Last months I haven’t written anything in the blog due to a combination of lack of time in my personal life and spending my remaining “free” hours in coursera platform learning about climate change. It has been a very well spent time, I have learned many interesting things about climate change, but I hope to talk about it in a further post. Today I want to greet the new year with some short wishes about climate change:
1.- It would be wonderful to stabilize the carbon emissions worldwide as many important countries have done in their particular cases. Or even better, to start reducing them making 2013 the peak emissions year.
2.- If the previous is too optimistic, it would be good at least to stop Coal plant growth in most parts of the world.
3.- And combine it with a robust growth of renewable energies.
4.- An international carbon tax would really help, adopted broadly, or at least by the greater emitter countries. Next COP would be a good place to agree on it.
5.- If all of these does not happen, or it is too weak, and international social movement could help to raise public opinion awareness and move some reluctant governments.
6.- or … we could just stop talking and act with the seriousness to be expected from an intelligent being.
Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to watch Promised Land in the cinema, and as going to the cinema is a rare pleasure for me I enjoyed the film.
Apart from my personal experience, the film is in this post because it is about fracking. Concretely, it is quite critical with fracking companies ppractices and reveals possible strong negative effects of fracking in the environment.
Fracking is subject that is gaining some presence here as some gas could be extracted from our lands. Oil or natural gas discovery has been one of the dremas of any world wide government, a synomnim of wealth and prosperity for the country or at least for some in the country (this depends on the sharing procedure, but it is not the object of this post). On the other side ecologists are afraid of the side effects of this technology.
In climate and energy related blogosphere it hs been discussed many times. For example, an Oli Crash post is very pessimistic about fracking possiblities. The basic argument is that its expensive, much more than accepted. Climate progress is skeptic respecting fracking too. This web is fairly optimistic. Some consider it is the only low carbon solution for China as it hahas helped the USA emission reduction. Maybe the one that I found more convincing is the numerical skepticism by David Appel. The CO2 reduction (compared to coal) could be generously compensated by methane emissions.
One of the things that surprised me in the film is that theydid not even mention renewables, as if they were not present in the USA. I think we are too late to think about provisional solutions or fracking bridges. We need clear emission reductions and renewables are far better for that than fracking, in fact gas is a fossil fuel, maybe cleaner or maybe cheap sometimes (or not), but a CO2 producing fossil fuel, and this is not a solution to climate change, it is a problem. Natural gas could the the last fossil fuel to sustitute but not the prefered to install.
It is a known fact for anyone reading scientific news that there is much concern and research in renewable energies, energy storage, low C transportation and some other subjects closely related to climate change. This means that there are many scientists warned by our climate future and they have convinced investors from politics or private sector to research in those areas. This fact is not frequently displayed in the news but there are exceptions as this list of 10 emerging technologies of the world economic forum.
5 out of 10 of the proposed technologies are related to energy or transportation, so, to climate change mitigation. These kind of speculative analysis are just that, but as in the case of a previous one in the BBC, show mainly our worries and hopes for the future, and in both of them climate change is present (in this one more clearly in fact)
Image from Wikipedia
What happens with biofuels? (biofuels can be distinguished from biomass, because they need a chemical process to extract the liquid fuel and the biomass is burn directly or after just cutting and drying)
There are frequent news about promising biofuels , about good and bad perspectives at the same time in Neofronteras , some really negative from climate progress , some more standard and encouraging news from Denmark or other explaining the possibilities of biotech , and this last one about the interesting possibilities of marginal lands for biofuels.
Consequently, in this subject, we can say that clearly there is no consensus.
I think that the problem is that we are talking about too many things when saying biofuels. Nowadays there aren’t many doubts about the problems and scarce utility of using crop to fuel our cars, or destroying some hectares of rain forests for getting some liters of ethanol called “green”. And maybe the greatest sin have been to think they could be a direct substitute of petroleum. They can’t.
Nevertheless, there are many other possibilities of obtaining energy from plants or their wastes. I do not think they will solve our dependency to fossil fuels but they can contribute to certain extent and in some places help to get a self-containing solution because they can use the long experience we have on moving things by burning liquid fuels. For example, I imagine some marginal lands in a farm that are useful to obtain fuel for some machinery there.
So, let’s include some biofuels as part of the solution, even if small, being , at the same time, critical with their production process, giving priority to food but remembering that they are the most ancient solar power stations. In fact, they power our bodies.
This very recent paper focuses in costs studies of a fully renewable electricity supply system based in part of EEUU states grid. It is very interesting and deserves a more profound reading but the main conclusion is that for 2030 (less than 20 years ahead) it is not only possible to supply 100% electricity in this part of the USA by renewables, it would even be profitable!.
The good news do not end there, another study says that new wind and solar are competitive in the long-term with new natural gas in Texas. And another study, based on Australian data shows wind is cheaper than fossil fuels in Australia, even without carbon tax.
OK, maybe some of those data have been analysed with a positive bias towards renewables (in the first one for example), and it is true that renewables always compete to already paid systems of energy production, so it is a difficult-to-win battle; (it is interesting the debate in England about the feed-in-tarif or similar to new nuclear, newborns have a hard time even with Uranium). Nevertheless, the good news are that renewables are reducing costs clearly, and have been for a long time, while fossil fuels are more fluctuating and nobody is really confident they will not increase in the near future, so the maths continue to be confusing but they are changing.
Of course, all this without considering the enormous costs of climate change effects, sooner or later they will be evident in the balance and then the doubts will simply disappear, the problem is that by then it may be too late for some and will be more expensive for sure.
Today, I have been in a meeting were representants from three small towns (Aramaio, Otxandio, Zerain) explained their intention to develop Distric Heating for the greatest part of their town using wood from their own lands. There were some differences in the concepts, the scope, the development stage and the size of the towns that ranges from 300 to 1500 inhabitants. At the same time, there were some interesting common points too:
- The Biomass from forests was the main energy source for our grandparents for more than 1000 years.
- The investment needed to start the system was a problem for most due to the low-budget of the towns but they all were considered that the change from oil or gas to local Biomass would make economic sense in the mid-term, and they had done detailed studies for that.
- It would also benefit local wood producers as their income would be fixed in the long-term.
- It would create local jobs.
- It would help to prevent wildfires.
- It would make environmental sense.
- It would complement well other local economic activities as tourism or sheep growing.
- It would be compatible with forest harvesting for more expensive use of wood.
- Their projects were based on local wood, a wood moving 100 Km would be too expensive.
- They would need more help than the one their are getting.
- And the last one, they have discarded other renewables after some preliminary studies.
And my own conclusions:
- Our forests can be used for different purposes at the same time and even if I usually do not mention land use it is an important issue in climate change.
- Biomass heating use of second quality wood is a nice substitute of gas or oil for small towns with forests, but can even work for Distric Heating of buildings in nearby cities. It will not heat everyone everywhere but can be part of the solution, and this is what we are looking for: partial substitutes of fossil fuels.
- Local approaches can be important, maybe more than in global emission numbers, as an example and motivation, like el Hierro island
- The only discouraging news was the low acceptance of other renewables in their studies, and the worst case of three small hydro power stations that were not used after being abandoned in the cheap oil times. Certainly, in some cases the information they got was not updated. But this is something that happens many times.
A week ago I visited with my family a science museum called Kutxaespaxioa close to the beautiful city fo Donotia-San Sebastian. Being a science museum the presence of climate change was unsurprisingly accurate and clear. Just another small probe that there are not substantial doubts in current science about the main facts of climate change. My document in some photographs:
There was a book about climate change
Anyone could produce a mini tornado and understand its basic concept and the increase of probability with a warmer and wetter atmosphere
There was a beautifully shown combustion motor, it is really a marble of the mechanics:
Nevertheless, solar and wind energy could be clearly in action and with a great presence
And finally, everyone could sense the heat of a tiny greenhouse, as the one we have over our heads