Solutions to Carbon Neutrality
- Date : 21-06-30
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Since the first industrial revolution began some 200 years ago, fossil fuels have been our most common source of energy. Last December, a study published in Nature, an international journal, reported that human-made mass had exceeded the global biomass for the first time, meaning that mankind is placing a huge burden on the Earth’s environment.
Many countries have recently announced plans to increase the share of renewable energy out of their total energy consumption to over 80%, starting in 2050. South Korea has also announced plans to go carbon neutral by 2050.
The problem is how to reach these goals. Coal-fired power, which currently accounts for over 40% of all energy sources, should be replaced with renewable energy. Theoretically, as it is surrounded by sea on three sides, ocean energy is the most abundant energy source in South Korea. However, solar energy has higher potential, considering the technological limitations of ocean energy. 120,000 TW of solar energy reaches the Earth every year. Harvesting that solar energy for just one hour can satisfy all of the world's energy needs for an entire year. In the book Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, Professor Tony Seba from Stanford University predicted that solar energy will account for 100% of all energy used by the globe in 2030. Thus, solar energy is the most important key to reaching worldwide carbon neutrality.
Solar cells are a relatively well-known application of solar energy. In the first and fourth quarters of this past year, solar cells capable of producing 1 GW of energy were installed in South Korea. Yet, while solar cells are a common sight in our daily life, their distribution is not ideal. Solar cells are often installed in mountainous areas, where their carbon neutrality may be reduced in the event of forest fires and other damaging events, since the batteries are susceptible to natural disasters.
To overcome this issue, it is necessary to install solar cells that can be integrated into buildings in cities. Therefore, solar cells must be developed and installed in the form of building materials, such as curtain walls, windows, and tiles, instead of just being placed on apartment balconies. Technologies are needed to develop solar cells that are flexible, permeable, and can be painted onto a surface, unlike silicone-based batteries, which currently hold a leading share of the solar battery market.
Another key solar power technology is storing energy in chemical forms. “e-Chemical,” also known as artificial photosynthesis, uses solar energy to convert water, air, and carbon dioxide into chemical materials of high economic value, such as carbon monoxide, ethylene, and alcohol. This highly influential technology was introduced as “a new technology that could change the world” at the World Economic Forum in early 2017. While some e-Chemical technologies have made it to the pilot-level research phase, continued R&D is needed to improve catalyst efficiency, resolve stability issues, and achieve high system efficiency.
R&D on solar energy-based technologies is being competitively conducted worldwide to secure technology ownership and open up new industries. South Korea quickly jumped into funding solar energy research, the outcomes of which include solution-processed organic/inorganic solar cells and e-Chemical-related technologies. The competitive value of these technologies is acknowledged around the globe. South Korea’s announcement to go carbon neutral by 2050 signals an energy paradigm shift that will bring about the country’s transition into a zero-carbon society. Long-term and detailed R&D plans and strategies must be devised, based on the mutually-perceived need for changes.