Category Archives: carbon capture

International Energy Agency says current pace of clean energy development won’t cut it to avoid worst of climate impacts

My latest Clean Break column:

Tyler Hamilton

Climate-change skeptics like to call environmentalists “alarmists” because of their call for urgent action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The skeptics say the science is too uncertain, that there’s no rush to act, and those who argue otherwise are sanctimonious lefties out of touch with reality.

For them it’s drill baby, drill.

It’s a convenient way of dismissing bad news, which is why it’s important when traditionally conservative organizations like the International Energy Agency weigh in on the issue with their own call for accelerated action.

This week, the Paris-based agency with an oil-soaked history said the world, if it has any hope of keeping the average rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees C, needs to double its rate of spending on clean-energy infrastructure between now and 2020.

It goes on to say that if controlling carbon emissions is truly a priority, the world needs to spend $36 trillion (U.S.) between now and 2050 on low-carbon technologies, on top of the $100 trillion or so needed under a business-as-usual scenario.

“This is the equivalent of $130 per person every year,” said the agency, pointing out that the spending should be considered an investment rather than an expense. “Every additional dollar invested can generate three dollars in future fuel savings by 2050.”

The clean energy technologies we require already exist, the agency’s executive director, Maria van der Hoeven, pointed out. Offshore wind power, concentrated solar power and carbon capture and storage were cited by the agency as the technologies with the most potential but the least traction.

“It’s there and we’re not using it,” she lamented, at the same time urging governments to wake up to the “dangers” of complacency. “The evidence of climate change, if anything, has gotten stronger. At the same time, it has fallen further down the political agenda.”

The fact investment is nowhere near what’s needed is reason for concern, she added. On our current investment path, global carbon dioxide emissions are likely to nearly double by 2050.

“Are we on track to reach out 2-degree goal? No, we aren’t,” she said bluntly. “Our ongoing failure to realize the full potential of clean energy technology and tapping energy efficiency is alarming.”

It bears emphasizing: these are not the words of Greenpeace or Al Gore or David Suzuki; these are the words of a 38-year-old international organization whose original mandate, and the reason for its creation, was to monitor and manage global oil markets in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis.

The International Energy Agency has until the past few years placed energy security and economic development well ahead of environmental protection, and it has been repeatedly accused of having a fossil-fuel bias while underestimating the potential of renewable energy.

But these days it’s singing a different tune. Fatih Birol, the agency’s chief economist, has been quite frank over the past three years about what lies ahead. Commenting on global CO2 emissions data last month, Birol said the trend is “perfectly in line” with a temperature increase of 6 degrees C by 2050. That, he added, “would have devastating consequences for the planet.”

Alarmist, granola-munching tree hugger!

Perhaps this puts into perspective why so many environmental groups and members of the general public are concerned about projects such as the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway oil pipeline projects.

The companies behind them aren’t investing billions of dollars for infrastructure that will only be needed temporarily. They expect a payback, and that means keeping the infrastructure flowing with oil at high capacity for at least the next half century. The same thinking applies to coal-fired power plants built today.

“Fossil fuels remain dominant and demand continues to grow, locking in high-carbon infrastructure,” according to the energy agency. “The investments made today will determine the energy system that is in place in 2050.”

That’s what many people are worried about, and not just environmentalists. They know that the decisions we make today will have a profound impact on the quality of life of our children and their children tomorrow.

Some, including certain federal cabinet ministers, may deem that radical. Most common sense folk would call it risk management.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

Global CO2 emissions take “monster” jump in 2010 due largely to increases in China, U.S.

The good news: developed countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol, Canada notwithstanding, have collectively reduced CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels.

The bad news: Emissions from the United States, China, India and other developing countries took a giant leap in 2010, bringing total global emissions 6 per cent higher than the previous year, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

So, sadly, it seems that global emissions are higher than the worst-case projections that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in its 2007 report. Under its worst-case scenario predictions, global temperatures will rise by between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are currently 389 parts per million and rising fast.

Something’s gotta give, folks.

And all of this when we’re supposedly teetering on the brink of recession. Hell, imagine what things would be like if the economy was running on all cylinders. Scary.

Celebrate clean energy innovation: spread the word about Mad Like Tesla

It’s shameless self promotion, I know, but this is how you create awareness of books, and the point of writing Mad Like Tesla was to create awareness of the innovation going on around clean energy and the immense barriers inventors and entrepreneurs face. I also wanted to celebrate those much-needed risk takers in society, without whom we will never have the kind of breakthroughs necessary to tackle our energy demons. It’s part of the reason I write and have maintained this Clean Break blog for the past six years, without financial gain. It’s a labour of love, as time consuming as it often can be.

Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy was launched this month and has been well-received. The reviews so far have been positive, and awareness of the book is slowly building. But not fast enough. I want to take this moment to ask my readers, many of whom have already purchased the book (thank you!), to help spread the word. Share this link or the Mad Like Tesla website (www.madliketesla.com) on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Refer to it when commenting on the various blogs you might follow. And for my media friends out there — whether in the mainstream press or the blogosphere — please consider a review, or alternatively, I’m happy to chat about the many odd and inspiring stories in this book. Please see press release here.

Thank you all for your ongoing interest and support. BTW: Many have asked, so I’m happy to report that the e-book version of Mad Like Tesla is now available at Amazon.com.

HSBC: Embrace renewables and efficiency before “commodity crunch really begins to bite”

HSBC Global Research just put out a report titled “Energy in 2050” and concludes that the world can grow without excessive environmental damage, “but it will need a change in human behaviour and massive collective government foresight” — both of which, unfortunately, we lack at the moment.

Some other interesting comments:

“As things stand, the world simply doesn’t have the luxury of turning its back on nuclear power, despite the recent disaster in Japan”

Oil demand and overall energy demand is expected to double between now and 2050 as developing countries grow and add more cars to the roads.

If we do nothing, “a doubling in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, more than three and a half times the amount recommended to keep temperatures at a safe level.”

“We have become terribly complacent in the way in which we use energy… The lowest hanging fruit is in the transport sector. Smaller, more efficient cars will get you from A to B, just not as quickly. Similarly, buildings can be powered much more efficiently, with the cost of alterations coming down quickly as technology evolves.”

“The lead times we highlight on the measures in ‘the solution’ are often long. Therefore the squeeze on fossil fuels in the interim could be both persistent and painful as oil prices are so sensitive to minor imbalances between energy demand and supply.”

It’s an interesting read, and while those who follow these issues closely won’t find anything new, it’s good to have another major institution issuing a warning and call for much-needed change in the way the world operates.

Mad Like Tesla, now shipping from Amazon.com

Canadian sites are taking pre-orders for a few more days still, but for my U.S. readers Amazon.com has started shipping my new book Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy. The book tells the stories of some clean energy entrepreneurs/inventors taking huge risks and thinking outside the box to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. Each one is at a different level of development but all face similar barriers along their journey. The stories set the stage for discussion about a specific type of clean energy, technology or field of discovery (e.g. fusion, solar, waste-heat recovery, biofuels, energy storage, biomimicry, etc.) supported by some historical context and current-day examples.

Why Mad Like Tesla? That’s explained in the introduction, but in a nutshell Serbian-American engineer Nikola Tesla invented many important technologies in his lifetime. yet he faced constant struggle against naysayers and skeptics who couldn’t, at first, grasp the significance of what he was sharing with the world. Many dismissed Tesla as a mad scientist, and yet his inventions shaped the world largely for the better. So, in my view, if someone today is mad like Tesla, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s quite a good thing, actually — we need more of these people, for the changes necessary in our world will not come from the kind of cautious, incremental steps being taken today.

I have a website for the book in the works, but it won’t be ready until end of August.

Thanks for your support!