Archive for November, 2011


Carbon Tax and mitigation strategies

Many non OECD countries’ economy relies heavily on coal, oil and natural gas. Their economy is ‘carbon intensive’. Carbon emissions reduction has been and will be very challenging for these countries. China and Indi arank first in high carbon emission among non OECD countries and rank high on emerging economic powers in Asia. In order to partially control carbon emissions, carbon tax (CT), an incentive based policy instrument for controlling emissions is being imposed by several countries. This policy is being studied in detail, and debated by several economists and researchers.  Inter-­­ governmental pressure on countries ( non OECD) to control reduction in emissions, control global warming, contain sea level changes and melting of glaciers, compelling these countries to develop effective policy instruments to promote energy saving, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and effectively utilize non-conventional energy sources like geothermal and solar to supplement the reduction of development caused by reduction in coal based power generation. The very thought of carbon tax is sparking controversial debates in such countries ( i.e. imposing CT will have adverse impact on energy sector and economic growth of the country) and political parties are the most affected group by such debates ( by such tax!!).

In fact The Chinese Study Group of Climate Change computed the impacts of CT on the economy by taking two cases of tax rates 1)  RMB¥ 100, and 2) RMB¥ 200/tc. Their study concluded that CT can significantly reduce the growth of energy consumption, improve the energy consumption structure, and effectively reduce the greenhouse gases emissions.  Further, this study also realized that low intensity CT will not have significant negative impact on the future economic growth. Countries  like Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Netherl and sand Norwayhave CT in place.

Recently the Australian Prime Minister introduced CT ( known as carbon pricing) as her government’s policy response to climate change.  This policy is beneficial to the geothermal sector. But this policy is against her election promise (not to introduce CT!!).  Once passed by the Parliament later this year, the largest emitters of CO2 ( ~~ 500 in number) will pay CT of A$ of 23/t with 5% annual increase till 2015 ( to reduce 5% emissions by 2020). The outcome  of this policy is beneficial to  the geothermal sector since it will get new funding of A$10 billion through Clean Energy Finance Corporation.  This initiative is a boon to Australian geothermal stocks. Besides this the Australian Government separately announced A$ 60 million as additional funding for “Emerging Renewable programme”.  Geothermal companies can apply for this fund as well.  Good forAustralia but bad for Indian steel and power sectors!!

Australia’s CSIRO took a new initiative in making greenhouse gases (GHG)  data available over the southern hemisphere (SH) to the public. This site shows the data on GHG measured over the SH over the past 35 years. Data is updated monthly.

In contrast to other countries, India has a different view on CT! IndiaSaturday strongly opposed imposition of carbon tax as an additional source of funding to fight climate change. While addressing the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting on Development, climate and innovative finance, Indian Finance Minister stated that “India believes that some of the measures like carbon export optimisation tax and levy on CDM/offsets violate the principles of the Convention (UNFCCC) as their incidence falls entirely on developing countries and these cannot be recognised as a source of new and additional finance for climate change,” (web news).

Compared to all the countries, OECD Europe is expected to increase renewable energy share in its power source mix >  23%.  Europeis already at the top of low emission countries list and currently trading carbon at the rate of €~ 8-10 ( may be reduced in future) under CER.  India is a major customer (China tops the list) for carbon trade with Europe and continues to be so for the next decade, considering the future power demand and generation of power from coal based thermal power plants. China’s CT policy may bail out the country from carbon emission web by 2030. By the 2030Indiawill be fully under the control ofEuropewith huge piled up credit. Both wind and geothermal are playing a major role in primary source mix inEurope’s power scenario. This situation can be over come ifIndiautilizes its geothermal energy sources.

Geothermal energy resource can provide a stable supply of energy,  in contrast to many alternative domestic renewable energy resources like hydro, wind and solar photo voltaic in all the non OECD countries likeIndia. If such sources are not utilized to the fullest extent, then the carbon emissions in these countries will only see an upward trend unlike the OECD countries.

On an average, geothermal power plants emit 0.893 kgCO2/MWhr while coal power plants emit 953 kg CO2/MWhr. The combined (wet low enthalpy and EGS) geothermal potential of India, taking into account the150000 sq. km high heat producing granites, spread over the continent, on a conservative side, amounts to 18348 x 1014 kWhr.  Even utilizing this source  to the tune of 5 to 10 % will have tremendous effect on emission scenario by the country.

Further, 33% (245 x 106 MWhr, only coal power) of electricity in India is consumed by the building sector (commercial and domestic). A major amount is spent for space cooling,  refrigeration and hot water supply. This amounts to emission of 234 x 109 kg CO2. If India utilizes low enthalpy geothermal sources (through GHPs) an additional revenue of €234 x 107  under CER can be earned.

In addition to the building sector, implementing CDM in food processing sector also will provide additional benefit to the country in reducing CO2 and in earning carbon credits. Indian food sector consumes about 13 % of the electricity (IEA, 2007) amounting to 63 x 106 MWhr (from coal fired thermal power plants). Thus part of the capital, amounting to € 600 x 106 can be raised through CDM and ploughed into this industry by using geothermal sources instead of conventional fuels.

In the current industrial era, black carbon (BC) content in the atmosphere adds further misery to our lives!!  Changing weather pattern, fast retreating glaciers, droughts, flash and summer floods are the consequences of such uncontrolled BC emissions. Carbon dioxide also plays a major role but CO2 has a long term effect while BC has a short term effect.

Coal, fuel wood, dung cake and agricultural waste are consumed maximum in that order inIndia. According to 1996-2001 data, 286 Mt (million) of coal, 302 Mt of fuel wood, 121 Mt of dung cake and 116 Mt of agricultural waste was consumed inIndia.  The consumption of these fuels has increased by several folds due to increase in population and hence demand. BC emission factor of these fuels in that order is ~ 0.8, 1.1, 4.4 and 1.3 g/kg.

BC  absorbs sunlight turning it into heat. Thus, a layer of BC in the atmosphere, while emitting a third of this absorbed heat back in to space, keeps the earth’s surface warm. More BC in the atmosphere means more heat over the surface of earth. As the BC increases the earth’s surface gets hotter and hotter!! Simple logic.  Thus BC causes change in the heat input at the top of the atmosphere. This is known as “Radiative Forcing (RF)”.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report,  RF of BC is of the order of + 0.34 W/m2 while forcing of CO2 is of the order of + 1.66 W/m2.

Thus the sources of BC are fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas), biomass, agricultural waste, dung etc. The life of BC in the atmosphere is about a week, while CO2 lingers for several decades. Both BC and CO2 have tremendous effect on global warming and glacier retreat. BC has strong light absorbing property. Thus short term control of global warming can be accomplished by controlling the BC emission. If BC emission is controlled then half our problems related to global warming is solved ( no more CT)!! In developing countries likeIndia andAfrica, BC emission emerge mainly from rural sector while transport sector is the main source of BC emission in the developed countries.  High percent of biomass and dung is used in rural regions for cooking, space heating and consumption of such fuels is high during winters.

The emission values reported in the literature for BC and other related aerosols in the atmosphere varies like the climate!  There is no consistency in the emission values reported. The values keep changing between the authors and sometimes with the same author!. Each authors claims that their value is the best!!

According a paper published in “Atmospheric Environment” in 2002 the BC (India) emission of dung cake  is 0.25 g/kg and that of crop waste is 0.47 g/kg. Another paper that appeared in the same journal in 2005 reported BC emission of dung cake from 2.2 to 6.6 g/kg and that of agricultural waste from 0.2 to 2.4 g/kg!! Value reported by the same author also varies with time!! Perhaps such discrepancies may be related to the betterment of analytical techniques and demographic data. Such uncertainties are ( E.g. seeJr.Geophy. Res., 2004) due to extrapolation of data such as population, per capita consumption ( varies by a factor of 3!), economic data etc. and also due to over prediction of fuel consumption measurements!!.

Irrespective of these numbers, the truth is, India, next to China, is the leader in BC emission!.

The total BC emission byIndia ( 2000 base value) as reported earlier, was 600 Gg (Jr.Geophy. Res., 2003, v,108) while in 2008 this value has changed to 1343 Gg (Geophy.Res.Lett., 2008, v. 35)!!.  Thus one gets two values for per capita emission of BC inIndia. One at 600 g and the second, just double this value!! It is safe to take the minimum value for all discussions.

In India, maximum BC emission is from rural areas like Leh. Leh is  located at an altitude of 4500 m in the Himalayas(in Ladakh province of J & K), where the temperatures falls 15 °C below zero in winters. Combustion rate of all fuels are low at this elevation. Dung cake, biomass and coal are extensively used to heat the homes and of course for cooking also. Guest houses, army and affluent society use cooking gas or “bukharis”,  a device that uses kerosene ( or some times saw dust) to heat rooms and homes. CO, CO2 and BC are ejected out in to the space through an exhaust pipe.

Population of Leh is ~ 68,000 and with the reported per capita BC emission of 600 g (2000)  Leh alone is contributing minimum of about 0.04 Gg of BC annually. Similarly, Kargil with a population of 119,307 is contributing about 0.07Gg of BC to the atmosphere around the glaciers.  A similar emission figures can be assumed from other towns located at that altitude all along the higherHimalayas, extending from NW to E of India.  The BC emission from the foot hillHimalayasalso reach higher altitude. During winter ( where BC emission is maximum) snow brings down all the BC floating in the atmosphere. This is the reason why many Himalayan glaciers appear black. It is easy to estimate the BC content in ice. Since it is possible to date ice,  BC content in the atmosphere in the past can be estimated. The Gangotri glacier is retreating at a rate of 18 m/yr. This is really alarming and this observation is not disputed. The real “component” that is responsible for this retreat is BC

Simulation studies conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Feb 2010 showed that major contributor (~90%) for fast melting of glaciers is BC. BC content in ice cores recovered from ERG glacier is about 20 mg/kg. while global average BC content in snow is about 5 mg/kg. This is alarmingly high!! 15 mg/kg of BC in snow reduces about 1% of its albedo. This is a clear indication that the 18m/year retrieval of Gangotri glacier is due to this huge BC emissions from rural Higher Himalayan villages/towns.

In addition, BC from Asian region also travel to the Himalayan region contributing additional amount to BC. Since BC heats the atmosphere, it creates local thermal anomaly thereby disturbing the normal atmospheric convection pattern that exerts tremendous influence on the precipitation. Perhaps this could be the reason for the flash flood that devastated Leh in 2010!

The residence time of BC in the atmosphere is far less than CO2. So BC does not accumulate while CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere. By controlling BC emissions, global warming can be controlled within in a short period of time.  It is very easy to control BC emissions without compromising life comforts!!  The pristine Himalayan ecosystem can be protected and fast deteriorating glaciers life can be restored by tapping the huge geothermal resources available in Leh.

Straight away 150 million grams BC emision from Leh and Kargil  can be stopped immediately by tapping 2 billion kWhr of electric power from Puga and Chumathang geothermal provinces ( Himalayan geothermal belt)!!. In fact, Leh and Kargil may need maximum 10 % to 20 % (assuming future demand of Leh) of this power. The remaining can be supplied to theKashmirvalley there by further reducing BC emissions from the valley during winters. Once clean power at affordable price is available, there is no need to burn bio-fuels to keep the homes warm during winters!

In fact, Lhasa, in Tibetgets it power from the Yangbajing geothermal province situated within the Himalayan geothermal belt that generates 0.2 billion kWhr of electric power.  In fact the geothermal energy in Leh can also be used for green house cultivation and the Leh population can be self-sufficient not only with respect to electric power but also with respect to food.  Chinahas a major plan to tap the huge geothermal reserves from the entire Himalayan geothermal province, extending from Puga belt to Arunachal Pradesh and provide CO2,  BC free power to all its cities, towns and villages in the southern part of China including Lahsa. This will make China to reduce CO2 and BC emissions drastically and earn millions of dollars under CER and become a major “carbon trader in the entire south and south-eastAsia.

There are other geothermal provinces in the mid Indian continent that can very well be used to have source mix for generating electricity thereby reducing dependency on fossil fuel based power and reduce carbon dioxide and BC emissions and also earn carbon credits through CER. The world as on today generates > 10,700 MWe of geothermal power. The technology is very well established. Now tremendous development in binary fluid / heat exchanger technology is rendering utilization of thermal waters with low temperatures ( as low as 80 °C) for generating electric power.  India has the expertise and technical know how. Only the policy makers need to have the will to develop it.

India can very well reduce carbon emissions to the levels specified by IPCC by 2050 and be the leader in green energy consumption by utilizing its untapped geothermal energy sources for power as well as for direct application. Technology and expertise are available with the country.  We don’t need CT, don’t have to fear emissions targets and provide socio economic benefits to a larger section of the society. The solution is in our hands!!