Will Asia adopt a clean energy future?

Asian countries have begun the long road toward clean energy. The challenges, however, are immense.

Outside of China, India, Japan and South Korea, renewable power capacity in Asia is expanding at about 5% per year but will provide only about 3% of the region’s electricity by 2040.

China, which accounts for almost half of global coal use, has been making big strides in reducing its carbon emissions by installing solar, wind and other renewable technologies.

China’s wind turbines alone are expected to produce nearly 2.5 times the entire power-generating capacity of the U.K. by 2020, according to Xin Li, a fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

To support its economic growth, however, China will still need the cheapest large-scale source of energy available regardless of the impacts on climate. Unfortunately, this is usually coal.

The government of India has also started talking about carbon prices, carbon taxes and building up a national clean energy fund, which will not be an easy feat. Coal provides the overwhelming majority of India’s energy.

“We need to leave three quarters of the coal reserves in the ground, which is not going to be easy because there’s so much capital embedded in it,” says Joyashree Roy, professor of economics at Jadaypur University.
Outside of China, India, Japan and South Korea, renewable power capacity in Asia is expanding at about 5% per year. But because it starts from such a low base, clean sources will provide only about 3% of the region’s electricity by 2040.

Over the past year or so, the number of countries signalling their support for a long-term vision on climate change has risen dramatically. This has led to more investment in research and development, more research and more strides toward policy actions that aim to create a carbon neutral world. Some nations, such as China, have set long-term targets, ranging from 100% renewable energy by 2050 to absolute emissions reductions; 65% in China’s case. With these pledges come a slew of new technologies and innovations aimed at achieving the ambitious targets.

While a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions and boosting energy efficiency are possible, it’s going to be a long, hard road to achieve these targets and even longer before we feel the impacts of these new technologies.

One target of the Conference of Parties 21 (COP21) on climate change held in December 2015 is to keep average global temperature increases well below 2°C this century. This will require a carbon budget that limits future carbon dioxide emissions up to the year 2050 to about 900 billion tons, or roughly 20 times the world’s combined annual emissions in 2014. In order to achieve this, renewable and clean energy sources will have to become a vital part of the energy mix.

Even if governments achieve their goals for curbing global warming, sea levels are predicted to rise by at least six metres in the centuries after 2100, swamping low-lying coastal areas such as Bangladesh.

Discussions at a Paris event that preceded COP21 in July 2015, “Our Common Future under Climate Change” (CFCC), dissected various energy innovations, considering their benefits and hindrances. In her keynote speech, Sally Benson, professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University and a director of the Global Climate and Energy Project, outlined the direction of future innovations and technology.

“First, we need to decrease reliance on depletable energy resources. Second, we need to increase utilisation of local resources, improving energy security. We [also] need to radically reduce energy intensity and radically reduce carbon necessity. In order to do this, we need new technologies that can be deployed at a large scale and low cost,” she explains.

For the near future, she says information technology, energy technology, electric cars and grid-scale energy storage will be game changers in a period when customers will not only consume but also participate in energy systems. Looking further ahead, carbon capture and storage, abiotic renewable fuels (inorganically derived oil and gas) and passive radiative cooling (cooling that doesn’t require electricity) will be the future game changers, Dr Benson says.

While energy technology innovation will be essential, new technology is unlikely to deliver on our climate targets on its own and needs to be combined with non-technological innovations, such as social or business model innovations. Frank Geels, professor of system innovation and sustainability at the University of Manchester, emphasized the importance of citizens taking climate change into their own hands. The government of Singapore, for example, has been encouraging citizens to educate themselves and make climate-conscious decisions, such as buying electric cars, rather than relying too much on government regulations or market tools like carbon pricing.

This article was written by Aya Lowe, a journalist for Channel NewsAsia in the Philippines. She attended the 2015 “Our Common Future under Climate Change” conference with sponsorship from the International Development Research Centre.

Published: 13 Jun 2016

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http://www.researchsea.com/asia_research_news_2016.php Original article from Asia Research News 2016