To answer Climate Change we must have strategies for new Low Carbon Energy investment.
The technologies we need to deploy are those that are already proven, and can be installed in the fastest possible time. What we can DO, and DO NOW.
This is DO-Tech, NOW-Tech : and it effectively rules out new rounds of Nuclear Energy, which is slow-to-grid. It also rules out the almost entirely hypothetical Carbon Capture and Storage.
Here follows a continuation of notes taken at the United Nations Association Conference “Thinking Outside the Box : Borderless Strategies to Combat Climate Change”, 30th April 2009 in London.
Breakout Session 1 : 11:45 to 13:00 : Stream C
“Energy Solutions for Today and Tomorrow”
“Critics of the Kyoto Protocol argue that conventional carbon-based energy sources should be globally regulated. Others see this debate as wasting time, supporting the pursuit of nuclear energy and new technologies leading to sustainable low-carbon energy sources. Each course poses immense challenges and would impact upon both developed and developing countries. What are the prospects of expanding energy provision while reducing greenhouse gas emissions ?”
1. Andy Limbrick : Head of Environment : Association of Electricity Producers (AEP)
I got the distinct feeling that Andy thought he was going to have his head chewed off by the audience, so he went for the defuse setting with : “I’m a bit new to international diplomacy.”
He spoke to the question of how to increase Energy provision but reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions. He viewed an increasing Energy demand as a challenge. He pointed out that the first and most cost-effective step in managing energy was efficiency. Given the economics, this would lead to demand reduction, but he recognises that the world prefers growth. He said that everyone has to play a part in emissions reduction – not just in the power sector. He said that the economy of Energy is teetering on three pillars : competitive markets, protecting the environment and keeping a secure supply (to keep the lights on). The 2007 Energy White Paper had language that was a little different – that the UK and the European Union had legally binding targets to “demonstrate leadership”. Someone on the floor piped up to ask “Where are all those reductions [coming] from ? ” Andy asserted that we should keep all new build options open (for new energy infrastructure). He mentioned that the EURELECTRIC (2009) Commitment pledges that electricity will be climate-neutral by 2050.
Summary of EU Energy & Climate Package :-
“At its heart are three commitments to be met by 2020: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20%, to ensure that 20% of final energy consumption is met with renewable sources, and to raise energy efficiency by 20%. The package also contains a clear offer to go further and commit to a 30% cut in the event of a satisfactory international agreement being reached.”
Summary of EURELECTRIC pledge :-
“European power firms to go carbon neutral by 2050 : Members of the Eurelectric group pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and offset carbon pollution they cannot avoid. : Associated Press 19/03/2009 10:10 : European electricity companies pledged Wednesday to go “carbon neutral” and drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Eurelectric, a group of power companies from the EU’s 27 countries, said members such as E.On AG, Electricite de France SA, RWE AG and Enel would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and offset what they can’t avoid.”
In the UK, the Climate Change Committee envisages de-carbonisation of the power sector by 2030. “We favour keeping all options open”, Andy said. New nuclear power stations…10 year away. Carbon Capture and Storage…15 years away. “The flow of regulation from Brussels never ceases” Andy said with an eyebrow raise. “Finance is now a big problem.” In the meantime he said Natural Gas is the prefered option – although it is storing Carbon emisssions up for the future. One hundred billion Pounds Sterling of investment is needed by 2020 – I assume he meant just in the UK. In order to attract that investment you need long-term stable frameworks. Plus, he said, we need flexibility to employ a range of technologies including Fossil Fuels.
2. R. Alexander Roehrl : International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Alex told us that he was involved in the previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in the group that developed the Scenarios. He gave an analogy to developing new technologies to deal with Climate Change “Vaccines won’t be ready in time ? Does that mean we shouldn’t develop them ?” Both statements are true. Flu is a global issue – there is high uncertainty – what would reasonable people do ? Invest in a range of options. Don’t want to put all the apples in one basket, like traded corporate stocks. A portfolio approach is the wise one. Particularly in the electricity sector.
Alex told us a little about his personal history. When he was younger “I was fiercely anti-nuclear”. But when he came to do the IPCC analysis work, he said “it was hard to make a scenario without nuclear”, even if you doubt the level of growth in Energy demand. You either need to get rid of Fossil Fuels or store all this Carbon somewhere. This is a “double challenge” – we have to supply Energy – for Development. Unless we would change the Development model we have to do whatever we can to increase Energy supply on the planet. Nuclear Power is a “love-hate” issue. “I have come to the conclusion – a decision that everyone has to make – that the risks are acceptable.” He made reference to the 2008 IAEA report on Climate Change and Nuclear Power.
Alex made mention of the issue of financing large (uncertain) projects. But, he said that he thought that we would need to follow the IAEA’s high projection and double Nuclear capacity by 2030. He suggested that there are still people who oppose Nuclear Power at any cost, but that he welcomed constructive engagement with those who will do it. At this point he put up a slide which had a bullet point that said something like “All concerns about nuclear power have been addressed”, which is something a number of us questioned over lunch. There is, of course, the residual problem of what to do with the radioactive waste from the last 50 years of Nuclear Power. Let’s just remind ourselves that the UK’s new Department of Energy and Climate Change has a budget that is already committed to the level of about 80% to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
Alex described a “range” of Nuclear technologies. “I would say leave the nuclear option open”. To try to put that in perspective he said that , for example, Germany has only 30 to 40 years of land-based Carbon Capture and Storage capacity for its own coal emissions. He urged us that we need to have “research” reactors.
3. Polly Higgins : DESERTEC-UK : Lawyer and Solar Power advocate
The chair of the meeting Geoff Meaden introduced Polly by saying “I’ve heard her speak recently…very exhilarating.”
Polly said “we need to move fast, now.” She explained that the atmospheric level of Carbon Dioxide is currently 379 parts per million, which had not been anticipated for another 30 years. “The situation is escalating really rather rapidly.” She recommended that what we need is new international legislation. She explained her prefered technology – Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) “desert tech.”. “We can do this big” she said. It’s a proven technology, and it’s rapidly commercialising. Nuclear Power will only give us 4% of our Energy requirements. Less than 1% of the desert could give us all our Energy requirements.
Polly explained that the European Union is harmonising electricity standards and improving access. “We need microgen…We need [both] big and small [generation].”
Polly recommended that we needed to do a “remapping” of the World. For example now we view everything in terms of “Developed” and “Developing” nations. “and the Developed world knows better”, she quipped. She prefers the idea of dividing the world into a patchwork of ecological “debtors” and “creditors” as a recognition of “who is creating the damage”. The extractive industries [where are they ?] The planet is a bank – who is withdrawing from this bank ? There is actually no overdrawing facility. It’s creating havoc. The onus is on you to put this right [ecological debtors].
Pollution is the excess emissions of Greenhouse Gases, those emissions that the Earth cannot absorb. Polly said that when you see it in these terms, you stand back and you say “this must stop”.
“We must put in place international legislation to make it illegal to pollute”, Polly said. She went on to explain that the reason why we need international legislation is because, for example, in the United States you can identify debtors but you cannot prosecute them – because they are trans-boundary. It’s easy for a corporation to break the linkage – for example – people get cancer from a variety of reasons (and not our incinerator here).
Polly said that we have to establish “the right not to be polluted”, and that it should not only cover humanity, but the trees and soils too. She said it was a straightforward matter to establish the facts – you can take an air or soil sample to show the pollution. We need to demonstrate reduction in pollution by 2050. Energy is [most of] what it is about. We need to make pollution illegal and allow a transition period to clean technologies, and then implement it.
Polly gave an example : if your neighbour is beating their child, you don’t go round and ask them politely if they wouldn’t mind beating their child more gently. That would be unreasonable. This is the reason we have the long arm of the law. But for now we don’t have those pollution rights in place.
4. Oliver Tickell : Journalist and author of Kyoto2 framework (and book)
There are large numbers of people not having access to the Energy they need. We all use too much [where we have it]. Quite rightly people in Developing countries want what we have. We have to find a way to provide it.
The NASA scientist James Hansen recommends deploying Low Carbon technologies on a large scale in particular in Developing countries where there is no capital. With current prices Low Carbon costs more for investment. Low Carbon starts off by being more expensive [Polly Higgins shakes her head in disagreement]. Wind Power on good sites is now directly competitive with Coal. With large scale deployment costs really come down.
Oliver went on to explain, that there are two separate kinds of “Tipping Point” :-
(a) When it becomes cheaper to build Renewable Energy plant than Fossil Fuel plant.
(b) When it becomes cheaper to build new Renewable Energy plant than to operate [keep running] Fossil Fuel plant.
We need to do a bit of “technology picking”. Nuclear Power looks like it’s following the Law of Diminishing Returns – huge investment that was driven by military concerns originally. The technology still has many deficiencies and it is unable to compete with Fossil Fuels. No one is building Nuclear Power plant without subsidies. There is a shortage of Nuclear fuel. There are issues of Fuel Quality [into the longer term] and clearing up the mine tailings and the treatment costs of waste should be included in the accounting ! Uranium mining is a local environmental problem. And there is simply not enough Uranium. As time goes by we will be putting more and more Energy into producing Nuclear Fuel – unless we go to a Fast Breeder technology – where we would be burning Plutonium. Plutonium is of course what is used in Nuclear bombs [so there’s the security angle to consider]. Also the Irish Sea is still highly polluted from English Nuclear Waste reprocessing. Nuclear Power is not a serious option. It’s getting more expensive if anything. As time goes by the Uranium will come from lower grade reserves – which will need more (re)processing – and we will have to cope with longer-lived radioistopes in the waste.
After shredding the case for new Nuclear Power, Oliver went on to state that an increasing amount of Energy for the world must come from Electricity – particularly for transport – as a widely-spread network of electric vehicles with their batteries could become an excellent store for excess Wind Power (which undergoes fluctuations) through overnight charging.
We also need large scale grids [supergrids] to compensate for Wind Power intermittancy. Including the Norwegian Hydropower network in this wider grid would provide a geographical scale larger than any individual weather system. The wind is always blowing somewhere.
Wind Power use will protect against Fossil Fuel price spikes and shortages in Fossil Fuels. There are viable solutions – they will need investment. This investment is not taking place. This is worrying.
Oliver suggested that his approach was not like that of the UK Government which seemed to be offering “counsels of despair” – saying the Government cannot “intervene” in Energy markets. They need to !
One questioner from the floor claimed that Nuclear Power was “no Carbon”, which was challenged by others around him.
Professor Mayer Hillman then took the microphone to offer a strong commentary – he said that all of us had failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation. In a meeting he has had with Vicky Pope of the Meteorological Office she said that things were far worse than had been admitted.
Targets are insufficient, Hillman went on. We should address the evidence of Jim [James] Hansen. Hillman said he was dismayed by the platform speakers – if Nuclear Power is OK for us, it’s OK for everyone, but it has so many risks. He is seriously worried about the risks attached.
Hillman went on to critique what Lord Hannay had said from the platform at the start of the day, when quoting Martin Rees about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) : that CCS “could be vital to success”. We can’t rest our hopes on CCS delivering, said Hillman. “Of course, what we need is a global framework – and that global framework is Contraction and Convergence – per capita Carbon Rations – the ethical, moral, practical way.”
Hillman urged us not to “fall for Bob [Robert] Watson’s proposition” – or we can’t hold Global Warming to 2 Degrees C.
Another questioner from the audience asked about the power capacity offered by utilising “salinity gradients” around the world.
Another questioner asked if any of the Energy companies were looking into Nuclear Fusion. Someone else muttered “It’s 40 years away”. And I added “and it’s been 40 years away for the last 40 years.” The platform said that Nuclear Fusion had been pursued for decades, but that we don’t know [if it will ever be made to work].
There was a question regarding the public acceptance of Nuclear Power – that is was still contentious – and that there is a difference between technological feasibility and political feasibility.
At which point I elbowed in my own question.
I asked the panel, that given that new Nuclear Power plants were about 10 to 15 years away, and that we were being told that maybe by 2025 we’ll have Carbon Capture and Storage, is the issue not one of whether we should be supporting and developing high technology or low technology; but rather a quesion of going for DO-tech and NOW-tech – things we know we can DO, NOW ?
There were some lively answers to my question : the liveliest from Oliver Tickell who said that he favoured two technologies above and beyond all others – Wind Power and Energy Conservation – right now we should be doing both of these things on a large scale.
Another questioner asked that he was concerned about all that brain power being put into Nuclear Energy – couldn’t some of this enormous brainpower go into helping poor people use their South-facing roofs ?
Another questioner asked if we should be rationing Energy use ? Oliver Tickell answered that this was not in sight yet, but that if we continue to make wrong decisions it would be necessary.
There was talk of risking investments and regulatory hurdles.
Polly Higgins stated that laws will get made for what is required. The European Union is now looking at supergrids – and harmonisation of the electricity networks.
Polly said that the main questions we should be answering are what’s the fastest way to de-Carbonise – and how do we move fast here ? By comparison with World War Two, the Americans passed emergency legislation to enforce aircraft manufacture on the previously automobile factories. “Everyone’s saying it’ll take a lot of time”, she concluded, “Nonsense ! This is a non-compromise situation.”