The Synthesis Report includes a list of key mitigation technologies and practices. It separates the list into 1) those that are currently commercially available and 2) those that have the potential of commercialization prior to 2030.
Currently Commercially Available
For the energy sector, currently commercially available technologies and practices that the IPCC see as key to mitigation of GHG emissions include:
- Improved supply and distribution efficiency;
- Fuel switching from coal to gas;
- Nuclear power;
- Renewable heat and power (hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy);
- Combined heat and power;
- Early applications of Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS) (e.g. storage of removed CO2 from natural gas)
This blog has covered the first two fairly extensively. Controlling the dynamic behavior of the interconnected electricity system is a great engineering and operational challenge. It also is an opportunity for saving energy rather than buying energy and this blog is a proponent of greater localization and intelligence with electric power networks.
The most important time-critical action needed to avert climate disasters concerns coal. A surge in global coal use in the last few years has converted a potential slowdown of CO2 emissions into a more rapid increase. A moratorium on coal-fuel electric power generation must begin in the West, which is responsible for three-quarters of climate change (via 75% of the present atmospheric CO2 excess, above the pre-industrial level).
With concern over natural gas supply, this blog recently explored the possibility that bio-gas could be a suitable alternative and previously noted that the largest garbage hauler and landfill operator in North America would spend roughly US $400 million over the next five years to add facilities to 60 landfills. The company intends to equip those landfills with the capability to obtain bio-methane from anaerobic fermentation.
This is how the IPCC recommendation to switch from coal to gas should be implemented, rather than by the gasification of carbon-bearing feedstock. As repeatedly noted, entrained flow gasification technology can make use of many different types of coal, petroleum coke, several sewage and industrial sludges, oils, slurries, liquid production wastes and biomass. The coal industry strongly advocates these gasification technologies, even when they can use feedstock other than coal, since a high minimum throughput of many tons per day is required to be cost effective. Some hold forth that IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycles) might some day be environmentally tolerable, if accompanied by carbon sequestration. Something that someday might be environmentally tolerable would seem an inadequate path to offset the projected growth of global emissions, and even reduce emissions below current levels.
According to the Independent (UK), United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the launch of the report in this ancient Spanish city, with unusual outspokenness for a UN leader, said that he “looked forward” to both the United States and China – the world’s two biggest polluters – “playing a more constructive role” in vital new negotiations on tackling climate change that open in Indonesia next month.
It is other than coincidence that these two countries have sizable coal reserves and depend upon coal for power generation. When Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon told The Independent that he found the “quickening pace” of global warming “very frightening”, it is, says Joe Romm, because “the climate is changing” (and the sinks saturating) “FASTER than the models suggest.” Also, some climate scientists have criticized the IPCC for forecasts that previously underrepresented the problem.
With the Green House Gas emissions that we have been putting into the atmosphere over the last 200 years of industrialization, the upper 10 percent of the ocean is losing the capacity to buffer the increasing concentrations. We are closer to a tipping point than previously thought. Even “moderate additional” greenhouse emissions are likely to push Earth past “critical tipping points” with “dangerous consequences for the planet.”
This blog adamantly opposes more nuclear power, noting that those who make such proposals are those invested in the existing power structure. They are resistant to other nations obtaining nuclear power, just as they are resistant to the possibility that renewable energy sources could meet their own energy needs with cleaner, safer energy.
Nuclear power generates a range of conventional pollutants and waste streams – including heavy metals, smog- and acid-rain-precursors and greenhouse gases – plus large volumes of radioactive wastes that will require care and management over hundreds of thousands of years. Furthermore, with the increasing possibility of prolonged drought and water shortages, nuclear energy is susceptible to shutdowns due to a lack of coolant and water to supply the steam turbines.
In August 2007 the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility, shut down one of three units at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Athens, Alabama when water drawn from the Tennessee River was exceeding a 90-degree average over 24 hours.
There are other caveats to the Synthesis Report recommendation for currently commercially available technologies and practices. Beware the promise of increased efficiency from co-generation, when offered as justification for more coal plants. And, beware the promise of Carbon Capture and Storage, it could be a false promise from an industry that would seem committed to business as usual above all else including survival of life as we know it on the planet.
It is advisable to consider the following provisions:
- Incineration is a more efficient way to recycle and generate electricity than the burning methane collected from a landfill.
- Converting biomass to energy is less costly than other sources of renewable energy, e.g., wind and solar.
- Nuclear is seen as the cheapest source of energy. On the other hand, recycling municipal waste generally is safer than dealing with nuclear waste.
- With sufficient scrubbing and monitoring, conversion of organic waste to power seems indicated, especially as fossil fuels become scarcer and more expensive.
- There remain significant environmental and health risks if such safeguards are overlooked, i.e., un-linking clean energy development from emissions reductions, which certainly is more likely if a greater energy shortage occurs.
Commercialized Before 2030
Those technologies and practices in the energy sector that could become commercialized prior to 2030 and also would be helpful include:
- CCS for gas, biomass and coal-fired electricity generating facilities;
- Advanced nuclear power;
- Advanced renewable energy, including tidal and wave energy, concentrating solar, and solar photo voltaics.
The same CCS warning applies to the first recommendation. Biopact is fostering the idea of BECS (Bio Energy with Carbon Storage), a “low-tech” initiative that AG readers know as agri-char.
Nonetheless, when it comes to energy, there would seem to be a lack of viable solutions in the Synthesis Report now and for the future. This blog rejects the proposals that more coal and more nuclear are solutions. It would entertain the possibility that development underway could reduce pollution from nuclear power. Unfortunately, the lure of cheap nuclear power would seem to encourage a dangerous short-sightedness.
By using the adjective “advanced”, one would assume that the IPCC means renewable energy technologies prior to 2030 that can demonstrate a reduction of at least 50% from the average GHG emissions. Otherwise, any such proposal is immaterial to a discussion of what can be done with the future.