At the San Francisco headquarters of Uber, three televisions greet visitors and employees just past the check in desk. The central screen plays a video on repeat: “Moving riders, moving partners, moving newlyweds, moving ice cream, moving Kenya, moving China, moving Australia, moving anywhere.” On the opposite wall, bright green dots are plotted on a black world map, demonstrating the spread of this ride hailing company that just completed its 2 billionth ride.
Uber has evolved from an app that would summon fancy town cars to the most highly valued startup in the world. The transportation company, which has caused some controversy and made some enemies, sometimes activates its platform for social good, providing free rides to give blood or cast votes or donate clothes. But it is through its hyper focus on efficiency that Uber may have the most potential to benefit riders and drivers across the 473 cities and 76 countries where it works.
Uber is focused on building its business, which is what has made the brand so ubiquitous that it has become, like Google, a verb as well as a noun. The company has expanded its mission from providing rides on demand to reinventing transportation as we know it. While sustainable global development is by no means Uber’s goal, the byproduct of its business has early stage impact and long term potential in areas like safe roads and clean air that have traditionally fallen within the domain of aid agencies.
Turning every car into a shared car
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is an engineer turned entrepreneur known for his obsession with efficiency. He described the original idea behind the company, which launched in 2009, as allowing him and his friends to “roll around San Francisco like ballers.” That mission has since expanded to putting more people in fewer cars.
It is efficiency that has led to new services that can reduce costs as well as emissions, the most notable of which is uberPOOL. POOL, which matches riders heading in the same direction for a shared trip, now makes up 20 percent of Uber rides globally.
“What has succeeded in making carpooling and ridesharing mainstream is a company that set out at the beginning to make a high end black car app, moved to uberX to get a lower price and expand the market, and moved to uberPOOL as part of a commercial imperative to use space and driver time more efficiently,” Andrew Salzberg, head of transportation policy and research at Uber, told Devex. He previously worked as an urban transport specialist for the World Bank, one of many agencies that has considered ways to incentivize ridesharing to make transportation more sustainable.
The road map for every Uber city includes POOL, which has expanded to 41 cities across the world, with recent launches in Bogota, Colombia, and Jakarta, Indonesia. The carpooling service has yet to reach sub-Saharan Africa, where general managers are first working to attract enough riders to make the service viable. Still, even without combining passengers, the Uber platform maximizes the number of rides that individual cars are providing daily in these markets.
While Uber is a data driven platform with software that guides most of its operations, POOL is “by far the most interesting thing” the company has done with data, Salzberg said. Algorithms determine how much riders should pay for POOL, constantly integrating new insights and adapting as a result. And the company is gathering information on the hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas and thousands of metric tons of carbon dioxide the service saves.
“With the technology in our pockets today, and a little smart regulation, we can turn every car into a shared car,” Kalanick said in a recent TED Talk. If the startup can make car free lifestyles more realistic in markets where mass car ownership has not yet happened, there would be significant impacts extending from infrastructure to environment to health. Still, the public sector plays a critical role.
“Uber is a testament that the global development community needs to continue pushing the envelope in terms of innovations that promote sustainable transport,” said Christopher Kost, Africa program director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. The success of the company thus far demonstrates the way technology can gather actionable data, monitor system performance, and improve customer experience, he said.
“Bringing these features to public transport systems will require more action from governments and entrepreneurs to innovate; measure societal impacts; and tackle policy, market, and cultural barriers,” Kost added.
Accelerating expansion and employment
While the app is only useful to those who have smart phones and spare income, it is quickly expanding in the developing world, with recent additions in Africa including Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Accra, Ghana; and Kampala, Uganda.
“Uber’s ambition is to be everywhere — any progressive, forward-thinking city that has a need for safe, reliable and efficient transportation, we want to be there,” Alon Lits, general manager of sub-Saharan Africa at Uber, told Devex via email. “We are part of a broader mobility movement, establishing smart cities of the future, and we are constantly exploring our options of where to go next.”
But regulatory roadblocks remain. In many countries, regulators have tried to level the playing field between traditional taxis and smartphone apps they say have an unfair advantage. Other countries are making new ridesharing laws that recognize Uber and related services as “transportation network companies.”
While Mexico City was the first city in Latin America to regulate Uber, a year after the rules were created, the city government has yet to create the fund it announced to collect revenue from ridesharing apps.
The city, home to the largest taxicab fleet in the world, has seen violent confrontations between Uber drivers and official taxi drivers. Battles such as these are being staged on streets across the world because cab drivers say Uber is undermining their businesses by driving prices down and offering services that taxis cannot. But Mexico City also represents an example of the pace at which Uber is expanding from urban to suburban areas, including less wealthy areas historically underserved by transportation, Matthew Devlin, who leads international relations at Uber, said at Devex World.
“So you think about what that means in terms of creating access to jobs, to education, to healthcare, allowing people to participate in the social and civic life of their city,” he said.
Because Uber is a marketplace that matches riders with drivers, the company is constantly adding to the 1.1 million active drivers on its platform to keep up with demand. While driver complaints about the downsides of the freelance model, including the lack of benefits, has led to the launch of new startups focused on making drivers happy, Uber advertises the flexibility the platform gives drivers to be their own bosses.
Last year, the company committed to create 1 million jobs for women drivers on the Uber platform by 2020. But while this offers a public relations boost, the 1 Million Women initiative is — like every Uber priority — ultimately all about operations.
“The reasons why this initiative matters are so fundamental to our business,” Blaire Mattson, global lead for the initiative, told Devex. “I deeply care about it. All the people I work with closely care about it. But because it’s embedded in our business, caring about it is not a prerequisite to actually getting things done on it.”
Uber is partnering with local nongovernmental organizations to implement the initiative, including iCare Life, a social enterprise that trains women drivers in India and takes them through the commercial licensing process.
While the global taxi industry is male dominated, the technology behind Uber minimizes some of the safety concerns that can be a barrier to entry for women. Before accepting a ride, Uber drivers can see the ratings of their passengers, and those riders have a digital trail including trips tracked by GPS. Uber is drilling into its data to understand the differences between male and female driver behavior, identify the gaps between signing up for the service and taking the first trip, and design ways to incentivize women drivers to use the platform.
“Think about the nature of our business: push a button to get a ride. That is a simple concept, but you unpack that, and so many factors come into play to make that happen,” said Ebi Atawodi, the general manager of Uber Nigeria. “Wherever you go and whatever business you take to market, if you don’t understand your market and adapt your service for that market, it creates a disconnect.”
Like every Uber country office, Uber Nigeria is a locally incorporated company that hires employees, runs support services, and adapts the platform to meet the demands of local consumers. For example, while Uber riders in most markets pay via credit card through the app, riders in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa have the option to pay in cash. Many of these riders and drivers handle these transactions via mobile money transfers such as M-Pesa.
The most populous city in Africa, Lagos, Nigeria, serves as an example of why cities simply cannot afford a future in which ridesharing and carpooling are not the norm, Atawodi said.
While some customers are simply making the switch from taxis to apps, others have entirely new options to get from point A to point B now that Uber has come to town. Take Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Women there make up more than 80 percent of the Uber customer base, and before they could simply open the app and request a ride, women had to rely on private drivers if they could afford them, make several calls to find an available driver, or wait half an hour for the limo companies Uber now works with.
But if companies such as Uber want to make a transformative impact on congestion, which can be a major drain on national economies, they should do more to share their data, said Holly Krambeck, senior transport specialist at the World Bank.
“Transport agencies currently spend enormous amounts of time and resources collecting basic data about the transportation network,” she told Devex. “If they could leverage the sizable GPS datasets generated by taxi hailing apps, there are opportunities for unprecedented economies of scale in traffic analysis and congestion management.”
Uber, however, has distinguished between anonymized and aggregated data and the personally sensitive information the company is often asked to share. While the company is forced to provide some data to cities and regulators, it also wants to preserve its trade secrets and protect the private information of its riders and drivers.
Silicon Valley is not the only source of large, successful car hailing app companies. Uber’s primary competitor is Lyft, also headquartered in San Francisco. But Didi Chuxing in China, Ola in India, Easy Taxi in Latin America, and Grab in Southeast Asia have also achieved economies of scale that make them formidable regional competitors.
Uber views competition not just as other smart phone apps, but as any other way people might get around the city — from bikes to buses to cars of their own. Still, the startup does face competition in the more traditional sense. Didi Chuxing is buying Uber China, creating a new company as part of the merger in which Uber will have an 18 percent stake.
In Kenya, the mobile network operator Safaricom announced a partnership with a local software firm to launch a new ride hailing service that could pose a real threat to Uber in that country. And Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed in his recently updated “master plan” that the electric car company plans to develop fully autonomous vehicles that can make money for their owners when they aren’t using them by picking up other riders.
Of course, shared taxis and microbuses — like jeepneys in the Philippines or matatus in Kenya — were popular modes of transportation in developing countries long before Uber arrived on the scene. But car hailing apps improve upon this model, which is usually frowned upon by local authorities as chaotic and unmanageable, in a few key ways.
“Smartphones have the ability to organize that chaos: introducing rating systems, convenient electronic payment, and the ability to have on-demand travel,” said Robin Chase, the co-founder and former CEO of the car sharing network Zipcar. “Uber is an example of how we can tame a mode of transportation that already exists.”
G-Auto in India, which is providing 4.5 million trips a month on 15,000 rickshaws that are owned by individuals, available on demand, and rated, is one example of local entrepreneurs “uberizing” their models. Chase said she would like to see more of these. But while Uber has inspired countless spin offs, the company has also caused the closure of similar apps, and generated opposition or even hostility from the taxi market and local startups.
If Uber expands to Kigali, Rwanda, Peter Kariuki, chief technology officer at the taxi motorbike hailing app SafeMotos, sees two possibilities. Uber could either crash and burn or succeed, in which case SafeMotos might be forced expand to serve new markets that do not yet have the population density Uber seeks.
As Uber aims to fill that world map on its office wall with new green dots, there will be tradeoffs. For example, the investment Uber is making in autonomous cars, which may make roads safer, could also eliminate the jobs the company is creating.
But, from uberPOOL to 1 Million Women to recently announced plans for a global mapping project, whatever will make the platform more efficient, and therefore enable Uber to put more people in fewer cars, will determine how the company handles forks in the road.
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Future in which global concentration of CO2 is permanently above 400 parts per million looms
The world is hurtling towards an era when global concentrations of carbon dioxide never again dip below the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone, as two important measuring stations sit on the point of no return.
The news comes as one important atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Australia is poised on the verge of 400ppm for the first time. Sitting in a region with stable CO2 concentrations, once that happens, it will never get a reading below 400ppm.
An atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Australia is poised on the verge of 400ppm for the first time. Photograph: CSIRO
Meanwhile another station in the northern hemisphere may have gone above the 400ppm line for the last time, never to dip below it again.
“We’re going into very new territory,” James Butler, director of the global monitoring division at the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Guardian.
When enough CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, the seasonal cycles that drive the concentrations up and down throughout the year will eventually stop dipping the concentration below the 400ppm mark. The 400ppm figure is just symbolic, but it’s psychologically powerful, says Butler.
In Hawaii, the Mauna Loa station is sitting above 400 ppm and might never dip below it again. Photograph: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The first 400ppm milestone was reached in 2013 when a station on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa first registered a monthly average of 400ppm. But the northern hemisphere has a large seasonal cycle, where CO2 concentrations decrease in summer but increase in winter. So each year since it has dipped back below 400ppm.
Then, combining all the global readings, the global monthly average was found to pass 400ppm in March 2015.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graph of global monthly mean carbon dioxide. Photograph: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the southern hemisphere, the seasonal cycle is less pronounced and atmospheric levels of CO2 hardly drop, usually just slowing in the southern hemisphere summer months. This week scientists revealed to Fairfax Media that Cape Grim had a reading of 399.9ppm on 6 May. Within weeks it would pop above 400ppm and never return.
“We wouldn’t have expected to reach the 400ppm mark so early,” said David Etheridge, an atmospheric scientist from the CSIRO, which runs the Cape Grim station. “With El Nino, the ocean essentially caps off it’s ability to take up heat so the concentrations are growing fast as warmer land areas release carbon. So we would have otherwise expected it to happen later in the year.
“No matter what the world’s emissions are now, we can decrease growth but we can’t decrease the concentration.
“Even if we stopped emitting now, we’re committed to a lot of warming.”
Over in Hawaii, the Mauna Loa station, which is the longest-running in the world, is sitting above 400 ppm, and for the first time, might never dip below it again.
“It’s hard to predict,” Butler told the Guardian. “It’s getting real close.”
Meanwhile, the global average, after controlling for the seasonal cycle, popped above 400ppm late last year. Within a couple of years, the seasonal dips will never drop below 400ppm in the global average too.
Air samples collected at Cape Grim, Tasmania, Australia, under clean air (baseline) conditions. Photograph: CSIRO
All together, the world is on the verge of no measurements ever showing a reading under 400ppm.
“There’s an answer to dealing with this and that’s to stop burning fossil fuels,” Butler said.
Butler also emphasised that this CO2 is locking in future warming. “It’s like lying in bed with your electric blanket set to three. You jack it up to seven – you don’t get hot right away but you do get hot. And that’s what we’re doing.”
The CO2 concentrations are driving what appears to be runaway climate change around the world.
This year has seen record hot global ocean temperatures, which have caused coral reefs all around the world to bleach and devastated Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Air surface temperatures have also been shocking climate scientists. Yearly and monthly temperature records have been breaking regularly, with many of the records being broken by the biggest margins ever seen.
“It’s pretty ugly when you look at it,” Butler said.
Though, the major factor attributed to climate change is the emission of toxic gas such as Carbon dioxide to the atmosphere mostly from industrial countries in the past hundred years, it is developing countries that are highly vulnerable to its effects. Countries all over the world have come up with adoptive and mitigation mechanisms based on their respective capacity to respond to the change. Most importantly, it is vital to building environmentally friendly green economy to withstand the effects of climate change in the long run.
Ethiopia has been trying to build a Climate-Resilient Green Economy to addressing both climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives. Various institutions were also established to follow up the proper implementation of the green economy strategy.
The government for more than a decade has devoted its time, finance and energy to establishing institutions and providing capacity building training for their staffs. In addition, significant amount of budget for conducting research on climate change and global warming were allocated to several pertinent institution. Among such institutions, the Ethiopian Environmental and Forest Research Institute (EEFRI) which is set to play pivotal role in sustaining the continued building efforts of the green economy for which the country has gained recognition internationally. The institute would in particular help to reduce the widespread deforestation and enhance the utilization of forest.
Recently, the institution held its annual meeting. Ethiopian Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ministry, State Minister Kebede Yimam on the occasion said global warming climate change has become a burning global issue as it endangered the very livelihood of human beings. In continents like Africa where economies are mainly dependent on agriculture, the extreme weather conditions resulting from climate change have put the success of the struggle against poverty into question, he said adding, to address this challenge, action plans based on relevant research should be made available for environmental protection, proper land management system and afforestation and EEFRI could play an immense role in this regard.
He further added that while there are several institutions which are concerned about issues of climate change, because of lack of coordination, their joint efforts to mitigate the problem has gone disarray. Hence, coordinating the effort for common action is essential, he added.
The EEFRI Director Dr Wobalem Tadese on his part said EEFRI is established to introduce and adopt new environmental and forest research technologies with the support of stakeholders. It also coordinates national environmental researches and their outcomes to ensuring future achievement.
Currently based on the mission given to it in the second Growth and Transformation Plan, the institution has prepared its own plan and equipped itself with the necessary manpower and laboratory apparatus for the successful implementation of the plan.
He further said based on the 40 years accumulated research documents on forests, the institution has prepared research strategy which will be implemented in the next 10 years. Besides, research will also be conducted to enhance the contribution of the forest sub-sector to the GDP and to deter water and soil pollution.
According to one paper presented at the meeting, Ethiopia spends considerable amount of hard currency to importing forest products. Hence, supporting the sector through scientific research is vital to substitute the import and save the hard currency.
On the other hand, the issue of climate change should also take both dry and liquid waste management into consideration. Because, if not properly managed, the waste generated from individual households, hospitals, garages, open latrine and industries would cause pollution and endanger the various ecosystems. Thus the cumulative effect further aggravate climate change and global warming.
Special adviser to the EEFRI, Professor Fasil Kebede who was also a presenter of a paper emphasized that environmental pollution occurs when the physical, chemical and biological character of land, water and air changes because of pollution.
Study shows that in Addis Ababa and its vicinity, there are about 2500 medium and small industries and 90 percent of them have no liquid waste treatment plant. Annually, they release about 5 million cubic meter of polluted water which is released to rivers around Akaki. As a result, in downstream areas near Akaki, farms and their cattle who utilize the water from the main Akaki river have been affected and exposed to health risks. As to Fasil, though the Addis Ababa city administration environmental protection proclamation clearly stipulate that polluters should be accountable to their actions, there is still gap in enforcing the law.
Regarding dry waste management, Fasil noted that, each day about 250 tones of waste is released from households, institutions, markets and factories. However, only 65 percent of the waste is properly dumped while 20 percent is utilized for compost and recycled.
Fasil further said that 60 percent of Addis Ababa’s waste is bio-waste and it can easily be converted to fertilizer but though a lot remain to be done in this regard. In addition, the waste generated from aggro-industries can be converted to bio-gas and bio-fertilizers. In general, if the necessary technology, finance and human resources are made available, waste can be converted into something useful.
Despite a fleet that includes some of the largest cruise ships at sea, Royal Caribbean International is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and has expanded its Save The Waves goals – according to its 2015 sustainability report.
While its new Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas ships include skydiving machines and robotic bartenders, new technologies have helped them become some of the lowest-emission ships in the industry.
The company’s air lubrication system creates a reduced friction layer of billions of microscopic air bubbles on a ship’s hull, which have helped its new Quantum-class ships to emit about 20 percent less carbon dioxide than previous designs.
“At Royal Caribbean, we are working to ensure that sustainability remains at the heart of our business,” says Richard D. Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
“We bring 5,000,000 guests to nearly 500 ports around the world every year and we understand the need to act responsibly towards the oceans that we sail and the places we visit.
“Our mantra is continuous improvement and we constantly strive to find new and better ways to meet those goals.”
In 2014, the company launched the Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the Organisation of American States, the US State Department and Sustainable Travel International.
The SDAA is the largest scale partnership of its kind to focus on destination sustainability in the Americas.
Royal Caribbean International’s sustainability report also reveals that the company reduced greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 to 21.4 percent lower than its 2005 baseline.
And it became the first cruise line to launch a specialised autism initiative, in collaboration with Autism On The Seas – a group that organises cruises for adults and families living with autism, Down’s Syndrome and related disabilities – to make the ships a more welcoming environment for autistic guests and their families.
The company increased responsible local sourcing in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand – with a 20 percent increase in this in Australia and New Zealand.
And it also received a first-ever certification from RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organisation in the United States, recognising the company’s professionalism in preventing and responding to security incidents.
The full Sustainability Report may be viewed at www.RCLCorporate.com/environment and for information about cruise itineraries go to www.royalcaribbean.co.uk
Global warming will increase airborne aerosols and cause more atmospheric pollution, scientists say.
he future is slightly obscured. The outlook is less than clear. For once, such phrases are not metaphorical.
A world of global warming could mean a growing haze of solid and liquid aerosols – tiny specks of salt, fine dust, sulphates, black carbon and other particles in the atmosphere, according to new research.
Robert Allen, an earth scientist at the University of California, Riverside and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that as the planet warms because of greater concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, driven by ever greater human burning of fossil fuels, so too the air could become more murky.
Aerosols happen naturally and because of human activity. They are exquisitely small blobs of liquid or solid afloat in the atmosphere, the product of dust storms, plant pollen, wildfires, kitchen fires, smoke from factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts, volatile discharges from forests and so on. They may make humans cough or choke, and they exact a long-term toll on human health, but they also affect the climate.
These aerosols both scatter sunlight and absorb it, and climate scientists who try to model the future must also calculate the impact of aerosols on global warming: will these reflect or screen out solar radiation to slow down the process, or accelerate it?
Dr Allen and his colleagues turned the question around: what will increasing average levels of planetary temperature do for aerosols? The latest and most up-to-date climate computer simulations delivered the answer. Warmer means more haze.
“Our work on the models shows that nearly all aerosol species will increase under greenhouse gas-induced climate change,” Dr Allen said. “This includes natural aerosols like dust and sea salt, and also anthropogenic aerosols like sulphate, black carbon and primary organic matter. Stricter reductions in natural emissions will be necessary for attaining a desired level of air quality throughout the 21st century.”
Research like this poses a series of complex questions: what will global warming and climate change do for air circulation, and therefore winds? Will there be more clouds, and if so, more rainfall? And will that reduce air pollution? Or will a warmer world stir up the waves, and set the winds swirling ever more powerfully through the desert soils, and blow the soot of the cities over the forests and farmland?
Although the scientists used a range of models and different climate predictions to test a series of hypothetical futures, the outcome was consistent. The research showed that greenhouse gas warming means overall more rain and snow, which means more aerosols are rinsed out of the air. But that is on average. Some places will become ever more parched, and the rains, when they come, will be less frequent.
“These latter two changes,” says Dr Allen, “which would be expected to increase the burden of atmospheric aerosols, outweigh the former change. The result is more aerosols in the atmosphere.”
Finding is first step to regulating emissions from industry, allowing US to implement global carbon dioxide emissions standard.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has said greenhouse gases from aircraft endanger human health, taking the first step toward regulating emissions from the domestic aviation industry.
The EPA’s finding kicks off a process to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry, the latest sector to be regulated under the Clean Air Act after cars, trucks and large stationary sources like power plants.
The finding allows the EPA to implement domestically a global carbon dioxide emissions standard being developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The UN agency is due to release its CO2 standard for comment in February 2016 and adopt it later that year.
The EPA had been under pressure from environmental groups who first petitioned it to regulate aircraft emissions under the Clean Air Act in 2007 and sued it in 2010. A federal court ruled in favor of those green groups in 2012.
Aviation accounted for 11% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector in 2010 in the United States, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.
The airline industry has favoured a global standard over individual national standards since airlines operate all over the world and want to avoid a patchwork of rules and measures, such as taxes, charges and emissions trading programs.
“If you’re a big airline and you’re flying to 100 countries a day, then complying with all those different regimes is an administrative nightmare,” said Paul Steele, the senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association, the main global airline industry group.
But some environmental groups are concerned that the standard being discussed at ICAO will do little to change the status quo since it would only apply to new and newly designed aircraft that will not be in operation for several years.
“The stringency being discussed at ICAO is such that existing aircraft are already meeting the standard they are weighing,” said Sarah Burt, an attorney at Earthjustice, one of several groups that sued the EPA to regulate aircraft.
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For a tourist climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, some of the breathtaking tourism attractions feature is the permanent glaciers on the Mountain peaks.
Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA)
Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG)
Why concerted efforts are needed to conserve the Mountain
Provision of social services
Efforts by Kilimanjaro National Park to address the situation
Smoking out the poachers and cattle
About community projects
The views of the government
Green Business Journal 9 (2013)
Coal: currently supplying more than 40 percent of the world electricity consumption, providing an essential 70 percent input of world steel production, and representing approximately 30 percent of the global primary energy supply. Why is coal such a widely utilised resource today? It is cheap, abundant, easily accessible, widely distributed across the globe, and easy energy to transport, store and use. For these reasons, coal is predicted to be used extensively in the future. But, being a non-renewable resource, its production and use inevitably results in various issues across the value chain.
The primary mandate of the International Energy Agency (IEA) is to promote energy security amongst its member countries through collective response to physical disruptions in oil supply, and to provide authoritative research and analysis on ways to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond.
In doing so, a report was researched and created by IEA which focuses on the technology path to near-zero emissions (NZE). The phrase “21st Century Coal” was adopted by the US and China to describe the importance of strategic international partnerships to advance the development of NZE technology and the report demonstrates the reasons for confidence in coal’s ability to provide a solution to the global objectives of economic sustainability, energy security, and NZE, and is broken up into four areas of consideration.
1. Coal and the CO2 challenge
Discussed here are the benefits of and the need for coal, issues associated with coal use especially related to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as well as roadmaps to improve coal use and continue on a path toward zero emissions. With the increase in the global demand for energy comes the increase in the release of CO2 emissions. The IEA has found that with attempting to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the costs of achieving climate goals are significantly reduced when carbon-capture and storage (CCS) technologies are implemented. This, along with increasing the thermal efficiency, can effectively lower carbon emissions from fossil-fueled power plants. The development and deployment of advanced coal with CCS technologies that is needed to achieve substantial carbon emission reductions will require extensive research, development, and demonstration investment.
2. Evaluation of advanced coal-fuelled electricity generation technologies
The IEA report provides insights into groundbreaking technology innovations for advanced coal plants to improve efficiency and reduce emissions including CO2. The report finds that there are multiple types of coal-fueled power plant technologies that exist or are being developed, but considerable advancement still needs to take place in this regard. More advanced, future technologies are definitely capable of further improving efficiency. In particular, fuel cells hold the potential of achieving increases in efficiency of up to 60 percent.
3. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS)
Focus is drawn to the potential for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) to enable the economic viability of CCS, together with the need for and status of CCUS demonstrations. CCS demonstrations are needed most often on power plants as these plants play major roles in releasing carbon emissions. But, significant government support is needed for these demonstrations to be carried out. The utilisation of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) seems to be the way forward as additional streams of revenue assists the feasibility and capability of the projects. The IEA has found that methods to increase carbon storage in conjunction with EOR may further increase the capacity to store.
4. Flexibility of coal-fuelled power plants for dynamic operation and grid stability
The essential features of fossil fuelled power plants are assessed on their ability to operate dynamically on grids with intermittent wind and solar. Improving the flexibility of existing and developing coal plants can be accomplished through various strategies which involve both technical and operational improvements. These include implementing coal plant flexibility as early in the design process as possible, when it is most effective; optimising use of the capabilities of existing control systems; and collecting and using lessons learned to establish better operating practices.
It is technically possible today to incorporate equipment to capture CO2 in all types of new coal fuelled power plants. Depending on available space and other considerations, such equipment also can be retrofitted to existing coal fuelled plants. The importance of retrofit should not be underestimated based on the large number of new coal units being added.
Unfortunately, today’s CO2 capture technology is very costly. A recent review by the IEA of a variety of engineering studies conducted by a range of organisations that showed the cost of electricity from a new coal power plant with CO2 capture was estimated to be from 40 to 89 percent higher than a new coal plant without CO2 capture.
Ultimately, in order to get over the hurdle and achieve the cost reductions brought by technology maturity, it will be necessary for governments to specifically support CCS demonstration projects with capital grants as well as support for the power prices. Even if additional revenues can be obtained from the sale of CO2 for EOR, they may not be sufficient to allow full financing in all cases.
While coal use remains significant, its continued use has been challenged by growing environmental concerns, particularly related to increases in anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Adding technologies that can reduce CO2 emissions from coal (primarily by using CCS or CCUS) is possible but adds considerable cost, risk, and complexity to coal fuelled power plants, particularly at their current stages of maturity.
Coal remains an important and prevalent fuel for the production of electricity. Its low cost, abundance, and broad distribution make it attractive for power production, particularly in emerging countries such as China and India, where coal fuelled power has increased dramatically in recent years as demand for energy and the higher standard of living it brings have grown along with the population.