April 30, 2020
|The San Gabriel Mountains are seen under a clear sky beyond downtown Los Angeles. Air quality in the U.S. and elsewhere has been improved by reduced traffic from coronavirus restrictions and weeks of rainstorms. David McNew/Getty Images|
The COVID-19 pandemic is delivering the biggest shock to the global energy system in seven decades, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.
Global energy demand is expected to fall by 6% this year, seven times the decline brought by the financial crisis 10 years ago. IEA projections show oil and gas being hit hard. But demand for coal could fall by an extraordinary 8% — the largest decline since World War II.
Not all the drop in demand was because of the coronavirus; in the U.S. especially, a large share was caused by a warmer-than-average winter.
The IEA says the lower emissions will reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change by almost 8% this year, which would be the largest annual decrease ever recorded.
But the U.N. has said global emissions must be cut that much every year for the next decade in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid its worst impacts.
[And this should tell you that the targets to limit global warming to 1.5 C, and the corresponding plans, are not going to work. They will not hit the targets. Because the effort required, the sacrifices required, will cripple our economy and wreak havoc on our social life.]
The IEA warns that emissions will rebound when the economy recovers, unless countries focus their economic relief packages on boosting clean energy.
[This is a hope. This is a wish. Let's take airlines for example. Aircraft and flights are one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions. The grounding of many passenger flights have led to the reduction in GHG emissions. But when people start flying again, those emissions will come back.
Unless airlines switch to cleaner, greener planes.
There are NO commercial planes that are running THAT clean and green. And aircraft development takes years to decades before a new design is ready for commercial flight. And then there is the 737 Max.
So, a new clean and green commercial airliner (i.e. electric commercial airline) is not going to happen soon.
Moreover, a steep rise in airfreight prices, and the oil price crash have made the operations of older, less fuel efficient aircraft for freight, economically viable. Hence some old 747 freighter are being returned to service for now.
But this is temporary. If oil prices rises, or freight prices falls, they would no longer be commercially viable. And when planes fly again (passenger flights), air freight will be carried by those planes as well, and there will be more freight capacity, causing freight prices to moderate. ]
The agency's projections could also change, depending on how countries adjust their policies in coming months. If stay-at-home orders are lifted faster than expected, for instance, normal emissions could return more quickly.
"The [Earth] needs structural emissions reductions driven by better policies," tweeted Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director.
Even without those changes, the agency says renewable energy will actually fare well in 2020. While it won't grow as much as in the past, the IEA projects electricity generation from wind, solar and hydropower will increase by 5%. Another report this week found that solar and wind are now the cheapest source of power in most of the world.
[Cheapest. So why aren't we all switching to green energy? Because it is not enough to be cheap, not enough to be "abundant". I understand there is gold in sea water. But it is so diluted, you need to filter tonnes of the water to get a usable (or commercially significant) amount. Same for the diffused energy of the sun and wind. Think about it. If the sun's energy is concentrated enough, we would burst into flames just standing out in the sunlight for more than a few minutes. Solar is not THE solution. It may be ONE of the solution, but it is not the game-changer the ill-informed thinks it will be. And no, it is not simply a matter of waiting for technology to catch up.]
Still, the U.S. solar industry estimates it's going to lose up to half of its 250,000 jobs this year if nothing is done. It's been lobbying Congress for federal help.
"We create lots of economic opportunity. We create lots of tax base. But we also help solve the climate crisis," says Abigail Ross Hopper, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
So far, though, the Trump administration has been more interested in trying to help the fossil fuel industry, which also faces staggering job losses.
"We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down," President Trump tweeted recently, as he directed the secretaries of Energy and Treasury to come up with a plan. So far, it's not clear what that plan would be.
The oil price plunge is NOT good for alternative energy. Why look for alternatives when what we got is so cheap?
Of course the problem is oil is not really cheap. The dirty fuels system has externalised costs. Governments need to reapply those costs to the dirty fuels - with carbon tax, or other taxes. That comes at a political costs.
However, the environmental effect of our shutdown provides governments with a bargaining chip, or at least a starting point to negotiate. With the drastic change of clear skies over polluted air, the government's argument for a cleaner fuel/energy system has clear reference points for the public. And can only help their argument.
But it is still an uphill battle to change the status quo, especially since a viable alternative is not quite ready...]