Renewables way forward
While global temperatures in May were the highest ever since records began in 1880, two recent articles led the cheerleading for carbon capture and storage (CCS) (“Capture and storage of carbon better than efficient use of energy,” March 10, page 9; “Breaking down the barriers in negotiations on climate change,” June 28, page 9). These cheerleaders claim that we can keep burning fossil fuels if only we bury all that obnoxious carbon underground (“Capture and storage of carbon better than efficient use of energy,” March 10, page 9).
However, they make no mention of the damage done by the extraction of fossil fuels. Entire landscapes are devastated by coal strip mining, oil and gas wells, and tar sands and oil shale extraction. Seeking only profit, fossil fuel corporations are now even pushing into dozens of protected areas around the world, wiping out the last remnants of irreplaceable biodiversity (“UN urges DR Congo to ban oil drilling in gorilla park,” Nov. 29, 2010, page 6). They do not mention the constant spillage of toxic fumes, dusts and oils during the transport and use of fossil fuels, or how the continuing use of fossil fuels keeps the world’s energy system in the hands of a few monopolies and supports oil dictatorships (“Despite high oil prices, ‘resource curse’ keeps nations poor,” Aug. 17, 2004, page 9).
The first CCS pilot project started in 2008, so it is hardly a well-tested technology. The energy needed for CCS increases energy production costs by 11 to 40 percent, or US$50 to US$100 per tonne of carbon dioxide, so it is hardly cheap.
So far, most experts agree, CCS has failed to demonstrate its large scale viability.
With renewable energy now almost as cheap as fossil fuels and its costs continuing to decline, it is no wonder fossil fuel corporations are worried because they know they are potentially sitting on a carbon bubble worth trillions of dollars (http://tinyurl.com/lhdkrp9). After having comprehensively lost the case of denying climate change, they are now pinning their hopes on CCS.
However, neither is it clear if there are enough underground storage sites nor if they are safe and will not leak carbon dioxide. CCS can significantly increase emissions of other air pollutants.
While safe, clean and universal CCS would indeed be an improvement, its unproven track record, its unknown risks and the continuing externalities of fossil fuels make renewable energy sources more desirable — environmentally, politically and socially.
And renewables are thriving. Renewable energy sources recently supplied 20 percent of UK electricity and more than 50 percent in Germany.
Several countries are testing the first prototypes of floating windfarms which can be installed in the ocean, of which Taiwan has more than enough.
So why is there not more cheerleading for renewables, in Taiwan and everywhere else?