The world’s fastest-growing solar power and energy technology, by 2050 Solar PV is targeted to produce around 11% of global electricity: the equivalent of reducing carbon-based emissions from 253 million 3-bedroom homes. A Solar PV array creates electrical power by the conversion of sunlight via a slender, semi-conducting silicon membrane cased in plastic or glass. Many solar parks are comprised of hundreds of linked PV panels that will power thousands of homes and businesses.
Concentrated Solar Power
Concentrated Solar Power is where sunlight is converted to thermal energy to heat a molten salt solution. Lenses or mirrors are used to focus solar radiation onto a small area, and the concentrated light is converted to heat. The generated heat is used for steam generation which powers a heat engine connected to an electrical power generator in so doing producing electricity. As more electricity enters the grid, the increasing popularity and acknowledged benefits of solar technology are clear.
An important source of renewable energy, wind power generates electricity by way of turbines, which capture the power of the wind then convert kinetic energy into mechanical energy. Unlike with most power stations, little space is needed for wind turbines, each of which needs occupy only a few square metres (offshore arrays are larger, given the natural availability of space). This frees the surrounding land for a variety of purposes, such as agriculture. Also, new technology is increasing the efficiency of harvesting the wind for energy, and turbines can readily be used to generate power for remote communities. Given Britain’s and Europe’s favourable and often windy climate, wind energy is attractively viable and highly effective; the UK already has the world’s highest offshore wind capacity.
A form of hydropower that converts the energy of tides into useful forms of power, mainly electricity. Among the most efficient energy sources, tides are highly predictable, their natural and regular fall and rise substantially more cyclical than the comparative randomness of weather patterns. At larger scales, the harnessing of tidal power will result in better energy security as the need for imported fuel decreases; and the methods of tidal energy capture – in the shape of modest dams and barrages – can be multitasked to act as coastal storm protection.
Energy storage is the capture of energy produced from a variety of sources including wind or solar power for use at a later time when needed. Energy storage, particularly storage that relies on batteries, is starting to play a broader role in global energy markets. Energy can be stored when prices are low and used on site when they are high to save consumers and businesses money on their bills. Alternatively, the stored energy can be sold. Energy storage can also be used to quickly (in less than 1 second) respond to varying demand at different times – storing energy when demand is low in order to be able to meet demands when it is high. A simple example of this concept could occur this summer, as people spend less time watching TV inside during May-June, they require less energy. This energy can be stored, and later used to meet the high demands from broadcasting providers for, say, Wimbledon.
An Overview of Renewable Energy Investment and the Importance of Tackling Climate Change
At Low Carbon, we have a fundamental belief: that a low-carbon economy will only be achieved by way of an energy market in which use of traditional fossil fuels is supplanted by five principal renewable technologies. Considered either as standalone energy sources or in combination, these are Solar photovoltaic (PV), Concentrated Solar Power, Wind, Tide and Anaerobic Digestion.
By 2030 the UK must reduce carbon emissions by 60%. This is broadly in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC): an independent statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the British Government and devolved administrations on emissions targets.
In a paper published in February 2014, CCC acknowledged that the fierce storms and coastal flooding which marked Winter 2013-14 were consistent with the demonstrable science of a world gradually warming:
- Rising sea levels: over the last 100 years the English Channel
has risen by some 12cm and continues to rise by 1.3cm per
decade. This is due to snow and ice melting from land to sea,
with seawater expanding as it gets warmer. The higher the
seas, the greater the likelihood of storm surges breaching
coastal flood defences.
- Warmer air holding more moisture: as the world warms,
storms produce more rain. Although UK rainfall varies
by the year, evidence points to extreme rainfall becoming
The paper concluded: “As the weather continues to throw up surprises from time to time against a backdrop of climate change, it’s clear we need to invest adequately to ensure protection against future flooding and other extremes.”
Climate Change by Degree. An Overview of How Global Warming Will Affect the Planet
Scientists predict an increase in the average temperature of the planet’s surface of 1.4°C and 5.8°C by the close of this century.*
- +1°C warmer: deterioration of mountain glaciers and coral reefs, rain
forests, ice sheets in Greenland, US midwest arable farmland; 10%
productivity loss in Bangladeshi farming – a loss of 4m tonnes ($2.5bn)
of food grain, or 2% of GDP.
- +2°C warmer: forests destroyed by insects normally dead in winter;
polar bears endangered; some Pacific islands completely submerged.
- +3°C warmer: the tipping point, according to scientists; extinction
of thousands of species; Category-6 hurricanes now the regular norm,
not the exception.
- +4°C warmer: population migration as refugees escape famine and
draught-stricken regions; general sea levels rise by up to 48 inches,
destroying coastal cities.
- +5°C warmer: vast regions are now uninhabitable, with many millions on
- +6°C warmer: a return to how the Earth looked 65 million years ago
during the dinosaur-inhabited Cretaceous period; most of the planet
is now desert.
*Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Carbon (from Latin: carbo, or charcoal) is the fourth most abundant element in the universe. Carbon takes several forms, or allotropes, the best-known being the hardest naturally-occurring substance, diamond, and one of the softest, graphite.
All known life on Earth is based on compounds of carbon. However, there is growing and increasingly persuasive evidence that excessive emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a gaseous compound produced by the burning and respiration of carbon-based fuel and foodstuffs, is significantly contributing to global warming.
Down-to-earth: some plain facts about carbon dioxide
- A single gallon of petrol produces 19.4lbs of atmospheric CO2;
a gallon of diesel emits 22.2lbs
- Driving a car 3000 miles can produce a ton of CO2 – some six tons
per year on average
- Heating a single house annually produces around four tons of CO2,
and another eight tons for electrical power
- The electrical energy consumed by a sizeable refrigerator and
a large plasma-screen TV is roughly equal at about 400 watts.
That’s about 1,500lbs of CO2 in one year
- The CO2 produced by air travel is more likely to affect climate
change since the compound is released directly into the upper
atmosphere, not at lower levels.
How Climate Change Will Have an Economic Impact on Society
Britain’s own challenges
According to an October 2013 report conducted by the Government and the consultant PwC, climate change due to global warming will have a induced changes in the infrastructures of developing countries. As patterns of global crop farming are altered, for example, supplies of food and raw materials are likely to recede. This in turn will mean ever-higher prices and the potential for instability and civil unrest.
Damage to agricultural production is already contributing internationally to deaths from diseases associated with poverty and malnutrition, whilst air pollution due to fossil fuel use is contributing to around 4.5m deaths every year*. By 2030, floods, draughts and the most severe storms could remove 2% from US GDP*.
In China, this cost could be $1.2 trillion*. As international trade in the commodities and services crucial for business and shareholder value shrinks to a footnote, the preservation of a civil and thriving society can only be at the gravest possible risk.
- 400,000 deaths annually from climate change is wiping 1.6% per
year from global GDP*
- Cost to the world economy of climate change is almost $1.3 trillion*
- Within less than 16 years the cost to global GDP of air pollution
and climate change will increase to 3.2%*
- The GDP of developing countries is expected to fall by more
*Source: DARA, Climate Vulnerable Forum
Perhaps most visibly and frequently, climate change in Britain finds expression in flooding. Winter 2013-14 has been especially challenging, with thousands of people watching helplessly as huge storms have breached inadequate flood defences and wrought appalling damage to their homes and businesses.
Yet as long ago as 2006, the insurance industry identified flood damage in many high-risk areas as uninsurable. In the six years prior to a report by AXA Insurance on how climate change affects SMEs, weather-related damage claims cost the British insurance sector more than £9 billion. Of this, over £2.5 billion was business-related. The report also forecast that sea-level rises would directly threaten an estimated three million people in the UK, and that business hubs and population centres, among them London, Edinburgh, Bristol, Newcastle, Norwich and Peterborough, may all risk flooding.. The economic consequences should we fail to arrest the march of climate change would be incalculable.
“In my view, climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today – more serious even than that of terrorism.”
Prof Sir David King, former UK Chief Scientific Advisor