Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Turkish Dilemma of Increased Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In June 2015 at the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau Germany, the group of the seven most advanced industrial powers have agreed that the world should phase out the use of fossil fuels this century in a move hailed as a historic decision in the fight against climate change. The leaders of the US, Germany, France, the UK, Japan, Canada and Italy said they supported cutting emissions by 40 to 70 per cent from 2010 levels by 2050. The leaders also reaffirmed a pledge to mobilize $100bn per year from public and private sources by 2020 to help poorer nations tackle climate change. They warned that emerging countries such as China would have to contribute to reducing CO2 emissions. Ref.Reuters.

Developed countries are becoming worried about growing “Greenhouse Emissions” as created by the increased number of fossil fired thermal power plants in the developing (or emerging) countries. However, the reason for increased greenhouse emissions is not only to be found in the developing countries.

The United Nations 21st Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, France between 30 November and 11 December 2015. Preliminary talks were held in Bonn, Germany between 1 and 11 June 2015.

The main purpose of the talks this year is to create a mutual understanding on the preventive measures that will keep global warming from exceeding “2 degrees Celsius” as compared to pre-industrial revolution levels of the 19th century. Prior to the commencement of the Paris talks, backstage preparations are taking place in international media circles as information is shared, new solutions are being put forward and support for certain policies is being voiced.

For last 100 years, developed countries have burned fossil fuels in their thermal power plants without any major concern for global warming. Their cumulative negative contribution to global warming is extraordinarily high compared to the developing countries. However, Turkey’s emission of greenhouse gases has been a topic of discussion over the past 10 years, especially in reference to its desire to increase its number of coal fired thermal power plants that would mainly make use of new imported coal firing technologies.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the per capita CO2 equivalent gas emissions of developing countries. Developed countries do not mention their own contribution to global warming throughout history, but as the subject relates to developing countries, they warn us to stop further investment in fossil fuel firing thermal power plants. In the end, we are left wondering who will initiate this trend to stop global warming. Without reflecting on their own practices, every country expects others to take preventive initiatives to decrease CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, we must continue energy development to increase life expectancy, to better the future of our children and to increase the prosperity of our society, hence in order to realize this we must generate more energy and a greater electricity output. Considering this we must fully utilize our indigenous fuel sources, namely, domestic fossil fuels that largely consist of lignite.

Renewable energies such as wind, solar and hydro sources are also to be tapped, but these sources cannot meet our base load energy needs. In order to fulfill our base load requirements from renewable sources, we need to invest in pumping storage hydraulic plants so that we can utilize the cheap electricity for storage, and generate reserve energy when electricity is scarce during peak seasons. Our country has no such reserve plants yet and these investments cannot be realized overnight.

Germany and Denmark have geographic advantages when it comes to renewable energy investments. When there is no wind or the sun is not shining, wind turbines and solar panels cannot fulfill these countries’ base load demands; yet these countries can easily purchase electricity from any neighboring country, whether produced by nuclear energy from France or Switzerland or by thermal energy from Poland. Due to Turkey’s geography, we do not have such supply flexibility to reach our base load requirements in case of need. We have only limited access to the Entso-E European electricity transmission pool.

International environmentalist groups exhibit a seriously reactionary attitude to our investment in expanding coal firing thermal power plants. Everyone has wondered and inquired about our coal investments, and they have warned us that we are increasing our per capita CO2 equivalent gas emissions. We all know that increases in greenhouse gas emissions will increase global warming, melt polar ice, increase the sea level and potentially cause environmental disasters.

In the past, no one was interested in Turkey’s contribution to these environmental problems seeing that we were frenziedly purchasing thermal power plants from US or West European suppliers at high prices. We were in a trapped market that worked to their benefit. Later, China emerged as an ultra-cheap supplier of thermal power plants whose design and quality were questionable when it came to their long term operation and overall adherence to environmental standards. Nonetheless, the market has shifted in favor of these low-price suppliers at the expense of the once dominant US and Western European firms. This has coincided with a time in which everyone has become an environmentalist, warning and advising others to stop investing in thermal power plants.

However, new thermal power plants can be designed employing “clean coal technologies” that provide for lower emission rates and less pollution while also allowing for the firing of local coal and utilization of local engineering, local manufacturing and local operation.

Bigger and more efficient dust filters and better flue gas desulphurization equipment can also be installed in these plants resulting in less greenhouse gases being emitted.

We all know that most of the world’s highest polluting thermal power plants are found in developed countries; because they are old. They need rehabilitation. Yet, countries do not want to invest in environmental equipment as these investments bring no payback. On the other hand, the thermal power plants in developing countries are relatively new and are designed to make use of new and better technologies and environmental equipment that meet more stringent emission standards. All in all these plants pollute less.

Developed countries have unrestrictedly polluted the environment for the last 100 years, whereby our impact in the last 10 years is significantly less in comparison. The cumulative amount of CO2 equivalent gas they have emitted over the last 100 years is obviously much more than that which we have produced over the last 10 years. Moreover, the recent wars in the Middle East and the setting ablaze of Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil wells have contributed to the global increases of gas emissions in the atmosphere, yet we have had no involvement in these wars.

Turkey’s annual CO2 equivalent gas emissions per capita were around 4.2 tonnes in 2010 and 6 tonnes in 2013. This drastic jump, which we are not comfortable with, stems from our country’s imported coal firing thermal power plant investments.

The USA’s per capita CO2 equivalent gas emissions were 17 tonnes in 2010 whereas the European Union’s per capita average was 7 tonnes, with Germany emitting 9.1 tonnes thanks to renewables and France 5.5 tonnes thanks to nuclear power plants. Russia emitted 12 tonnes per capita. Oil and gas producing countries which insist on generating electricity via simple cycle gas or crude oil firing thermal power plants also boasted high per capita emission rates, with Saudi Arabia emitting 17 tonnes and Kazakhstan 15 tonnes. China emitted 6.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent gases per capita due to the increasing number of coal fired thermal power plants put into operation in the country, and it has shown no desire to assume responsibility in taking any preventive initiative to curb its growing emission rates.

We must decide internally how to create the conference team in the Paris Climate Change talks, preparing ourselves for the dialogue that is to come. The participation and contribution of public officials alone is insufficient. Local investors, who feel the pressure to protect the global environmental tightening around their necks, should take the event seriously and work with high profile academic and commercial personalities to explain the energy situation they have at their end. The unfortunate “Kyoto” experience should not be repeated in “Paris”. We must decide on our national policies, draft our responses in a timely manner and prepare to defend our national interests.

Those who cannot have a say in the policies formulated at the conference will be subjected to the will of others.

Ref. COP21, in Paris in 2015

Oberstdorf, Germany, 20 June 2015

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU’s Mechanical Engineering Department (1973). He has worked in public and private enterprises, US-Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP), and in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, and sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as a freelance consultant/energy analyst engaging with thermal power plants and utilizing his basic/detail design software expertise to assist private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of ODTÜ Alumni and the Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.


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