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Scientists want rapid renewables deployment – temps could be rising faster than thought

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New climate research has warned that the individual energy needs of a growing population could push global warming to dangerous levels within just four years, highlighting the need to fast-track the global shift to cleaner sources of energy like renewables.

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The model, developed by researchers from the University of Queensland and Griffith University, predicts the global average temperature could rise by 1.5°C as early as 2020, based on forecasts of population and economic growth combined with rising per capita energy consumption.

The study is the first to include ‘energy use per person’ as a predictive factor rather than focusing on economies or populations.

“Nations at the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change agreed to keep the rise in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably limiting it to 1.5 degrees to protect island states,” said Professor Ben Hankamer, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

“Our model shows we may have less time left than expected to prevent world temperature from rising above these thresholds.

“World population is forecast to increase to over 9 billion people by 2050, which, together with international ‘pro-growth’ strategies, will lead to continually increasing energy demand.

Professor Hankamer said it was vital to move from CO2-emitting fossil fuels and tap into renewable resources to accommodate these increases while controlling temperature.

“The sun is by far the largest renewable energy source,” he said. “In just two hours it delivers enough solar energy to the Earth’s surface to power the entire global economy for a year – and now is the time to make the switch.

“A cost-neutral strategy that governments should consider to fast track this transition is diverting the $500 billion used to subsidise the fossil fuel industry internationally to assist the global renewable sector.”

Griffith University’s Dr Liam Wagner said the model challenged the assumption that increases in energy efficiency and conversion would offset increases in demand.

“We have successfully applied our model to world energy demand from 1950-2010 and demonstrated that increases in energy efficiency alone don’t offset the surge in in energy use per person,” he said.

“Simply put, as we get more efficient at manufacturing, goods get cheaper and we buy more.

Dr Wagner said massive increases in energy consumption would be necessary to alleviate poverty for the nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population who live on less than $2.50 a day.

“We have a choice: leave people in poverty and speed towards dangerous global warming through the increased use of fossil fuels, or transition rapidly to renewables.

“As 80 per cent of world energy is used as fuels and only 20 per cent as electricity, renewable fuels in particular will be critical.”

Dr Ian Ross from IMB and Professor John Foster from UQ’s School of Economics were integral in developing the model. The work is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team received support from the Australian Research Council, the Queensland Government and The University of Queensland.


  

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  • solarguy

    Over population has, I’ve believed for some time to be a big contributor to our problems on this earth and that can’t be fixed overnight unless we have another bloody big war. And no I’m suggesting we do that.
    If this study is correct and 80% of our FF use is for transport, then we do have a massive problem, as not only will EV’s have to be built on a rapid and massive scale, to many won’t afford them. So existing ICE cars and trucks will need to be converted to run on bio fuels or H2 in the interim. Bio fuels will be a challenge as feed stock is limited. I.5 seems a bridge to far, as governments don’t want to act.
    We’re in the shit!

    • Nick Thiwerspoon

      Presumably we could produce hydrocarbons via the Sabatier process, with the hydrogen for that coming from electrolysis of water using electricity generated via renewables. Or there’s this process to produce methanol: http://gnightearth.com/2016/02/19/so-you-want-to-make-methanol-start-with-ruthenium-and-add-some-air/

      • solarguy

        If your going to make H2 use it don’t add carbon.

        • onesecond

          Methane is a lot easier to store and to use.

        • Nick Thiwerspoon

          We have an existing grid to distribute methane–gas pipelines. And H2 is hard to store and distribute.

          • solarguy

            Your right Nick it is and I forgot about work done at the CSIRO Energy centre in Newcastle some years ago, Where they reacted natural gas (could be bio methane) with water at high temperatures from CST and created a syngas that had 25% more energy than methane.
            It was said at the time that it could be made anywhere and burns cleaner. Could be a solution as less carbon the better although it would be better for stationary back up power production and as range extender for hybrids.

          • MD

            Yep, Pretty sure the syngas was hydrogen enriched natural gas…..

            There is loads of BS about the difficulties with dealing with hydrogen…. Everyone is scared, and most people have no clue.

            Hydrogen embrittlement is mainly a problem relating to WELDING steel in damp environments, NOT migration of room temperature “low-medium” pressure hydrogen through the steel lattice.

            There are issues with cryogenic temps and need for specific materials, but room temp, low to medium pressure transport and storage of hydrogen and methane is little different.

            If the idea of distribution through a network for “immediate consumption” (as with current domestic natural gas networks) methane -hydrogen mixes are easy to deal with, (most natural gas contains at least some hydrogen) energy density is the important factor.

            For transport fuels, liquid fuels (hydrocarbons) provide the best in volumetric and mass, energy-density. So adding carbon to the “free hydrogen” created from “green” or excess electricity supply (even flash reforming with waste steam at thermal plants – for value adding rather than dumping the energy as OFF-Peak power, or wasting -heat to air- it as is common) for transport fuels makes sense, allowing future transport needs to be met. NB. clean hydrocarbons can be used in some designs of fuel cells without poisoning the cell, the problem with naturally sourced hydrocarbons is that they are often (always) contaminated with other nasty chemicals, Sulfur, Cadmium, Uranium, Radon, etc etc. These elements don’t play well with fuel cells. The world has enough experience with creating transport fuels from gas (synthetic low sulfur diesel from Natural Gas, or cracking coal gas) it is just a slight technology transfer to utilizing reformed hydrogen and atmospheric C02 for future needs.

          • solarguy

            Thanks for the input MB. In my previous post I was concerned that people who can’t afford EV’s will possibly need a transition fuel, but now I’m thinking the banks could come to the rescue and have low interest loans for them to buy EV’s.
            As we need zero carbon quickly that would be a better option don’t you think? And leave bio fuels and H2 for hybrids, aircraft, shipping and grid back up power.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Not sure what he was referring to there with, “80% of world energy is used as fuels.”

      World coal production in 2015 was about 7.7 billion tonnes.

      World oil production in 2015, including unconventional oil, was about 4.7 billion tonnes.

      World CO2 emissions from coal in 2015 were twice those from oil.

      • solarguy

        The only thing that is left out of the FF equation is gas, that might make up the difference?

  • “As 80 per cent of world energy is used as fuels and only 20 per cent as electricity”

    Huh? 40% of fossil fuels are used to generate electricity. Something doesn’t add up here.

    Oh yes, I know, they use the 1 kWh = 1 kWh equation. No no no. Thermal kWh’s from the burning of fossil fuels are much less valuable than electric kWh’s.

    I wonder why even university professors don’t see through this fossil fuel industry trick that is now willfully perpetuated to make the whole effort of switching to renewables seem hopeless.