Guest Column: Alternatives for lowering CO2 emissions

Guest Column: Alternatives for lowering CO2 emissions

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl

During the past 100 years, energy demands for human uses has increased geometrically.

While population has increased by a factor of four, energy consumption increased 16 times. Current global energy consumption levels are estimated at 12 terrawatts (terra = 1012). With 85 percent of the world’s energy produced by fossil fuels, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have climbed dramatically. They now stand at 370 ppm in contrast to the 275 ppm at the beginning of the last century. Along with climbing CO2 levels, increasing scientific evidence indicates the global climate is warming.

If current trends continue, it is projected that CO2 levels could reach 550 ppm before the end of this century. To minimize the adverse global warming effects of melting ice fields, rising sea levels, coastal flooding, shifting croplands and the increasing spread of tropical diseases, it is suggested that CO2 levels be stabilized at 450 ppm.

Any effort to stabilize CO2 is a major international challenge far greater than that presented by the Kyoto Protocol, which was rejected by the United States. If the 450 ppm CO2 level became the global carbon stabilization target, the world may need a doubling of today’s primary energy supply by 2050, and the energy would need to be carbon-free.

Stabilizing CO2 levels requires a major paradigm shift in energy production and consumption. The key question is whether society can produce sufficient carbon-free energy sources in a timely manner.

A new energy paradigm should stress the reduction in wasteful uses of energy. Energy efficiency remains a top priority. Reductions of 30 percent to 70 percent of the energy now used is possible. Impressive reductions result from higher building insulation levels, low emissivity windows, co-generation, efficient appliances, compact fluorescent bulbs, and lead replacements for traffic and exit lights.

Substantial gains in auto and truck mileage are technically feasible but remain politically difficult to implement within the United States. So individuals are left to buy hybrid vehicles.

Renewable energy technologies such as biomass, wind, and solar thermal and electric are well suited to Illinois. Biomass plantations of corn, soybeans, and trees can be used to produce an increasing share of energy. While biomass holds substantial potential, at some point its use for energy will conflict with its use for human food. For example, one fourth of U.S. cropland would have to be in corn to produce enough ethanol fuel to serve U.S. agricultural energy needs.

Wind potential for Illinois is equivalent to what would be produced by five Byron-sized power plants. Although it is clean and cost effective, there still is no operating wind farm in Illinois, but several are planned.

Solar energy for space heating and water heating is cost effective. With a suitable site, 70 percent of a family’s hot water needs can be met by the sun.

Although it is still a relatively high-priced form of generating electricity, solar electricity can be integrated into existing buildings and new construction. Systems can be ground or roof mounted, and integrated into the existing grid service. While more expensive than wind power, the simplicity, reliability and minimal maintenance needs of solar electrical systems make them appealing to home owners. At least a half dozen, small wind and/or solar electric systems exist in the immediate area. Articles describing these systems will appear in future issues of The Rock River Times. If readers know of any systems in the area, please forward the information to us at TRRT.

Robert & Sonia Vogl are president & vice-president of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association.

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