An oil company released a study showing that renewable energy is cost-competitive with fossil fuels, even without subsidies. The same report suggests that technology alone won't be enough to curtail climate change; policy changes, including carbon taxes, are also necessary.
BP's study was conducted in conjunction with scientists from a variety of research institutes and universities. Its purpose is to inform businesses, researchers, and policy-makers of the current energy situation, the developing technologies, and the costs associated with various solutions to energy usage and its economic and ecological impacts.
The report focuses on five key technologies: energy efficiency, digital systems, renewable energy, energy storage, and decarbonized gas. It also acknowledges that the solution is not entirely technological - some well-placed policy adjustments are also needed.
When a resource is abundant, nobody worries about efficiency. Coal, with its copious stores and massive energy density, fueled the industrial revolution and remains the largest single source of electricity, in spite of the fact that its conversion efficiency is only about 33%. Petroleum drove the automotive industry, even though the efficiency of an internal combustion engine (ICE) is an unimpressive 25%.
The concept of energy efficiency is simple: use less and you need less. If an ICE converts one-fourth of its fuel into movement, then it needs a lot more fuel to go the same distance as a car that's 80% efficient. A poorly insulated building requires more energy to maintain the desired comfort level.
According to Dr. Jonathan Cullen, Leader of the Resource Efficiency Collective in Cambridge University's Engineering Department, technology can improve energy efficiency enough to reduce energy consumption by 40% - that's 217 exajoules, or 60,000 TeraWatt-Hours. (One exajoule is enough to power 26 million North American homes for a year. It's the energy equivalent of 160 million barrels of oil.) These efficiency measures would keep more than 13 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. (If everything ran at peak theoretical efficiency, those improvements would double; the researchers are engineers, so they provided a practical number rather than a theoretical value.) Among the technologies cited are electric vehicles, heating and cooling systems, LED lighting, and digital controls.
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