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Nations rally behind renewables at COP28 climate talks



Nations rally behind renewables at COP28 climate talks

Nations rally behind renewables at COP28 climate talks

By Talek Harris, Nick Perry and Laurent Thomet

Dubai (AFP) Dec 2, 2023

Nearly 120 nations pledged to triple the world’s renewable energy within seven years at UN climate talks Saturday as the United States pushed to crank up nuclear capacity and slash methane emissions.

With smoggy skies in Dubai highlighting the challenges facing the world, leaders at the COP28 conference threw their support behind voluntary pledges aimed at ramping up alternatives to fossil fuels.

A massive deployment of solar, wind, hydroelectric and other renewables is crucial to efforts to replace planet-heating coal, oil and gas and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

– Fossil fuel fight –

But COP28 negotiators face far tougher talks on the fate of fossil fuels over the next two weeks.

“Everyone stuck to their traditional positions,” said one who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But on clean energy, more than half of all nations signed up to a commitment to triple global renewable capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030, the COP28’s Emirati president said.

However, major oil producers including Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran did not join, nor is top consumer China on the list.

“I do need more, and I’m kindly requesting all parties to come on board as soon as possible please,” COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber told delegates.

Clean power advocates welcomed the commitment but said it must be accompanied by the phaseout of dirtier forms of energy.

“The future will be powered by solar and wind, but it won’t happen fast enough unless governments regulate fossil fuels out of the way,” said Kaisa Kosonen, the head of Greenpeace’s COP28 delegation.

Jaber also announced a pledge by oil and gas companies responsible for 40 percent of global production — including Saudi giant Aramco and the UAE firm ADNOC he heads — to decarbonise their operations by 2050 and curb methane emissions.

But the pledges do not include the pollution when the fuels are burned by their customers, and were criticised for repackaging previous, non-binding commitments.

“This charter is proof that voluntary commitments from the oil and gas industry will never foster the level of ambition necessary to tackle the climate crisis,” said Melanie Robinson of the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research body.

– ‘Destructive’ methane –

It comes after the US Environmental Protection Agency said it would tighten curbs on methane emissions from its oil and gas industry.

The new standards will phase in the elimination of routine flaring of natural gas produced by oil wells, and require comprehensive monitoring of methane leaks from wells and compression stations.

Methane is responsible for about one-third of the warming from greenhouse gases, second only to CO2.

“It is fugitive gas, and it just is out there doing damage,” said US climate envoy John Kerry, who met his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Dubai Saturday to discuss how to curb the gas.

Their meeting followed an agreement with the US earlier this month where China for the first time agreed to include all greenhouse gases in its next national climate pledge for 2035.

Kerry also announced that Turkmenistan — which leaks more methane per unit of oil and gas than any other country — had signed up to an existing pledge to curb these harmful emissions.

The energy sector is the second-largest source of human-caused methane emissions.

Agriculture is the first, accounting for a quarter of methane emissions, mostly from livestock.

The US also joined a coalition of dozens of nations committed to phasing out coal power plants whose emissions cannot be captured.

– Nuclear option –

While COP28 rallied behind renewables, Washington led a call by more than 20 nations to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

In a declaration, countries ranging from Britain to Ghana, Japan and several European nations said nuclear power had a “key role” in achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century.

But its use as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels is highly controversial, with many environmental groups warning about safety risks and the disposal of nuclear waste.

Yet Kerry insisted “you can’t get to net zero 2050 without some nuclear”.

Environmental group said the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan highlighted the dangers.

“We don’t have time to waste on dangerous distractions like nuclear energy,” said its North America director Jeff Ordower.

More than 50 world leaders took the stage at COP28 for the second day in a row, with US Vice President Kamala Harris announcing a $3 billion contribution to a fund to help developing countries with energy transition and the effects of climate change — Washington’s first pledge to it since 2014.

Pledges made so far at the COP28 climate talks
Paris (AFP) Dec 2, 2023 -
The COP28 climate talks in Dubai have begun with a flurry of announcements promising action on global warming, led by its big-spending, oil-rich host the United Arab Emirates.

But observers have warned that the headline-grabbing pledges could distract from the real battles on fossil fuels and negotiating a formal COP28 text at the end of the two-week talks.

As pressure builds during what is expected to be the hottest year on record, here are some major funding pledges and declarations announced so far at COP28.

– Loss and damage –

The first day of the talks Thursday saw the launch of a landmark “loss and damage” fund to help vulnerable countries cope with the increasingly costly and damaging impacts of climate disasters.

The UAE and Germany pledged $100 million each, France $109 million, $50 million from Britain, $25 million from Denmark and $17.5 million from the United States, the world’s biggest historical polluter.

Campaigners said the US offering was woefully inadequate.

The total committed as of Saturday was some $656 million, according to a tally by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

That falls vastly short of the $100 billion a year that developing nations — which have historically been least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions — have said are needed to cover losses from natural disasters.

– Tripling renewables –

At least 116 countries committed Saturday to triple renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030 and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements.

G20 nations, which account for nearly 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, paved the way for a deal when they endorsed the renewable energy goal in September.

While supporters are expected to push for the pledge to be included in the final outcome of the talks, there are fears that the COP28 hosts were willing to shunt the more ambitious targets into voluntary deals.

– Fossil fuels –

The US committed to phasing out its existing unabated coal plants as it joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) Saturday.

Abatement generally means when the emissions from a power plant are captured before going into the atmosphere.

Global CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants reached a new high in 2022 and the US has the world’s third-biggest capacity behind China and India.

Colombia became one of the largest fossil fuel producers to join the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, a movement led by climate vulnerable island nations to end new development of coal, oil and gas.

Meanwhile, 50 oil and gas companies representing 40 percent of global production also pledged to decarbonise their operations by 2050. But the non-binding agreement does not include emissions when their fuels are burned by customers.

– Tripling nuclear –

More than 20 countries led by the US called Saturday for the tripling of world nuclear energy capacity by 2050. While nuclear generates almost no greenhouse gases, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 dealt it a severe blow.

But experts and activists point to the fact that new nuclear plants can take decades, while renewable energy is rising fast.

– Food and farming –

More than 130 countries have agreed to prioritise food and agriculture systems in their national climate plans.

The non-binding declaration was welcomed by observers, with food systems estimated to be responsible for roughly a third of human-made greenhouse gases.

But some criticised it for lacking concrete goals — and not mentioning fossil fuels or signalling any change to more sustainable diets.

– Healthy future? –

Over 120 countries signed up to a declaration to “place health at the heart of climate action”. It called for governments to step up action on climate-related health impacts like extreme heat, air pollution and infectious diseases.

Almost nine million people a year die from polluted air, while 189 million are exposed to extreme weather-related events.

The declaration notes “the benefits for health from deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”, but makes no direct reference to the fossil fuels responsible for most human-caused pollution. COP28’s themed day on health is Sunday.

– UAE climate investment fund –

The UAE said it is putting $30 billion into a new private climate investment fund.

The oil-rich COP28 host said that the fund, called Alterra, would partly try to focus on climate projects in the developing world, and hoped to stimulate investments totalling $250 billion by 2030.

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Research team achieves significant solar cell efficiency milestone




Research team achieves significant solar cell efficiency milestone

Research team achieves significant solar cell efficiency milestone

by Simon Mansfield

Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 26, 2024

A research team has created a tandem solar cell using antimony selenide as the bottom cell material and a hybrid perovskite material as the top cell, achieving over 20 percent power conversion efficiency. This advancement highlights antimony selenide’s potential for bottom cell applications.

Photovoltaic technology converts sunlight into electricity, offering a clean energy source. Scientists aim to enhance the efficiency of solar cells, achieving over 20 percent in conventional single-junction cells. Surpassing the Shockley-Queisser limit in these cells would be costly, but tandem solar cells can overcome this limit by stacking materials.

The team focused on antimony selenide for tandem cells, traditionally used in single-junction cells. “Antimony selenide is a suitable bottom cell material for tandem solar cells. However, because of the rarity of reported tandem solar cells using it as a bottom cell, little attention has been paid to its application. We assembled a tandem solar cell with high conversion efficiency using it as the bottom cell to demonstrate the potential of this material,” said Tao Chen, professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Science and Technology of China.

Tandem cells absorb more sunlight than single-junction cells, converting more light into electricity. The team created perovskite/antimony selenide tandem cells with a transparent conducting electrode, optimizing the spectral response and achieving over 17 percent efficiency. By optimizing the antimony selenide bottom cell, they reached 7.58 percent efficiency.

The assembled four-terminal tandem cell achieved 20.58 percent efficiency, higher than independent subcells. The tandem cell is stable and uses nontoxic elements. “This work provides a new tandem device structure and demonstrates that antimony selenide is a promising absorber material for bottom cell applications in tandem solar cells,” said Chen.

The team aims to develop an integrated two-terminal tandem cell and further improve performance. “The high stability of antimony selenide provides great convenience for the preparation of two-terminal tandem solar cell, which means that it may have good results when paired with quite a few different types of top cell materials.”

Research Report:Sb2Se3 as a bottom cell material for efficient perovskite/Sb2Se3 tandem solar cells

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Flower or power? Campaigners fear lithium mine could kill rare plant




Flower or power? Campaigners fear lithium mine could kill rare plant

Flower or power? Campaigners fear lithium mine could kill rare plant


Rhyolite Ridge, United States (AFP) May 23, 2024

Delicate pink buds sway in the desert breeze, pregnant with yellow pompoms whose explosion will carpet the dusty corner of Nevada that is the only place on Earth where they exist.

Under their roots lie vast reserves of lithium, vital for the rechargeable electric car batteries that will reduce planet-heating pollution.

But campaigners fear the extraction of the precious metal could destroy the flower’s tiny habitat.

“This mine is going to cause extinction,” says Patrick Donnelly, an environmentalist who works at the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-governmental organization.

“They somehow claim that they’re not harming the (plant). But can you imagine if someone built an open-pit mine 200 feet from your house? Wouldn’t that affect your life profoundly?”

The plant in question is Tiehm’s buckwheat.

There are only around 20,000 known specimens, growing in a few very specific places on a total surface area equivalent to around five soccer fields.

In 2022, the wildflower was classified as endangered by US federal authorities, with mining cited as a major threat to its survival.

The plant and the lithium reserve on which it grows embody one of the key challenges and contradictions of the global climate struggle: how much damage can we inflict on the natural world as we seek to halt or reverse the problems we have already created?

– ‘Coexist’ –

Bernard Rowe, boss of Australian miner Ioneer, which holds the mineral rights to the area, says the lithium produced at Rhyolite Ridge “will be sufficient to provide batteries for about 370,000 vehicles” a year.

“We’ll do that year-on-year for 26 years,” he said.

Those nearly 10 million vehicles will go a long way towards meeting the goal President Joe Biden has set of cutting down the nation’s fleet of gas-guzzlers as a way to slash US production of planet-warming pollutants.

So-called zero-emission cars make up around 7.5 percent of new vehicle sales in the United States today — more than double the percentage just a few years earlier.

In California, the figure is more than 20 percent.

And while expansion in the sector has slowed, the category remains the fastest-growing, according to Kelley Blue Book.

And it’s not only in the United States: Global demand for lithium will increase five to seven times by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.

The difficulty for US manufacturers is that much of the world’s lithium supply is dominated by strategic rival China, as well as Australia and Chile.

“The United States has very, very little domestic production,” said Rowe.

“So it’s important to develop a domestic supply chain to allow for that energy transition, and Rhyolite Ridge will be an integral part of that.”

Ioneer’s plans show that over the years the mine is in operation — it is projected to start producing lithium in late 2027 — around a fifth of the plant’s habitat will be directly affected.

But the company, which has spent $2.5 million researching the plant, says mining will not affect its survival; it is already growing well in greenhouses and biologists think it can be replanted.

“We’re very confident that the mine and Tiehm’s buckwheat can coexist,” Rowe said.

– ‘Greenwashing’ –

Donnelly counters that Ioneer is “basically greenwashing extinction.”

“They’re saying. ‘We’re going to save this plant,’ when actually they are going to send it to its doom,” he said.

Under the company’s plans, the strip mine will use hundreds of trucks, which Donnelly says will raise clouds of dust that will affect photosynthesis and harm the insects that pollinate the plants.

Ioneer says it has already planned mitigation methods, like dust curtains, and keeping the roads wet.

Still, Donnelly says, why not just move the mine? But Rowe counters that it’s not as simple as just digging somewhere else.

Ioneer has invested $170 million since 2016 to demonstrate the feasibility of this site, which it believes is one of the best around.

“Many of these other deposits haven’t had that amount of work, so they’re not viable alternatives to a project like this,” he said.

The US Department of Energy has offered Ioneer a $700 million loan for the project, if the Bureau of Land Management signs off on an operating permit.

Donnelly insists the issue is not just the future of one obscure wildflower, but rather just one example of large-scale biodiversity loss that is threatening millions of plants and animals.

“If we solve the climate crisis, but we drive everything extinct while we do it, we’re still going to lose our world,” he said.

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Tesla breaks ground on huge Shanghai battery plant




Tesla breaks ground on huge Shanghai battery plant

Tesla breaks ground on huge Shanghai battery plant

by AFP Staff Writers

Shanghai (AFP) May 23, 2024

Tesla broke ground on a massive battery factory in Shanghai on Thursday, Chinese state media reported, making it the US electric car giant’s second plant in the financial hub.

The project was announced last April after boss Elon Musk presented a vague but ambitious plan to investors to turbocharge growth.

However, the company last month reported a 55 percent drop in quarterly earnings, reflecting a decline in EV sales in an intensively competitive market.

The new Shanghai factory should make 10,000 units per year of Tesla’s Megapack batteries, state news agency Xinhua said.

Tesla says Megapacks are intended to store energy and stabilise supply for power grids, with each unit able to store more than three megawatt-hours of power.

The factory is expected to start mass production in 2025, state media said in May.

“I believe the new plant is a milestone for both Shanghai and Tesla,” the company’s vice president Tao Lin told Xinhua.

“In a more open environment, we can… supply the global market with large-scale energy-storage batteries manufactured in China.”

Musk has extensive business interests in China and is a fairly frequent visitor.

In April, he met Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and received a key security clearance for Tesla’s locally produced EVs.

Musk’s interests in China have long raised eyebrows in Washington — President Joe Biden has said in the past that his links to foreign countries were “worthy” of scrutiny.

The battery plant will be Tesla’s second in the Chinese city after its enormous Shanghai Gigafactory, which broke ground in 2019.

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