Contributed by Robert Lyman @2016
Governments of the Group of 20 (G20) countries have declared their intention to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to address the alleged threat of human-induced catastrophic climate change. With the enormous government and media attention to this issue, it is perhaps easy to lose sight of the actual changes occurring and whether they are making a significant difference in terms of the proclaimed goal of achieving a carbon-free world.
Roger Andrews, a retired geophysicist who writes extensively on climate and related issues on his blog “Energy Matters”, has examined the actual emissions reductions in the G20 over the period 1985 to 2915, using data drawn from the 2016 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. On September 18 2016, he posted an article entitled, “Electricity and Energy in the G29”.
Andrews starts by noting that the G20 governments have fixated on first reducing emissions in the electricity sector and generally have ignored or under-emphasized how to reduce them in the non-electricity sectors. One reason for this is that in most G20 countries, electrical energy is produced and transmitted by government –owned and regulated firms and it has been comparatively easy to legislate changes in this sub-sector, but far more difficult to do so in the non-electricity sectors where there are far more actors and decisions to influence. Further, the generation technologies needed to reduce emissions (nuclear, hydro, wind, solar) already exist in electricity generation, whereas many of the technologies that would be needed to significantly reduce GHG emissions in the non-electricity sectors either do not yet exist or are commercially unproven. Further, many of the energy demand changes governments and environmentalists seek can only occur with the wholehearted participation of the public, much of which remains unconvinced of the need and resists the higher prices and costs involved. Green non-governmental organizations fixate on electricity, which is why the public is “bombarded” with reports of a new solar generation record in Germany or a new wind generation record in Scotland, etc.
Andrews makes a number of distinctions that are often not made in the media – between electricity and total energy consumption, between electricity generation by non-carbon sources and electricity generation by renewable energy sources, and between percentage changes in renewable energy generation and percentage changes in the share of total generation represented by renewable energy. He also offers some innovative approaches to inter-country comparisons. Here are some highlights of his analysis.
- The best measure of “progress” in reducing the carbon-intensity of electricity generation is not the increase in the production or share of renewables; it is the share held by all non-carbon sources. In this regard, France is the world leader, with 93% of its generation from non-carbon (mainly nuclear) sources. Canada is in second place, with 83% and Brazil in third, with 77%. All other countries are far behind. This point seems lost on most of the Canadian media.
- If one asks, “How much progress have the G20 countries made towards decarbonizing their electricity sectors since 1985?” the answer is “none”. The low-carbon generation percentage in 1985 was 26.8% and in 1995 it peaked at 28.8%. Since then, the share has declined, with a percentage of 26.5% – 0.3% lower than the 1985 share – in 2015. What has happened has been that low-carbon nuclear has been replaced by wind and solar, which of course does nothing on a net basis to reduce emissions.
- In 2015, electricity supplied only 41.5% of total energy consumption in the G20 countries. If one could totally decarbonize electricity generation, it would not even halve carbon emissions.
- If one examines electricity generation by source as a percentage of total energy consumption in individual G20 countries, France takes first place, with electricity generation accounting for 50% of all energy consumption. Canada again is second, with 36% and Brazil third with 34%. In most G20 countries, generation accounts for less than 20% of total energy consumption.
- Viewed over the period 1985 to 2015, low-carbon energy consumption has increased from 11.2% to 14.4% of total energy consumption in the G20, almost all caused by growth in renewable energy generation. At this rate of growth, total decarbonization of G20 energy will not be achieved until 2250 or thereabouts.
Someone better tell the environmentalists.
Roger Andrews’s article can be read here: http://euanmearns.com/?s=G20