Why Aren’t We More Energy Efficient?

So carbon emission rates have been high, and that makes sense due to the fuels we use to supply energy to the people.  There has been a cry to use sustainable, renewable energy to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide people release into the atmosphere and protect the environment.  So far, people have come up with many options, such as hydroelectricity, solar energy, and wind energy, but why aren’t we more energy efficient?

It’s not that people don’t want to protect their environment.  People have generally accepted that it is important for them to take care of the Earth so that their children will still have a place to live and the Earth won’t be completely miserable.  However, most people haven’t really been doing much to help things themselves.  Instead, they go tell someone else to do it.

One of the many reasons for this is because energy efficiency isn’t pretty.  Kate Plourd, Senior Account Executive of Solomon McCown & Company, states that “energy efficiency has a messaging problem and- plain and simple-the energy efficiency industry has to market an un-sexy product that doesn’t thrill most Americans.”  The term “energy efficiency” is an unattractive word in itself.  Some forms of sustainable energy aren’t pretty either.  Wind turbines aren’t a pretty sight.  “Supporters of energy efficiency will make more of an impact if serious efforts are made to educate and excite individuals on energy efficiency and how making their homes smarter about how they use energy is the right and smart thing to do.”

The next question is of convenience.  How convenient is it for people to switch over to another energy source?  People drive cars.  The “findings of SIM Air’s 20 cities study that shows that in Delhi [India], cars emit as much as 56% of the CO2 from vehicles” (India Shies Away From Setting Fuel Economy Standards).  The Indian market is currently dominated by small cars, but there is a shift heading towards mid-sized and large cars.  Obviously, this means that more gas will be needed to power these cars and there will be a higher rate of carbon dioxide emission.  In a review by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a “10% increase in large vehicle sales results in a 2% deterioration in fleet fuel economy” (India Shies Away From Setting Fuel Economy Standards).  Nevertheless, if you have a large family, will it be convenient for you to get a smaller car?  No.  Is it worth it to get an electric or hybrid car?  In the long run, it would be.  But some families cannot afford the price in the short run.

So enough about people; why aren’t governments trying to make their countries more energy efficient?  Many countries just look out for themselves.  Sometimes, it’s cheaper to work overseas and other countries have lenient environmental laws.  Other times, it could be that a certain not-eco-friendly method has been successful for other countries for decades, so why go for something new?  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  In a case of US vs. India, India is trying to use solar panels, but the “US charges that India’s National Solar Mission is discriminating against foreign solar companies.”  Meanwhile, India says that the US is subsidizing solar panels to India, in turn making Indian solar manufacturing companies uncompetitive.  If turning to solar power will hurt the Indian economy, India will be opposed to sustainable energy.

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Population: on the rise?

A growing population is a constant worry when living in a closed environment with limited resources. But… is the population really going to grow? Below I talk about projections provided by various sources such as UN and census.

50 years
Census.gov used a simple formula[1] to reach an estimated 9.8 billion population by 2050 while the UN reached a range with a low 7.4 billion and a high of 10.6 billion. A research team from the Autonomous University of Madrid, publicized an interesting study in which they predict the world population will stabilize by 2050 by using the fertility rates provided by the UN they were able to create a model that showed that the population will stabilize and decrease over the span of 50 years.

source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat(2000). World Population to 2300. New York: United Nations.

source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat(2000). World Population to 2300. New York: United Nations.

100 years
The UN has provided projections based on fertility variants. The 2010 projection shows an outlook of a little over 10 billion in 2100 with a high 27 billion and a low of 6 billion.

300 years
Further projections are included in the UN’s earlier publication of 2000. With the population being at well below 6 billion due to the difficulty in maintaining the replacement of parents (each couple producing 2 children).

source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat(2000). World Population to 2300. New York: United Nations.

*Of course none of these estimates include scenarios such as natural disasters or epidemics.

Predicting the future population is just that : a prediction. Though these predictions are detailed and backed by billions of dollars there is no way to know the population in 2050, 2100 or 2300 until . Although pyramids are becoming pillar in form in developing countries[2], nothing is set in stone.

 

[1] r(t)=[((p(t+1)-p(t))/p(t)]*100
t = year
r(t) = growth rate from midyear t to midyear t+1
p(t)= population at midyear t

[2] See previous post.

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Keystone XL essential for tar sands development

Earlier this year, the Obama administration, via its Department of State, concluded an environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline–the notorious transnational pipeline linking the world to the spigot of its second largest oil reserve in Alberta, Canada. Despite tar sands oil being the world’s dirtiest form of fossil fuel–inaccessible by drilling and requiring a wholesale evisceration of landscape–and the instrumental role the pipeline plays in the expansion of tar sands, the administration concluded the project would not pose a risk to climate change.

The State Department’s reasoning did not downplay the catastrophic effect tapping into the reserves would pose for climate change (aptly described by climate journalist Joe Romm as a “carbon bomb”). Rather, it concluded the pipeline’s effect as “neutral” since the oil would be mined, refined, and burned regardless of whether or not the pipeline was built. In other words, the extraction of the tar sands would happen in any event, so the construction of Keystone XL on-balance changes nothing in regards to tar sands development, as some other pipeline would be built  anyway to accommodate production.

However, according to the industry’s own expectations of future tar sands extraction, the Keystone XL is instrumental in its further development and even profitability. Currently, Canada’s tar sands industry produces about 1.8 million barrels per day and has publicized plans to nearly triple production from to 5.2 million barrels a day by 2030. Additionally, according to a report by CIBC World Markets Inc., constraints in pipeline capacity–the ability to transport tar sands oil to refineries and world markets–will reach a critical level as early as 2016. Without an increase in capacity to reach international markets, the high capital costs of extraction will render tar sands oil too costly to produce and lead companies to abandon projects and reduce guidance. Keeping demand high by providing international markets access to tar sands oil is crucial in keeping extraction cost-effective, and without such access, would render planned projects inviolable.  Even if all other pipeline projects currently proposed by Canada to transport oil to its West Coast for export were actualized, the Keystone XL pipeline would represent 36% of the pipeline capacity needed to achieve a 5 million barrel per day production target, according to Pembina Institute’s Jan ’13 analysis.

The Keystone XL would thus allow the tar sands oil extracters access to new markets and to receive a higher price for their product (as currently 99% of tar sands exports are exported to the US and compete with far cheaper WTI crude and locally produced natural gas). The proposed pipeline would directly link Canada’s dirty oil with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast which provides easy access to the international markets of Europe and Asia (where oil is sold at a higher premium). Worse of all, tar sands oil is projected to be the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada and has been described by leading climate scientist James Hansen as rendering “implausable” any chance to stabilize climate change and avoid “disastrous global climate impacts.”

Unfortunately, the State Department decided not to take all this into account when conducting its environmental impact review of the pipeline. Perhaps that is because the very firm this project was outsourced to–Environmental Resources Management–which, according to Grist, “was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement”. Instead of relying on objective analysis from established climate scientists, the administration handed off the review to a lobbyist and consultant of the company proposing to build the pipeline in the first place. The result is a whitewashed report on perhaps the most important climate change decision of our time, one that Hansen  has called a possible “game over” for the climate.

 

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Benefits of Fuel Cells:

  1. Fuel cells are efficient: They convert hydrogen and oxygen gases into electricity and water. There is no combustion required in the process; which means that it is 50-60% efficient. That’s double the efficiency of an internal combustion engine!
  2. Fuel cells are clean: If hydrogen is the fuel and it is obtained through renewable sources then there are no carbon dioxide emissions.
  3. Fuel cells are quiet: They have no moving parts, which mean that electrical power is produced quietly.
  4. Fuel cells are modular: Fuel cells can be stacked together to meet a required power demand.
  5. Fuel cells are environmentally safe: They produce no hazardous waste products.
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Obstacles that Fuel Cells Need to Overcome:

  1. Fuel cells must be accepted over a mass market: This acceptance depends on price, reliability, longevity of fuel cells and the accessibility and cost of fuel.  Fuel cells must be mass produced using less expensive material.
  2. An infrastructure for the mass market and availability of hydrogen fuel must be developed: There are no fuel infrastructures available for the use of fuel cells.
  3. Investor: There has to be investments in the technology of fuel cells in order to improve it.
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Fuel cells Need Hydrogen; Where Will it Come From?

            In order for the fuel cell to be environmentally friendly the choice as to the method that will be used to produce the hydrogen is very critical. If the hydrogen is produced from the electrolysis of water and that is powered from the electrical grid which is powered from a coal plant then there will be no reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions. In fact this will only increase the amount of pollutants in the environment. If the hydrogen is produced by renewable energy source then there will be no emissions of carbon dioxide.

One way that fuel cells are being powered is natural gas since there is an abundance of that in the market and it is relatively cheap. These fuels are methanol and propane and using these will produce carbon dioxide and global warming.

Hydrogen can be produced in sustainable amounts with no emission of carbon dioxide. This will be done using renewable systems such as the use of solar panels, wind turbine, or a micro-hydro generator to convert the radiant energy of sunlight into electrical power, which drives an electrolyzer.  The electrolyzer breaks the water molecules into its components. The hydrogen is stored and the oxygen is released into the atmosphere. This is a closed system. The water that is consumer by the electrolyzer is converted to gases. The gases are converted back to water. The electrical energy produced by the solar panel is transferred to chemical energy in the form of gases. The gases are then transformed back into electricity.       

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The Growing Threat of Outdoor Air Pollution

According to a recent report, outdoor air pollution was the cause of death for 1.2 million people in China in the year 2010. To put that in perspective, it was forty percent of the global total of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution in that year. The report is based on the research of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study published last December in a British medical journal known as The Lancet.

 

The current epidemic that I have just described is referred to as Ambient Particulate Matter Pollution and in 2010 it was the fourth highest risk factor for premature deaths in China. It is not surprising that members of the Chinese government are not thrilled about disclosing this information. Such a high number of premature deaths is politically damaging. The growth rate of pollution information disclosure in 113 Chinese cities has slowed down significantly. The groups responsible for this study are the Institute of Public Environmental Affairs in Beijing and the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. Given the severity of pollution and its effects on human and environmental health, non-disclosure is unacceptable.

 

This is not only about China. Air pollution is ranked seventh on the worldwide list of risk factors. In 2010 it was responsible for 3.2 million premature deaths. Pollution is at its most dangerous in cities that are more densely populated. Like China, India is another country with high population density. India had an estimated 620,000 premature deaths resulting from air pollution. According the Health and Environmental Chapter of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), air pollution is steadily becoming the greatest environment health hazard across the globe. Without a change in policy, air pollution will be the world’s leading environment cause of premature death by the year 2050. At that point the number of deaths from air pollution per year could reach as high as 3.6 million.

 

The OECD was originally formed in 1960 and as of now there are a total of 34 countries that have signed on as members. There are still some significant heavyweights such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, which have not joined. Countries that have joined will likely experience the highest premature death rates from ground level ozone. This is due to ageing populations and larger urban areas. The countries that have not joined are likely to experience more severe exposure to hazardous chemicals. However, non-OECD countries are still expected to increase production of such chemicals.

OECD is still working to fully understand the affects of human exposure to chemicals. As of now, knowledge is still limited.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/world/asia/air-pollution-linked-to-1-2-million-deaths-in-china.html?_r=0

http://www.oecd.org/environment/indicators-modelling-outlooks/healthenvchapter-environmentaloutlookto2050.htm

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