Scheme to develop “carbon capture and storage” technology at power stations axed. Professor Stuart Haszeldine, SCCS Director: “It has now become clear that announcements made by Chancellor George Osborne regarding energy innovation and support for low-carbon electricity were economical with the facts about support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the UK.”
Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “The UK Government’s decision to scrap its £1 billion Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) programme is a disgrace. It shows complete disregard for tackling climate change, utter indifference to developing the crucial new technologies that will cut emissions and is another UK Government hammer blow to energy generation in Scotland.
”Just last week the Secretary of State announced an energy strategy heavily reliant on gas, yet the Chancellor has slashed support for the only credible technology which can reduce emissions from large scale gas generation.
“The UK has 30% of Europe’s CO2 storage capacity alongside an oil and gas infrastructure which can be utilised for CCS. The CCS Commercialisation Programme has already been running for 10 years. – had the competition been allowed to run its course, the world’s first commercial scale gas powered CCS plant could have been built in Peterhead creating new jobs, blazing a trail for innovation and potentially attracting significant investment to the UK.
“This should have been a huge industrial opportunity. Instead the decision to pull the plug on the CCS programme, to meet a deeply flawed austerity agenda, is breathtakingly short-sighted, even for this UK Government.”
Professor Haszeldine continues: “A focus on CCS research and development is not enough to deploy this essential climate change technology – project developers and others in the CCS community are united in their stance that large-scale projects are needed on the ground. Multiple analyses have demonstrated that this is a feasible and cost-effective method to decarbonise not just UK electricity, but also heat and industry, whilst driving improved efficiency.
“The UK Government’s reliance on nuclear power to deliver our future electricity needs depends entirely on whether projects such as Hinckley Point can actually be delivered on time. All of the current three versions of this power plant under construction globally are taking double the anticipated timescales at treble the anticipated price. Small modular nuclear power, although promising, remains entirely unproven in a commercial supply setting. If new nuclear cannot be delivered at scale and on time, the UK runs the future risk, as of today, of becoming a distressed buyer of rapidly built gas power plant, which locks in UK carbon emissions for the next 40 years. To me, this does not look like prudent management.
“The new electricity supply landscape proposed by the Government, but a long way from being delivered, means all low-carbon electricity providers should be bidding into the supply market under equal terms. This means that low-carbon renewable providers must provide reliable ‘ firm’ power delivery and that CCS projects should receive the multiple underwriting and favourable contract benefits gifted to Hinkley and its successors. CCS can deliver this and it would be perverse to prevent it from doing so.”
Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “This is very disappointing news. There have been concerns about the initial costs of this technology, but we will only be able to properly assess the viability of UK Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) upon the successful delivery of a demonstration project. Demonstration projects are a recognised requirement for full commercialisation of all large technologies, without such, new energy management technologies will remain in the shadows.
“If we are serious about building a clean and secure energy sector we need a diverse energy system, and CCS is central to this. In addition to the potential this technology has in making coal-fired generation low carbon, there is great promise for this technology to be used to retrofit gas-fired power stations in the future as well.
“The Government has outlined plans for the winding-down of coal-fired generation. With just one nuclear reactor currently being planned, the UK looks set to experience a new dash for gas. Without CCS technology this will mean we are locking ourselves in to relying on unabated fossil fuel power for generations to come.”
Responding to the UK Chancellor’s decision, Jonathan Church, climate and energy lawyer at ClientEarth said: “This an extremely damaging move by the UK government. Development of CCS has been delayed for years and by successive governments, and by axing the £1bn grant to fund these projects, the UK government is essentially closing off one of the key avenues in the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
“The need for CCS was highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change in its July report this year. And a commitment to this funding was celebrated in the Conservative’s General Election manifesto. Supporting CCS should be a priority and certainly not something wiped out, apparently on a whim, just days before the Paris conference on climate change. This can only exacerbate investor concerns about how the UK’s climate targets will be met; something which will cost, not save, money in the long run.”
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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