International efforts

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Not only states, but also other nations are providing leadership and taking initiative on the climate issue. Countries on every continent are switching to alternative energy sources such as wind, biofuels and even hydrogen power. Other parts of the world, particularly Europe, are modifying current energy-generation practices to reduce their impact on the environment. Later chapters discuss in more detail ongoing efforts in Iceland and small island states. Here, we highlight other groundbreaking efforts taking place in the rest of the world.

Brazil

Brazil is one of the few countries that has already firmly established renewable power in its entire economy. In addition to deriving the vast majority of its electricity from hydropower, renewable biofuels comprise 40 per cent of the energy used by the transportation sector. Ethanol, a biofuel made from sugarcane (or in the US, from corn), is used to power automobiles and other vehicles. It can be mixed with gasoline, and Brazil now requires that all automotive fuel contain at least 20 per cent ethanol (da Silva, 2006).

Brazil produces over four billion gallons of ethanol each year, which are then sold at more than 30,000 service stations around the country. As a result of this extensive ethanol distribution network, 70 per cent of new cars sold in Brazil can run on pure ethanol or a combination of gasoline and ethanol (Lynch, 2006). Because consumers can choose between two fuels and use whatever is cheapest at a given time, introducing this option of using a domestic fuel source has helped to insulate consumers from fluctuating international oil and ethanol prices.

The success of ethanol is partially due to Brazil's ideal agricultural conditions: lots of rain, land and inexpensive labor. But the switch to ethanol still took time and investment; it was a 30-year process that was, at least initially, heavily government directed.

The oil supply shocks of the 1970s hit Brazil hard; at the time, the country imported over 80 per cent of its fuel as petroleum. As a result, the military leaders of the 1970s and 1980s decided to incorporate ethanol into the fuel infrastructure and began a series of government directives that included mandatory mixing of gasoline and ethanol, loans to sugar companies to build ethanol plants, guaranteed prices for companies that produced ethanol, dictated production levels, requirements for fueling stations to supply ethanol, and monetary incentives to car dealerships that displayed vehicles that would run on ethanol. It is estimated that between 1979 and the mid-1990s, the Brazilian government spent over US$16 billion on the promotion of this biofuel, mostly in the form of loans and price supports. These policies did have a substantial effect, however, as purchases of ethanol vehicles rose dramatically in the 1980s (Luhnow and Samor, 2006).

With the hyperinflation of the 1990s, however, Brazil was forced to cut ethanol price supports, causing ethanol-powered automobiles to become uneconomical; as a result, these vehicles all but disappeared from the roads. But the government still mandated that gasoline be mixed with ethanol, meaning sugar companies continued to produce the fuel and gradually the process became less expensive and more efficient. Now, rapidly rising oil prices and the widespread market penetration of flex cars have made ethanol a viable option again (Luhnow and Samor, 2006).

The country is also looking to double its exports of biofuel to over a billion gallons per year, and to help other nations begin ethanol projects of their own. Australia and India are two of the many countries that may follow the Brazilian example and establish biofuel facilities in the future (Lynch, 2006). Both India and China have sent officials to observe the Brazilian ethanol program, and India has begun requiring some of its states to add ethanol to gasoline (Luhnow and Samor, 2006).

The US also produces ethanol, but uses corn instead of sugar cane to create the fuel. As a result, the manufacturing process is more complicated, expensive and demanding of fertilizer generated using fossil fuels. As a result, in order to make domestic ethanol competitive, the federal government imposes a 54-cent tariff on each gallon of Brazilian ethanol that is imported, hindering the widespread adoption of competitive Brazilian ethanol in the US.

Europe

European countries have recently received a great deal of attention for their use of renewable energy — particularly wind power — to decrease their carbon emissions. Europeans have also embraced the diesel engine as a way to conserve oil resources. Currently, 25—40 per cent of all Western European vehicles run on diesel, and that number is expected to grow to 50 per cent by 2010 (Falk, 2000). Consumers are increasingly running these vehicles on biodiesel, an even cleaner and more environmentally sustainable fuel (Styles, 2005).

A lesser-known trend in European energy generation involves the increased use of combined heat and power (CHP) facilities. CHP involves the capturing of waste heat from a power plant and using this heat for nearby consumers. The details and economics of the process are discussed in more detail in Chapter 19, but it typically doubles the efficiency of a power plant, reducing carbon emissions and saving money at the same time (Marvin, 1991). CHP is currently being pioneered in Western Europe, in particular.

The amount of cogenerated power has been growing, and in some Western European countries, over 40 per cent of all electricity is generated this way (Smith, 2000). In Europe as a whole, CHP accounts for about 10 per cent of the electricity market and 10 per cent of the heat market. The EU hopes to increase those numbers to 18 per cent by 2010, and recent trends show that the goal may be reached (Blankinship, 2004). Many European electricity markets are undergoing deregulation and liberalization, which has increased the market for independently owned CHP electricity. Future deregulation is expected to boost cogeneration, particularly in Belgium (Smith, 2000).

Denmark is opening up its energy markets using different approaches than many other countries in Europe, thereby increasing, for example, the share of its power from wind turbines. In addition, Denmark continues to be the most advanced producer of CHP. The Danish government is using cogeneration as a major tool to improve the environment, and is giving subsidies and tax breaks to encourage the building of additional CHP plants (Smith, 2000). Germany, The Netherlands and Finland are other leaders in cogeneration. While there are some limits on the amount of CHP that can be sustained, it is likely that it will play an important role in helping the EU reach the 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 target that it is committed to.

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Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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