Carbon Intensity

BBC World Website (7 April 2011)

Hardly a day goes by without more news from the Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, unlike past disasters, we have had more news, and media coverage that was inconceivable even ten years ago, and the unfolding tragedy in Japan and at the Fukushima Daiichi has impacted countries far from the leaking radiation.

Many countries including Germany, and China, have halted or postponed existing nuclear programmes for “safety checks” as the media report continues to report the countless attempts by the plant operators TEPCO to try and control the leakage from the wreckage. Japan like Hong Kong has few natural resources (coal, oil or gas) and relies heavily on its nuclear energy programme to provide 30% of its energy needs.

The elephant in the room is those pesky commitments to tackle climate change. China announced on the eve of COP16 (and reiterated at the recent NPCC 12th Five year plan [1] ) that it would reduce it’s Carbon Intensity by 40-45%   Hong Kong closely followed suit and also pledged to lowers its CI, but don’t mistake these Carbon Intensity reductions as energy efficiency improvements.

Carbon Intensity (CI) is defined as the quantity of carbon (CO2) emitted per unit of energy.  Therefore to lower your carbon intensity change from burning a high carbon fossil fuel like coal, to nuclear energy (or renewable energy) reduces the intensity, without any energy efficiency improvement, does that sound more like a Business As Usual approach than a real framework or strategy to tackle dwindling resources?

To achieve this impressive figures would be achieved by switching from power generation using fossil fuel to nuclear powered generation.  At Macau MIECF 2011 (31 March 2011) the Hong Kong Government’s EPD representative Mr Joe Fong [2] indicated that Hong Kong would increase the nuclear energy contribution imported from the mainland from 23% in 2009 to 50% by 2020.

Increasing Nuclear to 50% to lower Hong Kong's Carbon Intensity - Joe W.Y. Fong @ MICEF 2011

So, the obvious question needs to be raised,  if these promised CI reduction targets are to be achieved, and increasing nuclear energy production has been sidelined as a solution can will nations meet these ambitious targets? Is it even possible without increasing the contribution from nuclear powered facilities?  Fortunately, the answer to both questions is affirmative,  energy efficiency improvements can deliver real carbon reductions. It’s not sexy, and unlike building more power plants, it requires hard work on the ground, and political commitment but achievable.

Coupled with these unfolding events in Japan, unrest in the Middle East continues to cause jitters in the markets, dramatically increased crude oil prices adding salt to wound.  It seems that only major news reminds us that oil and other nature resources will not last forever.

Energy efficiency improvements are certain not a panacea for every problem a nation faces today, however developed nations have no excuses, I wonder how long it will take before politicians will truly embrace this opportunity.

— John Herbert, Kelcroft, consultant

1. China’s Carbon Intensity to be reduced by 40-45 % by 2020, based on 2005 baseline