Renewables, climate change and digital solution developments
There are important new technological and digital innovations being developed which will help with the tough climate change and environmental challenges. These digital improvements have included new emission sensors, satellite earth emission scanning systems, wind power radar systems, blockchain technologies, etc. Details of these will be discussed more below with international examples.
One important area is the application of new advanced digital approaches to improve the measurements of methane emissions globally. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas (GHG) which has more than 80 times the near-term global warming power of carbon dioxide. Human-made methane emissions have been responsible for a quarter of all the global warming being experienced today. Some of the largest methane emissions have been from the oil and gas industry, as natural gas is mostly methane.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that the global oil and gas methane emissions have been about 75 million metric tons per year. These huge methane emissions, if captured, would be enough to generate all of Africa’s electricity twice over. The IEA has also estimated that the oil and gas industry should be able to reduce those methane emissions significantly, by up to 75%, by better measurements and controls plus operational improvements.
The new digital methane sensors and advanced digital measurement systems have helped to achieve these tough climate challenges. A good example is the new reliable, low-cost methane sensors which allow remote monitoring with accurate methane emission measurements. These new advanced methane sensors have enabled better measurements of methane emissions globally both from earth and from space.
These improved measures have helped to identify sources of methane emissions so actions can be taken on the responsible companies to ask them to reduce their industrial methane emissions. These have contributed to one of the fastest and effective way to reduce GHG emission and global warming (WEE, New climate change solutions, 2018).
Extensive research led by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) from 2012 to 2018 showed serious methane emissions and leakages from the US oil and gas sectors. It launched a big scientific research effort involving more than 140 researchers from 40 institutions, along with four dozen oil and gas companies which provided site access and technical advice. The researchers used a range of advanced digital technologies, including new digital sensors mounted on drones, airplanes and even Google Street View cars. These enabled them to accurately measure methane emissions for each steps of the US oil and gas supply chain. The results showed that the US oil and gas industry has been emitting 13 million metric tons of methane each year. These have been nearly 60% more than the estimates made by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It was also shown that these methane emissions could be controlled and reduced, often through simple maintenance.
These advanced and more accurate methane emission data measurements have been instrumental in convincing both industry leaders and policy makers of the serious methane emission challenges. These important findings have helped to shape new emission regulations in US states such as Colorado, Wyoming, California and Pennsylvania plus national-level policies. These new environmental policies and regulations have helped to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal and tribal land in the USA (WEE, 2018).
These digital data-driven transparency and improvements have led to leading oil and gas companies setting new stricter methane emission reduction targets and actions. Good examples include BP setting its first quantitative methane emission reduction target plus ExxonMobil has also committing to reduce emissions and flared gas volumes. Shell, Qatar Petroleum and other producers have also committed to reduce methane emissions across their natural gas supply chain.
Looking ahead, environmentalists are also calling for a reduction of 45% in global oil and gas methane emissions by 2025. These reductions would have the same 20-year climate benefit as closing one-third of the world’s coal plants.
Further new advanced digital technological developments are being worked on which could help to provide even better methane measurements. These measurements should help to achieve these tough methane emission reductions by 2025. A good example is the development of McthaneSAT. This will be a new satellite mission which is planned for launching in 2021. It has been designed to continuously measure methane and map emissions globally with new improved monitoring and measurements from space. McthaneSAT will enable researchers and companies to measure accurately methane emissions in places where it has been difficult to measure previously. In addition, the McthaneSAT measurements will be open access and available for free to public stakeholders for review. These should help countries, companies and public to spot new emission problems and identify new reduction actions. These should also allowed measurements of emission reduction progress over time. Other advanced space-based methane monitoring tools have also been developed. Good examples included the European Space Agency launching its TROPOMI satellite in 2017. A high-tech private company, called GHGSAT, has already one methane measuring satellite in orbit and another due to launch soon.
Looking ahead, it is looking hopeful that the new methane measurements and digital data from McthaneSAT should help to reach 45% reduction of methane emissions by 2025, and to virtually eliminate the US oil and gas industry’s methane emissions by 2050. This is a good example on how the deployment of advanced sensor digital technologies together with advanced digital analysis systems has helped to cut methane GHG emission significantly. These should contribute to significant slowdown of global warming and climate change improvements globally.
Digital technologies have also been applied in the commercial and agricultural sectors to help to reduce climate change impacts. Good examples include retailers and consumer brands having been using digital blockchain technologies to improve accountability and sustainability across their supply chains. New digital sensors have been helping farmers to reduce the amount of chemical and fertilizer usages on their fields. Smart boats with sensors and digital technologies could help fishermen to manage their catch more effectively and help to conserve fish stocks in the sea.
Advanced digital technologies have also shown that the world’s oceans have been absorbing more heat and are warming up at an accelerating pace. Ocean scientists, using the latest digital ocean temperature measurement robotic technologies, have shown that there has not been any hiatus in ocean temperature rises globally. The latest ocean temperature measurements have given much more precise estimates of ocean heating and temperature rises. More accurate ocean temperature results have been generated by a new fleet of advanced digital ocean monitoring robots called Argo. These digital robotic fleets have included nearly 4,000 floating robots which have been launched to drift throughout the world’s oceans globally. These Agro robots have dived, every few days, to a depth of2,000 meters to measure the ocean’s temperature, pH and salinity, and collect other relevant ocean information. These Argo ocean robot measurements have helped to provide consistent and widespread data on ocean heat content since the mid-2000. The improved ocean measurements have help scientists to have better understanding of climate change on oceans plus to develop mitigation strategies ( Princeton, Earth’s oceans, 2018).
There have also been exciting new digital system innovations for renewables, especially in wind renewable energy. A good example is the DONG Energy’s advanced BEACon radar system, developed by SmartWind Technologies from the USA. Their advanced digital system will provide minute-by-minute three-dimensional data of wind as it flows through a wind farm or stretch of sea. The advanced digital radar can also provide valuable insights to help to inform and optimise the siting, design and operation of future offshore wind projects (CleanTechnica, Wind Power Radar System, 2016).