Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sustainable energy strategies

Ever since I began writing Elegant Technology, I have been convinced that powering civilization was POSSIBLE using renewables.  Not easy.  Not cheap.  But certainly possible--and highly desirable.  That it why Elegant Technology does not concentrate so much on the technologies involved (because these are still evolving) but rather on the sociological and economic dilemmas that make a conversion to renewables so much more difficult than the technological problems alone would indicate (and goodness knows, the technological problems alone are difficult enough.)

Renewable energy can power the world, says landmark IPCC study
UN's climate change science body says renewables supply, particularly solar power, can meet global demand
Fiona Harvey
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 May 2011 11.13 BST
Renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world's energysupply within four decades - but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power, according to a landmark report published on Monday.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world's leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, said that if the full range of renewable technologies were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safetybeyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
Investing in renewables to the extent needed would cost only about 1% of global GDP annually, said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC.
Renewable energy is already growing fast – of the 300 gigawatts of new electricity generation capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, about 140GW came from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, according to the report.
The investment that will be needed to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets demanded by scientists is likely to amount to about $5trn in the next decade, rising to $7trn from 2021 to 2030. more
The Germans are demonstrating that so long as energy problems are treated primarily as science and engineering matters, the politics are almost irrelevant.  So while Ms. Merkel is the head of a conservative governments, she is orders of magnitude more enlightened on energy than a female conservative politician in USA such as Michele Bachmann.
How Angela Merkel became Germany's unlikely green energy champion
Yale Environment 360: Fukushima has seen German chancellor Angela Merkel embark on the world's most ambitious plan to power an industrial economy on renewable sources of energy
Christian Schwägerl for Yale Environment 360
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 May 2011 14.15 BST
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is anything but a left-wing greenie. The party she leads, the Christian Democratic Union, is the political equivalent of the Republicans in the US. Her coalition government is decidedly pro-business. Often described as Europe's most powerful politician, Merkel's top priority is job creation and economic growth.
Yet if the chancellor succeeds with her new energy policy, she will become the first leader to transform an industrialized nation from nuclear and fossil fuel energy to renewable power.
In mid-March, Merkel stunned the German public and other governments by announcing an accelerated phasing out of all 17 German nuclear reactors as an immediate reaction to the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The chancellor now says she wants to slash the use of coal, speed up approvals for renewable energy investments, and reduce CO2 emissions drastically. That means that the 81 million Germans living between the North Sea and the Alps are supposed to cover their huge energy needs from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass within a few decades. Indeed, by 2030 green electricity could be the dominant source of power for German factories and households.
"We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible," Merkel said.
After the chancellor's surprising announcement, opposition parties from the left decried it as a political stunt, an act of opportunism, and even panic, ahead of key regional elections in Southern Germany. But after these elections were lost by her party, Merkel soldiered on. In the past weeks, government officials have already offered details of the "energy turn," as Merkel calls the change.
The numbers that circulate in Berlin's government district at the moment are staggering. Merkel's administration plans to shut down the nuclear reactors — which in recent years reliably provided up to a quarter of Germany's huge needs as baseload electricity — by 2022 at the latest. It wants to double the share of renewable energy to 35 percent of consumption in 2020, 50 percent in 2030, 65 percent in 2040, and more than 80 percent in 2050. At the same time, the chancellor vows to cut CO2 emissions (compared to 1990 levels) by 40 percent in 2020, by 55 percent in 2030, and by more than 80 percent in 2050.
That makes Germany the world's most important laboratory of "green growth." No other country belonging to the G20 club of economic powers has a comparable agenda. In the U.S., President Obama is expanding state-backed loan guarantees for the nuclear industry to build more reactors, and Republicans are blocking measures to reduce CO2 emissions. Germany is Europe's largest economy. Making such a country a renewable powerhouse would transform it into the undisputed mecca for everyone on the planet concerned with the environment and green-tech business. more
The IPCC's is hardly the only study that claims a renewable energy future is possible.
How to get to 100 percent renewables globally by 2050 
4 FEB 2011 8:00 AM
There are many reasons to move to a sustainable energy system: fossil fuel supplies getting tighter, easy oil increasingly having to be replaced by uneasy oil, accelerating climate change. And most indications are that we'll have to go there as soon as possible.
But is it possible? And when? At Ecofys, we've been working for 25 years on our mission: "a sustainable energy supply for everyone." Two years ago, we figured it was about time to bring all our experts together to find out whether that really makes sense. Excited by our first findings, we found WWF willing to commission an in-depth study. And since today, the word is out! Or actually, 250 pages of it, in what's now called "The Energy Report." And the good news is: it's possible indeed, by 2050.
We started out by charting expected developments (population, economy) in 10 world regions. Global tempering of consumption is an easy way out for a scenario builder, but not very acceptable in the real world. And trying to keep up with the present growth in energy demand makes catching up with renewables practically impossible. So we went for maximum materials and energy efficiency, and looked for all available ways to provide the rising demand for services and goods with as little input of energy as possible. And there's a huge potential out there, given the fact that 95 percent of present energy consumption is waste, if one really looks at the end service provided (such as useful light).
Applying all those measures in industrial processes, buildings, and transport, and taking into account feasible implementation rates, leads to global energy demand stabilizing around 2020, and then slowly going down to just below 2000 levels, in spite of economic activity tripling by 2050.
When going over the renewable options available to supply that energy, one finds that the real bottleneck is in the fuels part of demand. Unless we can move to new fuels (like hydrogen) on a massive scale, which we did not consider likely for this period, much of that will have to come from biofuels. And for biofuels, we have to be very strict on avoiding competition with food production, dependence on irrigation (aggravating water supply problems), and destruction of forests.
So it makes a lot of sense to focus on electrification first: urban transport can be moved from fuel to electricity, and so can a lot of domestic heat demand. After stringent insulation of the home, and a solar heater for domestic hot water, an electric heatpump can be an efficient source for the remaining heat demand. These measures, combined with a strong growth in (energy efficient) appliances, lead to a growing fraction of electricity, for which a host of renewable options is available, like wind, solar, and geothermal power. Of course we'll need smart grids to accommodate a growing fraction of supply-driven sources; 25 percent is no problem in present grids, but we'll need to go to 60 percent by 2050. more

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