Dave Elliott: Meeting a net-zero emissions global target by mid-century — as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – needs accelerated innovation. But the IEA says that in 2017 only 4 of 38 energy technologies and sectors were on track to meet long-term climate, energy access and air pollution goals. In the UK, moving from the existing target of cutting annual greenhouse gas emissions by 80% towards a net zero emissions target by 2050, as now agreed by the UK government, certainly implies a greater role for key technologies. Against this backdrop, the Aldersgate Group commissioned Vivid Economics and the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) to look at conditions and policy approaches that could speed up the cycle of innovation to achieve a net zero target. The resulting Accelerating innovation towards net zero report sees innovation as “learning that occurs during R&D, demonstration and the early stages of deployment”, so that the lessons drawn from its case studies are about ways to accelerate learning related to deployment, as well as during R&D. But learning takes time: “moving from invention to widespread deployment can take many decades, yet only around three decades remain to meet the net zero emissions goal”. It also needs consistent support, as indicated by the case study on wind power. Drawing on a comparison of wind development in Denmark and the UK, the Aldersgate report says that “Feed-In Tariffs [FiTs] for wind projects were vital to move towards industrial-scale deployment”, as happened initially in Denmark and then massively in Germany. It notes a little lamely that “the UK was not at the forefront of the early development of onshore wind turbines”. Well, yes, the UK resisted FiTs for a long time, right up to 2008, and then only, from 2010 onwards, for small, mostly photovoltaic (PV) solar, projects. But it’s not quite true that the UK was a laggard in wind engineering terms. A 100 kW unit was built on the Orkney archipelago in 1955, while in the 1980s Howden, based in Renfrew, Scotland, developed a pioneering 330 kW machine; California installed 26 MW-worth of the kit in 1984. And in 1987, the UK government backed a very large 3 MW Wind Energy Group project on the Orkneys, as well as smaller ones elsewhere, including a novel 100 kW vertical axis device. But it is true that nothing much came of any of them, in part since there was no UK market for wind projects. In the 1990s, when a UK market was created via the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) and then, in the 2000s, the Renewables Obligation (RO) system, the machines for the UK’s wind farms had to be imported, mainly from Denmark and Germany.
Physics World 3rd July 2019 read more »