IMechE says achieving net zero in less than 30 years would be the largest engineering project ever undertaken by mankind.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) says in a new report that switching from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy in less than 30 years in order to achieve net zero is the largest engineering project ever undertaken by humanity.
Develop an enterprise strategy to achieve net zero from an engineering point of view, and Report It details eight issues that IMechE believes are critical to the success of the “Net Zero” project, an approach it says will lay the groundwork for a series of more detailed policy outputs from IMechE and its partners.
“This paper is less concerned with the science or policy of climate change than with the practical development of engineering solutions with the goal of achieving net zero,” says the report. This strategy, if implemented by 2050, will achieve the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement: to limit global warming to 1.5degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. “
At present, it is estimated that the total output of greenhouse gases on a global scale is about 50 billion tons per year – the worst detriment of coal, natural gas and oil in electricity generation. Although carbon dioxide makes up the bulk of this figure, it also includes methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, which also have a radiative (“greenhouse”) effect.
To help reduce these emissions, IMechE suggests areas where its expertise can help advance understanding of this broad topic. These include: overcoming the variability or seasonality of energy sources in an energy environment that relies heavily on wind and solar energy; intelligent power grid management, automation and stability; the future role of hydrogen; supplies, availability, and geopolitics of critical materials; CCUS expansion and widespread adoption; retrofit existing housing and buildings to radically improve energy performance; Replicating empirical and practical engineering knowledge gathered over 150-200 years of operation of current fossil fuel-based energy systems; and the role of governments in market interventions, guarantees, subsidies, and carbon pricing/credits and their impact on the flow of funds into expansions.
Besides providing a framework for understanding and drawing attention to problem areas (and areas of success) to further the discussion, the report also discusses the economic and cost factors to implement the net-zero solutions needed, including their operational costs and the investment required to bring them to market.
The report notes, “History has shown that consumers will adopt new technologies and create new markets when products, such as cars, air travel, mobile phones, and washing machines, cross the affordability threshold.” “Net net solutions will only be widely adopted if their operating costs are generally on par with current solutions using energy derived from fossil fuels.”
IMechE has committed to developing the skills needed to support Net Zero and working with relevant agencies in the energy and innovation sectors to encourage pilot projects for new technologies.
said Peter Flynn, former president of IMechE and author of the report.