“De-carbonization Strategies To Lower Emissions”
- Nov 9, 2021 10:10 pm GMT
Lowering our globe’s emissions is a major effort, as will getting to a net-zero-carbon environment, and will require significant investment in new low-carbon infrastructure, along with key market incentives to change.
Energy production and use accounts for about 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however, there are three main strategies that can help countries meet energy needs with zero-carbon emissions: optimize, electrify and decarbonize. Essentially, all countries need to:
- Reduce energy use through improved efficiency (optimize);
- Shift energy demand to electricity and away from combustion of fossil fuels (electrify); and
- Shift entirely to zero-carbon technologies to generate electricity (decarbonize)
One problem in decarbonizing globally is that rapidly growing economies are seeing energy demand growing significantly, while in many developed economies, economic growth, energy use and emissions are decoupling. There is a constructive tension between these two groups of countries which greatly influences their vision for zero emissions.
A Realistic Way Forward For De-carbonization:
Over the years since 1990, when the United Nations General Assembly formally launched talks that led to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and despite continued talks, emissions are still rising at about 1 to 2 percent annually in spite of studies that indicate they need to decrease by 8 percent per year to be consistent with holding warming to 1.5 degrees C.
For a world not willing to change its industrial and agricultural systems, no major economy has ever cut emissions of warming gases that quickly. Even though we have seen numerous agreements, they require consensus, which creates a strong incentive for holdouts.
De-carbonization requires a string of technological revolutions in each of the major emitting sectors, such as electricity generation, cars, buildings, shipping, agriculture, aviation, and steel. In nearly every sector, the world isn’t far along in the technological revolutions needed for de-carbonization.
As subsidies wane, market forces will drive the growth of renewables. In electricity, much of the action must focus on expanding the use of solar and wind so that costs keep coming down. Coupled with declining renewable energy capital costs, government policy must look beyond just renewables, as in flexible gas-fired power plants that capture carbon pollution before it is released into the atmosphere, and to advanced nuclear plants with zero emissions. These plants will keep the grids reliable as they shift to more renewable power.
For emissions in the transportation sector, we will need policies focused on lowering the costs of electric vehicles, while subsidies decline as technology improves.
There are plenty of reports that indicate technologies for zero emissions are being developed, however, for deep de-carbonization, we will need both technology and business models that provide the right incentives for change.
Important Factors To Decarbonize:
There are at least three important factors now observed around the globe:
- Investments in energy efficiency, setting targets, and reducing energy demand
- Utilize hydropower as shown by Costa Rica and Ethiopia, which get almost all their electricity from clean sources. Additional hydropower investments are needed as electricity demand has grown, shown by the recent efforts of Brazil, Colombia and Kenya recently getting closer to zero-carbon
- Investment in non-hydro renewables such as wind, solar photovoltaics and geothermal. Costa Rica, Denmark and the UK all went from getting virtually none of their power from non-hydro renewables in 1990 to 20% or more by 2017, while Kenya has also grown its geothermal capacity
De-carbonization Development Cycle:
Each industrial sector has its own developmental cycle for moving toward lower emissions and de-carbonization as shown by Graph 1. The life cycle of low-carbon technology penetration into markets is the familiar S-shaped curve, with the emergence of a new technological system, its diffusion into widespread use, and then reconfiguration of whole markets.
Graph 1 – Progress of Sectors’ Low Carbon Transitions
Deep De-carbonization Strategies:
- Reduce energy consumption
- Use a diverse renewable portfolio of wind and solar across geographies
- Increase imports and exports of power across the state’s transmission interties
- Increase in responsive loads including flexible loads in buildings and industry, i.e. demand response
- Switch end uses from fossil fuel to electricity
For Planet Earth to move toward de-carbonization, we will need to:
- Accelerate innovations in vehicle technologies through electrification, connectivity, and automation
- Increase transportation efficiency
- Maximize use of renewable electrons through time with increased energy storage technologies
However, the real missing link won’t be the technology development, but a strategic approach to create incentives and markets to drive de-carbonization into our business and personal lives.
Copyright © November 2021 Ronald L. Miller All Rights Reserved
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