What are the cold facts about a hot issue?

Image courtesy of Herkie on Flickr

Will we win the race to reduce carbon emissions?

I used to work in the field of genetically modified crops and was an advocate of using plants to produce biofuels, but now I see there are better ways to satisfy our energy needs.

Instead of using agricultural land for biofuels, deserts can be used to harvest the sun’s energy. I’m told that an area of only 90,000 km2 is all that would be needed to meet today’s global electricity needs. Although this sounds like a large area it only covers a fraction of the world’s deserts.

Alternatively, according to researchers analyzing wind patterns around the world, maxing out deployment of current-generation wind turbines would provide five times the total energy used in the world today or 40 times the global electricity consumption. A combination of both of these approaches in the long term make sense, especially when considering the economies of scale resulting from the mass production of photovoltaic systems or wind farms.

Increased demand for biofuels on the other hand would not only make power generation using bioethanol more expensive as was recently the case in the Philippines and Cambodia, where developers were forced to suspend the construction of cassava bioethanol plants because the tubers had become too expensive, but it would also cause food prices to rocket throwing millions of people in low- and middle-income countries into poverty.

Yet is solar and wind the only way to go? Well no, as Richard Jones, Deputy Executive Director, IEA, explains in an interview with Scott Tinker, Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, a mixture of energy policies, including renewables, carbon capture and cleaner transportation are needed, but the trick will be to take significant action soon.

If we don’t, according to Jones, for every euro not spent on carbon reductions before 2020 more than four times that amount will be needed in the future to get the world back on track for a 2ºC temperature rise rather than the 6ºC predicted if we continue to follow current policies.  He points out that energy efficiency would have the greatest immediate impact on global emissions reduction using technologies we already have available today, yet why is so little being done?

If we can put a man on the moon or place a probe on Mars, surely we can take the technology we already have available and save our own planet and halt the mass extinction of species currently estimated at between 2.7 and 270 species a day – what do you think? How best can we get the world’s climate back on track?



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About the author

Mark Curtis

I am content manager for Electrification business at ABB Headquarters in Zurich
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