How we can save the planet from Climate Catastrophe

Published on 02/22/2024 | by Waterline Admin

As featured in Waterline Winter 2023-24

How we can save the planet from Climate Catastrophe

By Geoff Walker

This article looks at what we must do along with governments, scientists and industry to innovate and adopt solutions and reverse our direction of travel. Originally published in Spring 2021, reading back through gives an interesting insight as to what progress has been made over the last two years in combatting climate change. Whilst some of the data contained in this article is now old, the author, Geoff Walker, has provided updated data at the end of the article.

UN message 26th February 2021
The world will heat by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius unless nations produce tougher policies, a global stocktake has confirmed; the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called it a red alert for our planet. Governments must almost halve emissions (45% reduction) by 2030 if they intend the Earth to stay within the 1.5C “safe” threshold. But the latest set of national policies submitted to the UN shows emissions will merely stabilise by 2030, with at best a decline of 0.5 %.

UK target commitment
UK carbon dioxide emissions declined by 3.6% a year during the 2016-19 period, compared with an average fall of 0.8% amongst high-income countries. China’s emissions increased by 0.4% a year, India’s by 5.2% and Russia’s by 0.2%. The U.K. government targeted an emissions cut of at least 68% by the year 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The target is known as a Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC, under 2015’s Paris Agreement on climate change. International aviation and shipping are not included in the target.

Getting ‘big oil’ on board
We have to get the global oil majors (companies and countries), and the downstream users, on-board and moving with urgency towards meeting the UN aims of ‘leave it in the ground’. More forward thinking companies such as BP, Shell and Total, are making the right noises, but are held back from dramatic change by the demands of their shareholders. Spending money on alternative non-fossil product development doesn’t deliver the same profits and dividends today.

BP and Shell believe that global ‘Peak Oil’ was met in 2019 and are now looking to the future of their automobile fuelling stations. They have been buying up electric charging point businesses and now own more than 25% of the UK’s public charging points. BP owns some 8,500 charging points, with a 2030 target of 16,000. A car industry spokesperson said the UK will need 400,000 charging points by 2030. BP stated that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40% and build 50 GW of renewable capacity by 2030 – more than the UK’s total current capacity. Shell hasn’t matched the scale of the BP commitment, stating only that by 2050 its products will either be low carbon or mitigated through carbon capture or tree-planting.

Saudi Aramco says Peak Oil has not been reached, but the Saudi government has said that it is committed to becoming carbon neutral and that it wants to derive 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030. This goal will require a serious amount of investment. The remaining 50% of the power supply will come from natural gas, not oil. According to the International Energy Agency, less than 0.05% of Saudi electricity supply came from renewable energy in 2018 — its latest available figures. About 42% of the kingdom’s power was produced from oil that year, making it the world’s largest consumer of oil for electricity production, with the remaining 57.8% of electricity derived from natural gas. The nation is also working on developing green and blue hydrogen projects in conjunction with many other countries.

Carbon off-setting
A negative aspect of carbon offsetting is that it does not represent an actual reduction of carbon emissions by the individual or business. Organizations and individuals are still producing carbon emissions, but those emissions are merely offset by investment elsewhere.

International rules set out where large carbon offset projects can take place – mostly in the developing world where supporting carbon reduction can have multiple benefits as it channels funding to projects that deliver sustainable development and help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. Projects can for example include the provision of safe drinking water to communities, so they no longer have to boil water, the provision of clean energy to rural communities, and support for sustainable agriculture that improves yields and incomes.

Off-setting projects are not instant fixes. Someone who is a frequent flyer, for example, may decide to pay a sum to a charity involved in tree planting, but it might take at least 15 years between emission of the carbon and its subsequent adsorption by the trees.

Carbon capture and storage (sequestration) or utilisation
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide, transporting it to a storage site, and depositing it where it will not reenter the atmosphere. Financial return on investment in this technology usually means that the gas is captured from large point sources only, such as a cement factory, heavy industry or a power plant. There are many competing methods for the capture of CO2 and from where; pre-combustion, post-combustion, process emissions, the atmosphere etc.

CO2 has been injected into geological formations for several decades, for ‘long term storage’ but all is not what it seems. More than 90% of the captured gas, to date, has been fed back into mature oil fields to extend the life of wells by forcing oil and gas out that would otherwise have stayed in the ground.

Long term storage sites for CO2 are being assessed, for either gas or mineral carbonates storage. Geological formation sites are difficult to assess, with risk of leaks to the atmosphere.

Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) is the process of capturing carbon dioxide to be recycled for further usage, not storage. CCU aims to convert the captured gas into more valuable substances or products; such as plastics, concrete, methanol and biofuel.

BP is heading a consortium of energy companies in the development of UK carbon capture projects, which could store millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide beneath the North Sea every year. Plans would lead to siphoning off the carbon dioxide from factory flues, with under-sea storage from 2026. The projects are based in the Teesside and Humber industrial clusters on England’s east coast. The Teesside project alone should lead to 6m tonnes of CO2 being captured annually.

The Norwegians meanwhile are constructing a dockyard and a home for storage tanks which will, by 2024, receive carbon dioxide from across Europe, to be ultimately injected into a North Sea reservoir. Steelmaker Arcelor-Mittal, Industrial gases Air Liquide, Heidelberg Cement and the Preen refining group are four of the multinationals who will export their CO2 to Norway. Ultimately the storage site will have a capacity of 5m tonnes of CO2 per year.

Renewable energy sources
Renewable energy sources accounted for 42% of the 2020 total electricity production in the UK. Wind alone provided the UK with 24% of its energy mix in 2020. The government has targeted 40GW of offshore wind energy, helping to power every home by 2030. The global share of power generated from wind and solar rose from 8.1% in 2019 to 9.8% by mid-year 2020, almost matching nuclear, at 10.5%.

Sources of renewable or very-low carbon energy include wind, sun (solar), hydropower, ocean tides and waves, thermal rocks, heat pumps, waste, biomass and nuclear.

Nuclear technology splits opinion regarding its future position as a renewable fuel – after Chernobyl and Fukushima. It is estimated that it will have a 15% global share of electricity generation in 2030.

Energy from waste is not really carbon neutral. New research shows that typical energy-from-waste plants emit between 685 and 970 grams of CO2 per KWh, compared with around 985g from a coal fired power plant and the current energy grid at around 245g. Operators of these plants are keen to show that compared to landfill emissions, they are reducing overall emissions, one company claiming a 26.3g reduction after ’landfill displacement’ is taken into account. Carbon capture will be needed to make significant reductions.

The largest UK biomass consumer is Drax power station which sources most of its feed stock (wood pellets) from the US. A subsidiary, Drax Amite, which processes the wood from forests in Mississippi, was fined $2.5m by the US Government for breaching limits on the release of volatile organic compounds. The UK is one of the world’s largest customers of biomass which accounts for a surprisingly high 12% of the UK’s electricity mix, and comes with a UK government subsidy of £1billion annually. Under EU and UK regulations burning biomass for electricity is classified as ‘renewable’ on the basis that CO2 emissions from burning ‘waste wood’ are offset by planting new trees.

Heat pumps for extracting heat energy from the air or from underground have not yet taken off to any great degree because the pumps and the heat concentration process both consume electricity and in the case of ground systems they can require a very large footprint for pipe laying or a rather deep hole dug to carry sufficient piping, in lieu of the large footprint.

Two renewable technologies that have as yet limited application are wave and tidal energy sources. Proposals to build tidal barriers across a number of estuaries and bays in the UK have been rejected by Government, due to the very high upfront costs, environmental concerns, and an unknown return on investment. Wave power is seen as quite difficult to harness at scale although there are a number of global trials underway.

Geothermal is a proven source globally, particularly where volcanic sourced hot underground water can be tapped. The UK however has sizeable granite deposits that can act as heat exchangers. Drilling into these deposits in order to pump water into them creates a steam circuit. The granite can heat the water at such a high temperatures that it can be used to drive a turbine to generate electricity. Cornwall has significant granite deposits and is home to the UK’s first deep geothermal site, United Downs. The plant produces 3-5MW of power using a 5.3km-deep production well. Geothermal water in Cornwall has a high lithium content, news that has been noted by a certain Elon Musk, who wants the lithium for batteries for electric vehicles (EVs).

Hydropower is well established globally, and uses the flowing water from rivers and streams to generate electricity. In the UK most hydropower is generated in Scotland. Dams with water turbines are common globally to stabilise water-flow for steady, reliable energy generation, but this can cause confrontation with downstream neighbours if flows fall.

The UK leads the world in off-shore wind energy generation and turbine installation. Most European countries have land-based installations. Wind is more reliable in offshore locations and the UK benefits from comparatively low sea water depths around its continental shelf which simplifies installation and maintenance. Much of the world has much deeper offshore waters and here floating wind turbines are being installed (anchored to the sea floor by cables). Offshore installation and maintenance costs are higher than for onshore wind farms. By the beginning of December 2020, UK wind power production consisted of 10,930 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 24.1 gigawatts: 13.7 GW of onshore capacity and 10.4 GW of offshore capacity, with an approved pipeline of a further 28.5 GW. The global cumulative installed wind power generation capacity is expected to reach 817 GW in 2021. General Electric is to build an offshore turbine blade factory in Teesside, which will open in 2023 to supply their Dogger Bank offshore 3.6 GW wind project, creating 750 jobs.

Solar energy systems come in many forms, with photovoltaic panels leading the way. The UK has a combined capacity of 13.26 GW of solar PV power – enough to power around 3 million British households. Some 900,000 British homes produce electricity from rooftop solar PV panels. Solar thermal systems use the sun’s energy to heat up water to use in the home. These panels, known as Solar Collectors, absorb the heat from the sun and the heated water or heat-transfer fluid then flows to a hot water cylinder. Although less common, they take up significantly more of the available solar energy than solar PV panels. Concentrated solar systems are even less common, but quite spectacular. They generate solar power by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a receiver from which electricity can be generated when the concentrated light is converted to heat, driving, usually, a steam turbine connected to an electrical power generator.

Now Morocco and Saudi Arabia are vying to become Europe’s supplier of renewable power with arrays covering vast areas of their lands. Morocco wants to export electricity whilst Saudi Arabia wants to use the electricity to create green hydrogen for export.

Energy storage A wind and solar energy dominated world has an Achilles Heel, as power is only produced at certain times or weather conditions. Battery storage systems are emerging as one of the key solutions. One of the larger systems in terms of capacity is the Tesla 100 MW / 129 MWh Li-ion battery storage project at Hornsdale Wind Farm in Australia. Globally, energy storage deployment in emerging markets is expected to increase by over 40% each year until 2025. Some EV manufacturers are suggesting that their vehicles’ batteries, connected to the grid at home, can act as a small-scale energy storage system, lending their energy to the grid as needed.

In north Wales the Dinorwig hydroelectric power station is an example of a pumped storage power station, where water is pumped into a reservoir above the turbines when electricity is cheap and demand is low; the gates can then be opened providing a supply of energy to meet demand, as the water rushes through the turbines to the reservoir at the bottom of the power station. Infrastructure costs to build huge reservoirs and environmental issues means this technology is unlikely to have any great dominance, although a number of these systems do exist globally.

The colourful hydrogen economy
All hydrogen is the same, but the different methods of producing it have produced colourful names, and only green hydrogen is a carbon-free fuel. Brown hydrogen is created by the gasification of coal followed by distillation of the hydrogen content. Grey hydrogen comes from natural gas which is split from carbon in a steam reformer, and where the carbon is not subsequently captured. This is the main source of hydrogen at present, because it is the cheapest. Turquoise hydrogen is produced from natural gas which is passed through a molten metal that releases hydrogen gas as well as solid carbon. Blue hydrogen relies on the same process as grey hydrogen, along with carbon capture and storage (CCS). Growth of this method is stalled as there are insufficient large-scale CCS plants.

Green hydrogen
uses no fossil fuels, requiring water and electricity only, to create hydrogen via electrolysis. Water is separated into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen, using electricity generated by renewable sources, making this hydrogen carbon-free and “green”. Governments have made large investments in this production method and the worldwide green hydrogen capacity has increased from 1MW in 2010 to 25MW in 2019 and is predicted to become 0.58 GW by 2030, following increasing use of hydrogenfuelled vehicles and energy storage systems. Hydrogen infrastructure and transportation remains underdeveloped in most areas. This has led Air Products to announce it would transport its green hydrogen as ammonia, which has an existing transport network.

The UK is looking at the feasibility of exchanging natural gas for green hydrogen, for use as a carbon free heating and cooking source in domestic properties. Trials are currently underway in a number of unoccupied dwellings with hydrogen combi-boilers, and hydrogen-ready gas cookers, fires and gas meters are being researched.

Transport options
Today most car manufacturers are producing petrol hybrid, plug-in petrol hybrid and fully electric vehicles. The UK is banning the sale of petrol and diesel only cars and vans from 2030. According to the Department for Transport new cars and vans can be sold until 2035 if they have the capability to drive a ‘significant distance’ with zero emissions and this will be defined through consultation.

Toyota and Hyundai are two exceptions, promoting fuel cell technology using hydrogen. In addition to selling hydrogen fuel-cell cars, Toyota has developed a modular fuel-cell system for use in other types of vehicles, including buses, trains, and ships, as well as stationary generators. Their goal is to grow the use of fuel-cells by making a plug-and-play solution available to companies for the widest-possible array of applications.

At some point in the future the technology of choice could move from batteries to fuel cells. Currently this technology has a significantly higher cost than batteries, but it is finding an early market in HGVs, due to the lower weight of fuel cells and the space they occupy, relative to batteries and also that distances between refuelling can be doubled, and the filling process much quicker. It is also seen as a replacement technology for diesel fuelled railway trains and shipping.

Hydrogen internal combustion engine development has been receiving more interest recently, particularly for heavy duty commercial vehicles, as the technology is more compatible with existing automotive knowledge and manufacturing.

Scientists have recently produced a magnesium-based “Powerpaste” that stores hydrogen energy at 10 times the density of a lithium battery, offering hydrogen fuel cell vehicles the ability to travel further than gasoline-powered ones, and refuel in minutes. It could be supplied in replaceable canisters for small vehicles. Once the hydrogen is consumed, the canister and the magnesium carrier can be recycled.

Airbus have three concept designs for their ZEROe hybrid-hydrogen aircraft. They are powered by hydrogen combustion through modified gas turbine engines. Liquid hydrogen is used as fuel for combustion with oxygen. In addition, hydrogen fuel cells create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system. All of these technologies are complementary, and the benefits are additive.

Things we can do today…
As ordinary members of society we can change our habits and our carbon footprint. Next time you purchase a car go for one with a smaller engine size if electric options are too expensive. If you have an inefficient 20 year old gas boiler (like I have) you can change to a much more fuel efficient combination or condensing boiler. Do as my wife makes me do in the winter – turn down the thermostat and wear a jumper! You’ve heard it all before, but is your house adequately insulated, do you only wash clothes with a full load at low temperature and not use the tumble dryer, do you only fill a kettle with enough water to make the drinks you need at that time…Eat less meat, plant a tree, fly less miles, buy British inseason food…You know it makes sense!

…and tomorrow…
Cattle farmers could feed their animals with a seaweed supplement – it makes a significant reduction in methane emissions.

Glacier ice-loss can be reduced by spring to autumn covering with insulation blankets – already being utilised on a few glaciers with typically 40% reduction in annual ice-loss.

Planting hundreds of millions of trees all around the world, with particular emphasis on recovering the tropical rain-forests.

Stimulating cloud formation over the poles, and/or promoting increased snowfall by novel technologies-Cambridge University is leading this research.

…and in 10 years-time
We will know if we have a chance of avoiding a planetary catastrophe…or not!

Update note to this article written by Geoff Walker on 27th November 2023
This article was published almost 3 years ago, and is classed as a WMsoc archive document. The subject material, being based on the theme of what must be done to achieve ‘net zero’, requires updating regarding 2000 targets, 2023 changes and 2030 likely outcomes. The UN General Secretary believes that there is little or no chance of holding to the target of a maximum global temperature rise of 1.5°C, the “safe” threshold. Promises of emission cuts must be delivered with haste.

UK emissions – UK government latest data.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the UK are provisionally estimated to have decreased by 2.4% in 2022 from 2021, to 331.5 million tonnes (Mt), and total greenhouse gas emissions by 2.2% to 417.1 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). Compared to 2019, the most recent prepandemic year, 2022 CO2 emissions are down 7.5% and total greenhouse gas emissions are down 7.4%. Total greenhouse gas emissions were 48.7% lower than they were in 1990.

Global oil majors.
BP CEO Bernard Looney’s pursuit of green energy outstripped all rivals three years ago when he outlined a radical blueprint to move away from fossil fuels. In October he applied the brakes, slowing BP’s planned cuts in oil and gas and scaling back planned renewables spending in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

In October 2023 the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced we may soon reach a different but related value to peak oil: a peak in the global use of (or “demand for”) oil.

Carbon offsetting.
Massive, global forest fires during the past five years has questioned the current attitude to planting trees to offset an individual’s carbon footprint. We need to plant (globally) many millions (if not billions) of trees annually and better manage our forests to reduce fire risks.

Carbon capture and storage.
There is an article on this subject in this editionof Waterline, in the Climatescan section. It is clear that industry is at design and pilot study stage rather than large scale deployment. Capturing emissions is not enough – CO2 atmospheric levels will need to be reduced.

Renewable energy – UK government data.
UK energy production during April to June 2023 was down 11% on the same period last year and at a near record low. Natural gas production decreased by 9% and petroleum production by 13% on the same period last year. Whilst solar generation hit a record high as a result of sunny conditions and increased capacity, overall renewable production fell due to stiller weather affecting wind generation. Nuclear output fell due to lower operational capacity and maintenance outages at four of the five remaining plants. Total final energy consumption was 2.7% lower than in the second quarter of 2022, with an 8% contraction in household demand despite similar temperatures to last year. Transport consumption rose slightly mainly as a result of increased demand for aviation fuel. The fall in gas output meant that despite reduced output from renewable and nuclear technologies, the share of generation attributable to these technologies increased. Renewable generation share rose 3.5 percentage points to 42.1% and low carbon generation rose 2.7% to 57.8%. Fossil fuels comprised 38.8% of total electricity generation, down 3.0 percentage points. Renewable electricity generation capacity grew by 6% on the same quarter last year, with offshore wind growing by 9%, and solar growing at 8%, the highest rate of quarteron- quarter growth since the second quarter of 2017. At 15 GW of capacity, solar PV is now nearly double the total of all renewable capacity from the same quarter of 2010.

Renewables’ share of electricity generation was 42.1% in Quarter 2 2023, higher than the same quarter last year (38.7%) and higher than fossil fuels’ share of generation (38.8%). In September 2023 UK total capacity reached 30 GW.

Moving from oil and gas.
Heat pump installations in the UK will reach a total of just under 250,000 with around 20% of that number added this year. There is a target to reach 600,000 installations a year by 2028. In spite of government subsidies the fundamental issue is the lack of trained and competent installers and consumer misgivings over the technology. Gas boilers were to be banned from 2025 but that has been put back to 2035 under the current government.

Energy imports to the UK form Egypt and Morocco are at the design and planning stage whilst Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states are looking to Europe for customers. The biggest megaproject aims to lay the world’s longest high-voltage submarine cables for 2,300 miles from giant energy farms in the Moroccan desert past the Atlantic coastlines of Portugal, Spain, and France to southwest England, from where it could provide 8 percent of the United Kingdom’s electricity. The cost of the proposed 10,500-megawatt Xlinks project is expected to be $22 billion, half for the solar and wind energy farms and half for the cables.

Three years into the decade of energy storage, global deployments are on track to hit 42GW/99GWh this year, up 34% in gigawatt hours from the previous IEA forecast, and a projection of 650GW/1877GWh by 2030, with China holding over 50% of this capacity.

Transport fuel changes.
At the end of October 2023, there were 51,516 electric vehicle charging points across the UK, across 30,360 charging locations. Many are located at service stations and car parks. Numbers have roughly doubled in 3 years. The UK will need 400,000 charging points by 2030. The UK has put back to 2035 from 2030 the banning of new petrol and diesel on the UK market place – this news was followed by a fall in electric cars.

Green hydrogen for hydrogen cells was being marginalised by battery technology with only Toyota fully committed. Now eight manufacturers are developing fuel cells – most looking at larger vehicles including trucks and construction machines, with BMW, Toyota and Hyundai concentrating on cars. 15,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles are on US roads, IEA forecasts 2GW green hydrogen capacity by end of 2023 with a pipeline forecast of 315 GW in 2030. These forecasts could increase markedly as hydrogen gas fields are being discovered in many parts of the globe.

Ammonia is seen as a safer way of transporting large volumes of hydrogen and several ships are testing this approach.

Diary Dates & Events

Grime Scene


Following on from the successful Grime Scene competition, we have decided to continue the theme for another year, but with a twist. This year, we are asking for photographs of the grimiest pictures you can find accompanied with another photograph of how the ‘scene’ has been improved by your maintenance or cleaning.

We will display the photographs in each of the Waterline editions throughout 2024. The ‘most improved’ picture will be chosen by WMSoc members via an online vote. The winner will receive a £25 Amazon Gift Voucher after the Winter 2024/25 edition has been published.

Please send your photographs to:

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