Political frame work to avoid a climate catastrophe is not currently in place

In 1985 I was working in an electronics factory, developing production processes. My task was to find a solution to eliminate the processes using fluorinated hydrocarbons. These fluorinated hydrocarbons were used for the washing process of circuit boards after soldering and in our testing equipment. We had to test the electronic circuits at minus 40 degrees Celsius. After some research, we found a solution for both processes. We implemented soldering processes, which did not need a washing operation afterwards and used chillers, using ammonia. At this time we expected a change in the law, which would not allow the usage of these fluorinated hydrocarbons from 1990 onwards. In July of 2011, I found an article in the newspaper, with the headline: The European law initiative to stop step-by-step usage of fluorinated hydrocarbons gets strong critics.

There are 26 years between my work in the electronic manufacturing and today. The technical solutions have already been available in 1985 and now we are discussing a step-by-step stop. Twenty-six years later and we see still problems. Clearly, there was progress over the years. Nearly all used private refrigerators are working meanwhile without fluorinated hydrocarbons, but this is only a half-step to protect our environment. During 25 years, it should be possible to make such a small change in our society.

This brings me now directly to the headline of this article. Why is it that we had the information in 1985 but we are only now talking about a change in the law?

Let me give a second example, which I experienced with respect to environmental protection during my career. In 1995 we began efforts to find solutions to eliminate the usage of heavy metals in our products and our production processes. We were working on solutions to eliminate mercury in our acceleration sensors. After two years of research and the development of a micro-mechanical sensor, we could eliminate the mercury in our products. During the same time period, we were also working on a solution to eliminate Chrome 6 as a passivation medium in the galvanic zinc plating process. Here we found a solution with another passivation and eliminated the usage of Chrome 6 by assuring the same corrosion resistance as before. After all these efforts, a law was put in place, which limits the usage of heavy metal in products. Until today, it is possible to use heavy metals in products and production processes, if a certain percentage is not exceeded. This is a bad compromise in law making.

The two above examples took place in Europe and they did not directly guide us to an environmental disaster and are not the main element to prevent a climate change. But these examples show the consequences of politics and this is the reason that I fear we will not stop climate change. To put proper action in place to prevent climate change, we cannot act only locally. We need a global change in behavior. I do not see significant global political efforts to create a framework which will provoke the necessary changes.

Let us briefly reflect on the situation. We have the Kyoto protocol, in which the countries committed to reduce CO2 emission. This is an insufficient step, but a first step. However, the reality is that most of the countries will not fulfill their commitment. China is connected to the Kyoto protocol since 2010 at the Nairobi conference.

In June of 2011, we could read the news: China’s energy consumption exceeded the energy consumption of the USA for the first time in history. What does this mean? China contains 1200 Mil. Inhabitants; the USA contains 300 Mil inhabitants. The energy consumption of a Chinese person is roughly one quarter of the energy consumption of an American. In the year 2003 this ratio was 1/5.7. That means the energy consumption in all parts of the world is increasing and will increase further. The good news is that the CO2 emission is not increasing like the energy consumption.

This is a good first step. However, I think it is not sufficient and too slow and it carries the risk that the implemented actions may lose speed. This step surely provoked the renewable energies to be promoted strongly during the last few years. Developments in the wind power industry have been great during the last few years and a nearly mature wind power industry can serve the market needs now. I would say the same for the photovoltaic and sun collector industry. I think in this industry there is still improvement potential, but it is on a good track. Heat pumps have developed to a mature technology. For the biomass usage and geothermic, there are still some steps to go before I would name them a mature technology. However, the production of energy is only a part of the whole solution.

In an analysis of the energy usage, we find that 27% of the energy is used in houses for living purposes, 20% of the energy is used by industry, 17% by the service sector, 32% for traffic and 1% by agriculture. This distribution is not exactly congruent with the greenhouse gas emission of the respective energy users (for example agriculture emits much more greenhouse gas than it consumes energy) but to find the action areas, it is a good assumption.

The most important action area is that of traffic. In this area a lot of action took place during the last few years. I remember the request of Ferdinand Piech, CEO at VW, for a car not using more than 3 liters of fuel on 100 km distance. A lot of engineers have been laughing about his request. Three liters is not a problem anymore and even the bigger cars are currently using rarely more than 7 liters of fuel per 100 km. However, in my opinion, the breakthrough was the step in the electro-mobility. This brings the CO2 emission during the usage of the car to zero. The task is now to get the electricity or the H2-gas for fuel cells out of a process that is not emitting CO2. From the technical point of view, I believe we are on the right track, even if there are some technical problems to be optimized and the cost, that a car will stay affordable, has to be achieved.

Returning to politics, the industry is discussing whether or not we should produce 1 Mil. electric cars per year in 2015 or in 2020. This discussion must be brought in the right direction by the people. In China in the Yangzi delta in a city like Shanghai, I would hope that in 2017 it would not be allowed to drive in the city with fuel.  Only electric vehicles or hybrid cars, using electric engines should be allowed to access the town center. Small actions are already in place today. In some Chinese cities it is not allowed to travel on a motorbike to the city center during the daytime. Only electric-bikes are allowed.  Declarations and laws in this direction would boost the development of electro-mobility dramatically. The technology is now available to enable this kind of request. To speed up this process, it is necessary to support it by law. But it must be applied immediately.

The second biggest energy user, households, represents, in my opinion, a highly complex subject. A lot of projects are ongoing to drive this subject ahead. The zero energy house or plus energy house projects are, in my opinion, necessary projects to show what is possible in this area. The knowledge and the experience with these projects need to be widely spread. In the cities we build buildings with huge glass facades; most of them are only facades. Why not use glass facades with a thin film of solar cells? There is one thing that always makes me angry and that is the new buildings in China. I am living in a 31- story high building, built in 2009. It is a very modern building and the decoration in the flat is beautiful. The flat has floor heating. It is composed of some electric heat wires, which are built into the floor. This cannot be energy efficient. In November, I took tape and put it around all the windows. Otherwise, the wind in the flat is very strong. We moved the couch in winter one meter away from the wall; otherwise it would be too cold to sit on it. We hung a big blanket on the windows behind the couch. All the new houses I see in our surrounding area are built in the same style. If I ask the Chinese employees in the plant, they are doing the same. In winter they are sitting in warm clothes in front of the television and turning on the heat. The heating is normally the air conditioning system. In my opinion, this is a waste of energy. As the Chinese become wealthier, they will not accept wearing warm clothes in front of the television and will use even more of this inefficient heating system in an uninsulated flat. This rise of energy consumption cannot be permitted. This brings me back to my demands on politics.

To assure that the latest knowledge of building technology is considered, it would be necessary to have independent energy consultants. The usage of these consultants should be mandatory for new buildings and large renovations. Energy balances have to become mandatory, before renovating or building a house. These energy balances should be a precondition for a building permit. And for the emerging countries there should be an attachment to the Kyoto protocol, which makes them use the right technology, that will not be obsolete in two or three years.

The third biggest energy consumer is industry. As with traffic and household use, there are also a lot of positive actions going on in the industry sector. Some industries have already started to reduce their CO2 emissions voluntarily. In a lot of countries, the companies are organized energy networks, to exchange ideas for energy reduction. Practically every industry area can participate in this. It starts with a thorough review of their processes; in particular, the latest developments in the drive and control technology can be used by every company. I have recently participated in a company energy audit. This audit verifies all energy usage and enables the user to write a catalog of energy reduction possibilities using a specialist.  In this company, we found an impressive reduction potential of 20%.

If there is no enhancement in the law, not everybody will participate. Energy reduction targets should become a law. With this the development of energy efficient technologies would be promoted.

Below is a summary of our findings:

Environmental protection and the reduction of greenhouse gas emission will be not powerful enough without the framework, mandated by law. Our economy is driven by profit and only a little by sustainability. It is necessary to react quickly, before the emerging countries develop to such an extent that we cannot satisfy their hunger for energy any longer. Fortunately, there are a lot of technical solutions available. It is now our collective task to bring them as fast as possible to effectiveness. For this, it is also necessary to spread the knowledge about these latest developments and to train specialists in these areas.

5 thoughts on “Political frame work to avoid a climate catastrophe is not currently in place

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