Global environmental challenges
from The Great Debate UK:
--Craig Boundy is UK CEO of Logica. The opinions expressed are his own.--
Recent research by Logica showed that only 22 per cent of individuals feel the onus is on them to deliver a sustainable future. Individuals want more guidance on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle, with 18 per cent of respondents saying they had no idea what changes they need to make, and only 22 per cent feeling a responsibility to take the initiative. Central and local government need to put the power into consumers’ hands by equipping them with the knowledge and the technologies to make change a reality – and ultimately to get them excited about living a greener lifestyle.
Homes are the biggest emitters of CO2 in London – around 36 per cent of London’s CO2 emissions come from its homes according to government statistics. The good news is the government has already created a pan-London scheme called RE:NEW which is designed to make it easier for all households to improve their energy efficiency. With RE:NEW, householders are given energy efficiency advice and can have simple improvements installed for free throughout the home. These include energy display devices, radiator panels, aerated taps, hot water tank jackets and draught-proofing. These are basic changes but it’s a good start.
Government now needs to look at how more permanent changes, like installing solar panels and home energy monitors, can be funded. Under the recently-introduced Green Deal, bill payers will be able to get energy efficiency improvements without having to front up the cash. Instead, energy companies will install the products and bill payers will pay these back via the cost savings on their bills. At the heart of the offer is a simple rule: estimated savings on bills over a period of time will always equal or exceed the cost of the work. It’s a flexible framework and one that gives businesses and consumers the opportunity to make the improvements that best suit their situation.
Smart meters are already saving people money as they are able to go online and monitor their energy usage. Trials have shown that smart meters can reduce bills by five to ten per cent, and these savings are part of the reason the government has announced plans to install smart meters in every UK household. The planned rollout will start in 2014 and is due to be completed by 2020. A typical family can already expect to save around £300 - £400 a year.
Some stories, no matter how serious, are just joke-prone. So it was this week with the proposed U.S. BULB act, which aimed to repeal light bulb efficiency standards that became law in 2007. Sponsored by Joe Barton, a Texas Republican congressman, the BULB bill failed to receive the two-thirds vote of those present in the House of Representatives that would have been needed to suspend House rules and pass the measure.
That was the signal for Washington politicians, interest groups and some headline writers to crank up the pun-producing machinery:
But General Electric thinks its new battery technology, based on sodium, could radically speed up that process.
“The way the roadmap has been laid out as I’ve seen it is a lot of evolutionary steps,” with technological development taking years if not decades to replace traditional gasoline powered cars with hybrids, followed by plug-in hybrids, followed by pure electric vehicles said Glen Merfeld, who runs the chemical energy lab at GE’s global research center in Niskayuna, New York.
The reason for that long timeframe is that current battery technology limits the range of a car that draws its power solely from an internal battery.
“The sodium battery is potentially disruptive to that evolutionary look,” Merfeld said. The technology that we are commercializing will solve some of those problems.”
GE on Tuesday said it plans to build a new factory outside Albany, New York, where it will initially focus on producing sodium-metal halide batteries for railroad locomotives. That technology differs from the lithium-ion batteries being developed for the next generation of hybrid autos in that it is better suited for releasing small amounts of energy over time, rather than a lot at once.
Eventually, by pairing the sodium battery with a lithium-ion one, such as those made by A123 Systems, which GE owns a stake in, the company could design a power train for an all-electric car that would allow a range of hundreds of miles and cost 30 to 40 percent less than a single-battery power train, Merfeld said.
“You’d probably want to start with larger (vehicles) because that’s where you need to store more energy than in the smaller ones,” added Mark Little, a GE senior vice president who runs its research center. “We could imagine a day where you could go to the future and have a small lithium-ion system for the power side and a larger sodium battery for the energy side. But that will take some time to get to.”
Even the CEO of one of the world’s biggest LED makers, North Carolina-based Cree Inc, says homeowners will wait a long time to recoup their investment at today’s prices for LED lights.
It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.
Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.
Every once in a while you run into someone with so much energy that you find yourself wishing you could plug something into them to tap a bit of that excess power. On a dark, cloudy December afternoon, I spoke to Frank Asbeck, the chairman of SolarWorld and dubbed the “Sonnenkoenig” (Sun King) by a leading newspaper in his native Germany for turning an idea (mass use of photovoltaic) into a multi-billion euro corporation with 2,500 employees — in little over a decade.
Asbeck, 49, easily the most entertaining chief executive I’ve met in Germany, lit up the room with a 90-minute surge of ideas, witty comments and untempered optimism about solar power — a delightful respite from the economic doom and gloom of the current era.
Energy efficiency efforts in California over the past three decades have created or saved 1.5 million jobs and added $45 billion to payrolls in the state, according to a report from David Roland-Holst of the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley.
It comes as the Golden State is debating whether plans to radically cut carbon dioxide emissions will be a financial burden for California or spur economic growth in a state that already leads in energy efficiency.
Is this the silver bullet everyone’s been waiting for? Or just pie in the sky? Is capturing and storing carbon dioxide the technology breakthrough to cut greenhouse gas emissions without getting in the way of economic growth and industry’s “addiction” to fossil fuels? Or is it just a “greenwash” — a token gesture by some of the utilities responsible for so much of the world’s CO2 to try to persuade an increasingly green public that the great emitters are doing something to fight climate change?
Those are the questions that were hurled at Vattenfall executives on Tuesday when the Swedish-based utility opened the world’s first CCS plant in a small town south of Berlin called Schwarze Pumpe. The company believes it will be economically feasible before long to capture carbon, liquify it, and store it permanently on a large scale underground. This is only a small pilot plant producing enough power for a town of 20,000. But if it works, Vattenfall plans to build two conventional power plants 10 times larger in Germany and Denmark by 2015 and from 2020 they hope CCS will be a viable option for large-scale industrial use.
Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and is a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.
On April 16 President Bush gave a speech laying out a new United States climate policy goal – stabilizing US emissions by the year 2025.