An insight into how energy is changing and the different commitments being made around the world

CO2 headed towards 450 ppm and beyond?

I remember a few years writing an opinion piece for the Dominion-Post about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reaching the distressing milestone of 400ppm (parts per million). In 1900 CO2 levels were around 300ppm. That is a rise by a third over a century or so.

That trend of increasing CO2 levels is showing no signs of levelling off. The last few years have seen significant increases. We are now at 414ppm and will probably reach 420 by 2021. Scientists tell us we should not breach 450 and if we do we are headed for a climate catastrophe. But we seem to be headed that way.

As we explore in this blog the news is not all bad. There are some exciting initiatives and trends underway that could mean we do avert climate catastrophe.

People catching the train in Sweden

In Sweden there is a new trend – to catch the train rather than fly. Train journeys are up by 8% in the first quarter of this year with business trips up 12%. People flying domestically were down 8% for the quarter following a decline of 3% last year. A new term has crept into the Swedish language - “Flygskam” meaning “flight shame”. According to Swedish Rail a single short haul flight can generate as much CO2 as 40,000 train journeys, one assumes via an electric train powered by renewable energy.

Options for flying in NZ

So what are the options for not flying around New Zealand in fossil fuel planes? Our rail infrastructure is not really there for business trips around New Zealand and then we have the issue of getting across Cook Strait in a timely manner. There are all sorts of plans to develop electric planes internationally. Currently 2 seater battery powered electric planes are commercially available and next year a 9 seater will go into production. General consensus is that shorthaul electric planes will be flying commercially in 2030.

Los Angeles commits to 100% renewable energy

To me Los Angeles with its massive freeways and air pollution is the antithesis of sustainability. I have always thought that only when the likes of Los Angeles embraces action on climate change and the environment will we be sure of a safe future. Well that’s happening! 

Los Angeles has committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050. And they have developed a plan to get the city to that target. This plan is an example of the kind of change that is beginning to sweep the world.

2 weeks in the UK without coal and aiming to operate a zero carbon electricity system by 2025

Earlier this year the UK achieved a week without coal-fired electricity generation. This was the first time since the industrial revolution and coal was first used to generate electricity. Now the UK has experienced two full weeks without coal generation. At one point during the two weeks solar made up 25% of generation.

Meanwhile the UK national grid operator is aiming to be able to run the grid on a zero carbon basis by 2025, in anticipation of a zero carbon future.

Coal use in the electricity sector has declined by 88% between 2012 and 2018. For the first quarter of 2019 coal use is down by two thirds compared to last year and is now in single digits as a percentage of electricity production.

End of coal fired electricity globally? 

Have we finally reached the point where the amount of coal fired power stations in the world is starting to decline? The International Energy Agency thinks we may have. In 2018 for the first time ever, final investment decisions for new coal plants dipped below the number of retirements. What this means is that in a few years time we will see a reduction in the number of coal plants around the world. In the US, UK and Germany coal plants are closing due to cheaper renewables and gas. But in Asia coal is still growing. 

Changes in NZ – Electricity Authority view on benefits to consumers

The Electricity Authority has always argued that it had no role in helping New Zealand achieve its climate change targets. That role, the CEO of the Electricity Authority consistently argued, was the role of other agencies and different policies across government. The role of the Authority was to ensure the long term benefit of consumers.

What exactly does the Electricity Authority do? It sets the rules for how the electricity system operates. It sets rules the enables lines companies to do certain things, for example, whether a lines company can put in place a “solar tax” as Unison Networks (covering Hawkes Bay and Taupo) tried to do a few years ago. 

Recently the Electricity Authority’s position has changed. It now seems that it thinks that doing something about climate change is to the long term benefit of consumers. That is good news.

Colorado shoots for 100% renewable electricity – and has a plan

It’s one thing to have an aspiration to achieve a 100% renewable electricity system and another thing to have a plan to get there. The State of Colorado has released a plan to get to a 100% renewable electricity system. It contains a raft of measures; a price on carbon, the right investment in the distribution network, enabling community solar and the sharing of solar energy on distribution networks etc. 

Cities in the US are aiming for 100% renewable

The city of Glenwood in the US (I am sure you have not heard of it) is the seventh city in the US to secure a 100% renewable electricity. The City Council has signed a contract to purchase 100% renewable electricity. The cost of the electricity is actually cheaper than electricity from fossil-fuel sources, confirming that renewables are cheaper in the US than fossil fuel generation.

General Electric bets on thermal power plants and loses

A decade or so ago General Electric developed a workstream called “Ecomagination”. This was an initiative to deliver environmentally sustainable solutions, such as renewable energy, cleaner jet engines and the like. Seems like it may not have been embedded into the DNA of GE. According to a report by an economics and financial research group, GE has lost $193b or 74% of its market capitalization largely through losses in its thermal power division. According to the report the collapse in the global market for thermal power plants caught GE and its investors by surprise. 

Bloomberg launches US$500m climate fund

The former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who is also the UN’s Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action has launched a US$500m climate change campaign. The campaign is unashamedly political, aiming to change policies and presumably politicians across the US. The aims of the initiative include:

  • Securing state and local policy changes.
  • Grow the climate movement.
  • Extend the “Beyond Coal” campaign to a “Beyond Carbon” campaign.
  • Ensuring “climate champions” are elected.