Will wind save the day?

wind farm

Figure 1: visual of what onshore wind farms look like, Source:Telegraph

The current Climate Change Act means the UK has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by at least 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels and this means we need to think hard about how to decarbonise electricity generation. A way to do this is to increase our capacity to generate electricity through renewables which currently accounts for a ¼ of the UK’s generation. Wind power is abundant, clean and home-grown and there is significant maturity in wind technology methods in comparison to others, making it a great alternative to fossil fuels.

Since the first commercial wind farm was built in North Cornwall in 1991 (Delabole Wind Farm) wind power has significantly expanded with over 1,000 onshore wind projects across the UK, generating just under 2% of total electricity. Delabole celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017 and since being built has undergone redevelopment costing £11.8 million to add a further 4 turbines so it can power nearly 7,000 homes.

location of Delabole

Figure 2: A map of Cornwall showing the location of the Delabole wind farm, Source: WindData

The problem with wind energy is that wind is intermittent meaning you cannot guarantee supply will always meet demand. They also have environmental issues in relation to the visual impacts, as many people oppose the building of wind farms because it ruins the natural environment. However, improvements in battery storage surplus energy can now be stored in order to tackle the problem of it being intermittent.

Wind power is really important to invest in because it will not only reduce GHG emissions but will help the government in their efforts to phase out coal by 2025 and in 2016 wind even generated more energy than coal power plants. Due to advances in wind technology improving efficiency, the cost of wind power has fallen becoming the cheapest source of energy in the UK, 2015.

energy usage

Figure 3: A graph showing the percentage of energy generation in the UK, Source: Guardian

Due to the governments commitments to decarbonisation of the energy sector the decision we face is not between wind and fossil fuels but wind and other low-carbon solutions such as tidal or solar and therefore a combination of different energy technologies would provide the best solution to relying on just one.

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The energy trilemma…. Norways energy mix

The development of the Kyoto Protocol lead to many countries assessing their energy mixes and how they are contributing to carbon emissions. The Kyoto Protocol became a legally binding treaty in 2005 and got countries to commit to reducing their combined emissions to 5% below the 1990 levels by 2012. Norway is considered one of the best countries in terms of compliance to the Protocol and now wants to reduce its 1990 levels of green house gases by 30% by 2020 and to become carbon neutral by 2050.

When considering energy supplies governments face the energy trilemma which is getting an adequate balance between energy affordability, sustainability and security. Countries are considered good performers if they have a balance between the three and one way of assessing this is to use The Global energy Architecture Performance Index (EAPI) which uses data from all three categories to rank the countries. There are other methods of measuring success and they can show different results.

energy rankings

Table 1: The top 10 EAPI 2014 Rankings, Source: World Economic Forum

Norway’s success is primarily due to the fact it has invested heavily into renewable and sustainable energy such as hydropower, generating 97% of its electricity. As well as this it is at the forefront of research and development into carbon capture storage (CCS). Norway inflicts one of the highest carbon taxes across the world and this gets reinvested into research and development such as the $1 billion investment from Statoil, Shell and Sasol to build the Mongstad Technology Centre; the largest centre in the world dedicated to CCS research and development.

hydropower

Figure 1: Image showing a hydropower station in Norway, Source: Climate Action

One of the primary reasons for Norway being ranked so highly on Table 1 is that it is considered to have exceptional energy security due to the fact that it doesn’t rely solely on one country to supply its energy. It has large offshore assets such as the North Sea and the melting Arctic sea ice is allowing it to explore more oil and gas reserves; making it the 3rd largest exporter of energy in the world. The countries security is only likely to grow with the speed at which the solar sector is expanding giving it yet another line of energy generation. Although the solar sector currently makes up less than 1% of power generation, installation has grown by 366% in 2016 and there is considerable research going ahead on how offshore solar farms could work (more info here).

Norway’s success in reducing its carbon emissions acts as a prime example of how other countries can also make steps to reduce emissions in order to achieve legislations like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. It also shows how you can focus on all aspects of the energy trilemma and not neglect one in order to achieve another.

 

 

Are cows the problem?

The debate in whether going vegetarian can reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions to prevent further climate change is ever prevalent in today’s society. However, are there other methods and interventions that can be put into place to reduce the impacts of livestock on atmospheric conditions?

cow

Figure 1: Are cows the culprit? Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

The primary problem we face is the volume of methane produced by livestock, amounting to 14.5% of anthropogenic GHG emissions world-wide. This poses a detrimental risk to the Earth’s climate because although it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere, methane is 30x more harmful than CO2 and in the last decade levels have risen 10x more quickly, making the problem worse. Cows belong to a group of animals known as ruminants (which includes sheep and goats) where they have 4 stomachs for digestion instead of their intestines, like humans. To aid digestion they have higher levels of bacteria which produce methane as a by-product and this is then released during digestive flatulence.

Meat (World Production)

Figure 2: Graph showing the increase in world meat production from 1961-2011, Source: Worldwatch Institute

Increased prosperity is leading to a global shift in diets with consumption of meat and dairy increasing and therefore the demand for livestock products on the rise. In 2050 it is predicted that 465 million tonnes of meat will be produced, nearly double the levels of production in 1999 at 229 million tonnes. This is where the debate of moving to a vegetarian based diet comes in, as supported by Albert Einstein, ‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet’. However, recent research has found that there are alternative methods to reduce methane production whilst maintaining livestock practices.

Robert Kinley and Rocky De Nys conducted an experiment where they mixed grass with 20 different species of seaweed in an artificial cows stomach to observe if this altered  methane levels. Results found that some species of sea weed reduced the volume of methane produced, specifically Asparagopis taxiformis which reduced emissions by 99%. This occurs because chemicals in the sea weed interfere with the digestive enzymes responsible for the generation of methane during digestion. The drawback of using sea weed is the amount of seaweed we would need in order to feed the 1.5 million cows world-wide, making it a less viable option.

Methane emissions

Figure 3: Bar chart to show sources of methane within the US, Source: Green Blizzard

The University of Reading has also found altering the cows diet can reduce the amount of methane produced, by mixing different grass species with fodder reduces the amount of saturated fatty acids in their food chain, consequently reducing methane levels. A similar study was conducted in Kitale, Kenya on subsistence farms. Results found that spending more on growing higher quality grass and fodder to feed the cows drastically increased the volume of milk produced per cow and therefore fewer cows were needed to produce the same volume. This means fewer cows are needed so less methane is generated.

Going vegetarian will reduce an individual’s carbon footprint because meat and cheese produce the most GHG from production to consumption in comparison to fruit, veg and nuts. However, it is not realistic to expect everyone to make this change and so other methods to combat the methane problem as outlined above are important to consider.

 

Why am I writing a blog?

The initial reason for starting this blog is because it was set as part of my 2nd year geography module called The politics of climate change and energy at the University of Exeter. It will contribute towards 50% of my module mark and I will use it to help me explore topics within this module. I also hope to continue this on into the future to broaden the areas of geography I study so I look at things that are outside the modules I take.

I hope it will allow me to become more creative within my analysis of topics and to explore different points of views on potentially controversial subjects.