5 Clean Tech Innovations for Advancing a Global Climate Agreement

If parties to the UN Framework on Climate Change reach a binding agreement on climate at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) in December, these five clean technology innovations would go a long way in supporting implementation of that agreement, according to a group of executives representing energy companies from around the world:

  • Onshore wind: Turbines that do not interfere with radars would allow installation in radar exclusion zones, while those with hot air circulation systems or electric heating to prevent ice from forming on the blades would open up development in colder regions with significant wind resources.
  • Offshore wind: Floating turbines without foundations are a promising technology that could radically change the future of offshore wind, massively enlarging potential sites – including those in even more windy zones and greater depths – increasing installation speeds, eliminating the need for special installation ships, and facilitating maintenance, which could be carried out onshore.
  • Biomass: Processes based on the Organic Rankine cycle, using organic fluids that vaporize at 70 degrees Celsius, rather than water, could help improve the electricity output of combined heat and power plants that run on biomass.
  • Concentrated solar power: Innovations to bring down the cost of air-cooling systems will expand the scope of parabolic trough concentrated solar power plants by reducing their dependence on water resources, and allow for efficiencies through their combination with conventional plants, such as combined cycle gas turbine facilities.
  • Energy storage: Adiabatic compressed air energy storage (CAEE), where the heat generated by the compression of air is reused (meaning natural gas would no longer be required during the compression phase), would make CAEE less dependent on geological conditions.

The clean technology innovations recommended by the group are part of broad set of recommendations on power outlined in the report “Powering Innovation for a Sustainable Future,” which was released by the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP) in advance of the Paris talks to help inform COP21 parties. The report includes an open letter signed by 11 top executives of the world’s leading electricity companies. Those companies are American Electric Power, Electricite de France, Eletrobras, Enel, EuroSibEnergo, Hydro-Quebec, Iberdrola, Kansai Electric Power, RWE, RusHydro and State Grid Corporation of China.

Martine Provost, executive director of GSEP, said in an interview that GSEP is not part of the negotiating team for COP21, but that the group wanted to speak with a common voice in the report to convey a “strong message” on how electricity can play a major role in responding to climate change.

The U.S. and China in late September issued a joint presidential statement on climate change, articulating a shared understanding for a potential climate agreement in Paris.

In a Sep. 25 statement, World Resources Institute president and CEO Andrew Steer said: “President Obama and Xi are demonstrating courageous leadership on climate change. Both countries are moving forward with on-the-ground action to hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy. They’re also laying the cornerstone for an ambitious climate agreement in Paris.”

Both countries this year have demonstrated aggressive action on climate change.

The U.S. this summer finalized its Clean Power Plan, while China announced that it will launch in 2017 a national emission trading system covering power generation, steel, cement and other key industrial sectors.

Both countries also agreed to help accelerate the transition to low-carbon development internationally, including a new climate finance commitment by China of CNY 20 billion ($3.1 billion) to help developing countries combat climate change.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a Sept. 24 statement that, while the details of China’s commitment should be examined more closely, the actions taken by the U.S. and China have created a momentum toward securing a global agreement in December.

“Serious action like this is raising the bar for every nation and demonstrates that this time around, the UN summit will not be about talk, but action,” he said.

After Paris

Provost said that GSEP's report includes policy recommendations intended to support innovation in the power sector in the future.

“If they get to a signed agreement in Paris, after that, countries will have to comply with the agreement, and they will define their own policies,” she said. “What you see in this report is a pledge for four principles for policy frameworks to enable development of new technologies.”

According to Provost, GSEP will continue to encourage policy makers to follow those principles after COP21 is over. The principles include, for example, promoting public-private partnerships that facilitate decision making among electricity providers and making progress with innovative research of advanced economically viable technologies.

Lead image: Solar panels and wind turbines in light bulb. Credit: Shutterstock.

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