A quick look at some of the trends and issue to watch out for in 2018 in energy and environment:
Solar power has been expanding rapidly these past couple of years due to advances in technology and uptake meaning that it is now cheaper than traditional fossil fuels . In fact, the drop in price of solar (and wind) energy infrastructure has been such that a study in late 2017 pointed out that it is actually cheaper to install new solar and wind energy that it is to run (already built) coal and nuclear power plants.
Projections for 2018 suggest that this positive trend will continue, with new global solar installations expected to exceed 100 GW for the first time ever in 2018, with China dominating demand.
I also have to mention that it looks like the first commercial distribution contract for perovskite solar cells (which my PhD is on) has been signed between Saule technologies and Skanska group. This is an exciting step forward for a technology with huge potential which has continually had major questions asked about its commercialisation potential.
Although wind power often gets lumped into discussions about solar (I committed this same sin in the previous paragraph) it is important to note that the wind energy sector is different and has its own challenges and opportunities.
Among the opportunities are exciting developments like a report from the Global Wind Energy Council in Oct 2017, which suggested that wind could account for 20% of global energy capacity by 2030. There have also been some ambitious projects proposed like the super-sized North Sea wind farm Dutch Power are looking to build, with a possible generating capacity of 30GW and complete with its own artificial island.
I personally feel that the growth of offshore floating wind farms will be a very interesting trend, as explained in further detail in this report by Willis Towers Watson, a huge amount of potential wind energy is located above deep sea locations. For example, that report states that
"80% of the offshore wind resource in Europe is located in waters deeper than 60 meters and has a potential capacity of 4,000GW."
As a Scot, I'm also proud that the first offshore floating windfarm (a 30MW project run by Statoil) was opened off the North East coast of Scotland in Oct 2017. It will be exciting to see more projects like this come online both in Scotland, Europe and the rest of the world in 2018.
Finally, as I am currently reading "Earth: The Sequel" by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn , which is an interesting though slightly outdated look at different enterprises in renewable technology and argues heavily for a carbon cap and trade scheme, I thought I'd finish with a point on carbon trading in 2018.
As this brief article on the David Suzuki Foundation website highlights, there are two clear ways to incorporate environmental damage due to release of carbon dioxide (or indeed other greenhouse gas emissions) into our current economic model that do not require governments attempting to choose specific technologies to back through subsidies: a carbon tax or a so called "cap and trade" scheme.
In a carbon tax model, every unit of CO2 emitted is taxed at some fixed rate. For example, in Sweden the rate is currently $150/tonne of CO2 emitted. This directly discourages the burning of fossil fuels and other activities which emit greenhouse gases and therefore stimulates the growth of the renewable sector. Of the two models, this is the easiest for governments to implement.
In a cap and trade system, the government sets an 'emissions ceiling' which the entire economy must fall below. Emissions quotas are then divided out among potential polluters, for example through auction, and polluters cannot exceed these quotas. If they do then they must buy pollution quotas from other parties who have spare quota to sell in order to cover the difference. As time progresses the government successively lowers the cap, thus reducing the overall emissions produced by the economy. This encourages polluters to reduce their carbon emissions so that they can potentially sell there remaining carbon quota on the market, the market of course also acting to set the price of these quotas. The cap and trade scheme allows businesses the freedom to choose how they reduce their emissions whilst also providing a direct economic incentive to do so.
Of these two I like the idea of cap and trade systems best, as the cap itself provides a certainty about the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that will be emitted. To my mind this is the clearest way to lower carbon emissions as in line with the reductions agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Due to my interest in this, it was exciting to hear that China are moving to introduce a carbon cap and trade scheme which it is believed could reduce their peak emissions timescale from 2030 to even earlier. Since China having its peak emissions by 2030 or earlier will be key to the world meeting the Paris Climate Agreement targets of less than 2 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels, I think this is great news.