An Irritating Truth
by Jo Abbess
17 September 2009
Essay to answer the question : ‘Which technical solutions offer the best potential for decreasing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions over the next 50 years?’ based on the key text, Chapter 4, entitled “Energy Supply” of the mitigation volume of the Working Group III (WG3) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) published in 2007.
The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, in Chapter 4 from Working Group 3, “Energy Supply”, published in 2007, sounds a note of frustrated desperation on several occasions throughout its 72 pages. It is critical regarding the lack of progress since the Third Assessment Report of 2001, both in terms of policy and technology deployment. It is sceptical of reliance on market forces, given the urgent need for reform and investment. The cautious answers on the potential for Climate Change Mitigation are liberally qualified with ifs and buts, which policymakers should pay intense attention to. The authors’ sobriety is justified, as there are many levels of uncertainty, yet despite the large number of interrelated, unquantifiable unknowns, the Chapter manages to identify supply-side Efficiency and strong policies for de-Carbonisation as offering the greatest potential for tackling Carbon Emissions from Electrical generation over the next 50 years. Although the public debate in the Media may be about the high technology, the effective technical solutions to Climate Change identified by the Chapter are more prosaic.
1. Limitations in the authority of the authors to effect change
Despite the evident expertise and knowledge of the authors of the Chapter, and the professional, uncluttered way of writing and summarising, the overall impression is that the authors sense a degree of powerlessness. The authors have been seconded from their day jobs in a wide array of disciplines, and have followed the well-established United Nations mechanisms of information-sharing and consensus-building (PreventionWeb 2009). They came to the table attempting to create a definitive document, yet end with many caveats. There are clues that there have been strong differences of opinion, because of the qualifiers in the language. This adds an extra dimension of uncertainty to the moving targets of the subjects that they cover.
Ostensibly, this IPCC report chapter claims to fully scope what is entailed in cutting out Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Energy Supply (IPCC 2007a p.6) “This chapter addresses the energy-supply sector and analyses the cost and potential of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation from the uptake of low- and zero-carbon-emitting technologies…”. However, the text pretty soon makes clear that the authors don’t have all the answers : “It is yet to be determined which technologies will facilitate this transition and which policies will provide appropriate impetus…” (IPCC 2007a p.6). The authors have authority to speak on their areas of expertise, but they don’t have authority in forging a chain of command between their advice and international and governmental policy.
Bearing this in mind, considering the rise in Greenhouse Gas emissions and its likelihood of continuing, it is perhaps not surprising that the report recommends a scattergun, panic situation approach to reduce emissions by any means, including increasing efficiencies, and reducing intensities – the Energy consumed per unit of production : “This means that all cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions would need to be deployed in order to slow down the rate of increase of atmospheric concentrations” (IPCC 2007a p. 7).
2. Urgency in view of inertia and lack of progress
The authors review the opportunities for change, and then lament a lack of progress in policies, regulatory reform and investment in solutions; attempting once more to convey the urgency of instigating change. Casting the reader’s mind back to the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) they eulogise its summary (IPCC 2007a p. 8 ) “Energy-supply and end-use-efficiency technology options […] showed special promise for reducing CO2 emissions from the industrial and energy sectors.”, but they are forced to admit that not much progress has been made since then as there are intransigent problems (IPCC 2007a p. 5) “In short, the world is not on course to achieve a sustainable energy future. The global energy supply will continue to be dominated by fossil fuels for several decades.”
“There are still obstacles to implementing the low-carbon technologies and measures identified in the TAR. These include …[long list]…The problem of ‘lock-in’ by existing technologies and the economic, political, regulatory, and social systems that support them were seen as major barriers to the introduction of low-emission technologies in all types of economies. This has not changed.” (IPCC 2007a p. 8 ).
New and improved engineering technologies are only one group of the solutions that are technically possible. The report makes clear that much depends on policies, legislation and regulatory measures. Yet, despite this full range of possibilities, they also make clear that there remain uncertainties about if and how resources will be engaged to obtain both energy supply growth and stabilising Greenhouse Gas emissions (IPCC 2007a p. 7) Power stations, gas and electricity distribution networks and buildings are usually replaced only at the end of their useful life, so early action to stabilize atmospheric GHGs to have minimal impact on future GDP, it is important to avoid building ‘more of the same’
The authors identify the time delay required to implement change as a possibly higher priority than finding financial resources. They outline some of the sources of inertia (IPCC 2007a p.7) “Major investment will be needed, mostly in developing countries…Implementing any major energy transition will take time. The penetration rates of emerging energy technologies depend on the expected lifetime of capital stock, equipment and the relative cost….There is, therefore, some resistance to change, and breakthroughs in technology to increase penetration rate are rare.”, and unpack the deep questions about who should be doing the investment. If it is to be state-level tax-driven programmes, will it matter if Renewables can compete in the Energy markets when they are first deployed ? A comparison is made with the regulatory imposition of the Natural Gas network, a change of fuel that was basically enforced, and yet even so, took some considerable time to roll out (IPCC 2007a p. 7) “Technology only diffuses rapidly once it can compete economically with existing alternatives or offers added value (e.g. greater convenience), often made possible by the introduction of new regulatory frameworks. It took decades to provide the largescale electricity and natural-gas infrastructures now common in many countries.”.
Do we have time to wait for some of the newer, cleaner technologies to catch on ? Do we have a grace period for some ideas about energy efficiency to become widely rolled out by markets ? The report considers the “low-hanging fruit” of fuel switching and end-use efficiency. As “[a]pproximately 45% of final consumer energy is used for low-temperature heat (cooking, water and space heating, drying)…” (IPCC 2007a p. 6), and this is mostly unnecessary, given a programme of insulation and Renewables, surely it would be good just to regulate the waste away immediately ?
The energy infrastructure requires constant monetary input, and this is one unchanging element in the whole analysis (IPCC 2007a p. 6) “Total annual capital investment by the global energy industry is currently around 300 billion US$…by 2030 the investment over this period in energy-carrier and -conversion systems will be over 20 trillion (1012) US$, being around 10% of world total investment or 1% of cumulative global GDP…”. The money is going to be spent anyway, so it should be made green expenditure, surely ? As it takes time to build, the Chapter says, it will be best to combine new energy supply provision with demand-side reductions (IPCC 2007a p. 4, p. 7) “Innovative supply-side technologies, on becoming fully commercial, may enhance access to clean energy, improve energy security and promote environmental protection at local, regional and global levels…More efficient energy supply technologies […] are best combined with improved end-use efficiency technologies to give a closer matching of energy supply with demand in order to reduce both losses and GHG emissions.” (IPCC 2007a p. 4) “Reduced energy demand, with an investment goal to reduce CO2 emissions by one per cent per year by 2100. This would be technologically challenging and assumes unprecedented progressive international cooperation focused explicitly on developing a low-carbon economy that is both equitable and sustainable, requiring improvements in end-use efficiency and aggressive changes in lifestyle to emphasize resource conservation and dematerialization.” (IPCC 2007a p. 7).
The question of how soon some of the new and improved energy engineering can be brought on-stream is a moot one (IPCC 2007a p. 4) “There is […] good mitigation potential available based on several zero-or low carbon commercial options ready for increased deployment at costs below 20 US$/tCO2 avoided or under research development. The future choice of supply technologies will depend on the timing of successful developments for advanced nuclear, advanced coal and gas, and second-generation renewable energy technologies. Other technologies, such as CCS, secondgeneration biofuels, concentrated solar power, ocean energy and biomass gasification, may make additional contributions in due course.”, and so given the urgency in deploying solutions, and seeing that some of the technologies listed here are really far away for implementation – why are they included ? The answer might be that some technologies might be very appropriate in developing countries, according to the authors of the report (IPCC 2007a p. 4) “Using the wide range of available low- and zero-carbon technologies (including large hydro, bioenergy, other renewables, nuclear and CCS together with improved powerplant efficiency and fuel switching from coal to gas), …Developing countries could provide around half of this potential.”.
3. Policy questions – techniques, methods and a global treaty
The authors of Chapter 4 seem to be of one accord that top-level engineering of policy is needed to achieve the changes needed, despite their discussion of pricing within the context of the energy markets. One of the reasons for this is the obvious necessity to tackle de-Carbonisation in a global framework. This goal is coupled with a number of other goals that are used to buttress the central arguments. However, despite this big picture inevitability, they are well aware that much of what they propose has not yet started.
The authors of Chapter 4 predicate progress on whether the world can act together in cooperation to produce a global international agreement. They pin it onto the emerging human right for energy access (IPCC 2007a p. 3) “Energy access for all will require making available basic and affordable energy services using a range of energy resources and innovative conversion technologies while minimizing GHG emissions, adverse effects on human health, and other local and regional environmental impacts. To accomplish this would require governments, the global energy industry and society as a whole to collaborate on an unprecedented scale.”. One can imagine that there are perhaps other ways of approaching the overall goal : unilateral policies and measures could be implemented by individual countries or regions, and some domino effects could be triggered, no international collaboration needed (Daily Telegraph 16 September 2009). The Chapter’s authors, however, assert : “International cooperation will continue to play a role in the development of energy resources and improvement of industrial productivity.” (IPCC 2007a p. 13).
There is an underlying assumption that some or several forms of Carbon pricing are going to be inevitable to achieve the goal of Climate Change Mitigation, as the view is that market forces by themselves are not sufficient to create change (see later). By reference to policies to combat other environmental challenges they write : “Addressing environmental impacts usually depends on the introduction of regulations and tax incentives rather than relying on market mechanisms…” (IPCC 2007a p. 4).
There is not any real analysis of why financial charging could work with such a prevalent environmental pollutant as Carbon. Is taxation appropriate in this case ? The Chapter authors assume that the proceeds of Carbon taxation will be used to fund new Energy infrastructure (IPCC 2007a p. 4) “… Thus, decisions taken today that support the deployment of carbon-emitting technologies…could have profound effects on GHG emissions for the next several decades.”. However, it is not clear if that would be universal, as some Carbon revenue would be an obvious source for funds for Climate Change Adaptation.
The authors admit that there is no magic or silver bullet in policy terms, and point out that some measures are already underway, but quite undermined (IPCC 2007 p. 5) “…the consumption of fossil fuels, at times heavily subsidized by governments, will remain dominant in all regions to meet ever-increasing energy demands unless future policies take into account the full costs of environmental, climate change and health issues resulting from their use.”. Overall, the authors admit the policy mix is unclear (IPCC 2007a p. 7) “It is uncertain how future investments will best meet future energy demand while achieving atmospheric GHG stabilization goals. There are many possible scenarios somewhere between the […] extremes…”. They acknowledge that it will be necessary to force the levers of the energy industry in order to get uptake. “These low-carbon energy technologies and systems are unlikely to be widely deployed unless they become cheaper than traditional generation or if policies to support their uptake (such as carbon pricing or government subsidies and incentives) are adopted.” (IPCC 2007a p. 44).
There is a recognition throughout the report that some policies and measures and even technologies could interfere with the effectiveness of others. When discussing the price of Carbon Dioxide avoided, the authors say : “The cost of fuel switching partly depends on the difference between coal and gas prices.” (IPCC 2007a p. 45). This suggests another set of reasons why policy should take preference over market.
“The cost of fuel switching partly depends on the difference between coal and gas prices. For example if mitigation costs below 20 US$/tCO2-eq avoided, this would imply a relatively small price gap between coal and gas, although since fuel switching to a significant degree would affect natural gas prices, actual future costs are difficult to estimate with accuracy.” (IPCC 2007a p. 45)
The Chapter authors hint that Climate Change and Energy policies should not be “technology-blind” – they should be about “picking winners” (IAEA 2007, NewStatesman 2006). Policies will influence the choice of energy infrastructure and energy resources used to a great degree, and are therefore a technical matter too – a technique of achieving Carbon Dioxide emissions reductions if designed wisely. Whether or not a technology is of any use in assisting with carbon emissions mitigation, it’s at risk of not getting used unless the policies are part of the technique to get it done. Those with skills in handling technological implementations are therefore well-placed to take part in policy decisions. Policymakers should always consult the technological experts.
Questions remain regarding financial strategies to control Carbon and enable de-Carbonisation. Should subsidies be used in a targeted fashion, blocking dirty energy and building clean energy ? Should tax revenue explicitly be raised for clean energy investment ? Should personal citizen’s Carbon credits be issued to complement the regional trading and allocations systems for large point sources ? And is broadcasting policy work helpful ? The Chapter authors mention policies on “information” coupled with various instruments in some detail (IPCC 2007a p. 57) “Education, technical training and public awareness are essential complements to GHG mitigation policies. They provide direct and continuous incentives to think, act and buy ‘green’ energy and to use energy wisely.”. However, they raise the fact that these schemes are untested to a large degree (IPCC 2007a p. 57) “However, uncertainties on the effectiveness of information instruments for climate-change mitigation remain. More sociological research would improve the knowledge on adequacy of information instruments (Chapter 13).”.
The Chapter authors make a strong case for regulatory measures and fiscal stimulation for promoting Renewable Energy technologies and their uptake. There is some good evidence of this, particularly across Europe. (IPCC 2007a p. 58). One area that has not had perhaps so much emphasis is the structuring of Climate Change policy to link various issues together and show the co-benefits to justify the policy. The Chapter looks at the clear way forward on fuel switching (which will improve Air Quality) (IPCC 2007a p. 60), moving out of Fossil Fuels (reducing oil spills in the general environment, reducing deaths from mining and coal mining) (IPCC 2007a p. 61) and so on, most importantly flagging up the enormous benefit of Renewable Energy technologies for those countries where there are development needs and infrastructure issues (IPCC 2007a p. 61).
4. Intransigent problems – unavoidable transformations required
The Chapter authors point to some persistent, pernicious problems with the world’s energy systems, a result of the way those systems have evolved over the years. Critically, they point to continuing Fossil Fuel subsidies in many countries (IPCC 2007a p. 56) “An OECD study showed that global CO2 emissions could be reduced by more than 6% and real income increased by 0.1% by 2010 if support mechanisms on fossil fuels used by industry and the power-generation sector were removed […] However, subsidies are difficult to remove and reforms would need to be conducted in a gradual and programmed fashion to soften any financial hardship.”. [ The fact that currently, aviation fuel is untaxed is left to Chapter 5 (IPCC 2007b p. 53). ] They also highlight the projects financed by the international organisations which are based around development of the use of Fossil Fuels (IPCC 2007a p. 62) “Poor policies in the international financing sector hinder the establishment of energy systems for sustainable development. A review of the extractive industries […], for example, revealed that the World Bank group and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have been investing in oil- and gas-extractive activities that have negative impacts on poverty alleviation and sustainable development. The review, somewhat controversially, recommended that the banks should pull out of oil, gas and coal projects by 2008..
The Chapter also highlights that some inevitable changes must be made in global energy systems, made vulnerable as a direct result of damages experienced due to Climate Change. Climate Change will also affect new Renewable Energy systems, so it’s important to take Climate Change into account with all energy development (IPCC 2007a p. 63) “It is essential to look at how the various components of the energy-supply chain might be affected by climate change. At the same time, it is desirable to assess current adaptation measures and their adequacy to handle potential vulnerability. A robust predictive skill is required to ensure that any mitigation programmes adopted now will still function adequately if
altered climatic conditions prevail in the future.”. Increased cloud cover may affect solar power generation. Increased evaporation and changing rainfall will affect hydropower. With the alteration in rainfall patterns and the already present issues with changes in river flow, energy crop yields may suffer alongside food crop harvests.
Despite the declared intentions of creating an electricity-powered transportation system for the future, it is going to take a long time to cycle out liquid fuel vehicles in exchange for electric ones. This raises the issue that the obvious route will be towards substitute “unconventional” Fossil Fuel liquids, as Biofuels may not be able to provide the whole replacement. In fact, the Chapter authors consider it likely that dirtier vehicle fuels will be the result (IPCC 2007a p. 3, p. 7, p. 55).
“Conventional oil reserves will eventually peak as will natural gas reserves, but it is uncertain exactly when and what will be the nature of the transition to alternative liquid fuels such as coal-to-liquids, gas-to-liquids, oil shales, tar sands, heavy oils, and biofuels. It is still uncertain how and to what extent these alternatives will reach the market and what the resultant changes in global GHG emissions will be as a result.” (IPCC 2007a p. 3).
“The last century has seen a decline in the use of solids relative to liquids and gases. In the future, the use of gases is expected to increase (Section 4.3.1). The share of liquids will probably remain constant but with a gradual transition from conventional oil (Section 188.8.131.52) toward coal-to-liquids, unconventional oils (Section 184.108.40.206) and modern biomass (Section 220.127.116.11).” (IPCC 2007a p. 7).
“Transport emissions of […] will increase under business as usual […] but could be reduced by efficiency improvements together with the increased uptake of biofuels […]. This mitigation potential […] however, could be partially offset by the increased uptake of unconventional liquid fuels […] Their potential is uncertain as, being more costly per litre to produce, they will be dependent partly on the future oil price and level of reserves. Overall then, the emissions from transport fuels up to 2030 will probably continue to rise (Chapter 5).” (IPCC 2007a p. 55).
The authors do make something of an oversight in neglecting to discuss the successes of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in transportation in India, where it has been demonstrated to be highly viable (FICCI 2004). BioMethane is used for cooking in India, as in China extensively (Science in Society 2005) and it could be envisaged that compressed BioMethane, a biological equivalent to CNG, could have much potential (Biomethane Technologies 2009; IPCC 2007a p. 27).
Concentrating on promoting BioMethane would be much preferable to slipping into dirty Fossil Fuel ways for home heating applications as projected by the Chapter authors (IPCC 2007a p. 3) “Traditional biomass for domestic heating and cooking still accounts for more than 10% of global energy supplies but could eventually be replaced, mainly by modern biomass and other renewable energy systems as well as by fossil-based domestic fuels such as kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)”. The Chapter authors point out that economic development often brings with it a high demand for energy that cannot always be met by indigenous natural resources – and that there is a strong tendency for emerging economies to fall into dirty Carbon ways – going in the wrong direction (IPCC 2007a p. 4, p. 62).
“Security of energy supply issues and perceived future benefits from strategic investments may not necessarily encourage the greater uptake of lower carbon-emitting technologies. The various concerns about the future security of conventional oil, gas and electricity supplies could aid the transition to more low-carbon technologies such as nuclear, renewables and CCS. However, these same concerns could also encourage the greater uptake of unconventional oil and gaseous fuels as well as increase demand for coal and lignite in countries with abundant national supplies and seeking national energy-supply security.” (IPCC 2007a p. 4).
“Population growth and higher per-capita energy demand are forcing the transition of supply patterns from potentially sustainable systems to unsustainable ones. Efficient use of biomass can reduce CO2 emissions, but can only be sustained if supplies are adequate to satisfy demand without depleting carbon stocks by deforestation […] If supplies are inadequate, it may be necessary to shift demand to fossil fuels to prevent overharvesting. In Niger […] the government has launched a campaign to encourage consumers, particularly industry, to shift from wood to coal and […] and produced 3800 coal-burning stoves […]” (IPCC 2007a p. 62).
The Chapter authors argue for a sufficiently low Petroleum Oil price to prevent the uptake of dirtier Fossil Fuels. They also present the conundrum that seems to evade the comprehension of those promoting Carbon pricing – higher prices for conventional Fossil Fuels might encourage the use of dirtier unconventionals rather than stimulate de-Carbonisation (IPCC 2007a p. 10, p. 55).
“World oil and gas prices in 2005 and 2006 were significantly higher than most pre-2005 scenario models predicted. This might lead to a reduction in transportation use and GHG emissions (Chapter 5), but conversely could also encourage a shift to coal-fired power plants. Hence, high energy prices do not necessarily mean increased investments in low carbon technologies or lower GHG emissions.” (IPCC 2007a p. 10).
“Figure 4.30: Potential increased emissions from the greater uptake of unconventional oils by 2030 could offset potential reductions from both biofuels and vehicle efficiency improvements, but will be subject to the future availability and price of conventional oil.” (IPCC 2007a p. 55).
Then there is the issue of future economic growth, which would need to be supported by energy supply growth. The Chapter authors accept the probable continuation of economic growth – hence growing energy demand (IPCC 2007a p. 6) “Demands for all forms of energy continue to rise to meet expanding economies and increases in world population. Rising prices and concerns about insecure energy supplies will compromise growth in fossil fuel consumption.”. But the authors express strong uncertainties about the World Energy Council, International Energy Agency and even the IPCC projections of energy supply increase, on the basis that the energy demand trends could be unsupportable, partly because of rapidly rising population, but obviously also due to economic development. If it were to be the case that energy supply cannot be made to match demand, this would automatically apply brakes to economic development. The logical conclusion is that this would make a growing population ever more (energy) poor. In particular they point to the Asia region (IPCC 2007a p. 13).
“Implications of sustainable development were that primary energy demands are likely to experience a 40 to 150% increase [by 2050…]. This presents difficulties for the energy-supply side to meet energy demand. It requires technical progress and capital provision, and provides challenges for minimizing the environmental consequences and sustainability of the dynamic system. Electricity is expected to grow even more rapidly than primary energy by between 110 and 260% up to 2050, presenting even more challenges in needing to build power production and transmission facilities, mostly in developing countries.” (IPCC 2007a p. 13).
“[Asia] will then account for 42% of the increase in world primary-energy demand. The region could be faced with overall energy resource shortages in the coming decades […] Energy security risks are likely to increase and stricter environmental restrictions on fossil fuel consumption could be imposed.” (IPCC 2007a p. 13).
The Chapter authors are careful to highlight the need for development in Energy Storage, without which new Renewable Energy infrastructure cannot build a high profile. This is perhaps more important than which Low Carbon Energy sources are built (IPCC 2007a p. 37) “Energy storage allows the energy-supply system to operate more or less independently from the energy-demand system. […] Storage is of critical importance if variable low-carbon energy options such as wind and solar are to be better utilized, and if existing thermal or nuclear systems are to be optimized for peak performance in terms of efficiencies and thus emissions.” (IPCC 2007a p. 37). The authors also consider the importance of installing and renovating grid infrastructure, in particular pointing the way to “smart” networks (IPCC 2007a p. 36).
“Existing infrastructure will need to be modernized to improve security, information and controls, and to incorporate low-emission energy systems. Future infrastructure and control systems will need to become more complex in order to handle higher, more variable loads […] New networks being built should have these features incorporated, though due to private investors seeking to minimize investment costs, this is rarely the case.” (IPCC 2007a p. 36).
In this discussion they lay the groundwork for understanding that not all parts of the world will be able to maintain their grids, and so may need to adopt Renewable Energy technologies, where the natural dispersion of the energy resources implies the possibility of decentralised systems (IPCC 2007a p. 36).
“Electricity transmission networks cover hundreds of kilometres and have successfully provided the vital supply chain link between generators and consumers for decades. The fundamental architecture of these networks has been developed to meet the needs of large, predominantly fossil fuel-based generation technologies, often located remotely from demand centres and hence requiring transmission over long distances to provide consumers with energy services. […] Aging equipment, network congestion and extreme peak load demands contribute to losses and low reliability, especially in developing countries, such that substantial upgrading is often required […] The energy security challenges that many OECD countries currently face from technical failures, theft, physical threats to infrastructure and geopolitical actions are concerns that can be overcome in part by greater deployment of distributed energy systems to change the electricity-generation landscape […]” (IPCC 2007a p. 36).
5. The energy mix – mitigation potential
The Chapter authors explain that they focus on electricity because power generation is such a large portion of the current energy systems, at 40% of global primary energy (IPCC 2007a p. 10). They chose the 2030 baseline, because they wanted to update the information from the Scenarios work (IPCC 2007a p. 44) “the SRES B2 scenario […] provided insufficient detail and the latest WEO [World Energy Outlook] had not been published at the time.”.
The authors write on the basis that electricity will become used in increasing applications; green power replacing Fossil Fuel use (IPCC 2007b p. 3), and they recognise that because the greening of power could be slower than the switch to electricity, they project that Energy Conservation will assist in keeping Carbon Emissions down (IPCC 2007a p. 54). The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the world needs to spend $45 trillion on energy systems by 2050 (IEA 2008), so clearly putting the money into green energy is a sensible tack (IPCC 2007a p. 15) “The development and implementation of low carbon technologies and deployment on a larger scale requires considerable investment, which, however, should be compared with overall high investments in future energy infrastructure […]”.
The Chapter authors present two reviews into Mitigation potential, presenting the second by admitting that the amounts presented in the first cannot be taken literally as “there are several interactions between the mitigation options” (IPCC 2007a p. 43). The first review is about each sector considered separately, and the second is about the maximum potential if all are considered together (IPCC 2007a p. 49) “Since each technology is assumed to be promoted individually and crowding-out by other technologies under real-world constraints is ignored, the potentials […] are independent and cannot be added together.”.
The authors take into account the uncertainties surrounding the future mix of energy technologies and sources, but are reasonably sure of what the field will look like. “The actual distribution of new technologies in 2030 can be estimated with medium confidence by using trend analyses” (IPCC 2007a p. 54) “The actual distribution of new technologies in 2030 can be estimated with medium confidence by using trend analyses, technology assessments, economic models and other techniques, but cannot take into account changing national policies and preferences, future carbon-price factors, and the unanticipated evolution of technologies or their cost…”. Where the authors use the projections of the ABARE global model, it has to be kept in mind that the trends were assumed to point to Carbon Capture and Storage not being available widely until after 2030 (IPCC 2007a p. 40) “ABARE […] useful for mitigation analysis as it accounts for both higher energy prices and CCS opportunities. […] the modellers had also assumed that CCS would play a more significant mitigation role after 2050, rather than by the 2030 timeframe discussed here.”.
One of the strongest conclusions to emerge is that Fuel Switching and increasing plant Efficiency is highly important. This is assumed as happening when power plant is due to be replaced, but there are cases where existing power plants could have their fuel mix changed, or interventions could be made to retire certain plants early, like the European Union Large Combustion Plant Directive (SourceWatch accessed 17 September 2009; IPCC 2007a p. 44, p. 45, p. 51).
“Reductions in CO2 emissions can be gained by improving the efficiency of existing power generation plants by employing more advanced technologies using the same amount of fuel. For example, a 27% reduction in emissions (gCO2/kWh) is possible by replacing a 35% efficient coal-fired steam turbine with a 48% efficient plant using advanced steam, pulverized-coal technology […] Replacing a natural gas single-cycle turbine with a combined cycle (CCGT) of similar output capacity would help reduce CO2 emissions per unit of output by around 36%.” (IPCC 2007a p. 44).
“A plant life time of 50 years; a 2%-per-year replacement rate in all regions starting in 2010; 20% of existing coal plants replaced by 2030 and 50% of all new-build thermal plants fuelled by gas, are among the most relevant assumptions. The cost of fuel switching partly depends on the difference between coal and gas prices.” (IPCC 2007a p. 45).
“By 2030, a proportion of old heat and power plants will have been replaced with more modern plants having higher energy efficiencies. New plants will also have been built to meet the growing world demand. It is assumed that after 2010 only the most efficient plant designs available will be built, though this is unlikely and will therefore increase future CO2 emissions above the potential reductions.” (IPCC 2007a p. 45).
“No early retirements of plant or stranded assets are contemplated (although in reality a faster replacement rate of existing fossil-fuel capacity could be possible given more stringent policies in future to reduce GHG emissions).” (IPCC 2007a p. 51).
They add another factor : the effects of Carbon pricing : “In reality, the future value of carbon will likely affect the actual generation shares for each technology, as will any mitigation policies in place before 2030 that encourage reductions of GHG emissions from specific components of the energy-supply sector.” (IPCC 2007a p. 51).
The Chapter authors stress that : “No single technological option has sufficient mitigation potential to meet the economic potential of the electricity generation sector.” (IPCC 2007a p. 53), but after Fuel Switching and Efficiency, they find the highest numbers for the Mitigation potentials of Bioenergy, Wind Power, Nuclear Power and Hydropower (IPCC 2007a p. 50).
The authors point out that the international corporations and companies operating in energy systems are going to have to face investment costs and competitive effects, and that this will be a significant factor in achieving the Mitigation projected (IPCC 2007a p. 53) “To achieve these potentials by 2030, the relatively high investment costs, the difficulties in rapidly building sufficient capacity and expertise, and the threats resulting from introducing new low-carbon technologies as perceived by the incumbents in the existing markets, will all need to be addressed.”.
They summarise by explaining that theirs are maximum potentials, at the high end of calculations, because of uncertainties, mutual interdependence of system factors, and the role of differing policy options (IPCC 2007a p. 44, p. 55) “The reduction of GHG emissions from energy-supply systems is being actively pursued through a variety of government policies and private sector research. There are many technologies, behavioural changes and infrastructural developments that could be adopted to reduce the environmental impacts of current energy-supply systems […]”. [ Consideration of Energy Savings is relegated to Chapter 11 (IPCC 2007c). ] Throughout, the authors contend that policy is vitally important to get right (IPCC 2007a p. 5, p. 55).
“[M]ore rapid deployment of zero- and low-carbon technologies will require policy intervention with respect to the complex and interrelated issues of: security of energy supply; removal of structural advantages for fossil fuels; minimizing related environmental impacts, and achieving the goals for sustainable development.” (IPCC 2007a p. 5).
“Subsidies, incentives and market mechanisms presently used to promote fossil fuels, nuclear power and renewables may need some redirection to achieve more rapid decarbonization of the energy supply.” (IPCC 2007a p. 55).
This means that all the figures provided assume a strong regulatory framework regarding technology choice, barring certain energy sources and promoting others. (IPCC 2007a p. 45, p. 51).
6. Who will pay for the new investment required ?
When it comes to the thorny question of who will pay for all the changes required, this remains one of the great unknowns. The authors question the effectiveness and appropriateness of the “free” market investment in new technologies. This is to be expected given that the current big players in this market are committed to Fossil Fuels.
The Chapter authors ask whether changing market conditions will push Energy Supply towards “low-cost” unconventional Hydrocarbons (IPCC 2007a p. 3) “…factors may increase incentives to deploy carbon-free and low-carbon energy technologies, but conversely, could also encourage the market uptake of coal and cheaper unconventional hydrocarbons and technologies with consequent increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.”. They are convinced that the status quo will continue : as the market is already so well established (IPCC 2007a p. 15) “Fossil fuels have enjoyed economic advantages that other technologies may not be able to overcome […] All fossil fuel options will continue to be used if matters are left solely to the market place to determine choice of energy conversion technologies.”. The present trends of low carbon and high efficiency technologies in achieving privatised market penetration indicate that finance is a serious problematic factor in delivery : “the present adoption path […] will not reduce emissions significantly […]” (IPCC 2007a p. 4).
The current privatised energy sector is failing to make investment (IPCC 2007a p. 5, p. 8).
“Privatization of the electricity sector has secured energy supply and provided cheaper energy services in some countries in the short term, but has led to contrary effects elsewhere due to increasing competition, which, in turn, leads to deferred investments in plant and infrastructure due to longer-term uncertainties.” (IPCC 2007a p. 5).
“Recent liberalization of energy markets in many countries has led to cheaper energy services in the short term, but in the longer term, investments with longer write-off periods and often lower returns (including nuclear power plants and oil refineries) are not always being made due to the need to maximize value for short-term shareholders.” (IPCC 2007a p. 8).
The rate at which investment in low carbon and efficiency technologies is happening is not stemming Greenhouse Gas emissions (IPCC 2007a p. 3) “GHG emissions from fossil fuels have increased each year since the IPCC 2001 Third Assessment Report (TAR) (IPCC,2001), despite greater deployment of low- and zero-carbon technologies, (particularly those utilizing renewable energy); the implementation of various policy support mechanisms by many states and countries; the advent of carbon trading in some regions, and a substantial increase in world energy commodity prices.”. There remain uncertainties about how much anything new will cost, not just Renewables (IPCC 2007a p. 17, p. 24)
“The energy efficiency of oil sand upgrading is around 75%. Mining, producing and upgrading oil sands presently costs about 15 US$/bbl […] but new greenfield projects would cost around 30–35 US$/bbl due to project-cost inflation in recent years […]” (IPCC 2007a p. 17).
“Capital costs for land-based wind turbines can be below 900 US$/kW with 25% for the tower and 75% for the rotor and nacelle, although price increases have occurred due to supply shortages and increases in steel prices.” (IPCC 2007a p. 24).
The Chapter authors admit that sourcing the finance for the Low Carbon Transition is going to stay “challenging”, and may even preclude certain options : “Just one such example of the complexity of determining the cost […] is the hydrogen economy. It encompasses all these uncertainties leading to considerable debate on its future technical and economic potential, and indeed whether a hydrogen economy will ever become feasible at all, and if so, when […]” (IPCC 2007a p. 39). The demonstration of certain energy options shows that some technologies may well not be “economic”, such as bioethanol from lignocellulose (IPCC 2007a p. 39) or Carbon Capture and Storage (IPCC 2007a p. 36).
Regardless of which technologies are chosen, new infrastructure and plant needs to be paid for. Reviewing the research on different kinds of electrical generation technology currently proven shows that arguing about “cost effectiveness” is largely immaterial : “The projected total levelized generation cost ranges tend to overlap” (IPCC 2007a p. 40).
What cannot possibly be costed properly yet are the new approaches and new technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Generation III and/or IV Nuclear. Some of this is only just now being assessed, for example Oxyfuel combustion of Coal (PowerMag 29 July 2009). And then, although technologies can be assessed, who’s to say that the input fuel won’t change in price and scarcity in future ? The prices of conventional Hydrocarbons and Coal are proving to be highly variable (IPCC 2007a p. 10), and demand on Uranium could cause increases there, particularly if all the world’s nuclear ambitions are realised (EnvironmentalResearchWeb 2009).
In terms of Renewable fuels, Biomass for Bioenergy is particularly at risk of price fluctuations (and availability, as it competes with food production) (IPCC 2007a p. 51) “Any volumes of biomass needed above those available from agricultural and forest residues (Chapters 8 and 9) will need to be purpose-grown, so could be constrained by land and water availability.”.
However, one fixed price factor that cannot fail to give the Chapter authors optimism must be that wind, sunlight and waves will continue to remain free of charge, making truly Renewable Energy an obvious risk-free aim.
Because of the sheer number of variables in the Climate Change decision matrix, authorities need to be decisive. Fuel-switching in electrical power generation, efficiency in Energy supply and Renewable Energy technologies are clearly winners where big gains are possible.
The irritating truth is that the technical solutions are not necessarily “big hitter” new technologies, but firm and rapid decision-making, and universal intervention in Energy supply. Policy has to rapidly firm up to become a reliable regulatory framework in order to make progress on reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions. This requires strong political will.
There are many who find it deeply frustrating that there remains an apparent lack of strong leadership on this most important of global problems.
· Biomethane Technologies 2009
“Biomethane Technologies, a Renewable Energy Ventures Company”
· Daily Telegraph 16 September 2009
“Barack Obama and EU ‘clash over climate change’ : The European Union has clashed with Barack Obama’s administration over climate change amid fears negotiations on regulating greenhouse gases could break down, according to reports…The US is pushing for each country to set its own emissions rules and decide how to meet targets target rather than an international system…”
· EnvironmentalResearchWeb 2009
· FICCI 2004
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry : “Development of Cng Infrastructure in India with Special Reference to National Capital Territory of Delhi” by Sh. A.K. De of Indraprastha Gas Limited
· Guardian 2008
‘Is clean coal the best way to meet spiralling energy needs and save the planet?’
· IAEA 2007
“Let The Market Decide” by Hans-Holger Rogner
· IEA 2008
“Now or Never – IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 shows pathways to sustained economic growth based on clean and affordable energy technology”
· IPCC 2007a
R.E.H. Sims, R.N. Schock, A. Adegbululgbe, J. Fenhann, I. Konstantinaviciute, W. Moomaw, H.B. Nimir, B. Schlamadinger, J. Torres-Martínez, C. Turner, Y. Uchiyama, S.J.V. Vuori, N. Wamukonya, X. Zhang, 2007: Energy supply. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
· IPCC 2007b
“Transport and its infrastructure”
Kahn Ribeiro, S., S. Kobayashi, M. Beuthe, J. Gasca, D. Greene, D. S. Lee, Y. Muromachi, P. J. Newton, S. Plotkin, D. Sperling, R. Wit, P. J. Zhou, 2007: Transport and its infrastructure. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
· IPCC 2007c
“Mitigation from a cross-sectoral perspective”
Barker, T., I. Bashmakov, A. Alharthi, M. Amann, L. Cifuentes, J. Drexhage, M. Duan, O. Edenhofer, B. Flannery, M. Grubb, M. Hoogwijk, F. I. Ibitoye, C. J. Jepma, W.A. Pizer, K. Yamaji, 2007: Mitigation from a cross-sectoral perspective. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
· NewStatesman 2006
“Heat and Light : UK energy and climate policy in context … Politicians should focus on creating long-term markets in carbon reduction and in security, not on picking technological winners, says DIETER HELM”
· PowerMag 29 July 2009
“UK Switches on “World’s Largest” Oxyfuel CCS Pilot Plant”
· PreventionWeb 2009
“Frequently asked questions about the IPCC Special Report”
· Science in Society 2005
ISIS Report 20/06/05 : Biogas Bonanza for Third World Development : Biogas, a by-product of farmyard waste-treatment, has emerged as a major boon for Third World countries, bringing health, social, environmental, and financial benefits Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
· SourceWatch accessed 17 September 2009
European Union Large Combustion Plant Directive