The effects of climate change are already upon us. It is no surprise that every month in the year 2016 has been the hottest on record. The world had foreseen the impending disaster and responded to the challenge a decade ago through Kyoto Protocol. The implementation of the protocols has been taken by seriously by many countries while others have met it with a degree of scepticism. The European Union as a whole has made leaps and bound progress. The affinity to nature and the attitude of sustainability has fermented in the European psyche’ after the two world wars. The cataclysmic events has fostered a strong culture of environmental preservation that has permeated through education.
It is the lukewarm response of the big three nations (USA, China and Russia) that is in dire need of change. They have been dubbed herein the “big three” not only because of the size of their economy and population but the potential they hold in reducing emissions.
The perception of USA as an ecologically indifferent and environmentally irresponsible nation was cemented during the Bush administration. At a time when global consciousness was confronting the rude awakening, the star and stripe nation looked the other way. Perception fortunately is far removed from the truth. The world has to take note that contrary to the popular belief, it was in the US that the science of Climate change was born. Even today, US has can boast of the highest number of wind turbines installed. It is also a leader when it comes to solar installations. The country is also at the forefront of battery storage technology. In fact the push for Solar energy began as early as 1960’s. The pioneering research work at the University of Wisconsin Madison set the tone for renewable energy technology. USA has many firsts in developing renewable technology including solar PV and concentrated solar thermal power plants. People like Marion King Hubbard prophesied the eventual end of oil age. President Jimmy Carter in famous speech went on to express his desire for America to get rid of its oil addiction.
And yet today, the steely grip of the oil industry in collusion with the automotive industry has tarnished the nation’s green credentials. Unlike the space race, it seems that USA never had a desire to compete in the climate race despite having a leg up in the competition. Although the Obama administration has to an extent tried to right the wrong, but it has been too little.
Although on paper, Russia is the 6th largest renewable energy producer in the world but if Hydropower is taken out (164 Twh/year), it stands 56th in the list. Renewable energy amounts less than 1% of its total energy generation. The amount of Solar and Wind energy is almost next to nothing. By the year 2014 only 17 MW of total wind energy capacity was reported. To put this into perspective, it should be noted that large wind turbines today have a capacity of 8MW. Which means that the total Russian wind capacity by the year 2014 was less than that of 3 large scale wind turbines. Fossil fuels and nuclear energy have been the choice for Russian nation which is understandable, given the abundance of these resources in their country and surrounding territory. Although by the year 2016, the wind capacity will rise to nearly 250 MW but it still pales into insignificance, given the amount of wind resources the country holds. Russia has the highest amount of wind resources in the world ( 10.7 GW wind power resources).
Russia is also 4th on the list of biggest CO2 emitters in the world. Given that in the past a rivalry with the US had accelerated technology, the Russian federation looks in to mood to put its full weight in furthering renewable energy technology. Although, there are plans in their Decree 449 to introduce a further 6.2 GW of renewable energy capacity by the year 2020. It is also perplexing to note that Russia is fairly advanced in producing Solar PV and silicon but it does not have a policy in place to incentivize solar energy in populace.
There are two faces China. It is the biggest Renewable producer in the world. Second, it is the biggest polluter in the world. There are more than 50 coal fired power station in China with a minimum capacity of 2 GW. There are 10 coal fired power plants with a capacity of over 4 GW. In the last decade, the exploitation of coal has been rapid. China has ample coal reserves and over 70% of its electricity generation comes from coal. Initially, Chinese officials were reluctant in slowing down on their derive for coal energy seeing climate change treaties as merely an impediment to their ambitions. However the message has finally sunk and more responsibility was taken towards the start of 2010’s. China has since been able to substantially improve its renewable energy portfolio. Today China can boast second largest wind capacity in the world. It has the biggest wind far ( The Gansu wind farm 22 GW) and the biggest hydropower plant ( Three Gorges Dam also 22 GW). It also own two biggest wind turbine manufacturing companies in the world. It is because of these efforts, that China has been to put its emissions on a decline after hitting a peak in 2014.
China can also be credited for driving down the cost of solar energy (both PV and Solar thermal). It produces 63% of the world’s Solar PV panels and cells. Nonetheless, with the countries new found wealth, it can further reduce the gap between its coal and renewable generation. This will also provide China with an energy security. Importing coal from regions of unrest can be problematic to say the least. Chinese cannot sustain an uncertain supply chain. Renewable Energy provides China with the indigenous and secure energy options.
The way forward
As mentioned earlier, the world is already facing the consequences of climate change. Time is running out for the bigger nations. We cannot procrastinate any longer over this issue. It is encouraging to see that China and Russia are collaborating for an infrastructure that will allow exchange of energy between the two countries. The US also needs to capitalize on renewable energy technology just like it has capitalized on automotive and defence technology in the past.
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