The InterAcademy Council (IAC) released a report in Beijing on Monday that was commissioned by the governments of Brazil and China, identifying and detailing the scientific consensus framework for directing global energy development. The proliferation of coal-burning power plants around the world may pose "the single greatest challenge" to averting dangerous climate change, the international panel of scientists reported. On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in Paris that it had identified proven technology that is available today to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired power generation.
In May 2000 all of the world's science academies created the IAC to mobilise the best scientists and engineers worldwide to provide high quality advice to international bodies - such as the United Nations and the World Bank - as well as to other institutions.
The IEA is the energy adviser to 26 industrialised countries, including Ireland.
The IAC report Lighting the way: Toward a sustainable energy future lays out the science, technology and policy roadmap for developing energy resources to drive economic growth in both industrialized and developing countries while also securing climate protection and global development goals.
Lighting the way calls for immediate and simultaneous action in three areas:
Concerted efforts should be mounted to improve energy efficiency and reduce the carbon intensity of the world economy, including the worldwide introduction of price signals for carbon emissions.
Technologies should be developed and deployed for capturing and sequestering carbon from fossil fuels, particularly coal.
Development and deployment of renewable energy technologies should be accelerated in an environmentally responsible way.
The report calls for a swift move away from coal and other fossil fuels that are the main source of climate-warming greenhouse gases and to provide new energy options for the two billion people who still mostly cook in the dark on wood or dung fires.
In the report, the 15 experts call for, at a minimum, a doubling of both public and private energy research budgets and a firm — and rising — price on emissions of greenhouse gases to encourage a shift in investments toward cleaner or more efficient technologies.
“The 'business as usual' energy path we are on today is not sustainable and is counter to the long-term prosperity of every nation," said Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, co-chair of Lighting the Way and Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, on Monday. “This report stresses the urgency of the energy problem, and then goes on to describe technologies that can be applied today, needed scientific and technological innovations, and policy tools that could be used to help policy makers guide their countries toward a more prosperous, secure and environmentally sound energy future.”
Lighting the way recommends that governments, united in inter-governmental organizations, should agree on realistic price signals for carbon emissions, recognizing that the economics and energy systems of different countries will result in different individual strategies and trajectories.
The report has been delivered directly to leaders of the Chinese and Brazilian governments by the study co-chairs Chu and José Goldemberg, former Secretary of State for the Environment for the State of São Paulo, Brazil. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao personally received the report’s findings and recommendations in a meeting with Chu in Beijing and Brazilian Minister of Science and Technology Sergio Machado Rezende received the report in a meeting with Goldemberg.
Lighting the way was produced by a study panel of 15 world-renowned energy experts from Brazil, China, Europe, India, Japan, Russia, the US and other nations, chosen from nominations by over 90 academies of science around the world. The InterAcademy Council, representing the world’s leading academies of science, engineering, and medicine, appointed the panel that includes Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
The InterAcademy Council launched the study in 2005 and commissioned 19 reports to inform seven energy workshops held in 2005 and 2006. The report underwent an extensive peer review monitored by Ralph Cicerone, President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and R.A. Mashelkar, President of the Indian National Science Academy, and incorporates the analysis and actions of leading global energy and development institutions, such as the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency.
Addressing the unequal access to energy and economic development experienced by one-third of the world’s population, Lighting the way calls for ensuring access to basic, modern energy services to the world’s poorest people as a necessary part of global energy development. The report concludes that it is in the best economic and societal interest of developing nations to “leapfrog” past the wasteful energy trajectory followed by today’s industrialized nations, and provides recommendations for how governments, industry and multinational agencies, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, can pave the way.
Lighting the way outlines incentives that can accelerate the development of innovative solutions, provides recommendations for financial investments in research and development, and explores other transition pathways that can transform the landscape of energy supply and demand around the globe.
In addressing mitigation of the environmental impacts of energy generation and use, Lighting the way will inform global action on climate change, such as implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, agenda setting for the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, and ongoing multinational talks on future global action to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Generation – IEA identifies proven technology available today to significantly reduce COCO2 emissions
Many coal-fired units all over the world currently operate at efficiencies well below 30%. “This is a significant waste of energy and unnecessary cause of climate-damaging COCO2 emissions. Given that the share of coal in power generation is rising, this is alarming”, said Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). “Particularly”, Tanaka added, “since coal-fired power generation technologies with efficiencies close to 45% are already operating in certain locations. We must make increasing the efficiency of new fossil-fuelled power plants a priority, above all in major coal-using countries.”
The new IEA publication Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Generation – Case Studies of Recently Constructed Coal and Gas-Fired Power Plants highlights these challenges. The study responds to a request from the G8 summit in 2005, asking the IEA to illustrate the efficiency achieved in modern plants in different parts of the world using various types and grades of fossil fuels. The plants were selected from different geographical areas, because local factors influence attainable efficiency. In a series of case studies, the IEA assessed which are the most cost effective, have the highest efficiencies and lowest emissions. These include pulverised coal combustion (PCC) with both subcritical and supercritical (very high steam pressure and temperature) cycles, a natural gas-fired combined cycle plant, and a review of current and future applications of coal-fuelled integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants.
Efficiency – what is attainable now and in the future?
The report shows that technologies with high efficiency and very low conventional pollutant emissions are available now at acceptable cost for a wide variety of fuel types. Depending on the quality of coal and geographical location, modern coal-fired technologies exist that operate from about 35% to close to 45% efficiency. Efficiencies approaching 50% (higher heating value basis) are envisaged within the next 10-15 years, as development of very high temperature steam conditions are continued.
Natural gas-fired combined cycle units are more efficient at over 50% now, less expensive and quicker to build than coal-based systems. Advanced developments in natural gas-fired turbines will increase efficiencies of these systems even more, maintaining their strong presence for new power projects. Developments in gas turbines will also benefit commercial offerings for coal-based IGCC with efficiency approaching 50%. With IGCC now available as a commercial package, orders are likely to follow, but probably must be aided at first by market entry incentives.
Proper policies are crucial
“The challenge to the policy makers now is to formulate measures that would enable wider deployment of these technologies globally, but particularly in countries where demand is growing at the highest rates, while also promoting technological development towards even higher efficiency. This new study is an important stepping stone in this direction”, said Tanaka.
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