. Having multiple available technology options also increases our chances for success and provides countries and regions with the opportunity to design decarbonization technology portfolios tailored to their social, economic and resource circumstances. Hence, it’s time for Europe to embrace an innovation-forward approach to climate. more>

Not seeing the wood for the trees—the EU’s environmental blunder

Supporting a conversion to wood burning has unwittingly incentivised power plants to increase greenhouse gases.
By George Tyler – The European Union is leading the world in adopting limits on greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, notably via hefty carbon taxes. New policies always experience teething problems but an EU environmental regulation adopted in 2009 has become an embarrassing own goal.

The regulation classified wood burning as environmentally superior to fossil fuels—even carbon-neutral—and exempted it from carbon taxes. That was intuitive perhaps but an untested presumption adopted in a data vacuum. The notion was that harvesting forests for power-plant fuel would establish a virtuous cycle, with tree regrowth offsetting the wood-burning emissions.

But rigorous subsequent analyses have led experts to debunk the notion of wood as carbon-neutral. In no scenario, even stretching over a century, does replanted forest sequester sufficient carbon. In the most environmentally beneficial scenario, a quarter of a hardwood forest can be harvested for power-plant fuel and, if replanted with hardwood—and the entire forest left untouched and free of fire, drought or infestation during the subsequent century—will sequester all of 66 per cent of the emissions released by the initial burning. more>

 

Updates from McKinsey

Japan offshore wind: The ideal moment to build a vibrant industry
As construction starts on Japan’s first large commercial offshore wind farm in the coastal waters of Akita, the country is heralding a future of energy independence.
By Sven Heiligtag, Katsuhiro Sato, Benjamin Sauer, and Koji Toyama – With the passage in late 2019 of a law that allows offshore turbines to operate for 30 years, Japan has begun in earnest its journey away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

The two wind farms of the ¥100 billion Akita project will generate with a capacity of 140 MW, enough electricity to power at least 150,000 of Japan’s 52 million homes. By 2030 Japan plans to have installed a total of 10 GW, and the country’s possibilities are even greater. The International Energy Agency estimates Japan has enough technical potential to satisfy its entire power needs nine times over.

Japan can take advantage of the technology advances and cost improvements the offshore wind industry has made since its early days in Denmark in the 1990s. Today, it can learn from the experiences of other countries, not only in creating the turbines and wind farms but also in building markets, setting offtake prices, and designing regulation and financial incentives.

In only a handful of decades, offshore wind has become one of the core power-generation technologies of Europe, with installed capacity of 22 GW2 and about 100 GW planned by 2030.3 Taiwan and the United States have already commissioned the first small projects and plan for more than 10 and 25 GW by 2030, respectively.4 During the industry’s 30-year evolution, costs have fallen so sharply that offshore wind now compares favorably with competing energy sources.

But that does not mean Japan’s journey will be simple. It will require multiple players, including regulators, utilities, and investors, to do their part in a country where the public remains skeptical about offshore wind’s cost competitiveness with other power sources. more>

Energize This: Canada Could Become A Global Hub For New Nuclear Technology

By Tomas Kellner – Canada, like many industrialized countries, has pledged to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. But what makes Canada unique is how it wants to achieve that goal. Like others, it has been boosting renewables like wind and solar. But it also plans to add to the mix a powerful new source: small modular reactors, or SMRs.

SMRs can generate carbon-free electricity while overcoming some of the nuclear industry’s biggest challenges — namely, cost and lengthy construction times.

They can play a crucial role in helping Canada decarbonize in several important ways. Designed to produce up to 300 megawatts of carbon-free electricity generation, SMRs can step in when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining, which can happen for extended periods during Canada’s long winters, marked by a formidable mix of snow, cold and short days. But they can also help provide carbon-free generation in remote areas, particularly in the northern regions, where many rely on diesel generators for electricity. more>

New UN climate report is a ‘Code Red for Humanity’

By Reynard Loki – In a grim report released on August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that climate change was “unequivocally” caused by human activity, and that within two decades, rising temperatures will cause the planet to reach a significant turning point in global warming. The report’s authors—a group of the world’s top climate scientists convened by the United Nations (UN)—predict that by 2040, average global temperatures will be warmer than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, causing more frequent and intense heat waves, droughts and extreme weather events. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the bleak findings a “code red for humanity.”

The report found global warming increasing at a faster rate than earlier predictions estimated. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land… [and] at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years,” the report says. “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” Even if the world’s nations enacted sharp and stringent reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases today, overall global warming is still estimated to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next 20 years. That means that the hotter, more dangerous future that scientists and the Paris climate agreement sought to avoid is now unavoidable.

Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the report’s co-authors, offered a stern warning: “It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” she said, adding that there is “[n]owhere to run, nowhere to hide.” In an interview with the Hill, Kim Cobb, the lead author of the report’s first chapter, said, “We’re already reeling, clearly, from so many of these impacts that the report highlights, especially in the category of extremes that are gripping these headlines and causing so much damage, but of course the 1.5 degree C world is notably and discernibly worse.” more>