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Sustainable Development- Nov 04, 2015

Emission-free energy systems, the economic approach that polar bears didn’t think of

Since the Industrial Revolution, a country’s economic competitiveness and its citizens’ quality of life have been largely influenced by energy. In this context, the economies that best approach energy resources of both low cost and low ecological damage obtain corporate advantages in global market. We all know the importance of renewable energy sources, but the question is: would they be economically viable? Could a country realistically work with a fully emission-free energy system in a nearby future?

Renewable Energy Production. Image by Ed Suominen

Yes!

In June 2015 the Lappeeranta University of Technology (LUP) published an article proposing to transform Finland’s energy system to 100% emission-free by 2050. The research was carried out in the NEO-CARBON energy project, a cooperation between different Finnish research centers and universities.

In order to approach such an emission-free, cost-effective and independent system in Finland, the primary energy sources in the roadmap are solar and wind energies, as they are infinite and affordable. At the same time, they include the process of Neocarbonization. Neocarbonization is a method that, using the energy from the previously mentioned sources, can synthesise highly-energetic hydrocarbons from atmospheric CO2, which could be used as fuels like the fossil fuels we currently use. This way, we would not have to get rid of all the fossil-fuel based technology, but the fuels used would have no extra emission to the air.

As a highlight, this modelling considers smart interactions between the electricity, heating/cooling and transportation. The research group is now working on energy storage solutions and evaluating how sufficient system flexibility is.

Also this year, the “The Royal Society of Chemistry” journal published a paper regarding the same topic: 100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States. The paper presents a set of roadmaps for converting the energy infrastructures of each state of the country, aiming to eliminate greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, while the number of jobs grows and the energy costs stabilize. The solution was designed by projecting the power demand to 2050 in each sector, and then electrifying it, since most of the reduction (approximately 39%) of the power demand would be due to the efficiency of electricity over combustion.


100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United StatesMark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi, Guillaume Bazouin, Zack A.F. Bauer, Christa C. Heavey, Emma Fisher, Sean B. Morris, Diniana J.Y. Piekutowski, Taylor A. Vencill, Tim W. Yeskoo, Supplemental Information, 5-6

Why?

The impacts of a renewable energy system to boost economy are significant. Industry will need new technological products; business will create new pilots and opportunities; politics will change its public relations and legislative framework; people will be able to have power in starting their own production units. Finally, the future energy system will form an “internet of energy”, in which distributed production, consumption and storage become part of an energy cloud.

  • Jobs analysis

According to the Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) analysis on the US, models predict the creation of around 3.9 million 40-year construction jobs and 2 million 40-year operation and maintenance jobs in the WWS plan. On the other hand, the conversion would lose about 3.9 million jobs in the current energy generation, mainly from petroleum refining, uranium production industries and fossil-based electricity generation. As impressive as it is, the shift to a renewable energy system would create two million 40-year jobs in the US.

  • The cost of climate change

Another factor considered in the US research was the cost of climate change attributable to emissions of greenhouse gases from the use of fossil fuels. The so-called Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) estimates the damage cost of CO2 and GHG emission. In a recent re-analysis of the SCC, research found that incorporating the effect of climate change on the rate of economic growth can dramatically increase the SCC to hundreds of dollars per ton and higher.
WWS would save $3.3 trillion per year in global warming costs due U.S. emissions. It would also reduce air pollution in U.S. by 62 thousand premature mortalities per year. Therefore, the measure would cover even health and climate costs.

For a more sustainable future

Despite social and political barriers, economic growth and sustainability can indeed go together. It is likely that the amount of renewable resources used will continue to increase natural in our energy production. However, while that is not happening, engaging diverse sectors of society in favor of energy renovation is the most viable advance.

Learn more
The LUMA Centre Finland is launching a course on sustainable energy. The course will be held online and it will be launched on 21.11.2015. The course is called Millennium Youth Course: Sustainable Energy and you can sign-up here:“http://mooc.helsinki.fi/”


~Image by Jürgen~

For more information
Article about Finland: http://www.lut.fi/web/en/news/-/asset_publisher/lGh4SAywhcPu/content/fully-renewable-energy-system-is-economically-viable-in-finland-in-2050
Article about US (PDF): http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf
NEO CARBON ENERGY: http://www.neocarbonenergy.fi/

Vitória Barim Pacela is a Millennium Youth Camp alumna studying at the University of Helsinki and an undergraduate researcher at the Accelerator Laboratory. She is passionate about science, technology and sustainable development.