Carbon fixes: assessing the options

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Concerns over climate change have intensified, driven by the Federal initiative to cut carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. With a Republican Congress, efforts are underway to undercut the Obama Administration’s attempts to reduce these emissions. Some opponents claim carbon reductions are unnecessary, job killing and too costly. Since the reduction plans are to be developed on a state-by-state basis, those efforts are likely to prove contentious as well.

A recent report, “Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change and Economic Risk in the Midwest, A product of the Risky B0usiness Project”, was co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson and Thomas Steyer, along with Risk Committee Members composed primarily of former federal government officials.

The report predicts significant economic impacts from climate change if we stay on the current emissions path. Rising temperatures will adversely impact agriculture, increase electrical demand for air conditioning and harmfully affect human well being. For example, it is estimated that by 2050, Chicago has a 1-in-20 chance of experiencing more than 10 days/year with a humidity heat stroke index similar to the one in 1995 that killed 750 people. By the turn of the century Chicago could have twice the number of 95 degree days as Texas currently has.

Efforts to curb carbon emissions on a global basis rely on nations agreeing on emission targets. If agreements are reached, questions remain regarding their implementation.

The reality of climate change and the need to address it could be faced with further delays from conflicts over appropriate solutions. Geo engineering solutions have raised some concerns. Instead of cutting emissions, advocates want to blow sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to block solar radiation and lower global temperatures. Carbon capture and storage also has its advocates. The effort would pump billions of tons of carbon dioxide into old coal mines and oil wells to lower its concentration in the atmosphere.

Others are moving ahead with actions consistent with reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Burlington, Vermont, has claimed it is the first U.S. city to be 100 percent powered by renewable electricity. The city’s public utility relies on biomass, hydroelectric, solar and wind sources to provide electricity to its customers.

On an individual and community basis, homes and townhouses have demonstrated that well-insulated buildings can cut energy consumption for heating by at least 80 percent, even in cold northern climates. Many generate their electricity using solar panels, while remaining connected to the grid for backup power. On an annual basis, the homes become zero-net energy consumers by using the credits from excess summer production.

Existing buildings can also benefit from energy upgrades; saving money, improving occupant comfort, reducing local air pollution and cutting carbon emissions. The Rockford branch of U.S. Green Building Council is calling for a program to address the need to increase the energy efficiency of existing buildings. Using the money saved from low gas and natural gas prices to invest in upgrading the energy efficiency of existing buildings, will provide cost savings long into the future.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl can be reached via e-mail at sonia@essex1.com.

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