Magnetic Field Changes & New Energy Options

The Earth’s magnetic field is shifting and it is now possible to monitor that shift from satellites. Renewable power storage is gaining momentum which enables a move away from fossil fuels. New energy options look at ways to store and work with renewable energy production. How to harness the falling cost of this power source will be a key innovation for the acceleration in the decarbonisation of the energy sector. Post Covid19 there may be opportunities to rebuild new jobs in this sector that is likely to grow rapidly.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Shift

The Earth has seen some changes to the magnetic field over recent years. There is an uncertainty as to why it is happening but it will have consequences for satellite and spacecraft for example.

The South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly
Source: ESA.

The Earth’s magnetic field is weakening between Africa and South America in an area known as the “South Atlantic Anomaly”. This area has grown considerably in recent years. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Swarm constellation of satellites have provided data showing the area of the anomaly dropped in strength by more than 8 per cent over 50 years from 1970 to 2020. The new eastern minimum of the area has grown in size and continues to develop rapidly.

It is not clear what processes are driving the change in the South Atlantic Anomaly, it could be that the poles are about to reverse. This is something that has happened roughly every 250,000 thousand years, although the last time a “geomagnetic reversal” took place was around 780,000 years ago.

Such an event could have immense impacts. The Earth’s magnetic field protects the planet from solar winds and harmful cosmic radiation. There could be implications for the telecommunication and satellite systems too. They rely on the magnetic field to operate. Computers, power grids and mobile phones could be affected by magnetic changes. The area of the South Atlantic Anomaly can cause technical issues for low-orbit satellites and space craft.

A 2018 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that despite the weakening field, the “Earth’s magnetic field is probably not reversing”. The process is not instantaneous and could take tens of thousands of years. The article notes that the geomagnetic field has been decaying at a rate of ∼5% per century from at least 1840. Indirect observations have indicated a decay since 1600 or even earlier.

Magnetic field observations from Swarm are providing new information into the processes of Earth’s interior. The above web link shows animated South Atlantic Anomaly impact radiation over the last two years.

New Energy Options: Hydrogen, Battery Expansion and Liquid Air Batteries

There are several developments in ways of storing and provisioning energy needs. All offer a greatly reduced climate impact to existing fossil fuel based systems.

IEA Hydrogen Report

The International Energy Agency or IEA published a June 2019 technology report on the future role of hydrogen in the energy mix. Hydrogen and energy have a long shared history for over 200 years. Hydrogen is light, easily stored, energy-dense, and importantly produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. In order for hydrogen to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it needs to be adopted more widely. This includes sectors where it is almost absent: for example transport, buildings and power generation. That is gradually being addressed as the examples below demonstrate. There is a risk that without government foresight, planning and support that hydrogen electrolysis momentum does not grow as much as it should. See this IEA article: The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on clean energy progress.

There is potential to extract “green” hydrogen from water with electrolysis, an energy-intensive but carbon-free process, if powered by renewable electricity. It requires much renewable electricity to produce and the renewable prices have fallen sharply in recent years.

Japan’s Pilot Hydrogen Supply Chain And Power Plant

In Japan there is a pilot hydrogen plant run by Advanced Hydrogen Energy Chain Association For Technology Development (AHEAD). The project will continue through November this year. The Kawasaki plant can generate 80 megawatts of electricity using Hydrogen that, when burnt, will produce only water vapour.

The plant has been using imported hydrogen in the form of methylcyclohexane (MCH) from Brunei Darussalam. The project has highlighted a viable hydrogen supply chain between Brunei Darussalam and Japan. MCH is produced in Brunei Darussalam, transported using maritime MCH transport and there is then a dehydrogenation of MCH process upon arrival in Japan. This commencement of global hydrogen supply chain operation is a notable step towards the realisation of a carbon dioxide free “Hydrogen Society”.

Ultimately it aims to transport 350,000 tonnes of hydrogen a year to power a 1 gigawatt hydrogen-fired power plant in 2030. In the future hydrogen should be extracted from renewable energy and a strong supply chain established. AHEAD are able to transport hydrogen at a normal temperature and pressure, and to use existing facilities used for oil. It is described as the “Organic Chemical Hydride Method”.

The AHEAD project hopes to confirm how effective the international hydrogen supply chain transport is. It aims to establish a commercial hydrogen supply chain business in future. It is also researching various aspects of the practical application of the process. Further details are on this Popular Mechanics article which highlights the current role of the hydrocarbon industry.

Green Hydrogen From Electrolysis

Hydrogen extracted from fossil fuels typically costs between $1-$1.8/kg according to this report. Hydrogen, extracted using renewable energy known as “green hydrogen”, costs around $6/kg today. It is significantly more expensive than the fossil fuel derived alternatives. Increased demand could for green hydrogen could reduce the cost of electrolysis process where hydrogen is extracted from water. With falling renewable energy costs, green hydrogen could fall to $1.7/kg by 2050 and possibly sub-$1/kg. This price makes it competitive with natural gas. If there were higher carbon prices that would encourage the shift to hydrogen.

There would need to be some large-scale infrastructure changes to support the “hydrogen society”. Large-scale use, for example by industry or the transport sectors, would need major infrastructure investments. Power from offshore wind farms would need to be connected to an electrolyser to produce the green hydrogen. There would have to be transport to end consumers and more vehicles that use hydrogen. New fuel stations serving this hydrogen would be needed too.

World’s Biggest Liquid Air Battery

A new development that aims to store power, like a conventional battery, for renewable energy power storage. A company in the UK, Highview Power, has developed a “CRYOBattery” which delivers, clean, reliable, and cost-efficient long-duration energy storage. This will be a way to facilitate a 100% renewable energy future. It uses cryogenic energy storage technology and releases zero emissions in the process. These plants can be located anywhere so there is not a geographical constraint to this technology.

The CRYOBattery can produce 20 MW/80 MWh to more than 200 MW/1.2 GWh of energy which can power up to 200,000 homes for a whole day. It uses air and costs around half of the cost of lithium-ion batteries and releases zero emissions. The cryogenic energy storage technology is based on the principle of air liquefaction. Air is stored as a liquid which provides high-density storage. When required the liquid back is converted to a gas, generating energy that powers turbines and produces electricity.

Solutions such as this provide energy when wind and solar energy is not being produced. They provide “grid-synchronous inertia” balancing electrical demand and supply which helps to avoid blackouts.

World’s Biggest Battery Set To Grow By 50%

In December 2017 this blog reported on the World’s Largest Battery on the Hornsdale wind farm. The battery is set to get bigger and gain 50% more capacity. The Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia, built by Tesla and managed by renewable energy company Neoen, will be expanded. This 129 MWh battery with an output of up to 100 MW became the world’s largest lithium-ion storage battery, a title that it still holds two years later.

The 50MW/ 64.5MWh expansion, supported by Tesla, demonstrates the benefits that grid-scale batteries can provide to the National Electricity Market (NEM) and Australian consumers. It will provide additional power system reliability and continued cost savings to consumers. In the first year of operation consumers benefited by more than 50 million Australian dollars.

The expansion will demonstrate the potential for battery storage to provide the stabilising inertia services. These are critical to the future integration of renewable energy which produce sporadic power production. Inertia services stabilises the grid when electricity supply and demand fluctuates. It automatically and rapidly charges and discharges power thus mimicking the existing (fossil fuel) based grid behaviour.

South Australia will benefit from the continued harvesting of its world class wind and solar resources. It also helps with a target to be net 100% renewable by 2030. It will also see the South Australia State transition to become a net-exporter of cheap and clean renewable energy to the NEM. Benefits include the further drive down in electricity prices for consumers.

Conclusion

There are several innovations highlighted in the renewable energy sector that offer the ability to transform our power supplies such as liquid air batteries. Satellites may provide new insights to the Earth’s magnetic changes and increase our knowledge in this area.

Posted in China, Climate Solutions, Earth Science, Energy, Fuel Cells, Geography, Hydrogen Fuel, Japan, Mapping, Megatrends, Organic, Politics, Pollution, Renewable Energy, Resources, Solar, Sustainable Development, Technology, Transition Movement, Transport, Zero | Leave a comment

Sustainability Opportunities: Post Covid-19

Global Re-Structuring Opportunities

The international Covid-19 or coronavirus pandemic could provide society with opportunities to adapt for the better in the long term. Over the last few months there have been improvements in the air quality with fewer fossil fuels being used. As a result, there have been reductions in the carbon dioxide emissions. There is now progress to re-define the future after the lock down restrictions are removed. Movements such as C40 sees many global cities taking bold climate action that will enable a more sustainable future that will benefit many.

Fewer Fossil Fuels Needed

Since the widespread international Covid-19 or coronavirus pandemic lock down of early 2020, many have benefited from improved air quality by the fact many fewer hydrocarbons in the form of fossil fuels were being burnt. Reduced usage has led to a massive drop in emission levels. The virus emergency has shown us what can be done in terms of transforming high pollution levels. It has given many an opportunity to re-think what we do and why are we doing it. We are already experiencing a climate emergency and massive action is needed to reduce global warming. Improved air quality has produced record solar photovoltaic (PV) output too. Solar PV electricity production records have been exceeded partially as skies have cleared. See this National Grid explanation, which is mainly to do with increased UK sunshine in April. The UK has now had a record long time without burning any coal to produce electricity too (over 1000 hours or 41 days at the time of writing this post).

The UK is aiming to have zero carbon emissions in its electricity production systems by 2025 as outlined by the National Grid. Innovative systems, products and services are being developed to ensure that the electricity network is ready to handle 100% zero carbon power by 2025. Integration of new technologies and managing renewable systems together with increased demand management, smart technologies that will manage and control the network in real-time. Barriers to using renewable electricity resources are coming down as the national power network evolves to manage the nature of the power that is now being generated.

Lock Down Improves Air Quality

In China, the lock down improved the heavily polluted skies significantly. Since the lock down has been rolled back the pollution levels are already starting to return. Some emission maps clearly illustrate this change as a direct result of the Covid-19 lock down and subsequent suspension of industrial activity.

This NASA image shows the reduction in airborne nitrogen dioxide across China.
China's Reduction In Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide
China’s Reduction in Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide is a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities. The reason for the fall was the stop in activity across China due to the lock down. The measurements were taken from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5 satellite which has a Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument on board. Further details are on the NASA Earth Observatory web site.

There were other examples where the air quality improved too, mainly across urban areas and the north of Italy was another place that showed a similar change in atmospheric pollution levels.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fall

The science journal Nature reported reduced carbon dioxide emissions. The effect of the lock down confinement was to decrease daily global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 17% (–11 to –25%) by 7 April 2020, relative to the mean level of emissions in 2019. Currently we emit around a daily total of 100 MtCO2 d−1 so the reduction was in the region of –17 (–11 to –25) MtCO2 d−1. Values varied by country and thus had a geographical pattern where there were larger or smaller declines.

Several global leaders have highlighted the need to change direction and not to return to the old ways of economic growth. The Japanese environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi, warned that the Paris climate accord could face death if steps to fight global warming were ignored in favour of the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

C40 Sustainable Cities

There is a new movement in many world cities known as the C40 cities that are intending to take “bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future”. Under the slogan “Now Is The Time To Act”, the cities are demonstrating that decisions can be made now to deliver of the Paris Climate change agreement.

Deadline 2020 aims to keep temperature increases from climate change below 2 Celsius and to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius. Cities can deliver up to 40% of savings needed for a 1.5C world. Average per capita emissions across C40 cities need to decrease by around 42% from today’s level. It aims to deliver actions on the ground.

  • It would allow C40 cities, representing 650 million people and 25% of the world’s GDP, to deliver individual emissions trajectories consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
  • To remain within a 1.5 degree temperature rise, average per capita emissions across C40 cities would need to drop from over 5 tCO2e per capita today to around 2.9 tCO2e per capita by 2030. Doing so would keep cities on a trajectory consistent with either 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming, it is only after 2030 that these trajectories diverge.
  • As C40 cities age and grow they will need to invest in renewing and expanding infrastructure and working to enhance the quality of life of citizens. From 2016 to 2050, over $1 trillion investment is required across all C40 cities to meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement through new climate action.
  • Action taken in the next four years in the cities will determine if the required trajectories are possible for meeting the Paris agreement targets. If sufficient action is not taken over this period, limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees will be impossible. C40 cities collectively delivered nearly 11,000 climate actions between 2005 and 2016.
  • Wealthier, high carbon cities must deliver the largest savings between 2017-2020. As of 2017, cities with GDP over $15,000 per capita must begin to reduce their per capita emissions immediately.
  • Mayors can deliver or influence just over half of the savings needed to put C40 cities on a 1.5 degree trajectory. That includes a total of 525 GtCO2e by 2100, either through direct action or via collaboration with partners such as the private sector.
  • If action involving city governments can deliver just over half of the greenhouse gas (GHG) savings needed, then action to deliver structural changes from outside cities (i.e. electrical grid de-carbonisation), must start to have a significant impact from 2023 at the latest. This will take over as the dominant driver of urban GHG reductions after 2030.
  • Even with all required actions taken as per city trajectories, substantial carbon sequestration will also be required by national governments if cities are to stay on a 1.5 degree trajectory post 2050
  • Action by C40 cities can have huge magnification: If all cities with a population greater than 100,000 adopted the ambition for C40 cities set out in this report, they could save 863 GtCO2e globally by 2050. By 2100, they could have saved the equivalent of 40% of the reductions needed to fulfil the 1.5 Celsius scenario.

Source: C40 Deadline 2020

The statement of principles has so far been signed by mayors representing 33 world cities from Los Angeles to Lisbon, São Paulo to Seoul, Melbourne to Mexico City.

Conclusion

A global recession forecast for this year, as countries were forced into lock down to contain the spread of the coronavirus, have curtailed business activity with a major blow to jobs and incomes. Economic recovery should consider the environment and re-focus on new growth areas such as sustainable jobs that benefit humanity and move us away from current high emission scenarios.

Those unfortunate enough to have lost jobs should be re-skilled or trained into new sustainable work that will bring future growth that does not include pollution and further carbon dioxide being emitted. Ironically, public transport use has declined drastically (for example railway passengers were typically 90%+ down on typical passenger numbers in London, UK). Here is an opportunity not to be missed.

Posted in ACD, Air Quality, China, Cities, Climate Solutions, Energy, Geography, Hydrogen Fuel, Italy, Japan, Net Zero, Pollution, PV, railways, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Technology, Trade, Transition Movement, Transport, Zero | Leave a comment

Energie Sprong: Total Home Insulation For Old Buildings

Energie Sprong – The Radical Approach To Fuel Efficiency

Energie Sprong is a pioneering approach to energy efficient buildings. It has been developed in The Netherlands in order to retrofit old buildings with modern energy efficiency standards. The term ‘energie sprong’ is Dutch for ‘energy leap’. Household energy usage can be transformed by the Dutch initiative. A method exists to transform existing houses to become highly insulated, net zero houses. Net zero energy means that the house generates as much energy as is needed for the house. The energy should provide lighting, heating and other domestic needs. It utilises a make over to the house to reduce drafts, improve the energy efficiency and provide new technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

It relies upon three approaches to make a successful project:

  1. Firstly secure a first market (e.g. by housing associations)
  2. Provide a regulatory framework through government regulation changes
  3. Ensure there is affordable financing to social housing associations

The approach uses a mechanised and mass produced approach that aims to be efficient. Buildings are enclosed in a “new shell” that is manufactured specifically to that building. There is typically a well insulated new roof which incorporates solar photo voltaic (PV) panels. Payments for the work aim to reduce energy costs over a 30 year period together with saving money on building maintenance. Renovation to the house should pay for the work.

Energie Sprong is being developed in France, Germany, New York State in the US in addition to the UK and the pioneering country of The Netherlands.

Further details can be found on the Energie Sprong Website.

Ashden Award Winning Retro-Fit Houses

In 2019 a housing development in Nottingham won the prestigious Ashden award for an Energie Sprong retro-fit project. Ashden awards are a globally recognised mark of excellence in the field of green energy. They were founded in 2001 and promote climate change solutions.

Energie Sprong buildings showing one that was not retrofitted
Energie Sprong homes in Nottingham, UK showing one that was not retrofitted. Source: Ashden Awards.

The 2019 Ashden Award was for reductions in home emissions by 86%. The awards recognised the removal of carbon from the UK’s housing stock. The work comes with a 30 year energy performance guarantee whilst a modern makeover is given to homes.

Home energy use in the UK is responsible for around 14% of UK emissions. Cold and damp homes that cost significant amounts to run can be transformed by retro-fitting a new shell around the old house. The whole house is transformed at once within two weeks or so. The approach deals with the house’s electricity, heating, hot water and ventilation to deliver a home that has net-zero or very low energy use. A brand new wall and roof structure is built off-site complete with doors and windows. The new structure then transported and fitted around the existing building. This provides high levels of insulation and an air tight building that adheres to the required high insulation standards. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery is used to ensure a supply of fresh air without cold draughts. A new heating system that runs on renewable electricity is installed.

A 30-year guarantee is provided from the solution provider. The guarantee promises to deliver the required energy performance on the retrofitted house assuming a specified maintenance programme is carried out. The guarantee is based on comfort targets such as keeping bedrooms at 18C and living rooms at 21C, supplying enough hot water for washing and showering and enough electricity for normal domestic use.

The award was given to a social housing scheme in Nottingham, UK. One of the core benefits is the reduction in fuel poverty. Tenants pay an affordable amount for their energy which is much less than they would have paid before the retrofit. A fixed monthly ‘comfort plan’ payment is also paid, which can help with financial management as it replaces fluctuating energy costs. People who were under-heating because they had limited money for bills will be warm and comfortable for the same cost.

Currently the cost per retrofit is high, it requires grant funding to be viable, the Dutch experience proves cost will fall rapidly as the work scales up. The model relies upon a mass production approach whereby economies of scale are delivered as more components are produced. Eventually the retrofit will be paid for through avoided maintenance costs for the landlord and the tenant’s regular ‘comfort plan’ payment.

Experience from the Nottingham developments demonstrate that each home is saving about five tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each per year. The embodied CO2 per home is about 25 tonnes; the estimated CO2 per home would be 45 tonnes by demolishing existing buildings with a new build. The five-year payback of the embodied CO2 means that the retrofits can contribute to near-term reductions in CO2 emissions, which are essential in tackling the climate breakdown.

The energie sprong system is designed to ensure that buildings are transformed into low carbon or net zero buildings. In order to meet UK energy targets a building would need to be transformed every minute. The mass produced approach that energie sprong offers has the ability to significantly reduce energy use and save on carbon emissions. This includes the hidden or embodied carbon cost. Insulation of buildings is one of many climate solutions that is available today. This system applies a mass produced approach rather than a bespoke solution to building insulation.

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