Categories
All Posts Energy Efficiency GCT featured articles Green City Times green city Sustainable Cities urban planning

Sustainable city: CHICAGO

Is Chicago a GREEN City?


Chicago might not be widely known as a green city, however, the city has a Sustainable Action Agenda, a vast network of sustainable mass public transit options, a high share of energy efficient buildings, and is home to a host of other green city initiatives.


downtown Chicago near Lake Michigan

CHICAGO IS – A Sustainable City

– Mass Transit & Green Spaces

L’ railcars, Chicago

Chicago has extensive mass public transportation networks. Chicago features 145 stations for its 8 ‘L’ rapid transit rail lines; and over 120 bus routes with over 1800 buses.

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has been able to cut its GHG emissions (GHGs) by incorporating more energy efficient transit options even while expanding. CTA’s ‘L’ rail lines and CTA’s bus lines are highly efficient, quick ways to get around the city, and run frequently throughout the day.

Public mass transit options in Chicago include a large network of CTA buses, Metra commuter rail lines, and CTA’s ‘L’ railcar lines (above-ground rapid transit railcars running on elevated subway routes, which combined make over 2,000 trips/ day). CTA has a goal to use 100% clean energy by 2040, and has been able to cut its GHGs by over 10% annually by incorporating more energy efficient transit options while expanding its city fleet.  

Chicago not only features exemplary mass public transit networks but excels at maintaining green spaces in the city as well. The greater Chicago area consists of over 12,000 total acres of parkland (this includes land managed by the state and county – there are over 8,800 acres of green space owned by the Chicago Park District, including over 600 parks). ~8.5% of the land area of Chicago is green space open to the public.

One great example of a large community park in Chicago is Lincoln Park, the city’s largest park (at about 1200 acres). Lincoln Park is the (adjacent) home to a city district (home to over 68,000 people) in Chicago’s Northside, as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lincoln Park, Chicago


The Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda

 

view of downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan

Chicago has benefited from green urban planning. The City of Chicago has worked hard to put in motion plans to transform the city into one of the world’s brightest examples of a sustainable metropolis.

A path to this goal is found in the 7 themes of “The Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda. These 7 main themes include – Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, Energy Efficiency & Clean Energy, Waste & Recycling, Waste & Wastewater, Transportation Options, Economic Development & Job Creation, and Parks & Open Space

Chicago has developed a citywide Climate Action Plan that mirrors the goals of Chicago’s Sustainable Action Agenda. The Chicago Climate Action Plan includes climate change mitigation strategies featuring energy efficient buildings, clean & renewable energy sources, improved transportation options, and reduced waste & industrial buildings. 


Sustainability Action Agenda of the City of Chicago – focus on LEED buildings

Willis Tower Chicago – tallest LEED Platinum building in the U.S.

One of the aspects of the Sustainability Action Agenda the City of Chicago has been most successful at implementing, and a major part of that which makes Chicago a sustainable city, from an energy use standpoint, is developing sustainable energy efficient buildings. Another is the city’s implementation of sustainable technology with regard to retrofitting buildings.

LEED certifies buildings that demonstrate excellence in the following categories: sustainable sites, location and transportation, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Energy Star is another high energy efficiency standard for buildings and appliances within buildings, particularly high-efficiency electric appliances (such as electric HVAC units). Chicago excels at producing highly efficient buildings, and the electrification of buildings in order to enhance energy efficiency.

With regard to LEED and Energy Star buildings, Chicago has the highest percentage (at over 65%) of LEED-certified/ Energy Star certified office buildings among the top 30 real estate markets in the United States.  The Willis tower (pictured here) went from LEED Gold to Platinum certification in just one year by efficiency retrofitting. The Willis Tower, the tallest U.S. LEED Platinum building, has made significant energy, sustainability, and air quality/ healthy building environment improvements. 


Retrofit Chicago

 

downtown Chicago

In order to make even more advancements in residential and business buildings’ energy and water efficiency, and reduce GHGs associated with buildings in the city, the City of Chicago has launched Retrofit Chicago.  

“Energy efficiency is a priority for strengthening Chicago— helping Chicago to be at affordable, modern, competitive, attractive, livable, and sustainable city. Retrofit Chicago’s energy efficiency pursuits help:  

      • Create Jobs 
      • Save Chicagoans money
      • Improve air quality for workers in commercial buildings
      • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
      • Demonstrate Chicago’s environmental leadership” 


Renewable Energy in City Buildings

City buildings in Chicago are to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2035 (per a resolution by the Chicago City Council). All Chicago Transit Authority buses are to run on electric energy by 2040.

The city’s (former) Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Park District, and City Colleges of Chicago, had previously agreed to a 100% clean energy program for Chicago to be implemented over the next 2 decades. This commitment makes Chicago the “largest major city” in the U.S. to commit to supplying all of its public buildings solely with renewable energy


Sustainable Development Division of Chicago

The city of Chicago has initiated a Sustainable Development Division (SDD) to address sustainability concerns in the development of buildings in Chicago.  

The Sustainability Division provides technical assistance for [developers]…required to meet the City of Chicago’s sustainability standards, specifically city-assisted projects [and] new planned developments…[Chicago’s] Sustainable Development Division promotes development practices that result in buildings that are healthier to occupy, less expensive to operate and more responsible to the environment than traditional buildings.

Sustainable requirements involve various levels of LEED [and] Energy Star standards for energy efficiency…The policies are intended to improve…public roadways and parks– [and create] a higher level of stewardship of local water, air, and land resources. The division promotes strategies that absorb stormwater on site, such as…bioswales, permeable pavement and rain gardens, as well as green roofs. Green roofs help to keep rainwater out of overburdened sewer systems, reduce urban temperatures, improve the air quality in densely developed neighborhoods, and reduce a building’s energy costs.” – Chicago SDD

Additionally, Chicago has created the Solar Express renewable energy initiative largely to advance green building in the city. The Chicago Solar Express is a public-private initiative to bring low-cost solar panels to the rooftops of Chicago- by cutting fees, streamlining permitting and zoning processes.

Since 2012, the City of Chicago and ComEd have worked with private partners and the University of Illinois, under a grant from the DOE’s Sunshot Initiative, to lower-cost barriers and reduce market prices of purchasing and installing solar PV for the city. 

“By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st-century economy here in Chicago,” [former] Mayor Emanuel said. The city of Chicago will achieve that commitment in a number of ways, including on-site generation and the acquisition of renewable energy credits (mostly wind and solar energy). Jack Darin, president of the Illinois Sierra Club supports the effort, “…by moving boldly to re-power its public buildings with renewable energy like wind and solar, Chicago is leading by example at a time when local leadership is more important than ever.”  FROM: goodnewsnetwork.org/chicago-city-buildings-powered-100-renewable-energy


These efforts of Chicago in green building illustrate the success of Chicago Sustainability themes –  substantially developing energy efficient buildings, and the retrofitting of buildings in Chicago to be LEED and Energy Star certified. Chicago Solar Express, as well as the widespread development of electricity & renewable energy to power buildings throughout Chicago, illustrates more Sustainability themes – clean energy & energy efficiency. Waste Management is yet another Sustainability theme in which the city of Chicago excels.


Chicago’s Waste Management

The City of Chicago has developed ambitious recycling programs throughout the city. By reducing Chicago’s waste and implementing various recycling programs, the city of Chicago is making an effort to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste management, lower Chicago’s carbon footprint, and reduce space in areas surrounding Chicago currently needed as landfills. These are some of the programs offered by the city of Chicago to increase conservation in the city, especially focusing on Chicago’s recycling programs: 

  • Chicago Public Schools Recycling  program
  • Blue Cart Recycling  – “The City’s Blue Cart program provides bi-weekly recycling services to single-family homes and multi-unit buildings.  By recycling regularly, [residents of Chicago] can help reduce the need for landfills, lower disposal costs, reduce pollution and conserve natural resources, such as timber and water”. Blue Cart Recycling includes almost every type of household waste, and had diverted over a half-ton of waste from landfills in the first 10 months of 2018 alone.
  • recycling drop off centers, a household chemicals recycling center, and a computer recycling facility  in Chicago
  • construction and demolition debris recycling - an ordinance requires that contractors recycle at least 50% of the recyclable debris generated by construction/ demolition 

Another key sustainability initiative that is helping Chicago save money and resources is the city’s wastewater management program. New wastewater treatments are assisting in the recovery of essential energy, solids, and water. These resources are then recycled and transformed into assets that can generate revenue for the city, and protect the environment.


Green Infrastructure in Chicago; Chicago’s Greencorp

The city has also installed 50,000 water meters through the MeterSave program, to help residents of Chicago conserve water and reduce water bills. The city has made a $50 million investment to clean and upgrade 4,400 miles of sewer lines, while also upgrading the built infrastructure, creating a cleaner, greener infrastructure. The City of Chicago is also investing in replacing and enhancing rooftops and roadways in the city to allow for stormwater to circulate back into the environment.  

Chicago plans to continue to replace or build new clean green and clean infrastructure. The city is replacing sewer mains in order to control stormwater accumulation in the sewers. Sitting next to Lake Michigan and atop a swampy marshy land, water management is crucial for Chicago to become a more sustainable and resilient city.

With a history of water pollution and toxic city water, Chicago became one of the lead innovators of waste and water management by securing federal funding in 1970 to upgrade its treatment facilities as a result of the Clean Water Act. Chicago continues to lead by example while reducing its water usage and increasing its efficiency.  

Chicago is also keenly focused on developing sustainability training and jobs among the inner-city population- namely through its flagship program, Greencorps ChicagoGreencorps Chicago provides training and jobs in environmental conservation, as well as nature-area management careers, to Chicago residents with barriers to employment. The Greencorps Chicago Youth Program, which launched in 2013, provides paid, sustainability-focused summer jobs. 


CTA

In addition to robust citywide conservation and waste management programs, the city of Chicago also has well-developed sustainable mass transit systems. Chicago’s mass transit options include transportation offerings from the United States’ 2nd largest public mass transit system; the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which operates bus and rail lines in the city, including 144 rail stations and over 100 bus routes.  

The city of Chicago is on the way to becoming a leader in sustainable transit. Chicago Transit Authority is committed to providing integral transit options that are greener and more sustainable. CTA is a huge contributor to the city’s sustainability movement because it helps to reduce vehicle emissions by replacing automobile trips with mass transit, reduces traffic congestion, and enables compact development.

The city of Chicago has 1,500 railcars with electric high-efficiency rails, and the new “L” cars are a new family of railcars equipped with innovative braking systems that can transfer electricity back to the third rail, which supplements power to nearby CTA trains (among other advances in the design and function of the railcars). The City of Chicago has launched a significant sustainable mass transportation campaign in order to reduce GHGs, decrease transit costs for the city and its residents, and increase efficiencies associated with transit. Chicago has 1,900 energy efficient buses that were converted to ultra-low sulfur diesel engines in March 2003; since 2007 any new buses acquired have been equipped with clean diesel and hybrid-electric engines. The city of Chicago plans to purchase additional all-electric buses.  

Chicago has also made an effort to promote its multimodal transportation.  That includes its Bike & Ride program. This program was established to improve bicycle access to bus routes and rail stations. In order to do that, the City of Chicago helped develop 6,000 Divvy bikes (Divvy bikes are part of a bike-sharing system run by the City of Chicago Department of Transportation), available for rent at 580 stations across the city. CTA has also worked with car-sharing companies to make for easier access between public transit and car-sharing. The CTA’s multimodal integration addresses transit-friendly development by working with the City of Chicago and other municipalities to connect their services and destinations. 

 



 

Categories
All Posts Climate Change Green City Times green city Net Zero

The Global Fight Against Climate Change; NDCs and Net Zero Targets Worldwide

GLOBAL CLIMATE ACTION |


Nationally Determined Contributions

As part of the ongoing global battle against climate change, almost 200 countries have set greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) reductions targets, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs). They’re fairly self-explanatory; by a specified year, a nation aims to reduce its carbon emissions by a certain amount (compared to a previous, specific year). 

Every 5 years, member nations of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) are required to submit revised NDCs, which are encouraged to progressively be greater GHG reduction targets, reflecting higher levels of ambition. Some national commitments are made more frequently, and more quickly than others. The latest round of NDCs came before COP26 in Glasgow Oct 31-Nov 12, many made well before in the case of more ambitious nations. Most members of the UNFCCC managed to make their improved NDCs public before COP 26. 

For example, the EU group of nations have committed to a collective target of 55% carbon emissions reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) – known as ‘Fit for 55‘. Countries worldwide have upped their original carbon reduction pledges made in the run-up to the Paris Climate Accord to new pledges reflecting greater climate ambition (described below). Many countries have taken the even more ambitious step of also setting a net zero emissions (carbon neutrality) national target (usually of 2050, but some nations have set different net zero target dates, described below).

Greater climate ambition worldwide reflects the growing international urgency to address the global climate crisis, and to reduce countries’ and communities’ carbon footprints. Recently, the global climate fight has received international notoriety fueled by young people worldwide engaging in a variety of climate strikes and climate actions. Read more about youth movements for global action on climate here>>> unicef.org/environment-and-climate-change/youth-action

As climate science has evolved over the last few years, GHG reduction targets have become more ambitious. For example, the EU now promises to cut carbon emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030 ( up from 40%) on its way to net zero by 2050. President Biden has pledged that the US will have carbon neutral energy on its electric grids by 2035, on its path to net zero by 2050 (up from 28% under Obama at the Paris Climate Accord). The “net zero” facet of national climate ambitions is a fairly new concept, kicked off by the relatively tiny nation of Bhutan in 2015.


Paris Climate Accord and Net Zero Targets

At the Paris Climate Accord, almost 200 world nations pledged GHG emission reduction targets. Based on the latest scientific guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), many nations’ NDCs have evolved over the last few years. NDCs have become more ambitious, and now many nations have net zero targets as well. Nations such as the EU group of countries, the UK, other European nations, & Japan, have set targets to reach net zero carbon emissions (carbon neutrality) by 2050. A few European nations have even more ambitious net zero targets. Germany and Sweden, for example, have both set their net zero targets for 2045. Finland aims for net zero by 2035>

The Paris Climate Accord is not legally binding, so actual binding NDCs must originate from national, state, and regional governments. (When not put forward by a national government, but rather by state or regional governments; these commitments are simply referred to as GHG reduction pledges). In the case of the EU, NDC targets and the 2050 net zero target are codified into law by legislation that is passed by the European Commission – the European Climate Law (effective July 2021).

The United States federal government has the executive commitment of President Biden to bold climate pledges (as of 2021) – net zero by 2050, carbon neutral energy on US grids by 2035, and at least a 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). The United States Congress hasn’t yet passed legislation committing to NDCs or a net zero target (like the EU has as well as several European nations independently). American states (such as California and several others) have passed GHG reduction targets and net zero targets for their individual states; through State Congresses as binding legislation. 

Many European nations (& California) had legally binding net zero targets, as well as ambitious GHG reduction pledges, in place well before China or the US. (Historically, China & the US are the 2 biggest emitters of GHGs in the world). China has set their net zero target for 2060 (in September 2020); while the United States has committed to net zero by 2050 (with President Biden taking office, in January 2021). It is expected that NDC and net zero commitments that the Chinese national government makes, will be codified into legally binding law in China. The US Congress would need to pass legislation, much as the European Commission has, in order for its NDC and net zero targets to become legally binding.

Net zero pledges made by governments around the world represent ambitious goals to keep global warming below 2°C (that’s 2°C rise above pre-industrial temperature averages), and ideally to 1.5°C this century; making good on the latest IPCC climate targets. Here is a map with countries’ various degrees of progress to net zero:

Map of Net-zero progress from BloombergNEF

[Compare developed nations of the EU and Japan (best – top quartile, in green), and US as well as a few other nations in blue (2nd quartile), to 3rd & 4th quartile nations on the above map. Many governments (a few G-20 nations, and nations not in the G-20) have yet to even make net zero pledges for their nations. Most of these are developing nations that believe that using fossil fuel energy is necessary to help alleviate poor socioeconomic conditions.

Historically, fossil fuels have brought developed nations a higher standard of living, however, renewables will effectively raise the standard of living for developing nations with cleaner, cheaper, abundant energy. Climate change will disproportionately affect developing nations, which have done the least to cause the problem. The solution is for all world nations, developed and developing, to simultaneously make the clean energy transition, and enjoy the benefits of clean energy development.]



NDCs and Net Zero targets

CAT Consortium’s ‘Climate Action Tracker’ – ‘Governments still showing little sign of acting on climate crisis’

Almost 200 countries have pledged NDCs to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), but are any of them doing enough? Analysis by the CAT Consortium’s ‘Climate Action Tracker‘ suggests that of the world’s great powers, only European nations (and California, as well as several other states) are truly leading the way in achieving GHG reduction targets. Nations in Northern Europe especially stand out as climate action leaders with regard to successfully reaching ambitious GHG reduction targets.

EU and US

The European Union (initially at Paris) pledged at least a 40% cut in GHGs below 1990 levels by 2030, and since then, in April 2021, has committed to 55% carbon reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). This is not merely an aim either; it’s legally binding. The EU Climate Law set the net zero by 2050 target into law in June 2021.

First of all, let’s take a look at the promises made by various major developed nations and states. In March 2015, President Obama initially pledged ahead of the Paris Climate Accord that the United States aims to cut its emissions by 26-28% by 2025 (in comparison to 2005 levels). President Biden has since set an even more ambitious NDC of at least 50% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Biden has also pledged 100% carbon free energy on electric grids in the United States by 2035; and net zero GHG emissions for the US by 2050.

The US Congress would need to act on NDCs, net zero targets, and other ambitious climate actions, in order to pass legislation, and make these commitments binding. The EU, as well as states in the US (like California), have passed laws for their ambitious climate targets. Although the US as a whole is behind Europe, California is still a global leader as far as GHG reduction targets (as states are responsible for their own GHG reduction goals). California plans to reach the target of 100% clean and renewable energy statewide by 2045


Other World Nations

The UK government has set a very ambitious NDC68% GHG reduction by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels). Likewise, Sweden has a very ambitious NDCat least 63% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) in “EU Effort Sharing Regulation” sectors, and even higher levels of ambition in other sectors. The Swedes also started to set their net zero by 2045 target into national law all the way back in 2017. Other world nations, from Switzerland to Costa Rica also have ambitious NDCs.

In April 2021, Canada ramped up their NDC to at least 40% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Shortly after, the Canadian government passed legislation committing to a national net zero by 2050 target. Canada also has been implementing progressive carbon pricing nationwide, with the aim of getting to net zero.

Australia differs from Canada and the EU in that the country has not legislated ramped-up targets. The Australian government has officially announced that the initial NDC set in the Paris Climate Accord is “…a floor…” (at least 26% GHG reduction by 2030 compared to 2005 levels), and that the country is on course to “…overachieve on this target…”; as well as a national goal to achieve net zero “…as soon as possible”. Australia has committed to net zero by 2050 just ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, however, the commitment hasn’t been legislated, so it isn’t legally binding. 

Ahead of the Paris Climate Accord, China initially announced it would be lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level. China is currently the world’s largest emitter of GHGs, and its attempts to meet its carbon intensity targets are rated ‘inadequate’ by the Climate Action Tracker. Despite this, China now aims to hit the target of net zero by 2060; and is trying to stay on course to reach its original NDC target.

India initially pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of its national GDP by 33-35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. India also intends to produce a significant amount of additional forest and tree cover (for carbon sequestration, in order to achieve carbon neutrality). India also intends to invest a substantial amount in renewable energy and energy efficiency; but on this and indeed their overall emissions targets, India can be vague on how it plans to achieve them. India has yet to make a net zero commitment, despite the over 100 other nations that made net zero commitments before COP26 in Glasgow. 

Until recently, Japan had been slow to reduce its national GHG emissions, despite an ambitious pledge of 80% emissions reduction by 2050. However, in November 2020, Japan made an even more ambitious pledge of net zero by 2050 (or…”as close as possible to 2050″). Like China, Japan has been dependent on coal (especially after increasing coal energy on the national grid following the Fukushima nuclear disaster). However, Japan now says it is committed to shutting down its coal-fired power plants; and developing more renewable energy in its place. The Japanese government says that “Japan will strive to achieve a decarbonized society by as close as possible to 2050“. Japan has an interim NDC of 26% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2013 levels).


Here is a summary of the most recent nationally determined contributions from nations discussed in this article, heading into COP26 in Glasgow: 

EU’s NDCreduce GHGs by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 

UK’s NDCreduce economy-wide GHGs by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels 

USA’s NDC: at least a 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030 compared to 2005 levels

China’s NDC: to achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level

India’s NDCreduce the emissions intensity of its national GDP by 33-35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels

Germany’s NDCpreliminary targets of cutting emissions by at least 65% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and 88% by 2040 

Sweden’s NDC: at least 63% GHG reduction by 2030 compared to 1990 levels

Japan’s NDCreduce GHGs by 46% by 2030 from its fiscal year 2013 levels 

Australia’s NDCan economy-wide target to reduce GHGs by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 

Canada’s NDCreduce emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 


COP and CAT (Conference of the Parties and Climate Action Tracker)

Countries set interim targets (mostly targetting 2030), and now largely many major world nations are en route to net zero. Upon setting an initial interim target in the Paris Climate Accord, countries are supposed to ramp up their interim 2030 NDC targets on a 5-year basis (or ideally, more frequently), and with the latest IPCC guidance; strongly encouraged to set net zero targets. Every 5 years, all UNFCCC member nations are required to submit new NDCs. Due to COVID-19, the year 2020 was just a low-profile virtual meeting; and the formal UNFCCC COP (in which all new NDCs from all UNFCCC member nations is due) will be COP26 in Glasgow.

The CAT Consortium runs the Climate Action Tracker, which grades each nation on how useful its promises actually are. Each nation’s NDC shapes to ‘current policy’ scenario in the CAT chart below. The ideal ‘optimistic’ scenarios are based on the most ambitious net zero emissions by 2050 targets being fully realized. How are current climate policies worldwide (NDCs) going to actually reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as world nations try to achieve net zero GHGs (carbon neutrality) in order to stop global warming? This chart, from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), models current climate policy outcomes, as well as optimistic net zero targets, to 2100>>>

Current climate policies vs. optimistic net zero targets – CAT


carbon farming carbon footprint carbon neutral carbon neutrality carbon pricing carbon tax clean energy Clean Power Plan climate change climate solutions cogeneration Conference of the Parties cover crops e-bikes electric vehicles energy energy efficiency energy star Freiburg global warming green building greenhouse gas emissions hydrogen hydrogen fuel cells Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change LEED nationally determined contributions net zero greenhouse gas emissions nuclear energy Paris Climate Accord recycling renewable energy reverse osmosis smart grid smart meter solar sources of renewable energy sustainability sustainable agriculture sustainable mass transit United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change urban planning waste-to-energy waste management zero-waste

Categories
All Posts Climate Change Green City Times green city Net Zero Sustainability News

Nuclear – necessary energy

Clean Energy


Both nuclear and renewable energy are needed in the global energy mix to help fight climate change

In order to cut down on the share of fossil fuels in the world energy mix, nuclear is necessary. A total of WELL OVER 40% of the world’s energy mix for renewable and nuclear energies combined is needed to reach significant greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Over 40% is not a final goal, but represents a realistic initial goal on the path towards the target of over 70% clean, zero-emission global energy generation.

To achieve a significant GHG emissions reduction target for the planet, the world needs nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is going to have to augment truly environmentally-friendly, renewable energy in the effort to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use.


How much of the world’s energy is nuclear?

Nuclear reactors provided 10% of the world’s total energy sources, on average annually, during the last decade. 13 countries get at least 1/4 of their energy from nuclear, including France (which gets around 3/4 from nuclear), Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland.

Nuclear energy is also put to great use in the US, France, China, Russia, and South Korea, among other countries. Now is probably as good of a time as any in this article to mention a couple of major drawbacks (to put it mildly) of nuclear energy.

Namely the danger- catastrophic disasters due to large-scale accidents like the one at Fukushima, Japan, enrichment of uranium in order to create nuclear weapons, and the difficult, expensive process of securely managing the disposal of nuclear waste.

The former major problems mentioned (and less waste generated by the nuclear process – Gen IV theoretically can just run on spent uranium) are resolved in the 4th generation nuclear reactor designs, discussed below.

Current reactors, mostly Gen I & II nuclear plants, along with several operational Gen III plants, rely on uranium and water (to cool the plants). Therefore, these nuclear plants still deplete water supplies, create nuclear waste, use a fuel source that can be enriched to convert the material into a bomb, and represent a source of potential danger.

The largest nuclear disaster in history was the Chernobyl disaster (although the risk of nuclear disaster is dramatically minimized in a Gen III plant, and eliminated in Gen IV nuclear. Some Gen IV designs dramatically cut the need for water to cool plants, as well).

Here’s a brief snippet from the World Nuclear Association summarizing nuclear energy’s current role in the global energy mix:

  • The first commercial nuclear power stations started operation in the 1950s.
  • Nuclear energy now provides about 10% of the world’s electricity from about 440 power reactors.
  • Nuclear is the world’s second largest source of low-carbon power (29% of the total in 2018). 
  • Over 50 countries utilise nuclear energy in about 220 research reactors. In addition to research, these reactors are used for the production of medical and industrial isotopes, as well as for training.  FROM  –  https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx

Advanced nuclear reactors

Safer, cheaper, still energy abundant and emissions-free designs that use relatively benign energy sources (thorium or depleted uranium), and much less water for cooling the reactor than previous designs and current operational nuclear plants, are being envisioned in 4th generation nuclear, and are currently available in a few 3rd generation nuclear power plant designs.

Using a small fraction of the water as previous designs, Gen IV nuclear plant designs, are safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and still offer tremendous potential for energy production. Molten salt reactors using depleted uranium, nuclear waste from other plants, or thorium as a complete replacement of uranium, are being planned in Gen IV nuclear plant designs. 4th generation designs (and many 3rd generation plants, both planned and operational) are autonomous, smart plants, with heightened safety measures.

Thorium is being looked at as a fuel source for new nuclear reactors, as it is abundant, much less radioactive than uranium, and creates by-products from burning the fuel source that can be used again in the reactor. There is a higher level of thorium than uranium on the planet.

Thorium, as well as depleted uranium, are being designed with relatively lower up-front capital costs. Little manpower is needed to run and maintain future, advanced 4th generation nuclear plants, due to the autonomous computer technology set to be deployed in the plants.


Summation of the benefits of advanced nuclear reactors

Nuclear reactors designed to run on thorium, and depleted uranium, have a very low chance of being used to develop nuclear weapons, produce less radioactive waste, are abundant fuel sources; and are safer, more cost-efficient in addition to being energy-efficient, and cleaner vis-a-vis energy generation compared to current widely deployed nuclear reactors.

Thorium, in particular, is being looked at by developing nations like China and India because of the relatively low cost, increased safety, an abundance of the material, and tremendous energy potential of this energy source. The U.S. has huge amounts of thorium, in places like Kentucky and Idaho (as well as depleted uranium); and there are large quantities in countries like India, Australia, and Brazil.

The U.S., Europe, and even some of the aforementioned developing countries, also have large stockpiles of depleted uranium. More depleted uranium is being produced every day, which would work in many of the 4th generation designs. A few 3rd generation nuclear plants are already operating, and some more are projected to be developed and ready for operation by 2025. 4th Gen nuclear promises to produce abundant, low-cost energy safely, and with little environmental impact.

In order to meet increased demand for low-emission, safer, lower up-front capital investment, high-efficiency energy sources, there has also been an increased global interest in light water small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Benefits of nuclear SMRs include-

Small modular reactors offer a lower initial capital investment, greater scalability, and siting flexibility for locations unable to accommodate more traditional larger reactors.  They also have the potential for enhanced safety and security compared to earlier designs. Deployment of advanced SMRs can help drive economic growth. From- USDOE Office of Nuclear Energy

One other “good” thing about nuclear energy production is that there are fairly low marginal costs. There are little to no negative externalities with regard to the actual energy production (i.e. little to no GHG emissions); however current nuclear power plants do generate toxic waste. Ongoing costs are fuel and maintenance of nuclear plants; the uranium to fuel the plants, and water to cool the plants, and toxic waste disposal facilities.

Large toxic waste disposal locations are necessary to bury the radioactive waste so people aren’t exposed to potentially cancer-causing radiation. Nuclear power plants do also carry high up-front capital costs.

The US Energy Information Administration estimated that for new nuclear plants in 2019 capital costs will make up 75% of the levelized cost of energy.

Even when looking at the downsides of current technologies for nuclear energy production, 4th generation nuclear promises to be safe, cost-efficient (cost of new nuclear fuel is low), and environmentally friendly, with a very high energy production capacity given a relatively small quantity of nuclear fuel need for energy production (whenever 4th-gen nuclear gets built).

New reactors can (theoretically) run on spent uranium and even thorium. 4th generation nuclear has entirely safe, cost-efficient designs. Actually, the levelized cost of energy production from new, advanced nuclear reactors that are already available, deployed, and generating nuclear energy, is looking viable.



For a comprehensive guide on public policy that increases nuclear energy globally, in order to help fight anthropogenic climate change, please see: Public policy proposal to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions


Please also see:

Renewable energy overview

 


Categories
All Posts Climate Change Green City Times green city Sustainability News

Putting a Price on Carbon

Pricing Carbon


Carbon Markets

Carbon cap and trade systems are regulatory policies in which countries, provinces, states, and even cities, set a limit (a cap) on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) industries/ power plants can emit. Carbon pricing plans incorporating an emission trading system (ETS) are commonly referred to as carbon cap & trade systems in the U.S, although the term also applies to similar systems in Europe, as well as elsewhere globally where an ETS is legislated for any administrative area. [In this article, we will treat cap and trade systems and ETS as synonymous].

Utilities and industries in areas where cap and trade legislation have been mandated are subject to an ETS; which is the regulatory system that details what limits for GHGs industries have, and the value of carbon permits. Carbon-intensive industries that are considered for inclusion in emission trading systems include fossil fuel power plants & oil/ gas refineries (always included in carbon pricing systems). Other possible inclusions in ETS legislated across the world include fossil fuel intensive product manufacturing companies, and/ or cement and steel manufacturing industries, and/or transportation sectors that rely on fossil fuel energy (such as long-haul shipping including heavy trucking, ocean freight shipping, & aviation).

Governments may either “grandfather in” GHG allowances (essentially give away permits based on past GHG production), or auction permits off. Carbon pricing has a few purposes that benefit people generally; it can be used for the public good through encouraging/ increasing sustainability measures such as renewable energy projects and energy efficiency projects.

The primary function of carbon pricing is to lower GHGs, fight climate change, and therefore benefit all of humanity. An ETS, and/ or a carbon tax, makes using dirty fossil fuels more­ expensive, thereby encouraging utilities and industries to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and increase energy efficiency. An ETS and/ or a carbon tax also makes renewable energy a more attractive option than fossil fuels economically (adding economic benefits to the environmental benefits of renewable energy).

In an ETS that does use auctions, auctions for carbon permits (one carbon permit is usually = to 1 metric ton of CO2)  establish a price on carbon. ETS with auctions are much more effective than systems where carbon credits are just ‘grandfathered in”. The cost of carbon permits, or GHG emission permits, is essentially the price of carbon in these systems. As GHG emission permits 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 fine is often imposed. Carbon cap and trade systems are usually designed to adjust the cap annually and limit GHGs, gradually reducing the allowable limit of GHG pollution for those industries targeted by the cap and trade system.


Carbon Offsets

Carbon Offsets are a vital part of making ETS work; allowing companies to invest in international sustainability projects in order to fulfill their GHG reduction obligations. There are trades that offset GHG emissions in cap & trade systems; such as trades for credits with companies that have, or invest in – forestry projects, renewable energy, energy efficiencygreen building, and sustainable transit projects. Sanctioned GHG offsets also include investment in reforesting or projects that work to limit deforestation or trades with companies that have livestock projects that incorporate sustainable practices, or with companies that invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) or other carbon sequestration measures.

To make cap and trade systems even more effective, there should be even more offset credits allowed in these systems for trades with companies that implement GHG emission saving renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies such as: solar and wind farms and other renewable energy projects, CCS, integrative gasification combined cycle (IGCC), anaerobic digestion (AD), combined heat and power (CHP), etc…

Carbon offsets can be purchased by individuals, non-profit organizations, and private businesses of every size, from small businesses to large international companies, and even governments; in order to lower their net carbon footprint and/ or in order to support sustainability efforts worldwide. Carbon offsets help balance out global GHGs and other environmental degradation; for instance, damage to the environment wrought by companies that commit deforestation, and companies that are reliant on fossil fuels, are a partial solution to the deforestation problem.

Carbon offsets for reforestation, planting trees, and other conservation projects provide fossil fuel intensive companies with “nature-based” offsetting solutions. Trees, plants, and wilderness ecosystems sequester carbon. Ideally, carbon offsets should be valued and calibrated to truly offset the company’s emissions, as reflected in the company’s investment in the offsets.

“Nature-based” carbon offsets act as land sinks, optimally sequestering carbon to the degree the company purchasing the offsets is emitting carbon – but, this depends on how the “nature-based” offsets are valued. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects have the potential to directly lower emissions of the company if the investments are made for the company itself. Otherwise, the carbon offsets are valued as creating “avoided emissions” by investing in a 3rd party company’s renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

In many cases, carbon offsets are purchased by international companies in industries running polluting factories, using carbon-intensive fuel for energy, and manufacturing fossil fuel intensive products; and this often includes companies involved in deforestation. Some offsets often formally offered in emission trading schemes globally include forestry projects (like planting and caring for trees; restoring, maintaining, and protecting forests and their ecosystems), as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects worldwide.

The amount of carbon offsets required for a company to purchase in an emission trading system (ETS) is proportional to the amount of pollution, GHGs, released by the company involved in the ETS; and should also be measured by the deforestation that a company commits, and the subsequent effect of that behavior by the company on the environment. However, as of now, most ETS around the world only use the amount GHGs released by companies, not deforestation, as a metric to assess a companies’ responsibility for purchasing carbon offsets. ETS, and other carbon pricing mechanisms (such as a carbon tax), can be mandated by states, provinces, and entire countries.

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 permits to companies that are over their GHG limit. However, usually, most companies tend to buy carbon permits 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.


Global carbon pricing markets

Carbon pricing, either as carbon cap and trade systems or a carbon tax, are in effect in over 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 (EU ETS). The EU ETS covers more than 11,000 power plants and industrial stations in over 30 countries, as well as airlines. The primary focus of the EU ETS is to fight climate change by lowering GHG emissions.

The EU ETS remains the largest 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 percentage points 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 the EU ETS. Here’s a helpful chart of carbon pricing for various ETS and carbon tax systems around the globe (carbon pricing is usually based on the basic per unit price of 1 metric ton CO2):

Ranges of carbon pricing worldwide


All countries deal with cap and trade differently. Most have cap and trade for industry and power sectors. For example, 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., France, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden, and Finland, have legislated both carbon tax and cap and trade programs that regulate a broad swath of carbon-intensive industries. Finland and Sweden’s carbon pricing systems represent a high enough price per metric ton of CO2 to make a significant difference.

Finland’s carbon tax represents the type of carbon pricing needed to make a substantial impact on industries in order to stabilize GHGs, as represented in the global carbon pricing chart seen above of select countries’ price of a metric ton of carbon in their ETS or carbon tax. Over 40 governments worldwide have mandated a price on carbon. Here’s another map of carbon pricing systems around the globe:



carbon markets worldwide

 



The nine-state agreement in the U.S. northeast, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) 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.



A few current carbon cap and trade markets are:

EU ETS:

ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets


California cap & trade, linked with Quebec – Western Climate Initiative:


The U.S. Northeast region (RGGI):

bostonglobe.com/business/carbon-caps-help-northeast-economy-report-says

STORY – Cap & Trade Shows Its Economic Muscle in the Northeast, $1.3B in 3 Years (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative offers blueprint to all states) – By Naveena Sadasivam, InsideClimate News– insideclimatenews.org/cap-trade-shows-economic-muscle-northeast-13-billion-RGGI-clean-power-plan



 

Categories
All Posts Climate Change Green City Times green city Sustainability News

Carbon tax – a levy on pollution whose time has come

Defining effective carbon taxes

A carbon tax is a levy in countries and regions on: fossil fuel power plants, oil refineries, and/or industries, and/or companies; that use fossil fuels (tax applies directly), or on those that consume energy-intensive goods and services that depend on fossil fuel energy generation (the tax applies indirectly); and emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the process. An indirect consequence of carbon taxes may ultimately be higher prices for energy and gasoline/ diesel. The relationship between a carbon tax and higher energy prices is arbitrary, as it’s up the the fossil fuel company whether to raise prices for the end-use consumer, take financial losses as a result of the tax, or use more renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to lower CO2 output and thus lower the applicable carbon tax. A carbon tax puts a price on carbon for (at least some of) the cost to humanity and the planet of the use of fossil fuels. The cost of carbon dioxide emissions produced with the burning of fossil fuels is also known as the social cost of carbon. Carbon-intensive industries that could be in carbon tax systems include: fossil fuel power plants (always in carbon tax systems), and/ or industries and companies such as fossil fuel intensive product manufacturing companies, and/ or cement and steel manufacturing, and/or transportation sectors that rely on fossil fuel energy.

This cost cannot be tabulated in exact terms, for it’s the accumulated cost of the damages of the burning of fossil fuels to the environment, damages from climate change, damages to human health, and related costs (negative externalities) of the use of fossil fuels that can only be estimated. The carbon tax itself can be seen as an added fee on the production and distribution of fossil fuels,. The government sets a price per ton on carbon, and then that translates into a tax on oil, coal, and natural gas. This does usually mean higher prices for the end-use consumer for things like gas and electricity, due to higher costs for production and distribution of fossil fuels, and fossil fuel-intensive products and services; in the case of top-down industry carbon taxes.

Businesses and utilities who face a carbon tax then have the incentive to invest more in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other GHG reducing technologies (such as carbon capture); to try and lower their applicable carbon taxes. Another option would be for companies facing a carbon tax to maintain the market price for their goods and services set prior to implementation of the tax, and absorb the cost of the tax. Yet another option, and along with companies’ making an effort to produce cleaner energy, this is a commonly implemented option; higher prices due to carbon taxes may result in higher prices to end-consumers (the carbon tax simply gets passed on to the consumer, allowing the company to keep profits from lowering). Individual consumers then have the incentive to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and fossil fuel-intensive products subject to carbon taxes, switch to electric vehicles and renewable energy (thus avoiding higher prices stemming from the carbon tax), and increase their energy efficiency habits. Revenue from carbon taxes can, in some cases, go to energy efficiency measures, sustainable transportation, renewable energy, and other clean energy projects.

The revenue from carbon taxes can also simply be distributed or refunded to the public through tax rebates or payroll tax reductions (revenue-neutral carbon taxes). With revenue-neutral carbon taxes, higher energy prices may be offset by tax dividend refunds, or tax cuts, of roughly similar value. Carbon tax revenue can be distributed, at least in part (if not completely), as: personal income or business income tax cuts, rebates, tax credits, payroll tax cuts, a “carbon dividend” in the form of a monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, or annual refund; or carbon tax revenue can be used to reduce taxes for the public and businesses in other sectors of the national economy. Carbon tax revenue is sometimes both invested in clean energy projects and given back to the public as refunds.

The principle of mitigating negative externalities (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. Unless the carbon tax is specifically aimed at consumers, businesses that produce and distribute fossil fuels should at least consider bearing the brunt of the tax. However, in practice, individuals may ultimately end up paying more for gas and on the utility bill, among other fossil fuel related goods and services; instead of the fossil fuel-intensive companies in industries subject to carbon taxes, that haven’t already fully embraced renewable energy and/ or energy efficiency.

A carbon tax is enacted with the goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable public transit, energy efficiency products, renewable energy, and GHG reduction technologies such as carbon capture and storage, become even greater alternatives as fossil fuel use is penalized; and clean energy is made relatively cheaper. One other benefit of carbon taxes, besides the revenue generated for the public good, and the incentives to reduce fossil fuel consumption and increase clean energy efforts; is the increased attractiveness of the cost of renewable energy, which is made cheaper than fossil fuels.

Carbon taxes worldwide

Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, British Colombia, Canada, and the UK (among other countries and localities) have all successfully implemented a partial carbon tax on some industries, as well as some fossil-fuel-intensive goods and services. Thus far, these countries have not being able to implement a broad, universal carbon tax. Generally, reports of lower greenhouse gas emissions follow the passage of a carbon tax (to the tune of 2-3% annually in most cases). The province of British Columbia, Canada, has reported drops of around 5% annually of greenhouse gas emissions due to its aggressive carbon tax policies.

This is a global map of carbon tax and cap-and-trade systems that are existing and planned for implementation:


carbon markets worldwide


Please also see:

Putting a price on carbon