Green revolution: still possible amid deep recession?
Economic retreat could hamper green investment – but it could also spur a drive to move economies away from fossil-fuel dependencies.
(Page 2 of 3)
"The minute you get recovery, you'll get a sharp rise in oil, which will stall the recovery," says Tom Burke, an environmental scientist and former British government adviser. "So you have to use the stimulus to get yourself off oil dependency and that will reduce the climate curve and you'll start to drive carbon the way you want to go.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"It's a one-time opportunity. The financial crisis couldn't have come at a better time because it's forcing us to act."
What technologies will make this happen?
Concentrated solar-energy plants, electric cars, wave power, second-generation biofuels – the list of new technologies that could start to make a difference in 2009 is as long as it is exotic. Yet most promise incremental change. For a transformative shift, experts are eyeing more-familiar turf.
1. Mr. Brown is looking to wind power, particularly offshore. He reckons that the world could generate 40 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030. This would require 1.5 million turbines producing 2 megawatts each. Sound formidable? Yes, he says, but given that we already have 100,000 in operation and deployment is increasing exponentially, it may not be so far-fetched.
"The state of Texas," Brown notes, "has become our leading generator of electricity from wind, with 6,000 megawatts installed and several thousand more under construction and in the planning stage. When these are completed, they will supply more electricity than the 24 million people in Texas can consume." But, he adds, because of the relative cost of wind power, tax incentives should be rolled over next year through 2015.
2. Carbon capture and storage. Even with a massive deployment of renewable energy, the world will still burn coal. Nuclear energy will continue its comeback, but even the Chinese, with the world's most ambitious nuclear-power program, will still have to rely heavily on coal.
As such, efforts will have to be redoubled to develop and test systems that can sequester the carbon produced by burning coal and pump it back into the ground, an as yet unproven technology called carbon capture and storage. It is still years from implementation and hundreds of millions of dollars more costly than standard power stations, but the EU agreed at its summit last month to a mechanism to help fund 12 pilot projects. "If we don't deploy it very fast, then we cannot keep the climate within the bounds of a manageable problem," says Mr. Burke.
3. Energy efficiency. Pessimists argue that renewables and clean coal still will not be able to reduce emissions by the 80 percent target by 2050. "Under a business-as-usual scenario," argues Antony Froggatt, a climate-change expert at London's Chatham House think tank, "there will be a 50 percent increase in energy demand by 2030 and 85 percent will be fossil-fuel based, and that will mean a 6 degree increase in temperatures."
The IEA reckons that by 2050, energy efficiency can cut usage by half of today's consumption. "We can change light ulbs, get rid of standbys on equipment, ratchet up efficiency on appliances," says Mr. Froggatt. "Buildings amount to 30 percent of energy consumption in Europe. We can retrofit buildings. The state of the art is zero-energy. Loft insulation pays itself back in six months."
2009, he says, will be all about "how do you scale up all these technologies, how do you speed up introduction."
Prospects of a global deal at Copenhagen?
The institutional focus of 2009 will be the Copenhagen climate talks, designed to agree to a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. Judging from talks at Poznan, Poland, last month, hopes aren't high.