Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Deep Carbon Cuts - Pathway to US Lower Greenhouse Emissions

Recently the Yale Environment 360 blog recently reported that the United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, using existing or near-commercial technologies, according to researchers with the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.

The study analyzed scenarios with four types of decarbonised electricity: renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage, and a mixed case. The scenarios achieved reductions of 83 percent below 2005 levels and 80 percent below 1990 levels, according to the study, which was released ahead of next month’s climate talks in Lima, Peru, and negotiations in Paris in December 2015.

The energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, and industry would need to increase through the use of smart materials and energy-efficient designs, and vehicles will need to be fueled with electricity generated from wind, solar, or nuclear, as opposed to coal, the researchers said. They project the net costs would be on the order of 1 percent of gross domestic product per year.

The 80-percent reduction by 2050 is a long-standing goal of the Obama administration, in line with the global commitment to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. “One important conclusion is that investment opportunities in clean technologies will arise during the natural rollover and replacement of infrastructure,” said lead author Jim Williams. “The plan calls for non-disruptive, sustained infrastructure transitions that can deeply decarbonise the U.S. by 2050, and enhance its competitive position in the process.”

This is a significant move and one that seems a highly logical pathway to successful outcomes.  

There is more emphasis on energy efficiency, especially retro fitting to buildings, an area that has not greatly been explored in Australia.

While the study outcomes have not yet been included in US government policy, it does seem to point to a solid and logical route for progressing the gains required.

What is the program for Australia?  We seem to be stuck on 5% reduction by 2020, yet more is possible.  It also seems that individuals are also doing more outside of government policies - notably with the development of household PV systems around Australia. The transport fuel issue is a big problem in Australia with vast distances and a small population, but gas would seem to be part of the mix in this case.

I do not yet see a lot of confidence among people with the current direct action program of the federal government, that it could achieve the scale of reductions needed to get to 80% below 2005 levels, especially while most electricity seems to be generated by coal.  However, if these plants were replaced [ even if through old age] by gas or new thorium nuclear plants then much greater reductions might be achievable.  With both India and China developing thorium reactors - that could be an option within 15 years or so.

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