Mitigating Climate Change: Some Key Questions and Answers | Comment

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By Hugh Holland

The good news is that finally, after three decades of warnings from the world’s top climate experts, most citizens and leaders understand that climate change is today’s biggest global threat. The global average temperature is rising 10,000 times faster than what can be attributed to the Earth’s natural cycles. Relentlessly, climate change would impact all aspects of life on the planet. But many are still trying to figure out how to best alleviate the problem. Hope this article sheds some light on some issues.

What is the root cause of climate change today?

Before the industrial revolution of the 1800s, a billion people mainly used renewable energy with few harmful emissions. The industrial revolution brought major improvements in the quality of life and life expectancy. As shown below, this has resulted in exponential growth in population, energy use and emissions. Simply put, there are too many people using too much of the wrong stuff. The resulting emissions accumulate in the Earth’s atmosphere and trap heat like a greenhouse.

How big is the problem?

The graph below shows the enormous size of the problem. By 1960, the world’s population had tripled from 1,800, and energy consumption had risen to 3,187 mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) of which 80% came from fossil fuels. Sixty years later, we consume 14,301 Mtoe, 80% still comes from fossil fuels and emissions have reached 33,143 billion tonnes per year.

Will replacing fossil fuels alone solve the problem?

An energy revolution is essential. Fossil fuels have been the mainstay of the world’s energy supply for 100 years. But these are finite resources.

We now understand that we need to aggressively transition to clean energy to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. And we need to switch to new energy before we run out of old finite energy. Cutting off fossil fuels before they can be replaced would create an energy shortage with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable people in each country.

As the graph shows, we need to both deploy technologies. Battery-electric vehicles reduce the energy consumption of cars and light trucks by 70%. Heat pumps and cogeneration of electricity and heat will reduce energy consumption for heating by 30%. We are unlikely to be able to completely replace oil and gas by 2050, so as the graph shows, we need to offset emissions from the remaining 10% of oil and gas consumption by capturing their emissions and removing them. transforming carbon neutral liquid materials and fuels for airplanes into useful products such as carbon fiber. Canada will be one of only five countries able to supply the remaining 10% of oil and gas.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of betting on renewable energies?

The hydroelectric and geothermal potential is limited by geography. Every year there are advancements in wind and solar power, but fundamental limitations remain. Solar energy production is equivalent to 10 hours a day in June in Madrid, but only one hour a day in December in Toronto or Berlin. In Canada, wind power production is three times higher in January than in June. Wind and solar have gotten cheap when they can be used when producing at full capacity (for example to meet midday peak demand or to make clean hydrogen), but they are getting expensive. when their production must be stored. or saved up to 85% of the time. Some experts predict that the massive recycling costs of solar panels and wind turbine blades will double or triple the discounted cost of living of wind and solar power.

The use of the decrease in agricultural land near densely populated areas is a major limitation. While some people oppose Ontario’s proposed 2,000-acre short bypass of Highway 413, they haven’t done the math to understand the amounts of land required for various clean energy sources.

  • Westinghouse’s small modular reactor (nuclear) 225 MWh occupies 15 acres (six percent of a farm)
  • 225 MWh from solar energy represents 17,325 acres or 70 farms, or 1,155 times more than the SMR
  • 225 MWh from solar windows and roofs take 2475 acres or 165 times more than SMR (depending on building spacing and orientation, latitude, seasons,
  • backup, storage and cost)
  • 225 MWh from the wind impacts 27,778 acres or 112 farms (but crops can be grown around the turbines)
  • 225 MWh of a wind-solar hybrid farm impact 11,363 acres of “non-agricultural” land

Small 225 MWh modular reactor by Westinghouse on 15 acres of land supplying a city of 225,000 homes.

133 MWh wind-solar hybrid power plant on 6,716 non-farm acres supplying 133,000 homes in South Korea. When more wind and solar power is used, more expensive gas backup and storage is required.

Wind and solar power might one day be sufficient in a few areas with strong sunshine and wind, but it is highly unlikely that wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal power alone could replace fossil fuels over the years. Next 30 years.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy?

  • Existing large-scale nuclear reactors. These reactors have by far the best land use efficiency in terms of kWh per square kilometer. They offer the lowest life cycle cost for a continuous and reliable supply of energy. They have several layers of security features. A study by the WHO and the US CDC shows that existing large-scale reactors provide by far the safest form of energy in terms of deaths per trillion kWh.
  • The risk of radioactive leaks or reactor meltdown. Currently, 455 reactors are operating safely in 25 countries. In 60 years of nuclear power, there have been two collapses resulting from misconceptions that are now well understood and preventable. Regular monitoring of people working and living within 25 kilometers of Ontario nuclear power plants shows no impact on human health.
  • The additional potential of emerging small-scale nuclear reactors. There are some 40 projects underway to develop small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in 11 countries with decades of positive nuclear experience. These projects are based on proven technology and are designed to be inherently safe, not to require military grade materials and to use existing stocks of partially spent fuel from previous reactors. Their small size will allow them to be factory produced for quality, safety, lower cost and rapid and extensive deployment. They are expected to pass the extremely rigorous regulatory process and be ready to go into service in the mid to late 2020s.
  • The risk of an increasing amount of nuclear waste. If an Ontario resident used only nuclear energy all their life, their personal volume of nuclear waste would be the size of an ice cube. Ontario has been storing nuclear waste without incident for 50 years. Since most advanced reactors currently under development will extract 80% of the energy from their fuel compared to 5% of previous reactors, new reactors will reuse existing waste as fuel and will significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the quantity and toxicity of nuclear waste requiring safe storage.
  • The risk of nuclear fuel being diverted to make more nuclear weapons. Enriching uranium to the level required for nuclear weapons is not easy to achieve. It requires expensive sophisticated equipment and rare expertise. For 67 years since 1954, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have limited the world’s nuclear weapons to just nine of 200 countries. , while recognizing the right of countries to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In an ideal world, the security conditions would make it possible to dismantle existing weapons to fuel nuclear power plants.

Each source of clean energy has its advantages, disadvantages and risks, but we will need all we can get out of it. We will learn a lot by 2030.

We need to install every ‘practical’ megawatt of hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar power by 2050. But after 20 years of Germany’s valiant efforts to replace nuclear power with wind and solar, fuels fossils still represent 77% of their energy supply. . The International Energy Agency warns Spain to avoid following this path, even though solar is 50% more productive in Spain than in Germany or Canada. Real-world evidence tells us that it is highly unlikely that wind, solar and hydropower alone could allow us to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Evidence also tells us that after 2030, advanced small modular nuclear reactors will be the safety net to fill the inevitable gaps, provided the risks of using more nuclear power remain lower than the risks of missing targets. emissions and climate.

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