Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Energy Transition - Global Emission Trends

Reducing Carbon footprint of Fossil fuels

By T. Siddiqui- Dec19, 2017

As the relentless rain finally subsided on Aug 31, 2017, I found my entire neighborhood in Houston completely inundated. The hurricane Harvey, had completely devastated hundreds of thousand homes, at an estimated total loss of $200 billion.  In US, the year 2017 was full of destruction from hurricanes; Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate to name the few, that completely changed certain landscapes forever. I was personally affected by hurricane Harvey, so I am more and more convinced that ‘Global warming’ is having a noticeable impact on our planet and our lives. Putting political controversy aside, few facts and observations simply cannot be ignored.

Due to the anthropogenic activity in last 150 years, the average temperatures have increased.  According to NOAA, it has increased by 1.4 0F alone in last 100 years. The year 2016 was the hottest year since the temperature records have been kept. Burning of fossil fuels; namely coal, oil and gas can release anthropogenic CO2 that cause ‘Greenhouse’ effect, that is primarily causing the rise in global temperatures and climate change.  The global sea levels have increased by 8 inches since 1870.  If the greenhouse emissions remain unchecked, the sea-level could rise by 3 feet, and nearly half the coastal areas could be inundated. This requires collective efforts from global community (read my blog: Tragedy of Commons - Climate Change).

The 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, France made an agreement to set a goal of limiting global warming to "well below 2 °C" Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century. The parties will also "pursue efforts to" limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. The 1.5 °C goal will require zero emissions sometime between 2030 and 2050, according to some scientists.

The Global Total Emissions trends from fossil as of 2017 are presented in (Fig-1). The trend clearly shows an increase in emissions, but the rate at which they are increasing seems to have been arrested since 2015.  This is largely seen in reduction in use of coal (Fig-2) and sharp increase its substitution by natural gas (Fig-3) with only modest increase in usage of oil (Fig-4)

The significant reason behind this is the ‘Energy Transition’ in the European Union; which is substituting coal with natural gas, that has half the carbon intensity as coal. Thus, Europe is leading the global community of nations with substantial reduction in emissions by implementing European Union’s (EU) Emission Trading System (ETS), that helps significantly with fuel substitution and significantly reducing the carbon-footprint.  Thus, contribution of coal in the energy mix of EU will largely reduce (Fig-6) and replaced by natural gas (Fig-7).

Story of emission is significantly different for the Asia-Pacific region that is powerhouse of growth in the next decade with two largest countries in the world, i.e. China and India.  This, Asia-Pacific emission trends (Fig-8) is largely reflected in the Global Emission Trend (Fig-1).  The use of coal continues to rise (Fig-9), albeit at a lower rate after 2015, and use of gas continues to increase at a high rate (Fig-10) followed by oil (Fig-11). The reason behind this increase is the rapid growth of economies (Fig-12) in Asia-Pacific, followed by ever increasing population (Fig-13) that fuels this increase in GDP.

So, what is share of renewables in the total mix of energy today and in 2035? It is clear from Fig-14 that fossil fuels will remain the dominant source of energy till 2035, but renewable will take increasing proportions depending on each country.  Today, Denmark and Ireland lead in renewables, with 8% and 5% respectively. By 2035, UK, Germany Italy and France will have more than 5% of energy coming from renewables.















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