[번역] 파리 기후 협정의 의미

This article was translated into Korean by Hoon Yun, under the permission of original author David Roberts (david.roberts@vox.com). Original article available at http://www.vox.com/2015/12/15/10172238/paris-climate-treaty-conceptual-breakthrough.

파리 기후협정으로 말할 것 같으면 미 부통령 조셉 바이든이 빈정거린 것처럼 ‘퍽이나 호들갑 떨 일’이다. 기후변화는 이제 시작일 뿐인데, 이를 해결했다기보다는 국가들의 접근법을 수정하게 만든 일종의 ‘개념상의 돌파구(conceptual breakthrough)’라고 보아야 할 것이다. 협정을 세세하게 들여다 보면 그나마도 돌파구인지 헷갈릴 정도다. 여기서는 한 발짝 물러서서, 큰 그림을 보며 파리협정과 기후변화에 대해 고찰해 보도록 하자.

 

Continue reading [번역] 파리 기후 협정의 의미

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Energy: Talk about Unfairness.

The matter of energy is unfair from the beginning; some countries have massive amounts of energy resources buried within their territory, while others have to rely most of their energy needs on import. But now with climate change and its impacts applying increasingly higher pressures on humankind’s energy use, another kind of unfairness began to emerge. If the international community is to stabilize the global temperature increase within 2 degrees as proclaimed, countries around the world are compelled to leave much of their fossil fuel reserves unexploited [1].

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Continue reading Energy: Talk about Unfairness.

Respite or Defeat?: Rethinking Hubbert’s Peak Oil Theory

Do you think oil is being depleted? If so, you are one of the 76 percent of Americans who answered in 2008 that they believed the world was running out of oil [1]. This belief is in line with Hubbert peak theory, according to which “the rate of production of any particular fossil fuel follows a bell-shaped curve with time (Andrews and Jelley, 2013, Energy Science)”. The theory seemed to be accurate especially in the 1970’s, when the scarcity of crude was highlighted with a series of oil shock events. The rate of oil production was thought to be heading toward a peak; by 1970, global oil production rose to 48 million barrels a day (mbd), a nearly five-fold increase from 10 mbd in 1950. However, as demonstrated in the figure [2], the historical data became increasingly inconsistent with Hubbert’s prediction as time goes by, particularly since the 2000’s.

Continue reading Respite or Defeat?: Rethinking Hubbert’s Peak Oil Theory

A Green Disguise of Biofuels

At a glance, biofuels seem to be a clean energy source with lower GHG emissions and massive potentials across the world. Plus, they are cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Expansion of the use of biofuels has significantly contributed to rural employment and energy security. However, serious criticism about biofuels and other bioenergy has surfaced in the recent years; for example, in 2011, the science committee of the EU’s environment agency gave a warning that there is an “accounting error” regarding bioenergy, and the consequences would be grave for the Earth’s forests and climate[1].

Continue reading A Green Disguise of Biofuels

[Summary] 10 practical steps to create an Emissions Trading System

“Currently, ETSs are operating across four continents in 35 countries, 13 states or provinces, and seven cities, covering 40 percent of global GDP with additional systems under development.”

“This week, the WB launched “Emissions Trading in Practice: Handbook on Design and Implementation”, a new guide for policymakers that distills best practices and key lessons from more than a decade of practical experience with emissions trading worldwide.”

  1. Set the scope: i.e. geographic area, sectors, emissions sources, and GHGs to be regulated
  2. Set the cap: collect robust emissions data, and determine the level of the cap and its long-term trajectory
  3. Distribute the emissions allowances to regulated entities: potential leakage issues should be addressed)
  4. Consider allowing the use of offset credits: generated from uncovered sources and sectors in the ETS
  5. Set timeframes for the reporting and compliance period: consider flexibility from banking/borrowing
  6. Consider market stability design features: such as a price floor, ceiling, or allowances reserves
  7. Define enforcement of participants’ obligations and
  8. government oversight: monitoring, reporting, and independent verification of emissions, penalties for noncompliance, and oversight of the market to address risks of fraud and manipulation.
  9. Assure continuous engagement with stakeholders 
  10. Allow regular reviews of ETS performance

Terms: PMR (World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness), B-PMR (Business Partnership for Market Readiness), IETA (International Emissions Trading Association)

Carbon Budgets; Why So Many?

  • Title: Differences between carbon budget estimates unravelled
  • Author: Joeri Rogelj et al.
  • Published: Nature Climate Change (2015)

The famously debated 2-degree goal is set based on a carbon budget, which has not been presented as a single number. There are mainly three types of carbon budgets: a) budget for CO2-induced warming only, b) threshold exceedance budgets (to calculate multi-gas warming), and c) threshold avoidance budgets. These different approaches, coupled with various uncertainties accompanying model simulations under a number of scenarios, lead to the conclusion: the scientifically most robust number (a) is not be sufficient in the real world, and eventually non-CO2 gases should be addressed as well.

Terms: the transient climate response to cumulative emissions of carbon (TCRE), threshold exceedance budgets (TEBs), threshold avoidance budgets (TABs)

 

 

 

Could Fuel Cells Be the Future’s Wishing Well?

In 2013, the team of GreenGT H2 prototype racer, which might have been the first vehicle without a petrol engine to compete in the Le Mans 24-hour race, announced withdrawal from the renowned competition. Even though it took a long time to develop the fuel-cell race car, said the head developer, it is not ready to participate in the tough race. This incident reflects the immaturity that the current fuel cell technology represents. Hailed as a state-of-the-art solution to a greener energy future, the technology with great potentials has yet to be fully exploited.

Fuel cells have a number of advantages—such as very low emission levels and relatively good efficiencies, especially compared to renewables. In addition, they are vibration-free, quiet and reliable[1]. Compared to battery-powered vehicles, the fuel-cell cars can be refueled rapidly just like gasoline-powered cars. Moreover, the rate of self discharge is not an issue compared to average electric cars.

Nonetheless, there are challenges to address, including costs and practical efficiency. Since ‘fuel’ cells are not batteries and thus need constant injection of fuel, fuel supply can involve complicated issues with infrastructure and chemical processes. Safety concerns exist as well, if hydrogen is used as a fuel.

An idea of harnessing fuel cells is to use them in renewable energy system. For example, hydrogen can be used to store intermittent electricity generation by renewable sources such as solar and wind. According to Fuel Cell Today, “excess electricity is fed into an electrolyser to split water into its constituent parts, oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen is then used in fuel cells to produce electricity when needed, releasing the stored energy back to the grid.” Considering the benefits of electricity storage, fuel cells can contribute to grid stabilization, protecting consumers from energy price spikes[2] or intermittency of renewables. Furthermore, the stored hydrogen can be used only for grid electricity but sold to fuel-cell car owners as a fuel[3].

Fortunately, more efforts are being made for newer and more innovative technology. Researchers are discussing fuel cell/ battery hybrids, use of non-hydrogen fuel such as methanol, and harnessing shale gas by-products. At any rate, even if fuel cells are not the cure-all, at least they can contribute to a cleaner energy future.

[1] Andrews and Jelley, 2013

[2] Sioshani et al. 2008, Estimating the value of electricity storage in PJM: Arbitrage and some welfare effects

[3] http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/media/1637147/using_fc_renewable_energy_systems.pdf

[4] Image source: http://today.lbl.gov/2015/10/07/oct-8-twitter-chat-on-the-fuel-cell-revolution/

Bridging or Blocking?: The Role of Natural Gas for Clean Energy Future

The U.S. hailed the recent discovery and development of shale gas, as the primary factor for a cleaner and more secure energy landscape. Natural gas is often thought to be a ‘bridge fuel’ between fossil fuels and renewables, even though it falls into the former category. It is indeed a ‘cleaner’ energy source, especially compared to coal; its carbon dioxide emissions are just 45% of those of coal (Andrews and Jelley, 2013). According to the EPA, natural gas emits one third as much nitrogen oxides as coal. In addition, a lifecycle analysis found that “existing domestic coal power plants produce two and a half times more emissions than that of LNG[1].” In other word, even the cleanest coal technologies were found to produce 70% more lifecycle emissions than LNG.

Natural gas is one of the cheaper energy sources too. The production level has been hiking with shale gas (see the figure below), and the upward trend is expected to continue in the coming decades. Owing to this abundance, natural gas has become the cheapest source of electrical power in the U.S. market, priced at an average of 6 cents per kilowatt hour, vs 9 cents for coal and hydroelectric and 11 cents for solar[2]. Other advantages include its versatility and easy transport; natural gas can be used for residential and industrial uses, and it can be stored or carried relatively easily using pipelines, tankers and other units.

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Nevertheless, there is no light without darkness. One of the primary concerns about natural gas, particularly regarding the unconventional sources, is hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. The natural gas extraction method can cause, albeit arguably, serious threats on the environment and human health by triggering seismic instability and contaminating underground water sources. Moreover, some say natural gas is actually as harmful in terms of greenhouse gas emissions as coal, if we consider potential methane leaks. Methane, the main component of natural gas, has “a more potent short-term effect on climate change than carbon dioxide[1]”. The chain of pipelines and equipment required to produce and transport natural gas emits an extensive amount of methane, which dilutes the fuel’s less substantial CO2 emissions.

Perhaps the most important point is that relying on natural gas can be an easy alternative to using more renewables, thereby delaying a transition toward a cleaner energy future. Steven Davis, a professor at UC Irvine, made an interesting comment: “cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies. It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.” If people treat natural gas as a non-fossil fuel, the bridge is likely to become a block.

[1] Source: New York Times, retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/19/science/methane-leaks-in-natural-gas-supply-chain-far-exceed-estimates-study-says.html?_r=0

[2] Source: EIA, retrieved from http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

[3] Image source: Center for Liquified Natural Gas (CLNG)

The Bigger the Better: Germany’s Perspective on Solar Energy Support

Germany is not exactly the sunniest country in the world. The country of gloomy philosophers has “the same solar power potential as dismal Alaska, even worse than rain-soaked Seattle[1].” Nevertheless, Germany has the most surprising records for harnessing solar energy. In June 2014, more than half of Germany’s electricity demand (23.1 gigawatts) came from solar, which was half of the world’s production[2].

All this could happen because Germans really tried hard since decades ago. In 1991, German politicians passed the Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz, or Renewable Energy Sources Act. The solar industry could grow dramatically backed by the legislative support along with considerable efforts in R&D for technology innovation. The costs of solar PV declined as intended, but there have been other costs that mounted. Tax burden, high electricity costs in relation with FITs (Feed-in tariff), and oversupply of solar PV are often cited as the flip side of the country’s solar dominance. In addition, the emergence of new solar powers such as China is threatening German companies; business leaders such as Bosch and Siemens decided to drop solar due to their weaker competitiveness.

Nonetheless, Berlin seems to be calm. According to Ralf Fücks, the president of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, the German Green Party’s political foundation, “the greatest success of the German energy transition was giving a boost to the Chinese solar panel industry,” because it “created the mass market[3].” Indeed, competition heats up in larger markets, thus pulling down the prices; the IRENA found that PV prices have declined 80% since 2008, and the driving factors include economies of scale as well as efficiency improvements[4]. Germany’s efforts persist, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently promised India to provide 2 billion euros to support renewable energy including solar PVs. It seems clear that Germany has a wider perspective in pursuing its renewable goals; the bigger markets in the international level would eventually benefit this not-so-sunny nation.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2013/10/04/should-other-nations-follow-germanys-lead-on-promoting-solar-power/

[2] http://www.triplepundit.com/2015/08/germany-became-solar-superpower/

[3] Thomas Friedman, May 2015, “Germany, the Green Superpower,” the New York Times

[4] pv-magazine.com

Cathing the Tide: tapping into wave power

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Almost every report on renewable energy mentions wave power along with solar or wind. This is why it is almost surprising to learn how little the sea surfs are actually used for energy generation; while the global wave power potential is estimated at 3 TW[1]—this is huge, given that wind source potential is typically given in GW, and 1 TWh/year of energy can supply about 93,850 homes[2]—, “no commercial-scale wave power operations now exist[3].” In February 2015, the news covered uniquely designed wave power generators activated off the coast of Western Australia[4], which is the world’s very first grid-connected wave power station.

Then, why does this clean energy source with great potential remain so untapped? Just like any other renewables, construction costs matter. But risks are higher considering the extreme condition at sea. Complex technology is needed to harness the awe-inspiring ocean power, from “writhing snake-like attenuators, bobbing buoys, or devices mounted discreetly on the ocean floor[5].” In addition, cost-effective solutions are needed to convert low frequency of incident waves (0.2 Hz) to electricity transmission levels (50-60 Hz). Against this backdrop, there is little incentive for companies to voluntarily make investments in this area. Only recently are big companies like RWE joining hands with renewables engineering firms to exploit tidal and wave power in UK coasts[6]. US defense giant Lockheed Martin also launched the world’s largest wave power project in Australia in 2014.

Policy support is essential in order to bloom these initiatives. In 1970’s, Europe saw wave energy proponents defeated by nuclear advocates in competition for grants[7]. Tapping into wave power requires a more targeted approach; for example, the UK has recently revised its renewable obligation (RO; European counterpart of RPS) to “provide additional incentives for investment in emerging, and thus generally more expensive, renewable technologies, such as wave, tidal, offshore wind and biomass generation[8]”. Such policy change would be of course very challenging, but let’s face it; wave power has too much potential to let it ebb away.

[1] Source: Andrews and Jelley, 2013, Energy Science

[2] Source: boem.gov

[3] Source: Dave Levitan, 4/28/14, Why Wave Power Has Lagged Far Behind as Energy Source, retrieved from

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/why_wave_power_has_lagged_far_behind_as_energy_source/2760/

[4] Source: http://www.sciencealert.com/world-s-first-grid-connected-wave-power-station-switched-on-in-australia

[5] Dave Levitan, 4/28/14, Why Wave Power Has Lagged Far Behind as Energy Source, retrieved from

[6] Source: http://www.marineturbines.com/3/news/article/44/marine_current_turbines_kicks_off_first_tidal_array_for_wales

[7] Source: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/oceanography/wave-energy3.htm

[8] Source: Allan et al., 2011, Levelised costs of Wave and Tidal energy in the UK: Cost competitiveness and the importance of “banded” Renewables Obligation Certificates

[9] Image source: Flickr.com