Laws and Sausages

As COP21 concluded I was reminded of a quote by Otto von Bismarck, ‘Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.’ Yet, over the course of the preceding decade I had done just that. I could now reflect upon the complex and torturous course of modern diplomacy that had worked to deliver a deal and which hopefully represents renewed global leadership on climate change.

Some 150 heads of Government and heads of state had turned up in Paris to kick off proceedings and although most departed immediately afterwards to leave the job with their negotiating teams, the telephones ran hot between capital cities across the world over the ensuing two weeks. Indeed, it was even rumoured that the newly forged friendship between the USA and Cuba meant that the two countries cooperated to put pressure on Nicaragua when it appeared that its negotiator was going to hold up proceedings with some fiery rhetoric in the final stages of the main plenary meeting.

In the previous eighteen months, staff in French embassies all over the world had worked tirelessly to support the process, but in the end it was the negotiators themselves working through the night in the final days who delivered the deal. All manner of behind the scenes trade-offs were made to resolve profound disagreements on a dozen or so key issues including the temperature goal itself, the eventual need for net zero emissions of greenhouse gases and the level of financial assistance for developing countries. There were also hundreds of smaller issues and points of principle that got dealt with during the final days, ranging from continued specific recognition of developing countries in certain instances to the role of a non-market mechanism to support mitigation.

In the days before the start of the COP the text had extended to nearly one hundred pages, with multiple variations of almost every clause and hundreds of square bracketed words and phrases, indicating disagreement amongst the Parties. But unlike 2009’s COP15 that took place in Copenhagen where almost everything that could go wrong, ultimately did, the French Foreign Ministry had left nothing to chance and were to be congratulated on an extraordinary outcome. . . . . .

The rest of this story and a deeper analysis of the Paris Agreement can be found in my new e-book, Pathways from the Paris Agreement. It is available on Amazon for their Kindle (and Kindle app for iPad and Android) or as a print-on-demand publication and coming soon on a number of other e-book platforms.

Pathways from the Paris Agreement (small)

All proceeds from this book will be donated to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and the 2041 Foundation, two NGOs that I have worked with directly over many years.

 

 

In amongst the excitement created by the Brexit vote, on 30th June 2016 the UK Government met its statutory requirement and announced the details of the 5th Carbon Budget which covers the period 2028-2032. The Government followed the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee and advised that the carbon budget for the 2028–2032 budgetary period is 1,725,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This assumes 590 MtCO2e covered by the EU ETS and subject to its carbon price and a nontraded share of 1,135 MtCO2e (excluding international shipping emissions). The overall budget represents a reduction of 56.9% below the 1990 baseline.

The UK is unique in the world with its carbon budget approach. This is the result of far reaching legislation enacted back in 2008 in the form of the Climate Change Act which requires the UK Government to establish a specific carbon budget for successive future periods. To date the UK is on track towards meeting the 2nd Carbon budget, as described in a recently released summary of greenhouse gas emissions which covers the period up to the end of 2014. But the journey has been relatively easy so far. With the continued shift to natural gas and away from coal, the arrival of wind and to a lesser extent solar, the 2008-2009 recession and the higher cost of oil and gas in recent years driving real efficiency and demand reduction, UK emissions have fallen.

UK GHG Emissions to 2014

In 1990 UK CO2 emissions per kWhr of electricity generation were 672 grams, whereas today they are around 450 grams. As a result, emissions from power generation have fallen, even with current electricity demand higher than the 1990 level. By contrast, road transport emissions have remained about flat for 25 years although there has been a marked shift from gasoline to diesel. Another significant reduction has come from industry, but much of this is due to an overall reduction in heavy industry (steel making, refineries), in favour of services (media and finance) and high technology industry (e.g. aerospace).

With a large natural gas base and a diminished heavy industry sector, has the UK now reached an interim floor in terms of national greenhouse gas emissions? While there are still gains to be made in the electricity sector, future progress towards the goals of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Carbon Budgets will require additional action in other parts of the economy.

UK Emissions Progress

The 5th Carbon Budget requires nearly another 200 Mt per annum of reductions across the UK, compared to the 2nd Carbon Budget period that we are currently in. Even with Hinkley Point nuclear and an ambitious renewables programme (which is reported as being off track http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36710290 ), it is unlikely that power generation emissions would fall more than 100 MT per annum. A 200-250 gram per KWh goal by 2030, equivalent to about 50% natural gas and 50% nuclear/renewables would mean a fall of about 70 Mt. There may also be upward pressure on the sector as transport electrifies.

The above implies that the emission reduction focus will have to expand more rapidly into the transport and residential areas in particular. While the residential sector has been an area of action for some time with a focus on boiler efficiency and home insulation, the rate determining step here is turnover in housing stock or at least housing refurbishment, which can be very slow.

UK transport emissions have hardly budged over many years, although there has been some redistribution within the sector. A sharp single step reduction came during the 2008-2009 recession, but that fall has not been continued. Data since the late 2014 price fall in crude oil is not available yet, but that may put upward pressure on transport emissions. Between now and 2030 there is the opportunity for a single turnover of the vehicle fleet, but EV sales are still only very modest in the UK. In March 2016 there were some 67,000 registered plug-in cars in the UK, less than 0.2% of the fleet. During January to March 2016, some 11,750 new ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were registered in the UK. Over the year to the end of March 2016, ULEVs represented 1.0% of all new registrations, compared with 0.8% over the previous year and 0.2% over the year before that.

The 5th Carbon Budget represents a further landmark step for the UK, but it also means a shift in policy emphasis is required in the near term.

Three years ago when Shell released their New Lens Scenarios, the two views of the future looked out far beyond previous scenarios, taking in the period from 2050-2100. This offered the opportunity for both scenarios to explore ways in which the world might reach a point of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, down from some 40 billion tonnes per annum at the moment. Such an outcome is critically important for the global environment as it means stabilization and then probably some decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, an essential requirement for limiting the current rise in surface temperature.

Net-zero emissions is also a requirement of the Paris Agreement. Article 4 is very clear in that regard, with its call;

“so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century. . . “

Energy scenarios typically explore the nearer term and many limit their horizon at 2050, but that isn’t sufficient for seeing truly profound changes in the energy system. These will play out on longer timescales, given the size of the system, the capital and capacity required to turn the system over. Solar energy is a good example. Today, we are in the middle of an apparent boom, but that is founded on years of development and improvement in the underlying technologies, a process that is still underway. Even at current deployment rates, solar still makes up only a small fraction of the global power generation system and electricity only represents 20% of the final energy we actually use. But over many decades, an energy technology such as solar PV may come to dominate the system.

Looking at the emissions issue from the fossil fuel side, even if solar was to dominate, would fossil fuels and the associated emissions of carbon dioxide necessarily decline? Simply building more renewables doesn’t guarantee such an outcome and even a significant reduction in fossil fuel use could still mean a continuing rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, albeit at a reduced rate. Scenarios help explore such questions and by extending the New Lens Scenarios to 2100, real solutions to reaching net zero emissions present themselves.

The original “New Lens Scenarios” publication from 2013 focussed more on the period through to 2060, but a new publication released by Shell looks specifically at the challenge posed by net zero emissions and explores plausible pathways towards such an outcome using the “New Lens Scenarios” as a backdrop. I have been involved in the development and writing of this publication, which started in earnest only days after the Paris Agreement was adopted. But the material within it comes from the strong base built up over many years through the various Shell scenarios.

The analysis presented sees the energy system doubling in size as global population heads towards 10 billion people. Today we collectively consume about 500 Exajoules of energy; this could rise to some 1000 Exajoules by the end of the century. The makeup of that energy system will most likely look very different from today, but it is probably not a world without fossil energy; rather it is a world with net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture and storage therefore plays a significant role. Even in 2100, hydrocarbon fuels could still make sense for sectors such as aviation, shipping, chemicals and some heavy industry. Electrification of the energy system would need to shifted from ~20% today to over 50% during the century.

NZE Energy mix in 2100
The new supplement is called “A Better Life with a Healthy Planet. Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions”. The title highlights the intersection between the need for energy to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the requirement of the Paris Agreement to reach net-zero emissions. A better life relies on universal access to energy. The publication comes with a wealth of online material to support it.

NZE Cover

Where are we now?

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Last week I presented a simple analysis of the temperature data over the last 50+ years which showed that there was good reason to think that the global surface temperature was rising by about 0.18°C per decade. But a further question to ask is when the current upward trend really started in earnest and therefore where are we today against a baseline of the pre-industrial temperature (i.e. 1850s or thereabouts). This is an important question as we have collectively established a desire to keep warming well below 2°C, but with the real prize being to limit this even further and ideally to 1.5°C.

If the current strong warming trend started in the middle of the last century, say in the post-war boom, then at 0.18°C per decade that results in warming over that period of nearly 1.2°C. The 1950s were also presumably warmer than the 1850s as CO2 levels had risen by some 30 ppm (parts per million) over that period, which argues for the current level of warming to be something more than 1.2°C.

Another way of looking at this is to use the climate sensitivity relationship between cumulative carbon and peak warming, which was estimated at 2°C per trillion tonnes of carbon by Myles Allen and his team in their formative paper published in Nature in 2009. A look at the associated Oxford University website will show cumulative carbon now stands at over 600 billion tonnes, which implies associated warming of about 1.2°C.

Cumulative carbon on June 16th 2016

Yet another way is to seek an answer from a group of climate scientists and I had the opportunity to do just that earlier this week. I am in Boston for the 39th Forum of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. I posed the question and one respondent (Chatham House Rule applies) argued that current warming is around 1.1°C since pre-industrial times, but that there is more to the story than this. The climate system is not at equilibrium, with the oceans still lagging in terms of heat uptake. Therefore, if the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was maintained at some 400 ppm, the surface temperature would rise by another few tenths of a degree before the system reached an equilibrium plateau. That would take us perilously close, if not over, the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. This implies that 1.5°C is only possible if we see a fall in atmospheric carbon dioxide, back below 400 ppm; but noting that it is currently rising at 2-3 ppm per annum.

This isn’t to say there are no routes forward to a 1.5°C outcome, with the Joint Program itself publishing one such pathway back in 2012.

MIT Scenarios - Temperature

MIT analysed four pathways that result in different temperature outcomes, including 1.5°C. These are shown in the chart above against a business as usual trajectory based on the 2010 post-Copenhagen national pledges.

  1. An immediate drop to net zero by 2015, starting in 2010 (Natural only after 2015).
  2. A very rapid drop to net zero by 2035, but with growth from 2010 to 2030 (Natural only after 2035).
  3. A more extended drop to net zero by 2060, with the decline commencing in 2010 (Alternative).
  4. The IEA 450 scenario, with emissions peaking around 2020 and reaching net zero by 2070 (IEA 450).

Pathway 3 (Alternative) results in peak warming of just over 2°C, but with a return to 1.5°C by the end of the century. Of the three MIT extreme mitigation scenarios, it also represents an outcome that could at least be envisaged, albeit still very challenging to implement.

The ocean also plays an important role here, but in a different way to that described above. Atmospheric CO2 begins to decline once net zero anthropogenic emissions is reached as the ocean continues to take up significant quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere, but with nothing additional being added from human activities.  This is because the ocean is also lagging in terms of its ability to dissolve CO2. After some 20-30 years, as the ocean’s upper layer comes into balance with the atmosphere, uptake of CO2 slows. The fall in atmospheric CO2 that results also brings down the global surface temperature by about 0.5°C.

However, this scenario required a very sharp decline in emissions from 2010. Current Paris NDC plans show emissions continuing to rise through to 2030 at which point there are good signs of a plateau but by which time atmospheric CO2 may be at 430-440 ppm. The conclusion from all the above; any pathway that eventually delivers 1.5°C is likely to require a fall in atmospheric carbon dioxide back to 400 ppm or even below.

 

A recent edition of The Economist featured an article on the current (albeit coming to an end) strong El Nino in the Pacific and the impact or otherwise that a warming climate system might be having on it. The article asks many questions and even delves into the recent controversy about the so-called pause in global warming. The author notes;

The sweltering temperatures in recent months may help settle debates over a supposed “pause” in global warming that occurred between 1998 and 2013. During that period the Earth’s surface temperature rose at a rate of 0.04°C a decade, rather than the 0.18°C increase of the 1990s.

Global temperature data can be challenging to analyse, but one very simple analysis I put together showed quite a surprising result. El Nino events can be categorised, with the events of 1997-98 and 2015-16 both listed as Very Strong. 1972-73 and 1982-83 were also Very Strong events, giving a total of four such events over the last 40 years. Each of these events led to a temperature spike in the global record as reported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The data is as follows;

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 21.15.14

A quick plot of this data shows an almost perfect linear trend over recent decades, with the Very Strong El Nino same year global temperature anomaly rising monotonically at 0.18°C per decade. There is no sign of a pause in warming or acceleration, at least over the last 40+ years. Extending the trend into the 2030s indicates that a future Very Strong El Nino event in that period would result in a 1.3°C temperature rise, which is about the equivalent to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the NOAA time series (using late 19th century as a proxy for pre-industrial).

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 21.15.30
Casting back a bit further to a much earlier Very Strong El Nino, brings us to 1926. This was reportedly an extreme event for the period and corresponded with the most severe drought in tropical South America during the 20th century. Including it in the chart above as well as a further point in 1963, shows the current linear trend still holding back to 1960, but not into the 1920s. At this time atmospheric carbon dioxide was only just beginning to rise. But the fact that the 1920s El Nino is matched by a presumably elevated 1960s El Nino perhaps points to just how severe that event must have been.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 21.15.43
The data for the last half century for comparable El Nino event years and coinciding with a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide from 315 ppm to 400 ppm (vs. 275 ppm to 315 ppm over the century before that) indicates that the underlying surface temperature trend is rising consistently, despite the noise associated with year on year fluctuations of the Southern Oscillation (El Nino and La Nina) and other phenomena. This data noise has given rise to claims of both no global warming and accelerating global warming. The reality is sobering enough, even without the histrionics from some observers.

A new reality to come to terms with

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The first UNFCCC talks since the adoption of the Paris Agreement are now underway and the various delegations are getting down to the tough task of implementation. I was in Bonn on the opening day of the two week meeting, representing the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) in a side event hosted by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board (EB). The aim of the event was to draw on the learning from a decade of CDM operation and apply this experience to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This is the Article that provides a potential new foundation for carbon market development. I was there to present the IETA Article 6 Vision paper which I posted a story on recently.

The side event was packed out and many were standing in the corridor leading to the room; there is clearly considerable interest in this topic. Over the years the CDM has been a successful mechanism, resulting in nearly 8000 projects and some 1.7 billion Certified Emission Reduction (CER) units issued. Even at a €5-10 per CER (as it was in the earlier days of the EU ETS), this still represents a carbon price based financial injection of up to €10 billion into developing economies. The CDM spawned a small industry of project developers, assessors, MRV professionals and climate finance experts and clearly demonstrated that even a gentle application of the market can have a significant impact. Little wonder that there is such interest in the mitigation mechanism embedded in Article 6 and its potential to drive change.

However, the CDM (or a version of it) is unlikely to be repeated or replicated under Article 6, at least not under the terms that existed within the Kyoto Protocol. It was clear from the discussion during the side event that this new reality is going to take a while to hit home and settle in. The CDM became an important source of climate finance for developing countries, where the only real obligation on the part of the host country for a given project was to provide the necessary governance structure to ensure eventual issuance of the CERs. But that is no longer the case given the provisions of the Paris Agreement and Article 6 are now effectively the same for all countries.

Over time, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) will expand to cover all greenhouse gas in all economies. Every NDC, either specifically or notionally (for assessment and stocktake purposes) is linked to a quantitative carbon budget and there is an expectation from the Paris Agreement that these budgets will be delivered. While the Paris Agreement doesn’t say this in such stark terms, it is nevertheless implied. The whole approach that the UNFCCC used to assess the NDCs in their latest synthesis report, released on May 2nd, underpins this. Their aggregate analysis is summarized in carbon budget terms as follows;

The implementation of the communicated INDCs is estimated to result in aggregate global emission levels of 55.0 (51.4 to 57.3) Gt CO2 eq in 2025 and 56.2 (52.0 to 59.3) Gt CO2 eq in 2030. The global levels of emissions in 2025 and 2030 were calculated by adding the estimated aggregate emission levels resulting from the implementation of the communicated INDCs, that is 46.5 (44.3 to 48.9) Gt CO2 eq in 2025 and 48.0 (45.1 to 51.4) Gt CO2 eq in 2030, to the levels of emissions not covered by the INDCs. Global cumulative CO2 emissions after 2011 are expected to reach 533.1 (509.6 to 557.2) Gt CO2 in 2025 and 738.8 (703.6 to 770.9) Gt CO2 in 2030.

As I noted in my last post and drawing on Article 6.5 in the Paris Agreement, this means that the transfer of credits from a project across a national border (in the style of the CDM) will impact the national inventory reports of both parties. These transfers will then have to be executed in the style of Joint Implementation (JI) of the Kyoto Protocol, which effectively required an adjustment to the project host country’s national goal if the crediting unit was to be used by another Party to meet their goal.

I raised this issue as part of my presentation and the message was then amplified by a couple of people in the audience during the Q&A. But the response from some in the room was close to one of denial of this new reality, even though the Paris Agreement makes the need for such adjustment clear. The discussion almost drifted back into the old reality of developing countries not having goals and targets, but fortunately we didn’t land there. We didn’t resolve the issue either, which means that there are probably some tough discussions ahead as the negotiators get down to business.

A week later in Bonn and after many hours of discussions on Article 6 by the Parties, there has been some progress. At a side event on the second Monday also on Article 6 and also standing room only, I heard one central African delegate note that we had certainly left the world of the CDM and that perhaps we were somewhere between the constructions offered by CDM and JI of the Kyoto Protocol, albeit this would have to be interpreted to match the new bottom up global architecture of the Paris Agreement. I also heard another national delegate argue strongly that the new mechanism was not a sustainable development mechanism and should not be referenced as such, even if sustainable development was an important outcome of the implementation of the mechanism. Several panellists talked about quantification of NDCs as an important precursor to the avoidance of double counting.

The various concerns and issues that have been raised in these early discussion are very valid and the answers aren’t immediately obvious. Many developing countries have placed the need for finance as a condition on at least some portion of their mitigation contribution and in the past the CDM offered such finance. But if the reality of a new mechanism is a tighter national goal as a consequence of using it, there may be some push back. In the IETA paper one possible solution to this was proposed, namely the direct purchase of project units from the host country of the mitigation activity by multi-lateral funds. But this is unlikely to reach the necessary scale of mitigation envisaged by the NDCs, so other approaches will have to be developed. Interesting times ahead!

Update: The co-chairs in the UNFCCC discussions on Article 6 have released informal notes on ITMOs (here) and the proposed mechanism (here). These are a summary of points made in the initial discussions in Bonn.

Within the Paris Agreement sits Article 6, a carefully crafted set of provisions to foster, in the parlance of the UNFCCC and the Parties to the Agreement, cooperative approaches. This includes a provision for cross border transfer of mitigation outcomes and a mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development. But for those outside the negotiating process (and hopefully those inside as well), this Article is seen as the foundation for carbon market development. There was a great deal of advocacy effort behind the Article, particularly from the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) who argued strongly that such a construction within the Paris Agreement was essential to see accelerated adoption of government implemented carbon pricing; widely recognised as a critical policy instrument for managing carbon dioxide emissions.

The wording of Article 6 needs some deciphering and for those now assembling in Bonn to begin the process of implementation of the Paris Agreement, some steer from the private sector will hopefully be helpful. After all, if the provisions do enable the development and expansion of carbon markets then it will almost certainly be the private sector that is most deeply involved. To that end, IETA have now published a first thought piece on Article 6, setting out a vision for its implementation.

IETA Article 6 Brochure

The IETA vision for Article 6 is built on the need for governments to implement carbon pricing, ideally through market based approaches such as cap-and-trade or baseline-and-credit. This starts with the internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMO), described in 6.2 and 6.3. These transfers are effectively carbon market trades between governments or private entities operating through emission trading systems. One example is the link between California and Quebec, which effectively ties parts of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of Canada and the United States together. Similarly the link between Norway and the EU ETS is doing the same for their respective NDCs. IETA argues that for clean and simple accounting and the avoidance of double counting, that the concept of exchange of carbon units, either notional or real, should be an underpinning feature of any ITMO. That means the basis for cooperative approaches is, for the most part, a market based one. For governments to access the economic benefits and cost effectiveness of a cooperative approach, they will need to implement carbon unit based emissions management systems within their economies.

IETA also recognises that not all governments may be ready or able to implement trading based systems, so its vision draws on another aspect of Article 6 to enable this. Paragraphs 6.4 (a) – (d) describe an emissions mitigation mechanism (which IETA have given the designation EMM). While some commentators are already arguing that this is a future version of the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. CDM 2.0), IETA makes the case for a much broader interpretation and use of this mechanism. Such implementation could see the EMM offering both universal carbon allowance and crediting units for those countries that choose to use them, facilitating trade between NDCs (i.e. ITMO), providing registry accounting and offering the prospect of carbon pricing in many economies.

The EMM could also be designed to establish sector baselines and issue sovereign credits for performance in excess of those baselines, which might then be purchased by external climate funds to channel investment. In this way it would function more like the CDM. But as IETA notes in its thought piece, the world in which crediting from one country acting as a direct offset in another is coming to an end. Under the CDM this was possible because the project host country had no quantified emissions management goal. As such, national accounting effectively took place on one side only, although the project itself had to have a credible baseline against which it operated. But as NDCs progressively expand to cover all national emissions (if they don’t then the Paris Agreement can’t claim to manage global emissions), paragraph 6.5 prevents such one sided accounting;

Emission reductions resulting from the mechanism referred to in paragraph 4 of this Article shall not be used to demonstrate achievement of the host Party’s nationally determined contribution if used by another Party to demonstrate achievement of its nationally determined contribution.

This means that the transfer of credits from a project across a national border (in the style of the CDM) will impact the national inventory reports of both parties. IETA argues that these transfers will then have to be executed in the style of Joint Implementation (JI) of the Kyoto Protocol, which effectively required an adjustment to the project host country’s national goal if the crediting unit was to be used by another Party to meet their goal.

The Paris Agreement introduces a very different world of international emissions trading to the one that exists today and has operated in recent years. The IETA paper concludes with a visualisation of how this might end up.

Article 6 Evolution

A blast from the past

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We might think of climate change as a phenomenon only reported on by the 21st Century media and imagine that only the people of today are really aware of the risks posed by the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although the science dates back to the mid to late 19th century, why would anybody of that period take an interest in or even know about the impact that this might have on future generations?

Much to my surprise I recently found that there was interest and from somewhere close to home (for me at least). The clip below comes from a small country newspaper, printed not far from Canberra in Australia in July 1912.

Braidwood

 

COAL CONSUMPTION AFFECTING CLIMATE.

 The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.

The newspaper in question was the Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, which first appeared on 10 April 1859 and was published twice weekly from 1859 until January 1958. Braidwood was not a big town and was hardly a centre for global studies. A picture of the town centre some twelve years earlier at the turn of the century is shown below.

wallace-st-braidwood

What I find as interesting as the article itself is the fact that it was printed in such a newspaper. This was a small country town yet the newspaper had a science column (Science Notes and News), which is where the snippet comes from. A science column would be hard to find in any newspaper today. Other stories in the same edition talk of a seven thousand foot bore hole drilled in Germany and the revelation that core temperature rises by about 1°C per 100 feet, not to mention the arrival of a skipping machine on the market which turns the rope and records the number of skips.

But perhaps the most interesting question to ponder is where the story came from? Sixteen years earlier Svante Arrhenius had published his paper on the influence of carbonic acid (N.B. Arrhenius refers to carbon dioxide as “carbonic acid” in accordance with the convention at the time he was writing.) in the air upon the temperature of the ground and in it he made mention of the combustion of coal and its release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He wrote more on this in later work. It is unlikely, but not improbable, that the editor of the local newspaper in Australia was busy reading scientific papers by Arrhenius, but the copywriter may have been reading a variety of magazines and publications from which he or she would extract bits and pieces for republication in the Braidwood Dispatch. That means the story probably came from a longer discussion in another journal, but I don’t know which one. It also means that the copywriter thought that the readers of the Dispatch would be interested in this article, which in itself is a revelation.

Arrhenius

 

Professor Sir David MacKay FRS

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I was sad to hear of the recent death of Professor Sir David MacKay. I had met him at a few events over the years, but his real impact on me was through his book Sustainable Energy: without the hot air.

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Hopefully everyone who reads this blog has also had the opportunity to read David’s book, if not I can highly recommend it. It is free to download here. The book is a wonderful tour of energy use, written in a language that everyone can understand. Most importantly, it seeks to challenge and correct the many assertions made about how quickly and easily we can change the energy system or how easy it would be to power everything from a particular source. Professor MacKay took exception to the loose talk and poor reporting around energy issues and sought to rectify it. In the opening lines of his book he notes;

Perhaps the worst offenders in the kingdom of codswallop are the people who really should know better – the media publishers who promote the codswallop – for example, New Scientist with their article about the “water-powered car.”

That single sentence sets the tone for a very entertaining and thoroughly informative deep dive into all things energy related, with the maths to back it up. He even delves into climate science and offers a wonderful analogy for why atmospheric carbon dioxide is rising when anthropogenic flows of the gas are so much smaller than natural flows (trees etc.). He compares the atmosphere to passport control at an airport!!

But the calculation that has stuck in my head over several years relates to hydroelectricity in the United Kingdom. I don’t know why I remember this story in particular, I am no more a hydroelectricity enthusiast than I am a nuclear enthusiast, but his explanation was just so elegant. Many people imagine that because it rains quite a bit in the UK that we ought to be able to power much of the country with hydro, particularly in Scotland where it is also quite hilly. Professor MacKay’s simple calculation involved the land area of the UK, the average rainfall, the average elevation and the wildly optimistic assumption (just to silence the optimists) that we would catch every drop of rain and then all the potential energy within that water as it drops from the point at which it initially hits the ground until it gets to sea level. The absolute upper limit for hydro comes out at less than 10 kWh/person/day, but the more realistic figure is <2 kWh/person/day. This is against energy demand of around 200 kWh/person/day. Actual hydro in the UK is just 0.2 kWh/person/day.

Sadly we have lost an inspiring energy enthusiast and an entertaining writer and speaker. RIP Professor.

Rapid progress for electric vehicles?

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The last few weeks have brought great excitement for electric vehicle (EV) enthusiasts with the announcement of the Tesla Model 3 and the subsequent filling of its order book with over 250,000 vehicles. With costs coming down and vehicle range improving, there appears to be real consumer interest in EVs, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell types. The International Energy Agency has been following the development of EVs for some time now and an excellent info-graphic is available with a variety of useful deployment statistics for the period up to and including 2014.

IEA EV Infographic

But how quickly would EVs have to deploy to align with the ambition of the Paris Agreement, i.e. having the passenger vehicle sector reach nearly zero direct emissions early in the second half of this century? Such an outcome would be required to be on track to well below 2°C, with a shot at 1.5°C.

In the last 2-3 years EV growth rates have been in the range 50-100% per annum, but this is quite typical of a new technology with a very small base. As the base increases, year on year percentage growth slows down quickly, even as absolute production continues to increase.

The first goal for EV deployment is to reach an installed base of 20 million vehicles by 2020, or about 2% of the global fleet. This is the target set by the Electric Vehicle Initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial, a global energy/environment Minister forum to promote policies and share best practices to accelerate the global transition to clean energy. The initiative seeks to facilitate the global deployment of EVs, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles.

By the end of 2015 the global EV stock was heading towards 1.5 million , which gives just 5 years to produce another 18-19 million cars. That will require year on year growth rates of around 50% per annum into the 2020s, resulting in additional new production of some 1-2 million vehicles per annum, i.e. to reach total annual production of 6-7 million vehicles per annum in 2020 itself.  According to the IEA info-graphic, production in 2014 was around 300,000 per annum.

If growth at such rates could continue, with additional new production surpassing 4 million per annum throughout the balance of the 2020s and into the 2030s, then by 2035 the global EV stock could be at 500 million vehicles, or nearly a third of the total expected fleet. By this time absolute annual EV growth may be slowing, influenced by an outlook that sees EV production approaching that of global passenger vehicle production. This is assuming that there is no consumer resistance to EVs, even amongst those who love the roar of a finely tuned high powered internal combustion engine (ICE).

But even if production of EVs completely eclipses that of ICE vehicles, there remains the generational timespan to turn over the entire fleet. Even in Europe, the age distribution of vehicles is very broad, so we shouldn’t expect ICE vehicles to disappear overnight. The average age has also been rising, up from 8.4 to 9.7 years in Europe over the last decade. There is also a wide distribution, for example in the Netherlands in 2012, 41% of the passenger vehicle fleet was over 10 years old, but for the same year in Poland it was 71%.

Putting all the above together in a single chart, a very rapid and accelerated switch from ICE to EV could look something like the picture below. For the sake of the calculation, I have assumed the global fleet topping out around 1.7 billion vehicles in the 2060s, a number which is highly uncertain. For instance, just as EVs are beginning to make progress in the market, autonomous vehicles are possibly offering a completely different model for car ownership, which could see far fewer cars in the global fleet. The prospect of a much smaller market could start to send ripples through the entire investment chain, slowing the uptake of EVs considerably. Equally, if personal motoring progresses rapidly in developing countries, the fleet could be much larger in the second half of the century, which may also argue for an older fleet with ICE vehicles remaining on the road for much longer.

EV Stock

Simply because of fleet growth and existing production which currently totals 65-70 million vehicles per annum, maximum ICE stock isn’t reached until well into the 2020s, topping out at about 1.2 billion vehicles vs. 900 million today. ICE numbers return to current levels in the mid-2030s, but then decline to very low levels by the 2060s.

There are many other unknowns to factor in, such as the supply chain for the EV. Current battery technology calls for lithium, but prices over the last 18 months have risen. Some Chinese Lithium Hydroxide prices have risen over 100% in the last year but some market observers have noted the volatility and uncertainty surrounding this.

With the Tesla 3 appearing on the streets in 2017, but many other models from various manufacturers also being shown, the years ahead will only get more interesting for the passenger vehicle market.