Paris climate change agreement and renewable energy

28 January 2016 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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On December 12, 2015, nearly 200 countries reached agreement to address climate change, which is one of the very few scientific theories that critically analyses the challenges to modern society, leading to arguments among nations on individual lifestyles and focus on humanity’s relationship with the rest of the planet.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Report 2013/2014 states “that there is evidence over the last 100 years of a 0.8 degrees Celsius (C) rise in global temperatures and a 22 centimetre rise in sea level.” Depending on how much we control future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, “the global surface mean temperature could rise between 2.8 degrees C and 5.4 degrees C by the end of the 21st century. In addition, global sea level could rise by between 52 centimetres and 98 centimetres and there will be significant changes in weather patterns with more extreme climate events.” 
It has been envisaged that these changes to the global environment by environmentalists in late 1980s and 1990s will not lead to the end of the world but will cause untold misery to billions of humanity.

Accordingly, reducing GHG emissions is a major challenge to humankind, as during the past 30 years, despite climate change negotiations based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), there has been no change in such emissions from the business as usual scenario. The failure of negotiations at the 15th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP15) of UNFCCC and Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol at its fifth Session in Copenhagen in 2009, was a major setback to global reduction in GFG emissions by over 10 years.


Paris Agreement on climate change
However, the Paris Agreement of the COP 21 adopted on December2015, 12 has given a major impetus in reducing GFG emissions to pre-industrial levels (<2deg C), mainly because China, the largest polluter in the world, has agreed to discuss a national carbon trading modality as well as United States, which emits about a third of carbon to the atmosphere, has designated the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, thus avoiding political interference.

The Paris Agreement has been somewhat successful politically to take positive action due to adverse economic impacts if emissions are not curbed. It has been reported that taking meaningful action in tackling climate change now will cost 2-3 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) as compared to over 20 percent if such action is postponed to about 2050.

To this end, the Paris Agreement is the beginning of a political dialogue to reach consensus, imperative if we are to arrest significant increases in global carbon emissions leading to severe climate change.

The Paris Agreement has also focused in bringing developing countries as major players in a political solution to arrest climate change. It must be stressed that while protecting the rights of developing and least developing countries in preventing adverse effects on climate change, it is of utmost importance that these countries should be able to provide similar level of healthcare, education and life expectancy as those countries in the developed world. 

The climate change policies and laws agreed at Paris should aim at implementation at both regional and national level and should have an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure that emission cuts do occur as agreed, especially by the major polluters in the world.

Innovative methods of redistribution of wealth globally as well as within nation states, are essential to eradicate poverty among billions of people without significant increase in consumption, resource depletion and GHG emissions. To this end, support and financial assistance is needed to assist developing and least developing countries to adapt to climate change, which has now become a reality.  

Climate change is a critical challenge   of the 21st century that will subsume other   major challenges such as global poverty, population growth, environmental degradation and global security. To meet the challenge of climate change there should be meaningful and drastic changes to our society and we should strive to adopt a global and long-term effective approach so as to achieve a win-win solution for the benefit of the entire mankind and other living beings.

Paris Agreement on climate change and its implications on energy sector
Although the universal legality of implementation of the 2015 Climate Change Agreement is questionable, it has given a major impetus to the business community and investors that the age of reducing carbon emissions has now dawned. This major change in policy in energy development will shift from the non-renewable coal and oil industry to a growing renewable energy industry such as hydropower, solar, biomass, wind energy, etc.

However, a major drawback in making renewable energy competitive is the absence of a clear carbon policy framework in particular to agree on a price on carbon emissions. Without a universal carbon tax or relevant pricing mechanism that has been overlooked by the Paris Agreement a change in curbing carbon emissions is in doubt. To this end, a number of international energy companies have been urging governments to agree on a clear policy framework, agree on a price on emissions to treat all emitters equally on a level playing field to make energy efficiency more attractive with low carbon energy sources, as well as renewable energy more competitive.

An article in the January 2016 Energy Newsletter titled ‘The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change’ by Cynthia Stroman, Stephen Orava, Nina Howell, Trinh Chubbock and Ben Burnham (https://kslawemail.com/77/574/pages/article1.asp) has stated that “moving the energy spectrum toward renewable faces practical challenges” it has been revealed that Europe has attempted to lower its carbon emissions with a “cap-and trade” system that allows companies incentives to cut emission. Such allowances are not effective as its value is less than expected and Europe continues to depend on coal for power.

It is also known that coal remains the major fuel in India and in most countries in   Southeast Asia. It is also noted that “renewables still account for about 10 percent of the total energy supply, which is mostly from hydroelectric power and approximately 1.6 percent from solar and wind. Nevertheless, there are signs of changes in the energy mix. Coal investors are exiting and a number of producers have filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the combined market size of low–carbon technologies exceed US $ 600 billion last year.”

The above article also highlighted that the Paris Agreement was welcomed by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), which has a membership by producers of more than half of the oil and a third of gas producers  which is compatible with the association’s policy on climate change especially” in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, ” it is also highlighted that natural gas provides a positive and an efficient way to cut down GHG emissions and will be a fill up for renewable. When gas is used to produce electricity, gas emits approximately half of the carbon dioxide than coal.

According to the US Biennial Potential Gas Committee estimates for 1970 -2014, reserves increased from 2012 to 2014 by 267 trillion cubic feet (TCF) to 832 TCF of “most likely” total resources for United States and are equivalent to 140 years supply at current consumption levels. Of these reserves shale gas increased more than 30 percent from 2008 to 2013 and the total shale gas reserves as a percentage of the country’s total potential resources is nearly 57 percent.

Shale gas is produced from shale deposits by a process called ‘Fracking’ and shale, which is a sedimentary rock, is found extensively in other parts of the world too especially in China, Australia, Europe, the UK, etc. With the development of these shale deposits to produce shale gas the greenhouse gas emissions will decrease and help in arresting climate change together with the development of renewables.

However, oil will continue to be unchallenged as it cannot be replaced for three applications namely as a lubricant to operate engines and turbines (including wind), feedstock for fertilizers needed for food security for rapidly growing populations and as a fuel for transport. 

It has also been reported that US car manufacturing company Tesla is developing a lithium ion battery to power your car and also a larger version to store electricity for off grid houses from solar or wind power.

Research has also been successful in development of hydrogen fuel cells to fly aircraft and drive cars in line with the emerging global green economy.
Further, researchers in the energy sector are also experimenting on technologies to mitigate GHG emissions applying “carbon capture and storage, flaring reduction practices methane emission reduction and improving energy efficiency in operations.”


Paris Agreement and international trade implications
According to the article referred above, the Paris Agreement is unlikely to have direct implications for international trade, which expressly refers to an obligation to prevent protectionist measures was removed from the final agreement. The agreement however is stated to have significant indirect impact on international trade in goods and services.

There are three issues to be taken into consideration.

First, the “objective of the agreement is to encourage the development and implementation of measures to lower greenhouse gas emissions substantially over the coming decades. Such measures will necessarily increase additional compliance costs on industrial sectors across the world, often at different levels and different time tables.”

Second, “the agreement is likely to require the introduction of new technical requirements to promote energy efficiency for industrial and consumer products, such as fuels automobiles, appliances and other goods. Such requirements have historically been an avenue for countries to introduce discriminatory measures that favour local producers.”

Third, “the Paris Agreement is likely to provide significant boost to research and development activity in relation to innovative energy efficient and low carbon technologies. In addition to incentives provided in the agreement itself, governments also launched initiatives in Paris, for example to promote solar energy deployment in developing countries and to increase public investment in clean energy research and development. The result of these incentives and new investments are expected to increase the development and trade in new products and technologies.”

It has also been emphasized that the Paris Agreement should provide incentives to accelerate and conclude a wide range of substantive agreements impacting on trade and climate change. As an example, member countries of the World trade Organisation (WTO) are presently negotiating an agreement to phase out and finally remove tariffs on a wide range of environmental goods. The success of these agreements should facilitate increased trade in goods and lower the costs for implementing state-of-the-art technologies including those focused on lowering greenhouse gases and mitigating its impact on climate change. 


Development of renewable energy in Sri Lanka 
The Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) is also charged with development of renewable energy in the country and is presently focusing on biomass, hydropower, solar and wind energy. This institution is under the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry.

According to the SLSEA, the Energy Update on January 16, 2016 gives a peak demand of 2077.1 MW and generation of 32.16 GWh. The energy balance at peak demand is given as coal 38 percent (mainly Norochcholi Power Plant), hydro 42 percent and wind one percent (Hambantota wind farm). There are no figures given for solar or biomass. 

The SLSEA also gives the Energy Balance for 2014 as total energy supply 4904 GWh, which is primary energy where main hydropower plants generated 3694.72 GWh, small hydropower plants 902.17GWh., wind power 272.45 GWh, biomass power plants 41.39 GWh and solar power 1.47 GWh. From these figures it appears that hydropower generated power of the total energy supply for 2014 was nearly 96 percent. It is also recorded if these figures are correct; the peak demand of energy on January 16, 2016 generated by hydropower was only 42 percent. (The SLSEA may clarify these figures if I am wrong).


Future generation of renewable energy in Sri Lanka
The potential for generation of renewable energy mainly for electricity is significant in the country, provided a long-term plan is formulated by energy planners on the advice of technical experts locally and abroad. Transfer of technology is a key element for the success of developing renewable energy.
I shall focus on hydropower, solar, wind and biomass as primary sources of generating renewable energy.  


Hydropower plants
Hydropower plants have been constructed from 1950s and were expanded under the multipurpose Mahaweli Development Programme, which commenced in 1978. It must be stated that problems related to siltation of reservoirs, instability of reservoir peripheries due to landslides and minor tremors generated by storage of a large body of water are the major environmental hazards in such power generation.


Solar panels
Solar power is an area that could be rapidly developed in Sri Lanka. In this regard, I would like to stress that solar panels could be manufactured in Sri Lanka as we have high-quality silica quartz in many parts of the hill country and these deposits have clear quartz with a high purity of over 99 percent SiO2. Solar cells can be manufactured locally even for export if the government promotes joint venture (JV) investments with Chinese companies who are the leaders in such manufacture.

The Chinese solar panels imported are comparatively cheaper than those imported from Europe, mainly Germany. It is recommended that the Board of Investment (BoI) in collaboration with the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry should promote Chinese investors in this industry under JVs with attractive tax concessions such as tax holidays. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) should also give a rebate on tariffs as in the United States when the solar panels are connected to the household grid.


Wind energy
There was a lot of publicity given during the past few years of wind farms in Mannar, the best location for construction of wind turbines, particularly in the stretch of coastline between Mannar and Point Pedro. A proliferation of such wind turbines are seen along the southeastern coast of India overlooking the Gulf of Mannar. I am also aware that there was a dispute between the CEB under the Power Ministry and Environment and Sustainable Energy Ministry and not much progress was made in this regard. 

However, since these entities have now come under one ministry I am certain that there will be rapid progress in the future. There are also problems of connecting power generated from wind turbines to the national grid. The recent research on Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries (WRFB) may be a solution for storage of energy generated by wind turbines.

The world leader in wind power is China where since 2003 has recorded 35 percent of the world market growth.  A Chinese company called Goldwind began manufacturing turbines under licence agreement with US-based REpower starting with 600-750 kilowatt turbines in 1999. As this company gained experience, it began working with the German supplier Vensys Energy to design 1.2 megawatt turbines.

The Chinese company Goldwind has focused increasingly on markets outside China and now operates research centres in Bejing, Xinjing and Germany.
It is recommended that the BoI with the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry should attract Goldwind to invest in Sri Lanka on a JV basis.


Biomass plants
The collection of garbage and storage has become a social problem and recent demonstrations around Colombo leading to violence have been reported in the local media. It is best that these refuse dumps are rehabilitee converted organic material into gas for domestic and industrial use. Under the Megapolis Mega Project the government should draw up plans to collect the garbage and use it for energy production. In the United States, special garbage trucks are used for such collection and transported to the gas-generating plants. Household garbage collected in concrete pits could also be used to generate gas for domestic cooking. Accordingly, advice could be given to households for such projects by responsible authorities.


Development of renewable energy in Sri Lanka 
The Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) is also charged with development of renewable energy in the country and is presently focusing on biomass, hydropower, solar and wind energy. This institution is under the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry.

According to the SLSEA, the Energy Update on January 16, 2016 gives a peak demand of 2077.1 MW and generation of 32.16 GWh. The energy balance at peak demand is given as coal 38 percent (mainly Norochcholi Power Plant), hydro 42 percent and wind one percent (Hambantota wind farm). There are no figures given for solar or biomass. 

The SLSEA also gives the Energy Balance for 2014 as total energy supply 4904 GWh, which is primary energy where main hydropower plants generated 3694.72 GWh, small hydropower plants 902.17GWh., wind power 272.45 GWh, biomass power plants 41.39 GWh and solar power 1.47 GWh. From these figures it appears that hydropower generated power of the total energy supply for 2014 was nearly 96 percent. It is also recorded if these figures are correct; the peak demand of energy on January 16, 2016 generated by hydropower was only 42 percent. (The SLSEA may clarify these figures if I am wrong).


Future generation of renewable energy in Sri Lanka
The potential for generation of renewable energy mainly for electricity is significant in the country, provided a long-term plan is formulated by energy planners on the advice of technical experts locally and abroad. Transfer of technology is a key element for the success of developing renewable energy.
I shall focus on hydropower, solar, wind and biomass as primary sources of generating renewable energy.  


Hydropower plants
Hydropower plants have been constructed from 1950s and were expanded under the multipurpose Mahaweli Development Programme, which commenced in 1978. It must be stated that problems related to siltation of reservoirs, instability of reservoir peripheries due to landslides and minor tremors generated by storage of a large body of water are the major environmental hazards in such power generation.


Solar panels
Solar power is an area that could be rapidly developed in Sri Lanka. In this regard, I would like to stress that solar panels could be manufactured in Sri Lanka as we have high-quality silica quartz in many parts of the hill country and these deposits have clear quartz with a high purity of over 99 percent SiO2. Solar cells can be manufactured locally even for export if the government promotes joint venture (JV) investments with Chinese companies who are the leaders in such manufacture.

The Chinese solar panels imported are comparatively cheaper than those imported from Europe, mainly Germany. It is recommended that the Board of Investment (BoI) in collaboration with the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry should promote Chinese investors in this industry under JVs with attractive tax concessions such as tax holidays. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) should also give a rebate on tariffs as in the United States when the solar panels are connected to the household grid.


Wind energy
There was a lot of publicity given during the past few years of wind farms in Mannar, the best location for construction of wind turbines, particularly in the stretch of coastline between Mannar and Point Pedro. A proliferation of such wind turbines are seen along the southeastern coast of India overlooking the Gulf of Mannar. I am also aware that there was a dispute between the CEB under the Power Ministry and Environment and Sustainable Energy Ministry and not much progress was made in this regard. 

However, since these entities have now come under one ministry I am certain that there will be rapid progress in the future. There are also problems of connecting power generated from wind turbines to the national grid. The recent research on Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries (WRFB) may be a solution for storage of energy generated by wind turbines.

The world leader in wind power is China where since 2003 has recorded 35 percent of the world market growth.  A Chinese company called Goldwind began manufacturing turbines under licence agreement with US-based REpower starting with 600-750 kilowatt turbines in 1999. As this company gained experience, it began working with the German supplier Vensys Energy to design 1.2 megawatt turbines.

The Chinese company Goldwind has focused increasingly on markets outside China and now operates research centres in Bejing, Xinjing and Germany.
It is recommended that the BoI with the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry should attract Goldwind to invest in Sri Lanka on a JV basis.


Biomass plants
The collection of garbage and storage has become a social problem and recent demonstrations around Colombo leading to violence have been reported in the local media. It is best that these refuse dumps are rehabilitee converted organic material into gas for domestic and industrial use. Under the Megapolis Mega Project the government should draw up plans to collect the garbage and use it for energy production. In the United States, special garbage trucks are used for such collection and transported to the gas-generating plants. Household garbage collected in concrete pits could also be used to generate gas for domestic cooking. Accordingly, advice could be given to households for such projects by responsible authorities.
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