Solar must speed up to slow down runaway carbon

Greenhouse gases reached record levels in 2013, according to the World Meteorological Organization, largely due to a worrying surge in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Humanity pumped about 36 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere as a result of fossil fuel and cement production. This is 61% higher than 1990, the Kyoto Protocol reference year, and 2.3% higher than 2012. Emissions are projected to rise a further 2.5% on the 2013 level this year.

And the effects are plain to see. According to National Geographic, 2014 saw the largest ever land gathering of walruses in Northern Alaska and Canada.  Some of these numbered in the tens of thousands and scientists believe the culprit is a reduction of sea ice due to climate change. In a similar vein, a recent report in the New York Times says 75 to 90 percent of the world’s natural sand beaches are disappearing, due to rising sea levels and increased storm action, to the point where many low-lying barrier islands are already submerged.

The obvious solution is more rapid adoption of renewables like solar energy, but this is simply not happening fast enough to slow climate change and the statistics tell a worrying story. In 2013, global emission rates were dominated by China (28%), the USA (14%), the EU (10%), and India (7%) with growth of emissions in all these states, with the exception of a 1.8% decline in the European Union.

"We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels," said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud when the organization issued its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

 

According to Reuters, Jarraud said: "Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable. We are running out of time."

“This obviously presents a massive challenge to the renewable energy sector,” said Dr. Shawn Qu of Canadian Solar. “At the moment modern renewables, excluding biomass, only account for around 10% of global renewable energy production. The renewable sector has been growing fast over the last decade and some put the annual growth rate at around 30% but, even then, the world is really going to have to speed up the rate of adoption if were are going to make a difference,” he said.

According to the WMO report the volume of carbon dioxide, or CO2, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, was 396.0 parts per million (ppm) in 2013, 2.9 ppm higher than in 2012, the largest year-to-year increase since 1984, when reliable global records began.

“The world has the knowledge and tools to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and give our children and grandchildren a future", said WMO’s Jarraud.

 

“With the sheer enormity of the ecological disaster the world is facing, we anticipate the demand for solar products will continue to rise steeply. And we are investing heavily in research and development to increase the efficiency of panels and to reduce costs to make solar energy as accessible as possible to as many people as possible,” said Dr. Shawn Qu, CEO of Canadian Solar. Canadian Solar is currently carrying out this work in Canada and at its multi-million dollar PV Research Center in Suzhou, China. The 1500 square meter facility is staffed by PhD scientists, engineers and technicians who research leading solar cell and module technologies.