Program ID: Innovation Anthology #275
Program Date: 12/10/2009
Program Category: Climate Change, Conservation, Energy, Innovation
Innovation Needed to Decarbonize Energy System
PROGRAM #275 INTERVIEW WITH DR. DAVID LAYZELL
MP3: 8.8 MB
Time: 9:40 Minutes
Dr. David Layzell is the Executive Director of ISEEE, the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment, and Economy at the University. He spoke at the InnoWest 2009 Conference in Edmonton.
CC: WHAT EXACTLY IS ISEEE?
DL: It is a cross faculty research initiative that works with the faculties of engineering, science, environmental design and architecture, social science, law, business school to develop insights and technologies to help find solutions to the environmental challenges of energy production and use.
CC: NOW YOU ARE SPEAKING HERE TODAY AT THE INNOWEST CONFERENCE AND THE QUESTION HAS BEEN AROUND SUSTAINABILITY AND INNOVATION. CAN WE REALLY EXPECT INNOVATION AND SUSTAINABILITY TO WORK TOGETHER FOR OUR NEEDS, ENVIRONMENTALLY AND ENERGY WISE IN THE FUTURE?
DL: Oh, absolutely. I think it’s a perfect synergy. We have been very lucky in Canada to have lots of different energy sources and for the energy to be very cheap. The world is growing and its energy demands have been growing exponentially for the past 50 or 60 years. As China and Asia, India and China come on, and other developing countries come on and they are aspiring for the same kind of energy use that we have on a per capita basis, it’s going to put real strain on the world’s resources.
And not only a strain in terms of getting the resources and the cost of getting those resources, we’ve tapped into most of the low cost energy where we’re going to see higher cost energy like oil sands being lead. But there is also the environmental footprint associated with those energy sources.
So we need innovation to get more value, energy value, out of a given amount of energy to increase our efficiency and conservation. We also need behavourial change in that area. We need to look at alternative energy sources. Find different ways of getting energy.
And we need to make sure in our use fossil fuels which account for about 80 percent or more of the world’s energy, 80-85 percent, we need to reduce the environmental footprint dramatically associated with those energy resources.
All of those require innovation and the countries and the companies that develop that innovation are going to get rewarded with growth and benefits.
CC: THIS DISCUSSION HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR OVER 20 YEARS. AND WE’VE CERTAINLY SEEN ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY TOWARDS ALTERNATIVE FORMS OF ENERGY. BUT IT SEEMS LIKE GOVERNMENT IS DRAGGING ITS FEET. WHAT’S HAPPENING THERE?
DL: I wish I knew. I think government, and especially government in Canada, has a challenge, in that we’re asleep beside an elephant and I think it is important, there are certainly lots of things we can do. We don’t need to wait for the United States, but the Americans are going to set the standards and the timing for the kind of major investments and technology change.
I think Canada has an opportunity now because the Americans are still trying to figure out what they are going to do. We have an opportunity to set policies and some directions and develop some technologies to get a jump start.
I think we’re doing that on the carbon capture and storage side. There’s a federal investment in that that I think are very positive; provincial investments, major provincial, Alberta government and Saskatchewan government investments.
I think that is going to give Canadian industry an opportunity to try and get out ahead in some ways and others.
But I think there are a lot of other things we can do as well. We need to find ways of incenting more on energy efficiency. We need to put economic and policy instruments in place that will benefit those companies that find and bring alternative energies to the table, or renewable energies, new nuclear technologies, perhaps.
And certainly we need to be providing an incentive for fossil energy companies, whether coal, oil and gas, to find more effective ways of delivering the services that people want without as much environmental footprint.
CC: NOW IN YOUR TALK YOU SAID THAT IT’S GOING TO TAKE ABOUT 40 YEARS TO MAKE THE TRANSITION FROM OUR FOSSIL FUELS OVER TO NEW FORMS OF ENERGY. WHY SO LONG?
DL: Oh, I think it’s going to take longer than that.
I think 40 years is the date the international community, Canadian government, international community have talked about as a target date for reducing emissions and essentially to be reducing emissions by on a global scale, more than 50 percent or more; on a western country, developed country scale, about an 80 percent reduction in emissions from say 2006, 2007 levels.
And that’s what’s needed if we’re going to, on climatology, if we’re going to prevent reaching dangerous climate change. That’s sort of the target that the international community has identified.
I think that transitioning our energy, the magnitude of the energy transition is going to take probably that long or longer if you look at past energy transitions and the magnitude of the challenge that we have.
But my main point is we have to start soon. We maybe have to start with the easy things. The benefits of a lot of low hanging fruit and we’ve just got to put the right carrots and sticks in place.
CC: WHAT WOULD BE SPECIFIC STEPS THEN THAT WE COULD TAKE IN THE BEGINNING?
DL: Well I think we need a price on carbon. And there’s many suggestions that have been put forward as to how you’d put that price. I think there’s different ways of doing it. I do think the best is some form of a tax where you actually tax the carbon emissions and you give, either tax shifting around so you’re not taxing other things you want to have happen.
But I think there’s carbon trading mechanisms that can work as well. That’s the trick.
So that’s the first thing, you’ve got to put an economic value on what we want to see achieved.
Second, I think we need to look at what are some short term, medium term and longer term strategies.
And I’m thinking in the short term we need to look at how do we decarbonize our energy system? How do we make sure, for example, if you have an old coal plant that is running at 25 percent efficiency, and it needs to be replaced, you don’t replace it with another plant that runs at 25 percent efficiency. You got to make sure the policies and incentives and the sticks as well are in place to make sure that we can’t--we have to move to more efficiency.
And there are examples in all sectors in that would look at how we would change our infrastructure in the next 5 or 10 years.
The possibility of shifting to more natural gas use to replace coal for electricity generation or for others, you look at policies as well as economic incentives to shift in that direction that would help to decarbonize our energy system.
That could be fairly short term gains or reductions in emissions if you like, and environmental gains.
In the medium term, carbon capture and storage in the 10-20 year range, developing those sorts of technologies.
Certainly lots of incentives to bring on more renewables into our energy mix.
In the longer term, 20 to 30 to 40 years out, I think what we really got to be investing in now is some fundamental research for game changing technologies that can be brought in that will provide us with clean sources of energy in the future.
And I think they’re going to be pretty important. We’re going to have to invest in the fundamental, more basic game changing science as well and technologies.
CC: IS THERE ANYTHING PROMISING ON THE HORIZON RIGHT NOW IN TERMS OF THOSE GAME CHANGING TECHNOLOGIES?
DL: Lots of promise. There’s some very interesting work, some of it, I just heard a very interesting talk the other day about some game changing fusion research, fusion energy. You know, it’s probably 20 years out and it’s pretty high risk.
There’s certainly solar technology. Solar cells are coming down in price. Some very exciting new solar technology is being developed and there are some significant challenges in trying to get them at a cost that will make it something that can be implemented large scale.
Certainly there’s ways of thinking in systems. The ways we build our cities, the way we build our transportation systems. Development of electric cars can reduce considerably.
Certainly behavioural change. That’s the big one, right. If you can have people so they don’t need a 4000 pound car to go get a jug of milk from the store, they can actually be more efficient in how we move around and in the shorter term we should be able to do that.
So I think there are a number of technologies, wind technologies, better integration with the grid, smart grid technologies that will all help us in this direction.
CC: THANK YOU VERY MUCH, DAVID.
DL: THANK YOU.