On December 11th, I got to hear an awesome talk by Inna Braverman, the CEO of EcoWave Power. She spoke about the new advances to wave power technology that her company is spearheading. Wave energy uses technology such as underwater wave energy converters to capture the kinetic energy of waves in order to spin turbines and therefore generate electricity.
Inna made it clear why wave power is a clear solution to our energy problem. Firstly, it would provide electricity with low transportation costs. More than 50% of the world’s population lives near coasts, so using wave energy decreases the amount of distance that energy must travel. This also would decrease the amount of infrastructure needed to get the produced energy on the energy grids. Another reason why wave power is such a good resource, is that it produces a much steadier and reliable energy supply than other forms of renewable energy which tend to be more intermittent, such as solar or wind. Lastly, the world’s oceans are a gigantic energy source with a possible capacity to generate twice the total amount of energy we produce now from both fossil fuels and renewables.
However, wave power is not widely used today because the current common methods to produce wave energy create barriers to implementation. The technology that is most commonly for wave energy generation has a high upfront cost and requires a lot of underwater infrastructure. This infrastructure is quite hard to insure for investors, because most wave projects are placed off-shore where waves are bigger and cost more damage. Moreover, there are a lot of concerns over the ecological effects that wide-spread underwater infrastructure for energy generation can have an ocean ecosystems.
This is where Inna comes in. Her company EcoWave Power is proposing a new way to produce wave energy that overcomes these issues. EcoWave Power places floaters on existing man-made structures such as seawalls, jetties, piers, etc. on shore. The small amount of equipment actually in the water is low, reducing ecological concerns and making the projects fully insurable. The floaters also rise off the water and place themselves in rising position in the case of high waves to protect the infrastructures. The floaters These projects are currently being implemented in Gibraltar and Israel and are fully insured by both of these countries’ local governments. In terms of cost, the cost of wave energy generation is reduced since the floaters are attached to already existing infrastructure, and since they are above water, they do not require the high costs of location scouting, diving installation, dredging, and more. Countries or municipalities that chose to work with EcoWave Power can also be ensured that the technology will work for them, because EcoWave tests floaters in wave tanks that simulate a region’s wave and oceanic patterns in order to create custom shaped floaters for each location. This way, the highly adaptable technology can guarantee the functionality of the investment.
This talk made me very excited about the new developments. Wave power is a great energy source, and if countries seek to meet their NDCs and Paris Agreement goals, we need to not only decarbonize the energy grid, but also diversify our energy grids. I feel that this new technological advancement can be a great way to do this. However, when she spoke about the capacity of EcoWave projects, it seems that the projects are pretty small scale. Each site has about only 5MW of capacity, so I am interested in seeing if this technology is able to be implemented on a larger scale.
Coal Out, Renewables In- How European countries are phasing out coal and de-carbonzing their energy grid.
On December 12th, I attended a side event at the Nordic Pavilion which spoke about the need to phase out coal and transition to renewable energy. Different panelists from the UK spoke about what each of their countries are doing to phase out coal, and issues that they face within their individual countries to do so.
Firstly, the minister of the environment of Denmark spoke about what headways Denmark is making to help de-carbonize their energy grid. Recently, Denmark has made strong headways in de-carbonizing. They set a very ambitious goals of reducing their carbon emissions by 70% of 1990 levels by 2030. This is in line with their Paris goals, and also aligns with the theme of this year’s COP- raising ambition. Currently, although Denmark does not have all the tools they need to decrease by this much, they believe that by setting a very high target, they can decrease as close as possible as well as incentivize technology to be developed in order to meet this goal. Under their goal of 70% emissions reductions by 2030, Denmark has set a goal of producing 100% of their electricity by 2038. Their electricity grid is currently 40% powered by renewables, so they have quite a way to go. Most of Denmark’s renewable energy is currently from wind, and they have a large-scale off-shore wind farm with 49 turbines which powers 420,000 homes. They were able to do this without subsides due to the newfound low-cost of the technology. It is now cheaper for Denmark to produce energy through wind-power than it is to use coal.
In the UK, they have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance and implemented an economic and policy framework that has allowed them to transition. Currently, the UK gets 32% of their energy from renewables, and only 0-2% of their energy comes from coal. The UK’s North Sea basin provides most of their renewable energy through the use of offshore wind islands. The policy framework that allowed them to do so was focusing on investment outside of coal and encouraging investment in renewables. This was done through the implementation of a carbon tax and subsides for renewable energy. Creating a market which favored renewable energy was key in the UK’s transition. Another key point that I found very insightful, was how the UK minister emphasized the importance of a gradual transition. While she acknowledged that it is not optimal, the UK minister spoke about how natural gas is playing a key role as a transitional fuel. Although not renewable, it is lower emission and lower cost, and has been very important in facilitating the coal-phase out.
On the policy side of the framework, the UK minister said that the main role of the government is to create stable investment horizons with low risks in order to stimulate the private sector. So far, they have done this by creating government-run competitive energy auctions which have significantly decreased energy prices. The UK minister spoke to the necessity of public-private commitment and partnership. This point was emphasized also by Tomas Christensen, Denmark’s climate ambassador. He said that the private sector is the one who sets the demand for energy, water and other resources, so the targeting of the private sector by the government is important.
This discussion was very important to me because it really showed me that all of the theoretical components we speak about to implement renewable energy is actually possible. I really appreciated the discussion about mobilizing the private sector and creating market-based mechanisms to phase out coal, because I truly believe they are the future. Policy is not complete without implementation and in order to do that, businesses and industry must be on board. At the end of the day, money talks, and I am glad that European nations are making such headway in this issue.
On the second to last day at COP25, I randomly wandered into one of the most interesting events that I attended throughout the week. It was a talk by the World Surf League (WSL) titled ‘Courage and Commitment for the Climate- Surfing, Sustainability and UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action.’
The talk was led by a representative from the WSL who spoke about what the WSL is doing within the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action initiative. The UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Initiative is a UN Framework that sets goals in order to use sports as a way to unify and create solidarity about climate change among the global sports community. Under this initiative there is a variety of signatories, including kids’ leagues, national leagues like the NBA and international leagues like the WSL. I thought that this initiative was amazing and spoke to how we can engage all sectors to help engage citizens for climate action. I also was really interested on the reach that using sports can have on young children. Many young kids watch sports, so seeing their favorite athletes and players talk about climate change can be really impactful.
The WSL is making large amounts of headway under this initiative, largely due to the nature of the sport. Surfing is dependent on oceans, and many of the small-island nations where their competitions and events are held are facing serious issues in the face of climate change. The surfing community is starting to see the effects of climate change first hand and are actively trying to help.
Firstly, the WSL is investing heavily in carbon-offset programs. Due to the nature of the sport, surfers are often flying in order to chase the best and biggest waves, and since the surfing community is so spread out globally, getting to and organizing competitions can be a challenge. Because of the high levels of flying, the WSL feels the responsibility to offset their emissions. Also, theyre trying to regionalize their competitions and their corporate headquarters so that they can stop sending people really far and decrease emissions that way. Additionally, the WSL has implemented a program that educates their fanbase about climate change and encourages them to take action. During the Vans U.S Open of surfing they gave famous surfers like Kelly Slater jerseys that projected the colors of coral reefs as they fluoresce during bleaching in order to take a stance on climate change. Moreover, the WSL is implementing community events all over the world to broadcast information about climate change and engage the community.
The WSL’s initiatives are great and exemplify how we can use global platforms for education and action.
On the last day of COP25 this year, I got to attend a side-event called “Accelerating Energy Transitions and Raising Ambition Based on Decreasing the Goals of Renewables.” This talk was super interesting, because it bridged the gap between technological advances and policy implementation. We know that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) pledged by countries in 2015 were nowhere near the levels that are needed to meet our Paris goals. This talk specifically talked about how we can use the decreasing cost of renewable energy technology to help facilitate our energy transition and phase out of coal.
The price of renewable energy systems is decreasing quickly, particularly that of wind and solar. This is hopeful, since decreased technological costs can provide a lower barrier to entry for many countries. One of the panelists at this side event spoke specifically how there can be a potential positive impact in Argentina as renewables keep declining in cost. In 2016, Argentina updated their NDCs to focus on reaching 20% of renewable energy by 2025. While this might not seem like a lot, Argentina is not a big emitter, so an increase to 20% would result in significant reductions. Moreover, Argentina currently only gets 2% of their electricity from renewables, so meeting these goals in just 10 years is pretty ambitious.
Studies show that dropping prices in renewable technologies would have an overall positive impact on the shift away from fossil fuels. The speaker put it simply: the decreased cost of renewable energy would allow for overflow budgeting that could then be re-invested into the energy systems until the goals are met. Additionally, decreased technological costs can lead to large capacity additions if initial investment volumes are maintained. Since 2015, renewable energy action prices have significantly decreased, and investment costs are modelled to continue to decline over time. The reports that were published before the announcement of NDCs predicted a much higher cost.
The new decreased costs of renewable energy could increase Argentina’s total possible share of renewable energy from around 42-53% by 2030, when the original NDC for Argentina was 30% by 2030. Additionally, along with increased shares of renewable energy, lower costs could increase the amount of electric vehicles in the country to approximately 700,000 which would decrease emissions further. However, the projected outlooks for electric vehicles is based on the projection costs of electric vehicles worldwide, since that information is not available for Argentina specifically.
The main take away that the speaker was trying to emphasize is that the decreased costs of renewable energy need to be strongly considered in the NDC revision process in order to increased ambition. If costs for renewables are going down, countries like Argentina need to harbor the decreased costs to increase their renewable energy shares and further decrease emissions. That being said, there are other barriers to this implementation in countries like Argentina. Firstly, countries with similar profiles have a high amount of social issues, which tend to be on the forefront of policy and government attention. Additionally, corruption is a big issue as well, and there is no guarantee that overflow revenue will be re-invested into energy programs. Despite this, there is hope that decreased costs do incentivize investment into energy programs, as they can be used to help balance social grievances and boost the economy.
On December 10th I attended a press conference in which leaders of indigenous communities from Ecuador and Peru spoke about newly discovered developments by their countries’ governments to increase oil drilling in the Amazon.
Firstly, the indigenous leaders spoke about why it is important that these lands be protected, rather than exploited. Not only is the Amazon a hotspot for biodiversity, it is also the sacred land of many indigenous communities. These communities not only live off the land, but they also have a spiritual connection to the area that go back generations. As a result of previous oil drilling, cancer rates within these indigenous communities have increased over the years, as well as increased water contamination and other health issues related to petroleum by-products. As a result of this environmental injustice, indigenous leaders have started a coalition in order to mobilize and get their voices heard, and to hopefully stop oil drilling. Despite post-colonial made borders, indigenous communities of Ecuador and Peru have banded together to stop the proliferation of drilling.
Working closely with the indigenous communities of the Amazon, Kevin Koening published a report which found that despite public statements and press releases, the governments of Peru and Ecuador are actually trying to expand oil fields. Koening found documents stating that Peru and Ecuador actually want to leave OPEC in order to no longer be constrained by the rules of the agreement. Additionally, there is talks of a new joint pipeline between Ecuador and Peru to decrease transportation costs of oil of the two countries.
Koenig states that the push for increased oil production comes from debts to China. 94% of Ecuador’s revenue from oil is currently given to China in order to pay of a $6billiion dollar debt. Moreover, Ecuador is the second biggest exporter of oil for California. As long as demand for this oil does not decrease, proliferation of oil drilling projects will continue. This is where the injustice stems from – despite not contributing to Ecuador’s large debt, indigenous communities are strongly suffering in the efforts of the government to try to ratify its mistake. This is why indigenous communities are speaking out. They are disproportionally being negatively affected by the oil drilling projects of the government.
Read More about Koenig’s report here: https://amazonwatch.org/news/2019/1209-the-amazon-sacred-headwaters
Indigenous leaders at the press panel spoke about their deep resentment towards the state for the lack of protections for the indigenous populations of their country. While the countries’ public stance is love and conservation of the Amazon, their actions speak differently. Indigenous leaders called for the cessation of oil drilling in the Amazon, as well as the adoption of a New Green Deal for the Amazon, which focuses on conservation and restoration.
It was really empowering to see all of these indigenous leaders have a seat at the table and be able to speak out against the actions of the government. Also, the fact that this was televised was great, allowing their voices to be heard by an even broader audience.
On the very first day of COP25, I attended a really interesting event that focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through carbon pricing.
Firstly, Professor Robert N. Stavins from Harvard spoke about the difference between the two main kinds of carbon pricing techniques – cap and trade (CAT) and carbon taxes. He explained that often when determining which carbon pricing scheme to use, countries and states believe that CAT and carbon pricing are a dichotomy, when in reality they’re more of a spectrum. Both CAT and carbon pricing can be designed equivalent in regard to emissions reductions, aggregate abatement cost and effectiveness, but they differ in the amount of transaction costs. CAT has significantly more carbon price volatility and interacts complementary with politics. However, CAT schemes can be subject to market manipulation, so they require a lot of oversight. On the other side of the spectrum, carbon taxation schemes are much less complex, and can often be seen as rigid and not ambitious. They can cause stagnation in emissions reductions if they’re not updated frequently. Therefore, Stavins argues that a hybrid policy between CAT and carbon taxes is a better choice for carbon pricing. This way, the complexities of the market price can be offset by the rigidity of the carbon tax, but the stagnation of the carbon tax can be offset by the fluctuation of the natural market.
After Professor Stavins, another panelist further elaborated about how hybrid carbon pricing systems are the future. He emphasized that the real challenge is to balance the policy concerns about both CAT and carbon pricing. There are three main challenges to addressing these concerns:
- The liquidity of the market. Structuring the market is the biggest concern when trying to balance hybrid schemes. Sometimes countries are too small, so they have to start a carbon tax, due to lack of market power. Other times, the starting market can be too large, and they face too much risk and volatility in the initial market, causing a barrier to the system. Therfore, countries must conduct in-depth analyses about the size of the market they wish to implement.
- Policy direction and interaction. Another large issue is how to coordinate pricing and social policy and ensure that the market works in a way that does not negatively affect any other sector. This goes hand in hand with just transition ideology, in ensuring that emissions reductions are performed in a way that does not incur large social costs. This is a big concern for most policy makers.
- Lastly, the competitive of the market is a big concern and the number one barrier to us reducing our emissions rapidly. This competitiveness is mostly hindered by politics, as politicians often debate about theoretical situations and exclusions. There needs to be stronger transparency and studies on this issues as to not stagnate policies,
Finally, Joe Aldy, another professor at Harvard, spoke about how we can create carbon markets in the face of emission uncertainties. As we begin to implement carbon schemes, we face many uncertainties. Firstly, we need to make sure that our carbon emission reductions are in line with our goals as time progresses, and we need to make sure that the carbon markets reflect this. Secondly, as climate science advances, we need to make sure that our goals and markets reflect this as well. Lastly, we are uncertain how national carbon markets interact with the markets of other countries. How do emissions reductions of other countries affect national ambitions? Aldy proposes that the way to overcome these uncertainties is to have an act-learn-act approach to update policy. Aldy gives us the example of a proposed U.S carbon tax. The tax would start at $X/tCO2 which would act as the starting level. Then, the tax would update at a rate of Y+inflation, which would act as the escalator every given number of years. As we learn and decrease our uncertainties, we would adjust the tax through a streamlined process. We would review the rate of the tax and update our tax based on our revised new Paris pledges. The key to this is to break down legislative errors and be able to get a streamlined process to do this in Congress.
This talk was really interesting, because it focused on real policy solutions that countries can implement to reduce emissions. I found it much more practical and technical than some other talks at COP25 that focused more on theoretical frameworks. However, I do wish that they would have touched more on the policy barriers in the United States, and how they relate to market policies. I think it would have made the talk more rounded overall. Additionally, I wonder if these schemes could implemented for other greenhouse gases, particularly methane, which is a byproduct of very specific industries. This would have been interesting to touch on.
On the third day of COP25, I got to attend a very interesting side event at the Britain and Northern Ireland Pavilion about how we can use carbon capture and storage (CCS) clusters to transform carbon heavy industries. I am not very well versed on CCS technology or policy, so I found it really interesting to attend this event and see how CCS can be supplementary to emissions reductions policy in order to help meet our Paris Goals.
What I found very interesting about this CCS talk the background that they gave about carbon heavy industries like cement production and industrial works. I didn’t ever really think about how we can reduce emissions in these industries which are key for development and infrastructure. These industries are hard to abate sectors and are not easy to implement solutions for. This is mostly due to the fact that heavy industries requires large amounts of heat to operate, and alternative fuel sources such as nuclear do not burn hot enough for industry. Therefore it is very hard to figure out how to create enough heat for the industry to keep producing. CCS provides an innovative solution. CCS captures carbon from emission and prevents it from entering the atmosphere. Carbon is captured from the emissions and then is stored either underground or in deep aquifers. When coupled with the use of biomass fuel, CCS can even turn processes carbon negative.
Will Gardener, the CEO of Drax Powerplant in the UK spoke how his plant has used carbon capture to decrease their overall emissions. There has historically not been a good use of CCS in the UK, so his plant is revolutionary. The plant uses biomass burners to generate electricity rather than traditional coal burners, and captures the carbon emitted. This carbon is then sold for other industries such as the soda industry. This implementation of CCS is predicted to have a possible 16 million tons of negative emissions per year for Drax powerplant. That is huge.
Read more about Drax’s CCS and biomass project here.
Gardener then spoke about what was needed to further help proliferate CCS projects throughout the UK. Firstly, he spoke about how coupling CCS with a carbon tax can aid in its widespread implementation and incentivize companies to invest in CCS. Secondly, he spoke about the need for carbon clusters, in which many companies share a reservoir to store carbon. This way, it helps reduce costs in research about where to store captured carbon and thus makes the technology costs decrease. Gardener really drove home that in order for CCS to become popular, it must be cost effective. He even went as far to say that it must even be less expensive than things like aviation. This was a really interesting thought, and something that kept coming up during COP25. For most technologies to work, policies to be implemented or changes to be made, costs need to be low. It makes me hopeful that as people continue to work on technology, costs will be driven down like they were for wind and solar, and that technology such as CCS become more widespread.
After Gardener spoke Julio Freidmann, the self-called “carbon wrangler.” With his cowboy boots and vibrant personality, Freedman spoke about the necessity of CCS in our future if we hope to limit warming to 2C. He said that we need to store at least 2 billion tons of carbon per year by 2020 if we hope to meet our Paris Goals. He seemed hopeful that the IPCCC 1.5 report is going to influence the popularity of CCS technology, as the report emphasized the need for significant amount of CCS to be able to reach net zero by 2050. Moreover, Freedman seemed hopeful that CCS is the future. Currently there are 90 industrial facilities world wide that utilize CCS, and that with the diverse applications of CCS across industries, CCS has been entering the sustainable finance world. This is all good news.
The next wave of CCS, says Freidmann, is the widespread use of hubs and clusters which Gardener also touched on. Instead of having a single source storing their harnessed carbon in one place, hubs allow for multiple industrial sources to be into the pipeline and transportation structure. This would allow companies to focus on their own capabilities for CCS instead of infrastructure and transportations, given companies a comparative advantage. Moreover, it decreases the unit cost. Despite this however, Freedman emphasized that large amounts of asset protection should be implemented because the use of hubs and clusters introduces chain risks that could potentially be messy.
This idea of hubs and clusters is interesting to me, because not only would it reduce transportation and infrastructure costs, but it would further decrease the amount of emissions needed since some carbon heavy processes are eliminated. Overall, I was very impressed with the carbon capture talk and it has influenced me to do some further research on carbon capture and its capabilities in helping us reach our Paris Goals.
Follow Julio Friedmann on Twitter:
I wanted to make my last post about the overwhelming positive experience I had attending COP this year. I want to start off by thanking Emory University’s Environmental Science Department, Dr. Eri Saikawa and Mr. James Reilly for allowing me the opportunity to go to COP. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to go, and will take the experience with me forever.
In terms of expectations before landing in Madrid, I had very few. I knew that there were going to be a variety of delegates there from around the world speaking on different topics regarding climate change, but that was about it. I was actually kind of overwhelmed when trying to search the schedule for events to attend, worried that I was not knowledgeable enough to be attending this conference, and worried about my ability to understand and absorb information.
I am happy to say that my expectations of this were not met. Instead, I found myself entranced by the amount of information available to me at different events, and able to keep up with much of the discussion, particularly discussions about which I have done heavy research before. In this way, COP25 helped me gain confidence in myself and my studies and re-assure that I have chosen the right career path for me. I had also previously been worried about how my status as a student would affect my experience. Were adults going to look down on me? Would they take me serious at these events? I was so surprised and humbled by the fact that they did. In discussions with people, such as the UK Energy Minister, they were excited to talk to students who were interested in their topics rather than disinterested due to the age gap. Instead, they were proud that people in younger generations were interested in talking about climate change. All of this led me to be eager to wake up in the morning, make the 40 minute journey by metro, scan in and listen to different topics and conversations.
While I was mainly following the discussion about renewable energy proliferation and decarbonization of the energy grid, I attended so many events that I had not planned on. I was so glad that this happened! Because of the nature of the conference, I found myself walking into random events while I had 30-40 minutes to kill between my sessions. Some of these random sessions that I walked into were even more interesting than the ones I had planned and helped me broaden my focus. One of the most interesting talks I attended unplanned was the talk about the World Surf League and the role that sports had on climate action. It really drove home to me that we can and need to engage all sectors in order to help solve the massive problem that is climate change. The wide number of actors that attended COP25 ranging from politicians to businessmen and women to students and to indigenous leaders emphasized this point. Because climate change will affect everyone, it must be addressed by everyone.
Some highlights of my time at COP25:
- Being able to see former Secretary of State John Kerry speak multiple times about his World War Zero campaign. As a long time Kerry fan, it was a surreal experience to hear him talk about the need for the United States to take a strong stance in the fight for climate action. Moreover, his speech about mobilizing the youth to force action among the powerful adults was eloquent and empowering. As a young person, I felt as though he was speaking to me personally and felt a deep connection to his message. Plus, I got to stand very close to Secretary Kerry! Who would’ve thought that would ever happen.
2. Seeing Harrison Ford give a speech at the U.S Center for Climate Action Pavilion. Celebrities using their voices to mobilize citizens in the fight for climate change is a good way to go. It gives me faith that there really are people doing good, and using their fame in a good way. Additionally, I was glad that his presence got so many people at the U.S Center for Climate Action Pavilion. It was a good way to get attention and to signal to the world that #wearestillin. Despite our courage administration, the United States is fighting against our barriers and limitations to meet our Paris goals.
3. Being able to experience a closing plenary. Despite the long wait for the plenary to start, and the large amount of stagnation in the discussions, it was still an amazing experience to be able to see how different delegates from different countries discuss and negotiate with each other. Although the end results of the negotiations were very disappointing, the experience was still a great one.
4. Seeing my own professor, Eri Saikawa speak at the U.S Center for Climate Action Pavilion! It’s always very rewarding to see those who I work closely with have an impact outside of the Emory community, and to see their awesome work showcased. Additionally, having such a great Atlanta presence at that panel made me have so much hometown pride (even though I’m from Connecticut.)
5. Being able to bond with the rest of the members of the Emory delegation. Everyone’s diverse educational and personal background brought so much to the overall experience of attending COP25. When attending events with other people in our delegation, we were able to discuss afterwards our differing perspectives and opinions and I got my eyes opened to a lot of new and interesting would’ve ever gotten on my own. Daily debriefings over dinner and discussions really helped drive home many of the things I had learned during the day, and I really cherished that.
Overall, COP25 was an amazing experience and I am so grateful to have been able to attend. With the beautiful city of Madrid as the backdrop, I don’t think I could’ve spent the week of December 9th any better.