Finding Solutions to Climate Change

Document Sample
Finding Solutions to Climate Change Powered By Docstoc
					Finding Solutions
to Climate Change

                    At the heart of
                    Sustainable Development
                    G Physics plays a vital role in climate

                      change modelling and our understanding
                      of our environment
                    G Physics lies at the heart of almost all

                      technological solutions to climate
                      change – from low carbon generation to
                      energy efficient measures and nuclear
                    G The Institute of Physics actively supports

                      Knowledge Transfer Networks between
                      Industry and Research Institutions aimed
                      at speeding up the development of
                      technological solutions
              Physics is the foundation of modern life and underpins science engineering and technology.
physicists    Without physics, the challenges that lie ahead for the planet in terms of climate change,
              increasing demands for affordable and limitless energy, and sustainable development, will be
with their    almost impossible. Physics:

science can   G   underpins almost all low-carbon electricity generation technologies, including clean fossil
                  fuels, renewables, novel fission reactors, and fusion

show that a       Energy will become the major issue for international stability in the next century as the world's
                  population grows and people move away from regions with inadequate energy supplies. Even
                  conservative estimates of population growth indicate that major progress in energy conservation
low carbon        and renewable energies will not be enough to sustain humanity. Beyond the middle of this
                  century, new sources of energy that have a low impact on the environment and produce relatively
future is         harmless waste will be needed. This is where physics will play a crucial role.

possible      G   The role of physics in nuclear energy technologies is obvious to all, as physics is at the heart
                  of the processes of fission and fusion
                   What is less well known, is that physics and physicists are playing an active role in developing
                  and evaluating new and renewable energy sources based upon technologies such as for
                  instance, wind turbines (both onshore and offshore), tidal power, wave power, fuel cells and
                  photovoltaic solar power. In particular, recent progress in photovoltaic technology for solar power
                  collection lies at the heart of condensed matter physics, where semiconducting polymers are
                  moving out of the research laboratory and into the market-place as industry realises the
                  commercial potential of photovoltaics.
              G   plays a vital role in underpinning climate change modelling, enabling scientists to keep
                  track and forecast changes in the climate throughout the world, which supports the
                  development of strategic carbon abatement policies, such as the Kyoto Protocol
                  To document changes in the climate and to try to understand the causes, meteorologists and
                  other scientists rely on computer-based models of the climate system. These immensely
                  complicated mathematical models make use of our scientific understanding of the climate
                  system which is gained, in part, by the analysis of a vast range of climate data gathered from a
                  variety of sources. The ultimate aim of this work is to construct a comprehensive climate
                  prediction model which summarises our physical understanding of the atmosphere-ocean
                  system. Climate change prediction is a very multidisciplinary area of research, and one where
                  physicists are at the very forefront because of their quantitative skills and abilities to translate
                  physical knowledge into sophisticated computer models.
              G   graduates are highly trained individuals, without whom advances in almost all facets of the
                  green revolution would be hindered
                  Without a good supply of highly skilled and trained science graduates, especially physicists,
                  being nurtured and supported, the UK could end up in the position of either having to import the
                  skills needed to help create the much coveted low-carbon society, or risk being left behind as its
                  main competitor nations press ahead with the advancement of low-carbon technologies. For
                  instance, the UK has a world leading scientific community in the field of climatic and
                  environmental modelling, which is predominately peopled with physicists, who can play a crucial
                  role in influencing the international scientific community and through them, global behaviour.
                  With the recent number of low entries to A-level physics and undergraduate physics degrees,
                  coupled with university physics department closures, there is a genuine concern that the UK’s
                  ability to provide the number and quality of physicists needed to help deal with the low-carbon
                  challenges that lie ahead, will be adversely affected.
              The Institute of Physics is also doing its bit, by fostering links between academic research and
              industry with the aim of speeding up the development of technological solutions to challenges
              which include low-carbon electricity generation. New to the Institute's portfolio of knowledge
              transfer activities are technology networks - forums for multidisciplinary communities in areas of
              emerging applied technologies, including semiconductor technologies which are integral for
              research into photovoltaics, with the intention of enabling business-university interaction and
Climate Change
Time for Some Tough Decisions

                    Are renewables enough?
                    G Can the UK reach its aspirations by

                        relying on renewable energy alone?
                    G Increasing body of evidence suggests

                        that the answer to this is NO so
                    G Renewables must be accompanied by

                        major efforts in other areas – aggressive
                        energy efficient measures and/or a new
                        generation of nuclear generation but
                    G    Aggressive energy efficient measures
                        require significant and unpopular
                        lifestyle changes and
                    G Nuclear generation carries with it safety

                        and waste disposal concerns
                    Time for some tough decisions
              Growing evidence indicates that global warming is occurring, if anything accelerating, and that
leaving       human intervention is likely to be a major contributor. It’s the biggest threat facing the planet. In
              order to mitigate its effects, the UK needs to grasp the nettle of how it can lower its carbon output.
a legacy      Can the UK reach its low-carbon output aspirations by relying on renewable energy alone?
for future    The government has set a target of 10% electricity generation by 2010, and an aspiration of 20%
              by 2020. By 2020 the UK’s electricity generation capacity from nuclear power will dwindle from
generations   about 23% which it is at present, to less than 5%. It is expected that the shortfall in nuclear power
              electricity generation will be filled by renewable energy technologies, which currently generate less
              than 3% of the UK’s electricity, but there are many who feel that the shortfall in fact will be made
– time for    up by an increased dependence on imported natural gas. Even if the 20% renewables target is
              achieved, it still means that 80% of the UK’s electricity will be generated by natural gas, which
some tough    will severely compromise the UK’s desire to reduce its CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050 (the carbon
              content of natural gas is 14 kg of carbon per GJ, compared with zero and negligible for nuclear and
decisions     renewables respectively – source DTI).
              While the UK continues to progress with renewable energy R&D, it must consider alternatives as
              part of its energy mix, including energy efficient measures and new nuclear build. However:
              Are aggressive energy efficient measures and unpopular lifestyle changes the answer?
              Energy efficiency could play a role in lowering CO2 emissions, if the problem of waste in energy
              usage could be tackled with changes in the style and use of energy in the home and elsewhere.
              However, it is understood that such changes in energy usage will require a significant cultural
              The more efficient use of energy would have an overall improvement on living standards for all, with
              better housing conditions, better air quality and a more tranquil environment with less pollution
              from traffic. This could be achieved with the implementation of a co-ordinated and integrated
              national and international energy policy, which must recommend and promote efficiency in energy
              use in the home and office, and the adoption of a low energy lifestyle, by all. The following measures
              could be considered:
              G The improvement in the design of buildings by imposing higher building standards

              G The improvement of electrical appliances, including designing better insulated fridges

              G The development and use of more efficient lighting

              G The development of more efficient vehicles, such as hybrid vehicles, and a greater emphasis on

                the use of public transport and
              G The introduction of a general carbon tax, based on the quantity of carbon dioxide emitted per unit

                of energy supplied
              Or does the answer lie with new nuclear build?
              In order for the UK to meet its international targets to reduce CO2 emissions, some tough decisions
              need to be made, including whether the UK needs to revive its nuclear power plant building
              programme. With a 10-year minimum lead-time for the development of a nuclear plant from initial
              concept to power on the grid, a decision on new nuclear build needs to be made no later than the
              middle of this decade. Any decision made later than 2005 will lead to a haemorrhaging of the UK’s
              nuclear skills base, after which the development of new nuclear plants in the UK will be severely
              Given the environmental threats which face the planet, we owe it to ourselves not to forgo a
              technology that has proven ability to deliver energy reliably and safely with no CO2 emissions. In the
              UK there is already an urgent need to start planning for new nuclear build to replace the existing
              plants as they are decommissioned, if we wish to avoid UK’s emissions of CO2 increasing. However,
              the social and political climate is not right at the moment for new build. Key areas which need to be
              addressed include the exploration of mechanisms for encouraging private investment, the need to
              streamline the licensing and consent process and improved understanding by the public of the
              benefits and risks of nuclear power. Scientists and engineers, have a significant role in the future
              developments ahead; in addition to proving the science and technology it will be important for them
              to work towards improved education to allow informed debate.