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Tag: solar

MIT: Carbon removal hype is becoming a dangerous distraction

conceptual image showing a smoke stack blowing smoke into a large butterfly netSELMAN DESIGN
July 8, 2021

In February, oil giant Shell trumpeted a scenario in which the world pulls global warming back to 1.5 ˚C by 2100, even as natural gas, oil, and coal continue to generate huge shares of the world’s energy.

Among other things, Shell’s pathway involves rapidly installing carbon capture systems on power plants, scaling up nascent machines that can suck carbon dioxide directly out of the air, and planting enough trees to cover land nearly the size of Brazil in the hopes of absorbing billions of tons of the greenhouse gas.

This plan might be transparently self-serving, but Shell’s outsize ambitions for carbon removal are far from anomalous. A growing number of companies are setting up programs to create or trade carbon offsets, using tree planting, soil management, and other means to purportedly balance out emissions elsewhere. Meanwhile, numerous corporations and nations are announcing “net zero” emissions plans that rely upon these programs, and rapidly proliferating carbon-removal startups are highlighting what some consider overly rosy projections in their investor pitch decks.

The noise, news and hype are feeding a perception that carbon removal will be cheap, simple, scalable, and reliable—none of which we can count on.

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Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables

The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there’s no going back.

The shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels, according to an analysis presented Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit in New York. The shift will continue to accelerate, and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added.

“The electricity system is shifting to clean,” Michael Liebreich, founder of BNEF, said in his keynote address. “Despite the change in oil and gas prices there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy that is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas.”

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“Emerging markets can deploy solar, wind  and other renewable technologies without costly grid infrastructure, making it possible for developing countries to leapfrog the 20th-century model of energy service provision and employ the 21st-century solution of distributed service delivery, as they have done successfully in the telecommunications sector,” notes the report.

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…For Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, which set itself a 2040 deadline for relying solely on renewables, the switch is about rebuilding hope in the future. When I visited Koriyama, Fukushima’s commercial center, last year, the mayor, Masato Shinagawa, described renewable power as a “must-succeed mission” to rebuild a region shattered by the nuclear reactor meltdowns at TEPCO’s Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011. He called the resurgence of solar power in Japannothing less than the “Prometheus of the 21st Century.”

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