Friday, January 19, 2007

Report of the Week: An alternative to coal? Efficiency .

Last year I attended the first UK Camp for Climate Action. We focused on the UK's largest source of greenhouse gases--Drax, which it turns out emits more co2 than any of the more than 100 least emitting nations!

One of the questions that we where asked was, what alternative do you propose.

Now there are alternatives, some being entirely renewable based but this has not yet been done on a nationwide scale yet. It will be soon, i`m sure. The most realistic option is changing the energy system not the technology and then using some changes of technology to enhance this model.

Electricity from coal is currently converted at efficiencies of typically 35%. If instead of carrying out this conversion at some remote point we carried out the combustion process locally(Combined Heat and Power--CHP) then we could utilise the waste heat--heat currently dissipated using enormous cooling towers.

Efficiency of energy utilisation could increase from 35 to 95%. This has been shown all over Denmark. If we then considered the fact that we use natural gas instead of coal then we decrease carbon intensity by a factor of two. If we then complement this energy using large wind turbines but in small numbers--a couple per community--we start to move towards a genuinely advanced energy system. Depending on location domestic solar thermal, solar pv, wind, and biomass are all futher refinements. If we then increase energy efficiency of usage by a factor of two--somethign that is quite feasible, then we have reduced our carbon emissions 11 fold using old fashioned technology for the supply and new but existing technology for demand--such as CFL's, high performance fridges, dishwashers and appliances. The 11 fold improvement ignores usage of biomass, solar pv, solar thermal and other site specific add-ons.

The really big gains here are from efficiency of the energy system and domestic usage. A new report by CERES and NRDC has found that texas can obviate the need for any new coal power in Texas by moving someway in this direction and investing in efficiency--so called Negawatts. Efficiency is cheap, good for health, and not unsightly. These gains are also most wellcome as alternative energies can in this context contribute an ever larger portion of the energy supply rather than a ever larger qauntity but a rather static proportion, as would likely be the case in a rapidly growing energy sector.

"This study finds that a comprehensive effort to promote efficiency and other cost-saving demand reduction measures can meet Texas’ electricity needs more reliably, at a lower cost and at a tremendous net economic benefit compared to building a new fleet of expensive and heavily polluting power plants. Over the next 15 years, boosting markets for more efficient products, lighting, cooling, heating and industrial processes can eliminate over 80% of forecast growth in electricity demand, while lowering consumer’s energy bills."

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