The Deep Decarbonization Pathway Project (DDPP) is a global collaboration of energy research teams from around the world, charting practical pathways to deeply reduce greenhouse emissions.

What is the Deep Decarbonization Pathway Project?

Len Calderone

 

The Deep Decarbonization Pathway Project (DDPP) is a global collaboration of energy research teams from around the world, charting practical pathways to deeply reduce greenhouse emissions.  

The objective of the project is to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, but will the path actually end greenhouse gas emissions later this century? More than 150 countries have submitted plans to reduce carbon emissions but will these reductions truly be sufficient. According to scientific agreement, climate stabilization will necessitate full decarbonization of our energy systems and zero net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by around 2070.

The plan is to keep global warming below the agreed limit of 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit). Part of the debate is whether the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will add up to a 25% reduction by 2030; or will we need a 30%, or 40% reduction by then to reach the goal? The United States’ INDC commits the US to reduce CO2 emissions by 26-28%. The decisive issue is not 2030, but what happens afterward.

Therefore, the aim is for the world’s 16 largest polluters to shift to low-carbon economies. In the near term, decarbonization of the power sector will be accomplished by harnessing wind, solar, nuclear and carbon capture, along with reducing the demand for energy.

There are some near term solutions that would help reach the target. There needs to be a global consensus of halting deforestation and restoring farmlands and forests. Obviously, there is a requirement for investment in clean energy, while energy efficiency standards should be raised in all developed and emerging economies, and fossil fuel subsides should be phased out.   

Low-carbon innovation must be stimulated. Public funding for research and development for such technology is currently too low, and should be at least tripled by the major economies. In addition to public funding, businesses must step up and adopt short and long-term emissions reductions targets with corresponding action plans.

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The electrical grid is the lifeline of our modern economy.  It is time for a transformation, which poses massive challenges and opportunities. This change is being driven by policies on greenhouse gas emissions, natural gas development, the integration of large, utility-scale renewables; and prevalent use of distributed energy devices. 

One change is the use of natural gas, which is inexpensive and abundant in the U.S., and the turbines that convert its thermal energy into power are more than 60 percent efficient, making electricity from natural gas very inexpensive. The use of natural gas is displacing coal-fired power plants, thereby reducing particulate air pollution as well as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. 

Some of the change will be achieved via large-scale wind and solar farms that deliver electricity directly to the transmission network. Wind is the most low-cost way to harvest electricity today. Many people object to wind power because of the death of birds that fly into the propellers—as many as 300,000 a year. Yet, it is expected that 50% of our electricity will come from alternative sources by 2030.

Personal electric vehicles, as well as buildings and some industrial processes, will be powered by the low-carbon electricity supply.  Improved building designs that significantly reduce the need for external energy to deliver heating, cooling and ventilation will generate additional savings.

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The viability of deep decarbonization requires moving past the question of "if" and towards the questions of "how".  The “how” requires employing the three pillars of deep decarbonization—energy efficiency, decarbonization of electricity, and end-use fuel switching.  

Scientists have outlined how much more carbon we can emit to likely keep warming below 2°C, calling it a carbon budget, similar to a household budget; except if we go over it, it could boost the likelihood of a major rise in the sea level, an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme heat, and a decline in Artic ice.

Annual CO2 emissions would have to be decreased to 11 gigatons from our current level of about 36 gigatons by 2050. Each person in a world of 7 billion people is responsible for 5.2 tons of CO2 emissions per year. By 2050, the world will add 2.5 billion people, and the annual per capita CO2 emissions will likely have to be reduced to 1.6 tons to keep warming within the 2°C range. We are running out of time to accomplish this.

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Current solar and wind technologies will play a role in meeting the low carbon pathways. In the future. renewable energy systems will need to proficiently store wind and solar power that is generated during off-peak hours and then make it available to the electric grid when it’s needed most. Although these technologies are available today, they are costly and only available in a few locations in the world.

There are four distinct scenarios to reduce the overall net greenhouse gas emissions, namely renewable energy, nuclear facilities, CCS (carbon capture and storage) and a mixed case. In the mixed case, demand for gas remains relatively high because the gas supply is decarbonized using biomass and, to a lesser extent, P2G hydrogen and SNG. This mixed case is primarily used in the heavy duty transportation and industrial sectors.

In all decarbonization cases, the transportation and industrial sectors have the largest remaining CO2 emissions by 2025, because these emissions are mainly from direct combustion of fossil fuels rather than emissions associated with electricity use.

The approximate cost of these scenarios is just over $300 billion or 0.8% of U.S. GDP; but the result should produce associated benefits, such as reduced health costs as pollution would be reduced. We could also see a savings in catastrophic weather events, which, though almost impossible to quantify, are expected to be substantial.

Each country finds different power mixes, from which it can benefit.  Australia, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea, for example, rely heavily on solar energy as part of their power mix. Wind power plays a very important role in Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan and in the United States. Hydropower has a key role in Brazil and Canada, because of untapped resources of hydropower. Nuclear power on the other hand represents a significant amount of power production in China, France, India, Russia, the U.K.,and the U.S. It plays a small role in some other countries such as Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa.

Carbon Emissions have been rising since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Now, we will have to reduce them sharply to keep the world from warming above safe levels.

The obstacle is not the lack of imagination, but the political will. For these ideas to succeed, they need to gain traction at a political level.

 

For additional information:

  1. http://deepdecarbonization.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/DDPP_EXESUM.pdf
  2. http://www.enea.it/it/pubblicazioni/pdf-eai/n-1-gennaio-marzo-2016/17-deep-decarbonization-pathways.pdf
  3. http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/US-Deep-Decarbonization-Report.pdf

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