ON/OFF : The Micropower Blog.

The not-so-desirable hockey stick

Growth – it’s favoured by most people. And exponential growth even more so. An entrepreneur’s, and investor’s, dream is the hockey stick – when growth and revenue suddenly takes off in an unprecedented manner.

This is all fine and dandy when we’re talking in financial terms. But when we switch to climate change – specifically global warming and the earth’s temperature – hockey stick growth is very, very undesirable.

According to a recent World Bank report – “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided” – we are facing a potential scenario where we will have to deal with ”unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on ecosystems and associated services.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) just published World Energy Outlook 2012. It’s a big report. And the picture it paints of our energy future is at best bleak, at worst terrifying;

  • ”Taking all new developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path”. So, despite all the efforts in energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy, the bulk of energy still comes from climate-threatening sources (oil and coal). Clearly, we have many mountains to climb, and many trillion dollar investments to make, before seriously diverting from our current (and potentially disastrous) trajectory.
  • ”Energy demand and CO2 emissions rise ever higher”.# Instead of reducing emissions, we are releasing unprecedented, and increasing, amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The report further says that ”Energy‐related CO2 emissions rise from an estimated 31.2 Gt in 2011 to 37.0 Gt in 2035, pointing to a long‐term average temperature increase of 3.6 °C.” That’s the inverse of a desired change.
  • ”Fossil fuels remain the principal sources of energy worldwide, though renewables grow rapidly”. Now, the last part of that sentence is a ray of light – according to IEA, the renewable share of energy generation will grow from 10% in 2012 to 31% by 2035.
  • ”Subsidies to fossil fuels continue to distort energy markets and expanded considerably last year despite international efforts at reform.” In 2011, governments around the world spent $523 billion on fossil fuel subsidies. That figure is in stark contrast to the financial support to renewable energy that in 2011 amounted to $88 billion. Imagine that HALF A TRILLION DOLLARS would have instead been spent on renewable energy research and deployment, coupled with the effect of lowered consumption because of higher fuel prices. At this point, it’s beyond argument that subsidies have to be abolished.
  • ”Growth in oil consumption in emerging economies, particularly for transport in China, India and the Middle East, more than outweighs reduced demand in the OECD, pushing global oil use steadily higher.” Related to the earlier points, reducing our dependence on oil is one of the key factors in mitigating a potential climate catastrophe. The first step in this is rapid deployment of renewable energy generation.
  • ”Trucks deliver a large share of oil demand growth.” As a matter of fact, the transport sector accounts for more than half of global oil consumption. This figure increases steadily – the number of passenger cars will increase to 1.7 billion, and transport requirements for goods are also on a steady rise. Clearly, we need to rethink transportation. Not because electric vehicles look better – it’s actually about our survival.
  • ”Electricity demand will continue to grow: in the New Policies Scenario, our central scenario, global demand for electricity grows over 70% to almost 32 000 TWh by 2035.” According to the report, this increase ”comes overwhelmingly from non‐OECD countries; over half from China and India alone.” Unfortunately, coal is the the main source of energy generation globally, however, ”its share of the mix is eroded from two‐fifths to one‐third”. And renewables grow to 31% by 2035 – hydro, PV, wind and bioenergy.
  • ”A total of 5 890 GW of capacity additions – more than the total installed capacity of the whole world in 2011 – is required over the Outlook period. One‐third of this is to replace retiring plants; the rest is to meet growing electricity demand.” Fortunately, renewables make up 50% of the capacity additions. The report indicates that the power sector ”requires investment over 2012‐35 of $16.9 trillion, almost half the total energy supply infrastructure investment in this period. Two‐fifths of this investment is for electricity networks, while the rest is for generation capacity.” There’s opportunity here, people. A massive opportunity for large-scale deployments of renewable energy. And we’d also like to argue that this is a unique chance to rethink the way we look at energy at large: electricity needs to be produced where it’s consumed. Renewably so.
  • ”We estimate that nearly $1 trillion in cumulative investment is needed to achieve universal energy access by 2030.” 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity, and the report estimates that without action nearly one billion will be without electricity in 2030. Fortunately, this is something which OMC is entirely dedicated to by providing Micropower to rural communities.

So, what to do about this power(ful) mess?

First of all, we need to massively cut our dependence on and usage of fossil fuels. And instead switch to renewable energy.

We need to focus intensely on energy-efficiency. This goes far beyond switching to LED-lights and powering off appliances when they’re not used. This impacts every person, every company, and every industry on the planet.

We also need to question the entire way we look at energy production and distribution. Considering cost, climate & enviroment impact as well as huge transmission and distribution losses, it’s not feasible to build large nuclear and coal plants, then transport electricity over large distances where up to 50% is lost in transmission. The electricity grid is not the answer, it’s part of the problem.

And only a combination of all these efforts – rapid fossil fuel divorce, maximum energy efficiency and local generation + distribution of energy – will create a change rate high enough to counter the rapidly escalating threat of climate change.

It’s time to rethink. At OMC, we believe in Micropower – small-scale energy with local distribution and generation.

For the areas that will be most affected by climate change – rural regions in emerging countries – it is already becoming a lifesaver and a path to a better life.

For the rest of the world, the challenge – the transition towards a smarter energy future – has just begun.

Updated 2012-12-04

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