Monday, May 07, 2007

Brief Analysis of Climate Change Report

Here’s my brief analysis of and comments on the recent IPCC working group report on Mitigation of Climate Change released from Bangkok, Thailand as it relates to alternative energy.

Energy Efficient & Net Zero Energy Buildings

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are rightly held to be a key ways to reduce carbon emissions. Buildings, both residential and commercial, are a significant emitter of greenhouse gasses.

Solar hot water heating can be used to provide up to 70% of annual hot water needs for homes, it can also be used in commercial buildings that require significant hot water such as gyms and nursing homes.

Geothermal (ground source heat pumps) is a lesser known source of alternative energy which can be used to both heat and cool buildings in a highly efficient way and is suited both to residential and commercial buildings. It can also be used to provide hot water. As bore holes and/or trenches need to be dug for geothermal to be installed, it is particularly suited to new builds.

Electricity can be provided from renewable sources via the grid (e.g. wind power) or off-grid it can be generated using for example solar photovoltaic panels (PV).

The use of insulation, natural light & shade, low energy lighting, motion detection lighting etc. can further reduce energy usage.

As noted in the report appropriate building codes can minimise carbon emissions from buildings.

Alternative Energy = Energy Security

The report notes that nations seeking energy security (security of supply) can help achieve it using alternative energy. Nations lacking their own fossil fuels resources should be concerned with the negative impact reliance on fossil fuels can have on their economies. By increasing utilisation of alternative energy resources, nations can increase their energy security.

Transport Policy & Fossil Fuels Subsidies

I was disappointed by the report’s lack of vision on transport. It correctly notes that past increases in efficiency in internal combustion engine (ICE) design have been used to increase power rather than fuel efficiency meaning vehicle carbon emissions have continued to climb. This trend has even continued into hybrid vehicles with performance being favoured over fuel economy (e.g. Lexus hybrid cars). Mention was made of making increased use of biofuels, which can actually significantly increase carbon emissions (see this post on Palm Oil Biodiesel). The glaring emission, is the need for a fundamental shift from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles. I got the impression the report in trying to build consensus was avoiding treading on any toes. Perhaps that’s why it recommended only reducing rather than eliminating the subsidisation of fossil fuels.

Research and Development + Technology Transfer

India and China will soon be at the top of the list of carbon emitting nations. The report wrongly suggests that because many new power stations are being built in developing nations, they will be using new energy efficient designs and technologies. While new power stations may be more efficient than those built decades ago, for cost reasons less efficient technology is usually used (for more details see this post on Clean Coal). The report notes there have been low levels of investment in research and development. Investment is needed now and much more should be done to aid the transfer of the most energy efficient technologies between nations.

IPCC working group report on Mitigation of Climate Change (pdf link)

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