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Jeff Whiting, Mitsubishi Electric’s Melsoft Energy Centre spokesman, identifies some key issues in the Committee on Climate Change’s Stern report on low-carbon technologies.

The government’s Committee on Climate Change has identified which low-carbon technologies the UK should concentrate on if it is to achieve its long-term CO2 reduction targets and establish a ‘green’ economy.

The UK needs to create a portfolio of low-carbon technologies to address its particular greenhouse gas issues and reach the target of an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

The UK needs to develop and deploy offshore wind, marine, carbon capture and storage (CCS) for power generation, aviation technologies, smart grids and electric vehicle technologies.

It should also deploy nuclear power, advanced insulation materials, heat pumps and CCS for energy-intensive industries.

There may also be scope for UK participation in the demonstration of industry CCS.

Finally, the UK needs to research and develop hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, technologies in agriculture and industry, third-generation solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies, energy storage and advanced biofuels technologies.

However, current UK funding is low by international standards and well below the recommendations of the Stern report.

The report suggests that investment levels need to at least double and possibly be increased five- to 10-fold.

Successive governments need to be mindful of this as they set economic strategy in the coming decades.

Technological success in these fields will help to establish a strong position in the emerging global ‘green’ economy.

Whiting believes that, on the whole, power generation and carbon capture developments are on track, although there is still a long way to go.

However, more funding is needed for electric vehicles and radical technologies in aviation, such as blended wing geometries and cleaner-burning engines.

It is further recognised that some of these objectives will be addressed in international consortia; others will require public support.

Strong leadership is needed, with clear, long-term strategies for developing these technologies as well as identifying the level and form of public support along with clear mechanisms for delivery.

The energy report identifies that conversion to ‘green’ technologies is slowed by both ‘design conservatism’ (an unwillingness to move too far from existing technologies and innovate) and ‘investment conservatism’ (financiers tend to back established ideas where returns are calculable, leaving innovators underfunded, even though success could be very lucrative).

In addition, consumers can find it difficult to identify and support ‘green’ initiatives, such as renewable power delivered via the National Grid.

They are often unable to determine the most environmentally friendly solution for their needs and may even perceive low-carbon products as less desirable than their traditional counterparts (for example, electric cars seen as short range, low power and slow in speed).

Risk management also brings problems.

It is likely that some of the low-carbon solutions and technologies under development will ultimately fail to deliver their projected results for one reason or another.

The best approach is, therefore, to target many approaches so that there is a margin for underperformance.

Any low-carbon strategy must address these barriers as much as the technical solutions in order to secure financial backing.

It is also vital to bring the general populous on board, gaining social impetus and pressure to accept and implement new low-carbon initiatives.

The report identifies that deciding what to do first, and what can wait, is a big barrier to getting started.

One of the committee’s goals was to classify possibilities by both their difficulty and their effectiveness.

Things that are easy and effective can be started immediately; difficult but effective things need to be started early, with the acceptance that the resolution may be long term; less effective things, meanwhile, can be fitted into established schedules where convenient.

Decarbonising the nation’s generating capacity will have big effects and will also knock on into decarbonised transport through the use of electric vehicles.

Wind power is already well established, as are the supporting infrastructures for offshore deployment.

Similarly, wave, tidal and nuclear power are in advanced stages of development, but there remain large political/social barriers to overcome.

Other marine technologies such as coastal and subsea current generators should be developed within a relatively short time.

Carbon capture and storage also holds promise, according to Whiting, although technical development and financial incentives for wide deployment remain some way off.

The Committee on Carbon Change identifies that the decarbonising of energy generation is the first priority; activity is under way and significant gains should be made within the next 10 years.

So from about 2020, the emphasis can shift more towards cleaning up transport, by which time electric drive-train technology should be highly developed.

Road vehicles will be the obvious change; rail is already largely electrical, although it needs to be fed with ‘green’ power.

The marine transport of goods – a significant carbon source – will also see considerable electrification, although there is also huge potential from cleaner diesel, wind assistance and other options.

Later still, aviation can be addressed, but, because fundamental developments are needed, real effects are likely to be some decades off.

It is recognised that the built environment is a major consumer of energy and therefore this needs to be addressed.

New building regulations focus on thermal insulation, water consumption and lighting power, for example.

Most technologies are mature, but there are advances in low-energy lighting, efficient heating and new building techniques.

The report identifies issues with the innate conservatism of the construction sector and its customer base.

In addition, the long working life of most buildings means that the economics of retrofitting new technologies has to be developed without adding cost to the UK commercial buildings and housing markets.

Heat pumps, ground-source heating and solar water heating are all likely to become the norm.

The committee has mapped out the milestones of a 50-year strategy.

Clearly reticent design and investment conservation needs to be laid aside and the general population must embrace the new carbon-reduction technologies to move forward.

There is also a need for new incentives, both supply side and demand led, to be developed, releasing both public and private funding and ensuring a strong future for UK commerce and industry in the low-carbon revolution.

Mitsubishi Electric Automation Systems

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