Tag Archives: Technology

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Germany struts its renewable stuff

A guidebook with a difference is selling well in Germany. It details nearly 200 renewable energy sites it thinks will appeal to tourists. BERLIN, 11 June – Wind turbines and solar panels: do you love them or hate them? Do you think of renewable energy as the way to a greener future, or an awful blight on the present? Either way, growing numbers of German communities think they have found a silver lining: they’re touting renewables as tourist attractions. A guidebook is now available, listing about 200 green projects around the country which it thinks are, in the travel writer’s time-hallowed phrase, “worth the detour”. The publication, which has already run to a second edition after the first sold out, was supported by  Germany’s Renewable Energies Agency. Nuclear power stations are not top of every tourist’s must-see list. But the book’s author, Martin Frey, says a nuclear plant in Kalkar, a town on Germany’s border with the Netherlands, is the world’s safest. It pulls in more than half a million visitors annually. Safe? It should be, because local protests – driven partly by the 1986 Chernobyl accident – meant it never started operation. Now it’s an amusement park offering hotels with all-inclusive holidays, restaurants and merry-go-rounds. Its most popular attraction is a gigantic cooling tower with a climbing wall outside and a carousel inside.

Blast from the past

Another strictly retired “attraction” listed is Ferropolis, the City of Iron. Located on the site of a former brown coal (lignite) opencast mine in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, it’s a bit of an oddity in Frey’s list – an open-air museum, preoccupied not with emerging technologies but with echoes of one that many hope has had its day. Huge redundant metal structures, immense excavators and towering cranes, all abandoned, give Ferropolis the air of a post-apocalypse movie. But in a nod to the future the roof of a former workshop is covered with solar panels which help to power the museum’s annual summer music festivals. Germany is moving rapidly away from the past which Ferropolis evokes in its switch to renewable energy. In the last decade renewable power generation has tripled and now provides a quarter of the country’s electricity and about 380,000 jobs. Wind, hydro, solar and biogas plants are taking over from coal and nuclear power. The change is evident right at the heart of the nation’s political life. The glass dome of the Reichstag, a tourist magnet which stands resplendent on the Berlin skyline, contains a cone covered with 360 mirrored plates, which reflect sunlight and illumine the plenary hall below. And there’s more: a heat exchanger inside the cone’s ventilation shaft significantly reduces the building’s power consumption.

Steep climb

The Reichstag also boasts an array of solar panels, and half its electricity and most of its heat come from two combined heat and power generators beneath the building, which run on bio-diesel. If you want to combine some mildly energetic activity with your environmental sightseeing, then head for Lower Saxony where you’ll find the Holtriem wind farm. The largest in Europe when it was built, with a total capacity of 90 MW, it has an observation platform on one of the turbines, 65 m above ground. That offers tourists – if they’re prepared to climb the 297 steps to the top – a stunning view of the North Sea and, in good weather, the East Frisian islands. Also in Lower Saxony is Juehnde, the first German village to achieve full energy self-sufficiency. Its combined heat and power plant produces twice as much energy as Juehnde needs. The villagers are so keen to share their experience that they built a New Energy Centre to win over visitors. Frey, a journalist specialising in renewable energy, says he wrote the book because he’d been impressed by a large number of innovative renewable projects and wanted to share them with tourists as well as experts. – Climate News Network * Germany: Experience Renewable Energies, published by Baedeker, is available in German (and only in print) for €16.99. An English language version may be produced if there is enough demand. Komila Nabiyeva is a Berlin-based freelance journalist, reporting on climate change, energy and development.

A guidebook with a difference is selling well in Germany. It details nearly 200 renewable energy sites it thinks will appeal to tourists. BERLIN, 11 June – Wind turbines and solar panels: do you love them or hate them? Do you think of renewable energy as the way to a greener future, or an awful blight on the present? Either way, growing numbers of German communities think they have found a silver lining: they’re touting renewables as tourist attractions. A guidebook is now available, listing about 200 green projects around the country which it thinks are, in the travel writer’s time-hallowed phrase, “worth the detour”. The publication, which has already run to a second edition after the first sold out, was supported by  Germany’s Renewable Energies Agency. Nuclear power stations are not top of every tourist’s must-see list. But the book’s author, Martin Frey, says a nuclear plant in Kalkar, a town on Germany’s border with the Netherlands, is the world’s safest. It pulls in more than half a million visitors annually. Safe? It should be, because local protests – driven partly by the 1986 Chernobyl accident – meant it never started operation. Now it’s an amusement park offering hotels with all-inclusive holidays, restaurants and merry-go-rounds. Its most popular attraction is a gigantic cooling tower with a climbing wall outside and a carousel inside.

Blast from the past

Another strictly retired “attraction” listed is Ferropolis, the City of Iron. Located on the site of a former brown coal (lignite) opencast mine in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, it’s a bit of an oddity in Frey’s list – an open-air museum, preoccupied not with emerging technologies but with echoes of one that many hope has had its day. Huge redundant metal structures, immense excavators and towering cranes, all abandoned, give Ferropolis the air of a post-apocalypse movie. But in a nod to the future the roof of a former workshop is covered with solar panels which help to power the museum’s annual summer music festivals. Germany is moving rapidly away from the past which Ferropolis evokes in its switch to renewable energy. In the last decade renewable power generation has tripled and now provides a quarter of the country’s electricity and about 380,000 jobs. Wind, hydro, solar and biogas plants are taking over from coal and nuclear power. The change is evident right at the heart of the nation’s political life. The glass dome of the Reichstag, a tourist magnet which stands resplendent on the Berlin skyline, contains a cone covered with 360 mirrored plates, which reflect sunlight and illumine the plenary hall below. And there’s more: a heat exchanger inside the cone’s ventilation shaft significantly reduces the building’s power consumption.

Steep climb

The Reichstag also boasts an array of solar panels, and half its electricity and most of its heat come from two combined heat and power generators beneath the building, which run on bio-diesel. If you want to combine some mildly energetic activity with your environmental sightseeing, then head for Lower Saxony where you’ll find the Holtriem wind farm. The largest in Europe when it was built, with a total capacity of 90 MW, it has an observation platform on one of the turbines, 65 m above ground. That offers tourists – if they’re prepared to climb the 297 steps to the top – a stunning view of the North Sea and, in good weather, the East Frisian islands. Also in Lower Saxony is Juehnde, the first German village to achieve full energy self-sufficiency. Its combined heat and power plant produces twice as much energy as Juehnde needs. The villagers are so keen to share their experience that they built a New Energy Centre to win over visitors. Frey, a journalist specialising in renewable energy, says he wrote the book because he’d been impressed by a large number of innovative renewable projects and wanted to share them with tourists as well as experts. – Climate News Network * Germany: Experience Renewable Energies, published by Baedeker, is available in German (and only in print) for €16.99. An English language version may be produced if there is enough demand. Komila Nabiyeva is a Berlin-based freelance journalist, reporting on climate change, energy and development.

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Offshore wind could calm hurricanes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE US scientists say that very large wind farms could not only withstand a hurricane: they would also weaken it and so protect coastal communities. LONDON, 26 February – US engineers have thought of a new way to take the heat out of a hurricane. Fortuitously-placed offshore wind farms could make dramatic reductions in wind speeds and storm surge wave heights. Hurricanes are capricious consequences of peculiar sea temperature and wind conditions, while wind farms are the outcome of years of thoughtful design and investment, and not an emergency response to a severe weather warning. But, according to new research in Nature Climate Change, a giant wind farm off the coast of New Orleans in 2005 could have lowered the wind speeds of Hurricane Katrina by between 80 and 98 miles an hour, and decreased the storm surge by 79%. Katrina was a calamitous event that caught civic, state and federal authorities off-guard, and devastated the city. But an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast would, according to Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, and Cristina Archer and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, have defused its force dramatically – and turned a lot of hurricane energy into electricity at the same time. Wind turbines turn in the wind to generate energy. The laws of thermodynamics are inexorable, so a national grid’s gain is the wind’s loss, because wind energy is dissipated as it crosses a wind farm. One turbine literally takes the wind out of the sails of another.

Tempest models

One of the three Nature Climate Change authors, Cristina Archer, last year examined the geometry of a hypothetical wind farm to work out how to place turbines most efficiently to make the best of a gusty day, rather than have one bank of turbines turning furiously while the others barely stir. But this same translation of wind circulation to electrical circuitry suggested another accidental consequence. Mark Jacobson and his colleagues used sophisticated computer models to test the impact of a hurricane on a wind farm, and since the US has both cruel experience and highly detailed records of hurricane events, he and his Delaware partners decided to model three notorious tempests: Superstorm Sandy, which slammed into New York in 2012 and caused $82 billion damage in three US states, Hurricane Isaac, which hit Louisiana the same year, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane,” Professor Jacobson said. ”This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the centre of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows down the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.” And Cristina Archer put it more vividly: “The little turbines can fight back the beast,” she said. Her colleague Willett Kempton added: “We always think about hurricanes and wind turbines as incompatible. But we find that, in large arrays, wind turbines have some ability to protect both themselves and coastal communities from the strongest winds.”

Double benefit

The conclusions are based entirely on computer simulations. Real world tests are for the moment unlikely, chiefly because wind farms tend to have dozens or, at the most, hundreds of turbines and the hurricane experiment was based on turbines in their tens of thousands, delivering hundreds of gigawatts. But Professor Jacobson and Dr Archer tend to think big anyway. They argued in 2012 that four million wind turbines in the world’s windiest places could generate at least half the world’s electricity needs by 2030 without interfering too greatly with global atmospheric circulation. The tempest-taming qualities of really big wind farms would deliver an added bonus: they could offer protection to vulnerable coastal cities. The costs of wind-farming on such a scale would be huge, but then the losses to coastal cities from flooding and storm damage in a rampant climate change scenario are expected to rise to $100 trillion a year by 2100. The three authors calculate that the net cost of such projects – after considering all the good things that could come from them – would be “less than today’s fossil fuel electricity generation net cost in these regions and less than the net cost of sea walls used solely to avoid storm damage.” A sea wall to protect one city might cost anything from $10 billion to $29 billion, and that is all it would do: protect that city. A really big wind farm would offer protection during cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes and generate carbon-free energy all year round. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE US scientists say that very large wind farms could not only withstand a hurricane: they would also weaken it and so protect coastal communities. LONDON, 26 February – US engineers have thought of a new way to take the heat out of a hurricane. Fortuitously-placed offshore wind farms could make dramatic reductions in wind speeds and storm surge wave heights. Hurricanes are capricious consequences of peculiar sea temperature and wind conditions, while wind farms are the outcome of years of thoughtful design and investment, and not an emergency response to a severe weather warning. But, according to new research in Nature Climate Change, a giant wind farm off the coast of New Orleans in 2005 could have lowered the wind speeds of Hurricane Katrina by between 80 and 98 miles an hour, and decreased the storm surge by 79%. Katrina was a calamitous event that caught civic, state and federal authorities off-guard, and devastated the city. But an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast would, according to Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, and Cristina Archer and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, have defused its force dramatically – and turned a lot of hurricane energy into electricity at the same time. Wind turbines turn in the wind to generate energy. The laws of thermodynamics are inexorable, so a national grid’s gain is the wind’s loss, because wind energy is dissipated as it crosses a wind farm. One turbine literally takes the wind out of the sails of another.

Tempest models

One of the three Nature Climate Change authors, Cristina Archer, last year examined the geometry of a hypothetical wind farm to work out how to place turbines most efficiently to make the best of a gusty day, rather than have one bank of turbines turning furiously while the others barely stir. But this same translation of wind circulation to electrical circuitry suggested another accidental consequence. Mark Jacobson and his colleagues used sophisticated computer models to test the impact of a hurricane on a wind farm, and since the US has both cruel experience and highly detailed records of hurricane events, he and his Delaware partners decided to model three notorious tempests: Superstorm Sandy, which slammed into New York in 2012 and caused $82 billion damage in three US states, Hurricane Isaac, which hit Louisiana the same year, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane,” Professor Jacobson said. ”This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the centre of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows down the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.” And Cristina Archer put it more vividly: “The little turbines can fight back the beast,” she said. Her colleague Willett Kempton added: “We always think about hurricanes and wind turbines as incompatible. But we find that, in large arrays, wind turbines have some ability to protect both themselves and coastal communities from the strongest winds.”

Double benefit

The conclusions are based entirely on computer simulations. Real world tests are for the moment unlikely, chiefly because wind farms tend to have dozens or, at the most, hundreds of turbines and the hurricane experiment was based on turbines in their tens of thousands, delivering hundreds of gigawatts. But Professor Jacobson and Dr Archer tend to think big anyway. They argued in 2012 that four million wind turbines in the world’s windiest places could generate at least half the world’s electricity needs by 2030 without interfering too greatly with global atmospheric circulation. The tempest-taming qualities of really big wind farms would deliver an added bonus: they could offer protection to vulnerable coastal cities. The costs of wind-farming on such a scale would be huge, but then the losses to coastal cities from flooding and storm damage in a rampant climate change scenario are expected to rise to $100 trillion a year by 2100. The three authors calculate that the net cost of such projects – after considering all the good things that could come from them – would be “less than today’s fossil fuel electricity generation net cost in these regions and less than the net cost of sea walls used solely to avoid storm damage.” A sea wall to protect one city might cost anything from $10 billion to $29 billion, and that is all it would do: protect that city. A really big wind farm would offer protection during cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes and generate carbon-free energy all year round. – Climate News Network

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Growth and low carbon 'can co-exist'

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A new study suggests that economic growth and carbon cuts may not be mutually exclusive, offering a chance to keep energy supplies flowing without adding to global warming.

LONDON, 19 September – It’s a question which goes to the heart of virtually any discussion about the future and the impact of climate change: how is it possible to maintain or increase energy supplies while at the same time cut back on CO2 emissions?

Faced with this dilemma, there are those who say the only course of action is to do away with the idea of economic growth – an argument that does not go down  well in many quarters. But a new study says the world can, in fact, have its cake and eat it – growth can continue and CO2 emissions can be cut.

The study, by the Energy Futures Lab and Grantham Institute of Climate Change at Imperial College, London, says the key is employing technology to radically decarbonise the world’s energy sector: this, say the researchers, can be accomplished with technologies that either currently exist on a commercial scale, have been demonstrated to work or are still awaiting full-scale deployment.

The study states the present position: the world needs to limit the overall global temperature to around 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 in order to avoid the more serious impacts of climate change. That means a wholesale cut in fossil fuel use and a big reduction in CO2 emissions – from around a global total of 31 gigatonnes (Gt) per year at present to about 15 Gt per year in 2050.

Fundamental importance

The trouble is we are going the wrong way: on present projections – and barring a cataclysmic meltdown of the world economy – fossil fuel consumption will increase by 50% between now and 2050 and CO2 emissions could rise to 50Gt per year or more. This would result in higher global temperatures and possible runaway climate change.

The study divided the world into ten geographical regions and, in each area, projected both economic output and population growth to 2050. The global population is likely to grow to more than nine billion, say the researchers, while real per capita incomes will almost treble.

 Decarbonising the world’s electricity generation system is fundamental says the study: the large-scale development and commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), biomass, solar, wind and nuclear sources should be high on every government’s agenda.

“…With challenging but feasible penetrations of low-carbon technologies, an energy and industrial system transformation is possible…”, says the study. It focuses on three sectors:  industry, buildings and transport.

It says: “…There needs to be a shift towards electrification of industrial manufacturing processes, building heating systems and vehicle propulsion systems.

“A range of technologies will be required to achieve this, including increased penetrations of electric arc furnaces in steelmaking, heat pumps in buildings and battery electric and hybrid vehicles in road transport.

“Considerable investment in developing new technologies, with associated infrastructure, needs to begin now in order to enable the penetrations of these technologies that are required by 2050.”

 Achievable goals

The study admits that all this will be very challenging in technological, operational, social and political terms. For example, achieving targets for bioenergy would require the use of nearly 9% of the world’s total arable and pasture lands.

The goal is achievable – and affordable – says the study. Its analysis indicates the transition to a low carbon energy future would cost about US$2 trillion a year by 2050. While that figure might seem large, the researchers point out it would amount to only about one per cent of global gross domestic product, based on projected 2050 GDP figures.

Whether or not the planners and politicians will take heed of the study’s findings is the big question.  In 2006 the Stern Review examined the impact of climate change, warning of the escalating costs in economic terms of not taking action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  In May this year CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, a level generally considered to be the highest for more than four million years. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A new study suggests that economic growth and carbon cuts may not be mutually exclusive, offering a chance to keep energy supplies flowing without adding to global warming.

LONDON, 19 September – It’s a question which goes to the heart of virtually any discussion about the future and the impact of climate change: how is it possible to maintain or increase energy supplies while at the same time cut back on CO2 emissions?

Faced with this dilemma, there are those who say the only course of action is to do away with the idea of economic growth – an argument that does not go down  well in many quarters. But a new study says the world can, in fact, have its cake and eat it – growth can continue and CO2 emissions can be cut.

The study, by the Energy Futures Lab and Grantham Institute of Climate Change at Imperial College, London, says the key is employing technology to radically decarbonise the world’s energy sector: this, say the researchers, can be accomplished with technologies that either currently exist on a commercial scale, have been demonstrated to work or are still awaiting full-scale deployment.

The study states the present position: the world needs to limit the overall global temperature to around 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 in order to avoid the more serious impacts of climate change. That means a wholesale cut in fossil fuel use and a big reduction in CO2 emissions – from around a global total of 31 gigatonnes (Gt) per year at present to about 15 Gt per year in 2050.

Fundamental importance

The trouble is we are going the wrong way: on present projections – and barring a cataclysmic meltdown of the world economy – fossil fuel consumption will increase by 50% between now and 2050 and CO2 emissions could rise to 50Gt per year or more. This would result in higher global temperatures and possible runaway climate change.

The study divided the world into ten geographical regions and, in each area, projected both economic output and population growth to 2050. The global population is likely to grow to more than nine billion, say the researchers, while real per capita incomes will almost treble.

 Decarbonising the world’s electricity generation system is fundamental says the study: the large-scale development and commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), biomass, solar, wind and nuclear sources should be high on every government’s agenda.

“…With challenging but feasible penetrations of low-carbon technologies, an energy and industrial system transformation is possible…”, says the study. It focuses on three sectors:  industry, buildings and transport.

It says: “…There needs to be a shift towards electrification of industrial manufacturing processes, building heating systems and vehicle propulsion systems.

“A range of technologies will be required to achieve this, including increased penetrations of electric arc furnaces in steelmaking, heat pumps in buildings and battery electric and hybrid vehicles in road transport.

“Considerable investment in developing new technologies, with associated infrastructure, needs to begin now in order to enable the penetrations of these technologies that are required by 2050.”

 Achievable goals

The study admits that all this will be very challenging in technological, operational, social and political terms. For example, achieving targets for bioenergy would require the use of nearly 9% of the world’s total arable and pasture lands.

The goal is achievable – and affordable – says the study. Its analysis indicates the transition to a low carbon energy future would cost about US$2 trillion a year by 2050. While that figure might seem large, the researchers point out it would amount to only about one per cent of global gross domestic product, based on projected 2050 GDP figures.

Whether or not the planners and politicians will take heed of the study’s findings is the big question.  In 2006 the Stern Review examined the impact of climate change, warning of the escalating costs in economic terms of not taking action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  In May this year CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, a level generally considered to be the highest for more than four million years. – Climate News Network

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Growth and low carbon ‘can co-exist’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE A new study suggests that economic growth and carbon cuts may not be mutually exclusive, offering a chance to keep energy supplies flowing without adding to global warming. LONDON, 19 September – It’s a question which goes to the heart of virtually any discussion about the future and the impact of climate change: how is it possible to maintain or increase energy supplies while at the same time cut back on CO2 emissions? Faced with this dilemma, there are those who say the only course of action is to do away with the idea of economic growth – an argument that does not go down  well in many quarters. But a new study says the world can, in fact, have its cake and eat it – growth can continue and CO2 emissions can be cut. The study, by the Energy Futures Lab and Grantham Institute of Climate Change at Imperial College, London, says the key is employing technology to radically decarbonise the world’s energy sector: this, say the researchers, can be accomplished with technologies that either currently exist on a commercial scale, have been demonstrated to work or are still awaiting full-scale deployment. The study states the present position: the world needs to limit the overall global temperature to around 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 in order to avoid the more serious impacts of climate change. That means a wholesale cut in fossil fuel use and a big reduction in CO2 emissions – from around a global total of 31 gigatonnes (Gt) per year at present to about 15 Gt per year in 2050.

Fundamental importance

The trouble is we are going the wrong way: on present projections – and barring a cataclysmic meltdown of the world economy – fossil fuel consumption will increase by 50% between now and 2050 and CO2 emissions could rise to 50Gt per year or more. This would result in higher global temperatures and possible runaway climate change. The study divided the world into ten geographical regions and, in each area, projected both economic output and population growth to 2050. The global population is likely to grow to more than nine billion, say the researchers, while real per capita incomes will almost treble.  Decarbonising the world’s electricity generation system is fundamental says the study: the large-scale development and commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), biomass, solar, wind and nuclear sources should be high on every government’s agenda. “…With challenging but feasible penetrations of low-carbon technologies, an energy and industrial system transformation is possible…”, says the study. It focuses on three sectors:  industry, buildings and transport. It says: “…There needs to be a shift towards electrification of industrial manufacturing processes, building heating systems and vehicle propulsion systems. “A range of technologies will be required to achieve this, including increased penetrations of electric arc furnaces in steelmaking, heat pumps in buildings and battery electric and hybrid vehicles in road transport. “Considerable investment in developing new technologies, with associated infrastructure, needs to begin now in order to enable the penetrations of these technologies that are required by 2050.”

 Achievable goals

The study admits that all this will be very challenging in technological, operational, social and political terms. For example, achieving targets for bioenergy would require the use of nearly 9% of the world’s total arable and pasture lands. The goal is achievable – and affordable – says the study. Its analysis indicates the transition to a low carbon energy future would cost about US$2 trillion a year by 2050. While that figure might seem large, the researchers point out it would amount to only about one per cent of global gross domestic product, based on projected 2050 GDP figures. Whether or not the planners and politicians will take heed of the study’s findings is the big question.  In 2006 the Stern Review examined the impact of climate change, warning of the escalating costs in economic terms of not taking action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  In May this year CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, a level generally considered to be the highest for more than four million years. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE A new study suggests that economic growth and carbon cuts may not be mutually exclusive, offering a chance to keep energy supplies flowing without adding to global warming. LONDON, 19 September – It’s a question which goes to the heart of virtually any discussion about the future and the impact of climate change: how is it possible to maintain or increase energy supplies while at the same time cut back on CO2 emissions? Faced with this dilemma, there are those who say the only course of action is to do away with the idea of economic growth – an argument that does not go down  well in many quarters. But a new study says the world can, in fact, have its cake and eat it – growth can continue and CO2 emissions can be cut. The study, by the Energy Futures Lab and Grantham Institute of Climate Change at Imperial College, London, says the key is employing technology to radically decarbonise the world’s energy sector: this, say the researchers, can be accomplished with technologies that either currently exist on a commercial scale, have been demonstrated to work or are still awaiting full-scale deployment. The study states the present position: the world needs to limit the overall global temperature to around 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 in order to avoid the more serious impacts of climate change. That means a wholesale cut in fossil fuel use and a big reduction in CO2 emissions – from around a global total of 31 gigatonnes (Gt) per year at present to about 15 Gt per year in 2050.

Fundamental importance

The trouble is we are going the wrong way: on present projections – and barring a cataclysmic meltdown of the world economy – fossil fuel consumption will increase by 50% between now and 2050 and CO2 emissions could rise to 50Gt per year or more. This would result in higher global temperatures and possible runaway climate change. The study divided the world into ten geographical regions and, in each area, projected both economic output and population growth to 2050. The global population is likely to grow to more than nine billion, say the researchers, while real per capita incomes will almost treble.  Decarbonising the world’s electricity generation system is fundamental says the study: the large-scale development and commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), biomass, solar, wind and nuclear sources should be high on every government’s agenda. “…With challenging but feasible penetrations of low-carbon technologies, an energy and industrial system transformation is possible…”, says the study. It focuses on three sectors:  industry, buildings and transport. It says: “…There needs to be a shift towards electrification of industrial manufacturing processes, building heating systems and vehicle propulsion systems. “A range of technologies will be required to achieve this, including increased penetrations of electric arc furnaces in steelmaking, heat pumps in buildings and battery electric and hybrid vehicles in road transport. “Considerable investment in developing new technologies, with associated infrastructure, needs to begin now in order to enable the penetrations of these technologies that are required by 2050.”

 Achievable goals

The study admits that all this will be very challenging in technological, operational, social and political terms. For example, achieving targets for bioenergy would require the use of nearly 9% of the world’s total arable and pasture lands. The goal is achievable – and affordable – says the study. Its analysis indicates the transition to a low carbon energy future would cost about US$2 trillion a year by 2050. While that figure might seem large, the researchers point out it would amount to only about one per cent of global gross domestic product, based on projected 2050 GDP figures. Whether or not the planners and politicians will take heed of the study’s findings is the big question.  In 2006 the Stern Review examined the impact of climate change, warning of the escalating costs in economic terms of not taking action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  In May this year CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, a level generally considered to be the highest for more than four million years. – Climate News Network

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Wind power 'may be less than thought'

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Wednesday 27 February
The world may have to revise downwards its expectations of the contribution wind energy can make to to a less carbon-reliant world, a study says.

LONDON, 27 February – Wind power may in some conditions manage to produce less energy than its supporters believe it can, two US researchers suggest.

In the latest contribution to the debate over wind’s potential,  they say they have found evidence that some of the largest wind farms may cause effects which substantially reduce their generating capacity.

The research, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, suggests that the generating capacity of large-scale wind farms has been overestimated.

Each wind turbine creates behind it a “wind shadow” in which the air has been slowed down by drag on the turbine’s blades. The ideal wind farm strikes a balance, packing as many turbines onto the land as possible, while also spacing them far enough apart to reduce the impact of these shadows.

But as wind farms grow larger, the researchers say, they start to interact, and the regional-scale wind patterns matter more. This means we may not manage to obtain as much wind power as scientists had thought.

The authors are David Keith, professor of applied physics at the Harvard school of engineering and applied sciences and Amanda S. Adams, assistant professor of geography and earth sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Professor Keith’s research has shown that the generating capacity of very large wind power installations (larger than 100 square kilometers) may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter. Previous estimates, which ignored the turbines’ slowing effect on the wind, had put that figure at between 2 and 7 watts per square meter.

“One of the inherent challenges of wind energy is that as soon as you start to develop wind farms and harvest the resource, you change the resource, making it difficult to assess what’s really available”, says Professor Adams.

Recognising limits

 

“If wind power’s going to make a contribution to global energy requirements that’s serious, 10 or 20% or more, then it really has to contribute on the scale of terawatts in the next half-century or less”, Keith adds. A terawatt (TW) is one trillion watts. In 2006 energy use worldwide amounted to about 16 TW.

Keith says: “Our findings don’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue wind power – wind is much better for the environment than conventional coal – but these geophysical limits may be meaningful if we really want to scale wind power up to supply a third, let’s say, of our primary energy.”

“The real punch line is that if you can’t get much more than half a watt out, and you accept that you can’t put them everywhere, then you may start to reach a limit that matters.”

To stabilize the climate, he estimates, the world will need to find sources for several tens of terawatts of carbon-free power within a human lifetime. In the meantime, policymakers must also decide how to allocate resources to develop new technologies to harness that energy.

Keeping their distance

 

In doing so, Keith says: “It’s worth asking about the scalability of each potential energy source – whether it can supply, say, three terawatts, which would be 10% of our global energy need, or whether it’s more like 0.3 terawatts and 1%.

“Wind power is in a middle ground. It is still one of the most scalable renewables, but our research suggests that we will need to pay attention to its limits and climatic impacts if we try to scale it beyond a few terawatts.”

Apart from debate over wind’s fitfulness and inconstancy and claims that it is environmentally more damaging than acknowledged (to birds and landscapes, for example), scientists differ on the contribution it can make to a low-carbon economy.

But this latest study, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, chimes with the conclusion recently reached by other US researchers (see our story of 20 January, Renewables: The 99.9% solution.

Consistent wind power can be obtained, they said, if the turbine fields are dispersed at distances greater than 1,000 kilometres. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Wednesday 27 February
The world may have to revise downwards its expectations of the contribution wind energy can make to to a less carbon-reliant world, a study says.

LONDON, 27 February – Wind power may in some conditions manage to produce less energy than its supporters believe it can, two US researchers suggest.

In the latest contribution to the debate over wind’s potential,  they say they have found evidence that some of the largest wind farms may cause effects which substantially reduce their generating capacity.

The research, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, suggests that the generating capacity of large-scale wind farms has been overestimated.

Each wind turbine creates behind it a “wind shadow” in which the air has been slowed down by drag on the turbine’s blades. The ideal wind farm strikes a balance, packing as many turbines onto the land as possible, while also spacing them far enough apart to reduce the impact of these shadows.

But as wind farms grow larger, the researchers say, they start to interact, and the regional-scale wind patterns matter more. This means we may not manage to obtain as much wind power as scientists had thought.

The authors are David Keith, professor of applied physics at the Harvard school of engineering and applied sciences and Amanda S. Adams, assistant professor of geography and earth sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Professor Keith’s research has shown that the generating capacity of very large wind power installations (larger than 100 square kilometers) may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter. Previous estimates, which ignored the turbines’ slowing effect on the wind, had put that figure at between 2 and 7 watts per square meter.

“One of the inherent challenges of wind energy is that as soon as you start to develop wind farms and harvest the resource, you change the resource, making it difficult to assess what’s really available”, says Professor Adams.

Recognising limits

 

“If wind power’s going to make a contribution to global energy requirements that’s serious, 10 or 20% or more, then it really has to contribute on the scale of terawatts in the next half-century or less”, Keith adds. A terawatt (TW) is one trillion watts. In 2006 energy use worldwide amounted to about 16 TW.

Keith says: “Our findings don’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue wind power – wind is much better for the environment than conventional coal – but these geophysical limits may be meaningful if we really want to scale wind power up to supply a third, let’s say, of our primary energy.”

“The real punch line is that if you can’t get much more than half a watt out, and you accept that you can’t put them everywhere, then you may start to reach a limit that matters.”

To stabilize the climate, he estimates, the world will need to find sources for several tens of terawatts of carbon-free power within a human lifetime. In the meantime, policymakers must also decide how to allocate resources to develop new technologies to harness that energy.

Keeping their distance

 

In doing so, Keith says: “It’s worth asking about the scalability of each potential energy source – whether it can supply, say, three terawatts, which would be 10% of our global energy need, or whether it’s more like 0.3 terawatts and 1%.

“Wind power is in a middle ground. It is still one of the most scalable renewables, but our research suggests that we will need to pay attention to its limits and climatic impacts if we try to scale it beyond a few terawatts.”

Apart from debate over wind’s fitfulness and inconstancy and claims that it is environmentally more damaging than acknowledged (to birds and landscapes, for example), scientists differ on the contribution it can make to a low-carbon economy.

But this latest study, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, chimes with the conclusion recently reached by other US researchers (see our story of 20 January, Renewables: The 99.9% solution.

Consistent wind power can be obtained, they said, if the turbine fields are dispersed at distances greater than 1,000 kilometres. – Climate News Network