Tag Archives: climate change

cop21

COP21 – good news for the planet

 On the 12th of December, 2015, high-level representatives from 195 nations, including many presidents and prime ministers, agreed to try to hold warming “well below” 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. On April 22, at the UN in NYC, the agreement takes full effect (once nations representing a majority of the planet’s GHG emissions sign the agreement). Unfortunately, the truth is that, even if the agreement in Paris is carried out by every nation, and to the letter, global temperatures will still be on course to rise by around 2.7°C by the end of the century.

Luckily, the best news of the entire COP21 came on Day 1 with the announcement of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (breakthroughenergycoalition.com). The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a group of more than 20 billionaires (including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg {CEO of Facebook}) who have agreed to invest in innovative clean energy. The Coalition wouldn’t be able to fund and meet all of its goals without the most important international commitment by governments to invest in clean energy to date. Mission Innovation (mission-innovation.net) is a group of 20 countries including the U.S., Brazil, China, Japan, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, who have pledged to double government investment in clean energy innovation and to be transparent about its clean energy research and development efforts. In a statement from the Coalition, the importance of both groups is highlighted –

“THE WORLD NEEDS WIDELY AVAILABLE ENERGY that is reliable, affordable and does not produce carbon. The only way to accomplish that goal is by developing new tools to power the world. That innovation will result from a dramatically scaled up public research pipeline linked to truly patient, flexible investments committed to developing the technologies that will create a new energy mix. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is working together with a growing group of visionary countries who are significantly increasing their public research pipeline through the Mission Innovation initiative to make that future a reality.”

Brazil was one of the last countries to join the ‘high ambition coalition’, while China and India were hold outs to this section of the pact. The ‘high ambition coalition’ are a group of countries, including most of the “Mission Innovation” countries and a group of the most vulnerable (smaller generally, and poorer) nations, that are looking towards a more ambitious goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. China and India are the major emitters in the developing world, and were the last agree to the main pact, but not the high ambition goal, at COP21.

Below are some major resources for more information on the COP21:

 

COP21 Paris – breakdown of the event

coal plant

Stabilize greenhouse gasses

There are numerous ways that we can stabilize greenhouse gasses, thereby “stopping” climate change. Governments of 1st world and even developing nations must implement some of the following policies (and most might, at least implement some of the following, especially after the upcoming COP meeting of the UNFCCC in Paris). Clearly, the path to stabilize GHG emissions includes making it a priority for governments to financially invest in at least some of these solutions:

 

1. A carbon tax, or carbon cap-and-trade system, or both

2. Further investment in, and development of all forms of renewable energy including: wind, solar, geothermal and biomass/biofuel etc…

3. Carbon capture and storage

4. Widespread adoption of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, as well as sustainable mass transportation using biofuel or electricity (bus systems, light rail etc…)

5. More use of, and development of smart grid infrastructure – smart meters, home energy management systems etc…

6. Energy, especially renewable energy, storage

 

 

This is certainly an incomplete list, so please feel free to add points.

coal plant

Carbon Cap and Trade: putting a price on carbon

Carbon cap and trade systems are plans in which countries, provinces, states and even cities set regulations (a cap) on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions industries/ power plants can emit, and then implement an Emissions Trading System (ETS). Companies included in cap and trade systems, often companies that operate power plants, have a limit (cap) on the amount of GHG emissions they can produce that is set by the government. Governments may either “grandfather in” GHG allowances (essentially give away credits based on past GHG production) or auction allowances off. Companies with extra carbon credits because their plants go under the limits can then trade their excess carbon allowances to companies that need to buy carbon credits to avoid going over the limit.

Auctions for carbon permits (one carbon permit is usually = to 1 metric ton of GHG pollution) are an essential part of the carbon cap and trade system, helping to establish a price on carbon, and are  much more effective than the system where credits are just ‘”grandfathered in”. The cost of carbon permits is essentially the price of carbon. As GHG emission credits are auctioned off, a price on carbon is established. Companies can also keep carbon credits for future use in trading or for their own allowances. For companies that run over their GHG emissions limits and don’t cover their allowances, a heavy fine is imposed. Carbon cap and trade systems are designed to lower the cap annually, gradually reducing the allowable limit of GHG pollution for those industries targeted by the cap and trade system.

There are trades that offset GHG emissions; trades for credits with companies that have forestry projects and that are reforesting areas or that limit deforestation, or companies that have livestock projects that incorporate sustainable practices, or companies that invest in clean coal technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or other carbon sequestration measures. To make cap and trade systems even more effective, there should be more offset credits allowed for trades with companies that implement GHG emission saving and energy efficiency technologies like renewable energy, integrative gasification combined cycle (IGCC), and anaerobic digestion (AD), combined heat and power (cogeneration) (CHP) etc…

For some companies, it might make more financial sense and be more cost-effective to make the effort to reduce emissions through emission saving and energy efficiency technologies and/ or expanded use of renewable energy, and then sell their allowances to companies that are over their GHG limit. However, usually most companies tend to buy carbon allowances if it’s cheaper to buy them than to try to lower emissions. Carbon permits can be invested in by businesses, industries, or even the public in some regions, via a carbon futures market.

Carbon cap and trade systems are in effect in about 40 countries and 25 states/ provinces/ cities globally. The largest market for cap and trade is in the EU with the European Union Emissions Trading System. The EU ETS covers more than 11,000 power plants and industrial stations in over 30 countries, as well as airlines (for flights within Europe until 2016). The primary focus of the EU ETS is to fight climate change by lowering GHG emissions.

The EU ETS remains the largest (and first) international trading organization for trading GHG emission allowances. The EU ETS has successfully put a price on carbon, with its system of trading allowances of GHG emissions, and has also watched GHG emissions fall by a few percent annually since it began in 2005. The cap, or limit, set on GHG emissions will be, on average, over 20% lower on all power plants and industries by 2020 from 2005 levels (when the program started), as the EU continues to make efforts to reduce pollution.  Clean, energy efficient, low-carbon technologies like CCS, IGCC, CHP and AD, as well as renewable energy, have grown in popularity throughout Europe, in part, because of the rising price of carbon resulting from cap and trade programs.

All countries deal with cap and trade differently. Most have cap and trade for industry and power sectors. South Korea has cap and trade for heavy industry, power, waste, transportation and building sectors. China has six provinces testing out cap and trade, and along with South Korea, represents a very large carbon market (with just those 6 provinces China is a large market, the entire country represents the single largest carbon market, by far). The U.K., Ireland, Iceland and the Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden and Finland have legislated both a carbon tax and cap and trade programs.

The nine state agreement in the U.S. northeast (the Regional Greenhouse Gas InitiativeRGGI) is another major carbon cap and trade trading pact, and is, at least partially, based on the pioneering EU program. These states have auctioned off carbon allowances to industries in RGGI states, and have thereby collected well over $1 billion from carbon cap and trade programs, much of which has been reinvested in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other clean energy programs. Since carbon cap and trade has started in the U.S. northeast, GHG emissions have steadily dropped. Like the EU, this in part due to investment in clean energy technologies, but also because some companies in the U.S. northeast have switched from dirtier fossil fuels like coal to cleaner natural gas generators in power plants, or to renewable energy.

Some carbon cap and trade markets are:

EU ETS:

http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets/index_en.htm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfNgsKrPKsg

The U.S. Northeast region:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/07/14/carbon-caps-help-northeast-economy-report-says/jPcTMPG6f6SjcRU8CBCSnO/story.html#

http://insideclimatenews.org/news/14072015/cap-trade-shows-economic-muscle-northeast-13-billion-RGGI-clean-power-plan

“To comply with the federal Clean Power Plan’s requirements for cutting carbon pollution from power plants, states have several options—including joining RGGI or similar schemes such as California’s cap-and-trade system.” – from: Cap & Trade Shows Its Economic Muscle in the Northeast, $1.3B in 3 Years (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative offers blueprint to all states as they begin to think about how they will comply with Clean Power Plan.) By Naveena Sadasivam, InsideClimate News

The RGGI states and California are ahead of the curve as far as complying with the Clean Power Plan.

California, Quebec:

http://daily.sightline.org/2014/05/22/17-things-to-know-about-californias-carbon-cap

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosaly-byrd/an-introdu put a quotaction-to-carbon-cap-and-trade_b_6737660.html

Please also see: Carbon Tax – a levy on pollution whose time has come

cap and trade

 

Carbon tax is a levy on pollution

Carbon tax – a levy on pollution whose time has come

A carbon tax is a levy on pollution, for the relative cost to humanity of the use of fossil fuels. This cost cannot be tabulated in exact terms, for it’s the accumulated cost of the damage to the environment, human health, and related costs of the use of fossil fuels that can only be estimated. The carbon tax itself is a fee on the production and distribution of fossil fuels. The government sets a price per ton on carbon, then that translates into a tax on oil, natural gas or such things as the electric bill.

Businesses and utilities then have the incentive to reduce consumption, and/ or maintain the market price and absorb the cost of the tax, or pass the added fee on to individual consumers. Individuals would then have the incentive to reduce consumption, increase their energy efficiency habits or face a steeper cost for energy and gas.

The principle of mitigating negative externalities (such as the damage caused by fossil fuels), and having the relative costs of pollution paid for, is the primary purpose of the carbon tax. Who bears the ultimate burden of the tax is a hypothetical question that has a couple of answers. The businesses that produce and distribute fossil fuels should consider bearing the brunt of the tax. In practice, individuals pay more.

A carbon tax is enacted to lower greenhouse-gas emissions. Public transportation, energy efficiency products, and things like clean coal technology become great alternatives to traditional means. One other benefit of a carbon tax, besides the incentives to reduce consumption and increase energy efficiency, is the increased attractiveness of the cost of alternative energy, which is made closer to cost parity with fossil fuels.

 

Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK have all successfully implemented a partial carbon tax on some goods and services, while not being able to implement a broad, universal carbon tax. Generally, reports of lower greenhouse-gas emissions follow the passage of a carbon tax. In addition, India and Australia, among many other countries, have also successfully enacted carbon tax policies. The province of British Columbia, in Canada, has reported drops of around 5% annually of greenhouse gas emissions due to its aggressive carbon tax policies. 

micro-grids: powering the future

Micro-grids spread across Africa

Communities in developing countries (such as India and countries in Africa), especially those in remote locations, benefit from the deployment of micro-grids. As African nations push for rural electrification, they look to micro-grids as a solution to the problem. Micro-grids that use renewable energy are more cost effective and safer compared to diesel generators and kerosene, that are widely used in Africa today. Kerosene often uses up to 20% of an average African’s income, can cause fires, and unhealthy air quality.

A medium-sized solar power system with battery storage, on other hand,  can be easily used by over 50 households, an entire village, in many rural locations in Africa. Smaller, individual units, can power single, or a few, households. The power can be used for lighting, cell phone charging, cooking, etc…

Micro-grids are important for remote communities in Africa. Electrification of rural villages has been made possible through them. Power needed for water pumping, and purification, is done with the help of various micro-grids in Africa and other parts of the world. Mobile communication has a wider reach in the continent through telecom towers that are powered with micro-grids.

Micro-grids are cheaper than building power lines into forests and mountains, especially in the most remote locations in Africa. Poor communities in other third world countries will also benefit from having micro-grids installed, especially when the utility grids don’t want to build long power lines to connect them to the grid.

Many African rural communities have already built micro-grids as their energy source. Every time a new installation is made, the skill base of the locals is developed. Their infrastructure is improved as well. However, despite the recent momentum of micro-grids, one of the reasons there are not enough micro-grids in Africa is because of the prohibitive cost and lack of reasonable financing. Policy is needed to ensure that they are more affordable to the poor, remote villages in the continent.

 

Please see: http://www.greencitytimes.com/Sustainability-News/micro-grids-powering-the-future.html for the whole article.

 

Other recent articles on micro-grids in Africa:

http://cleantechnica.com/2014/12/20/largest-microgrid-africa-assisted-eaton/

http://www.wallstreetsectorselector.com/investment-articles/editors-desk/2014/11/village-micro-grids-provide-power-rural-areas/

Government Mandates for Cleaner Energy Production: The USA, Germany, and The EU

Over the last several years, climate change science has witnessed a complete overhaul in acceptance. Scientists were once attempting to explain the impact of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide on the planet to an unwilling public, and now climate change is largely regarded as not only a fact, but the potentially devastating catastrophe that it is. World governments are reacting to public urging with attempts to diminish the long term effects energy production has on the planet, all in an effort to curtail climate change and, hopefully, repair some of the damage already caused.

Many countries, including the US, Germany and the member states of the European Union, have turned to government mandates as first steps to battling climate change. In addition to helping reduce the carbon footprints of the countries adopting these mandates, the programs are also paving the way for other countries to implement renewable energy technology.

USA Climate Action Plan

First established in 2008 by President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet and staff, the USA’s Climate Action Plan is updated every two years to incorporate new ideas and goals as well as integrate new research. Essentially, the program is geared towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions, responsible foresting, increasing the study of and funding for climate change, and encouraging the use of alternative fuel sources.

The plan aims to leave US children a cleaner, healthier planet and diminish the already-apparent effects of climate change, such as increased allergies and extreme weather, including dangerous heat waves, chilling winter temps and severe flooding. Plan directives include empowering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work with new and existing power plants to cut carbon pollution, setting aside $8 billion in loan funds for advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects, and setting benchmarks for renewable energy projects; by 2020, the plan allows for 6 million US homes to receive power from wind and solar energy and improve energy efficiency in all homes by 20-percent. The plan also includes a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons by 2030, essentially cutting the US energy sector’s pollution levels in half.

Germany Renewable Energy Act

The starting point for Germany’s exceptional advances in renewable energy projects, the German Renewable Energy Act was instigated in 2000, and has had a dramatic impact on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by the country’s private and commercial sectors.

The Act was founded by the then German Federal Minister of the Environment Klaus Topfer as well as other high-level German politicians and leaders in private and commercial companies. So far, the plan has increased Germany’s electricity production from only 10% being generated by renewable sources in 2012 to 28% in 2014. The Act has also created 268,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector. As a whole, this government mandate works to protect investment into renewable energy through guaranteed feed-in tariffs and connection requirements, creating a strong incentive for residential and commercial properties to invest in renewable energy sources. In a similar vein, the Act also provides a deterrent to overuse of electricity, creating an EEG rate that goes up with the more electricity consumed.

All in all, the dramatic success of Germany’s program has made the Act a source of inspiration for similar programs around the world.

European Union Renewable Energy Directive

First published in 2009, this directive requires that at least 20-percent of the energy consumed in member states is from renewable sources by 2020. Despite the union-wide 20-percent goal, each member state has a slightly different percentage goal to reach by 2020. For example, Belgium is only expected to hit 13-percent, Greece 18-percent and Poland 15-percent. On the other hand, some member states are setting loftier goals, with France vying for 23-percent, Austria 34-percent and Sweden 49-percent. When combined, the expected average percentage of energy produced by renewable sources is set to meet or exceed the 20-percent benchmark.

Each member state is required to send regular progress reports detailing how they’re implementing new ideas and technologies to meet this directive, including how they’ve increased their use of the EU’s approved renewable energy sources, which include wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal energy, biomass and harnessing tidal power. At its core, the directive is aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions; however, it has the added benefit of encouraging innovation and increasing employment opportunities across Europe.

As of 2014, member states have made impressive progress towards the 2020 goal, with nearly 13-percent of member state energy production being created with wind, solar and other environmentally-friendly technologies.

Although the plans and directives being implemented by the United States, Germany and the European Union are fantastic first steps towards combating climate change, true success will only be had when all countries implement similar plans and vow to lower carbon dioxide emissions further after the initial goals are met.