An interesting article from the Guardian newspaper highlights seven megatrends that could benefit global society in the future as well as leading to reduced carbon emissions across the planet. The trends are mostly positive examples of how global society is beginning to make the transition towards technologies that have a lower impact on the climate system.
The megatrends have been spurned by trillion dollar investments and are rising exponentially which would be a concern if some were rising in a linear trajectory. Many forms of low carbon technology are growing at an exponential rate. Much new investment is going into new technologies and there is an active move towards lower carbon technologies from those such as coal which is declining. A Mission 2020 initiative notes that we need to alter the global greenhouse gases curve towards a downward trend as opposed to the upward curve by 2020. This action will help to limit the global temperature increases and this is where the megatrends apply. 2020 is seen as a climate turning point in order to restrict global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 Celsius.
The seven megatrends identified in the report include the following:
- Avoiding Methane – cutting out the meat and embracing vegetable alternatives such as “plant based meat”.
- Renewable energy – prices falling leading to strong growth.
- Coal power – declining more rapidly than envisaged.
- Electric cars – growth helping to improve the air quality as well as reduce emissions.
- Battery technologies growing – due to prices which have fallen significantly.
- Negawatts – reducing and stopping energy consumption is saving energy which is becoming more common.
- Forestry – forests areas globally remain in decline and is the megatrend that we need to reverse.
Each of these trends with the exception of the decline in global forestry is assisting with the battle to avert extreme climate changes. The trend towards plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products is growing rapidly across a number of areas including yoghurt and cheese, meals, mayo and eggs, meat and milk. The greatest benefit of the shift to plant based food would be to reduce the methane emissions from animals.
Renewable energy has benefitted from rapidly falling prices: both solar panels and wind turbines have experienced plunging prices. The solar cost has fallen by 90% over the past decade. In 2016 around 66% of all new power was from renewable sources. Linked to the growth of renewable power is the decline of coal – this dirty fossil fuel is no longer expanding as much as was anticipated even a few years ago. If renewable price reductions continue then the cost of coal will be increasingly be unable to compete on price.
Electric car sales are growing rapidly: China is dominating the growth and is selling as many electric cars every month as the combined total of Europe and the USA. Growth in Europe and the USA is continuing and more and more manufacturers are building electric models. Some companies such as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover have announced ceasing production of pure fossil-fuelled cars within three years. There are also proposed shifts in the power from fossil-fuel driven boats and planes to ones driven by wind power or electric technologies respectively. Battery technologies are benefitting from price reductions in lithium-ion batteries which have fallen by 75% over the last six years. Battery storage and smart grids are changing the way that power is supplied: this will enable renewable power to be stored. Power reduction through insulation and more efficient electrical items continues but there is a role of not using power too. In order to reduce European energy consumption by about 40% in 10-15 years there could be a step change by making the most efficient appliances available as the new standard rated appliances.
Forestry destruction is continuing globally. The areas where forests once stood are used for ranching and farming but also for timber. This generates about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Annual tree losses have approximately doubled since the year 2000. There is a lack of investment in wood production and alternative land uses have poured more money into destroying the woodland environment to grow crops such as palm oil or soy and to graze cattle. In some countries such as China, India and South Korea there has been much tree planting. These combined have removed more than 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The 2015 Global Forest Resource Assessment does show that the rate of deforestation is declining and that certain areas of the world are gaining more forests. Those areas that are losing most forestry include the tropics: South America (mainly Brazil), South East Asia and Africa.
The United Nations Food And Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have produced a map of the change in forest resources. They have produced the following infographic that illustrates a declining net loss of the forest areas of the world:
Source: United Nations FAO, 2015.
Full details of the seven megatrends can be reviewed at Guardian newspaper’s Seven Megatrends article. Two examples of the megatrends in renewable energy systems and battery technologies are illustrated below.
In an interesting proposal whereby solar panels, generating photo voltaic (PV) electricity, would be installed alongside railway lines to power trains has been proposed. This Guardian article considers how it may work: solar powered trains.
The proposal could be rolled out to transport infrastructure around the world where trains or trams are electric. The estimates suggest that putting solar infrastructure next to railway lines could feed directly into the energy systems that power transport. Estimates in the UK suggest networks could be powered by around 15%-20% renewable energy from the solar panels. In reality it may be more like 10% of the energy required. Some of the railways rely on third rail DC (direct current power) and not AC. This would mean that the DC power from solar panels could feed directly into the railway’s electric sub station infrastructure without needing to convert the energy to AC and back again.
The 10:10 web site details how the scheme could work and points to the role of community energy companies being able to take a lead role in this area.
World’s Largest Battery
One of the criticisms of renewable energy is that if the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine then there will not be any power generated. Changes are needed to balance the supply and demand of power. In South Australia there is a new example of energy storage that is doing just that.
South Australia now has the world’s largest lithium-ion battery and it is now producing clean power as of early December 2017. Described as a “landmark moment for renewable energy”, the 100MW/129MWh battery farm has enough storage capacity to power the equivalent of 30,000 homes. The Hornsdale wind farm, near Jamestown, is situated several hours north of Adelaide and takes up less than 10,000 square meters of land. Installation was very rapid – the battery was delivered in just 63 days, ahead of the State Government’s deadline of the beginning of the Australian summer.
The battery ensures that there is clean and affordable wind energy going into the grid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The battery will store the excess power and provide a backup when there is no wind blowing. Tesla has partnered with the French energy utility company Neoen to deliver the battery which should assist in the South Australia’s power shortages. The Tesla Powerpack fast ramping capability means that it can dispatch large amounts of power quickly and reliably.
Further details of the scheme can be reviewed on the Hornsdale Power Reserve web site. This is an example of how renewable power can be used to store power, in this case from the Hornsdale wind farm, when demand is low and dispatch it when demand is high thus balancing the electrical load from the wind turbines which can produce up to 309MW of power.
This technology is demonstrating that the shift towards renewable energy systems should be even more reliable in the future and batteries allow for peaks and troughs in the supply and demand for electricity.