A recent study has highlighted the vital importance of photonics in helping the world to meet climate change targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.
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Numerous examples of how photonics technology can be leveraged into applications that will impact climate change were presented at the LASER World of PHOTONICS, the world’s leading photonics trade fair, held in Munich, Germany. Here, we discuss these examples and outline how they will contribute to delivering a minimum of 11% of the globally agreed carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions by 2030.
Climate Change: The Greatest Challenge Facing Humankind
In December 2015, 190 countries plus the European Union signed the Paris Agreement, an international treaty that addresses the global emergency of climate change.
The agreement outlines that, to protect the world from the devastating effects of global warming, the rise in global average temperatures must be limited to 2 degrees Celsius, while efforts to limit this to 1.5 degrees should be pursued. To achieve this ambitious but necessary goal, the world must become carbon neutral by 2050.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges currently facing humankind.
Every country, individual, government, and industry must make significant changes to their activity to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Every aspect of our lives is in some way connected to our carbon footprint, and the choices we make can reduce or worsen this.
While the goals of the Paris Agreement may seem challenging to meet, the good news is that we already have many of the tools we need to significantly reduce our emissions.
What is the 'Paris Agreement', and how does it work?
Video Credit: United Nations/YouTube.com
Photonics Developments Accelerate Climate Change Mitigation
Technological advancements in the field of photonics have drastically expanded this toolbox.
Experts predict that by 2030, around 11% of the CO2 savings achieved will be attributed to photonics applications.
A recently published study named Licht als Schlüssel zur globalen Nachhaltigkeit [Light as the Key to Global Sustainability] outlines how the adoption of photonics technology will help us achieve this.
Of all the currently available photonics technologies, the areas of photovoltaics, energy-efficient lighting, and optical communication will likely be the most influential in reducing carbon emissions.
Examples of the Use of Photonics in Tackling Climate Change
Photovoltaics and the reduction in carbon emissions
The field of photovoltaics relates to technology that converts light into electricity via semiconductors that exhibit a photovoltaic effect, in other words, solar power.
The widespread adoption of solar energy presents an opportunity to greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and therefore reduce emissions and mitigate the impact of global warming.
If half of all projected future growth in thermal electricity generation was offset by photovoltaics, annual global CO2 emissions would fall by 10% in 20 years and 32% in 50 years. These figures demonstrate the potential of photovoltaics to reduce carbon emissions.
Further research has found that the use of solar power can further reduce carbon emissions by tackling the Urban Heat Island effect (UHI), whereby cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside, leading to health issues, including unnecessary deaths (Paris experience 15,000 premature deaths due to heat in 2003 alone).
Solar panels also protect buildings from absorbing heat, reducing the need for air-conditioning by roughly 12%, further helping us to reduce our energy usage and emissions.
Energy-efficient lighting and the link to carbon emissions
Around 5% of global carbon emissions are attributed to our lighting needs.
Switching to energy-efficient lighting offers an opportunity to significantly reduce the emissions associated with lighting. It is estimated that switching to energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) technology could prevent more than 1,400 million tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere each year. It would also prevent the need to construct extra power stations; around 1,250 could be saved from being built if everyone switched to energy-efficient lighting.
In addition to reducing energy consumption, energy-efficient lighting indirectly reduces emissions. For example, just one Energy Star light bulb lasts roughly six times longer than the average conventional light bulb. Therefore, it replaces six bulbs.
The energy and emissions associated with manufacturing and distributing light bulbs, such as those used in production, transportation, and disposal of incandescent light bulbs are reduced, as just one energy-efficient bulb can prevent an extra five more bulbs from being produced and purchased.
Some new LED light bulbs even guarantee that they will last a lifetime.
Optical communication advances lead to carbon reductions
Finally, advances in optical communication will also significantly help to reduce carbon emissions. This field of photonics technology is still in its infancy, however, the development of optical communication in 5G mobile networks is vital to switching to rely on more efficient options with lower energy consumption demands.
Future Directions for Photonics in Reducing Carbon Emissions
Photonics has already helped the world to reduce its carbon emissions by around 1.1 billion tons, a figure estimated to reach three billion by 2030.
The field of photonics will continue to be vital to reducing global carbon emissions and reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Photovoltaics, energy-efficient lighting, and optical communication will be key areas to mitigating the effects of climate change.
References and Further Reading
Messe Muenchen GMBH. (2019) By 2030, photonics will deliver at least eleven percent of the globally agreed CO2 savings. [Online]. Available at: https://image-factory.media.messe-muenchen.de/asset/414170/pi-sustainability-study.pdf?_ga=2.38749731.1208128360.1632749967-1857025395.1632749967 (Accessed 9 October 2021)
Drennen, T., Erickson, J. and Chapman, D. (1996) Solar power and climate change policy in developing countries. Energy Policy, 24(1), pp.9-16. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0301421595001174
Masson, V., Bonhomme, M., Salagnac, J., Briottet, X. and Lemonsu, A. (2014) Solar panels reduce both global warming and urban heat island. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 2. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenvs.2014.00014/full
United Nations (n.d.) The Paris Agreement. [Online] Available at: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/paris-agreement (Accessed 9 October 2021)
The Climate Group. (n.d.) LED. [Online] Available at: https://www.theclimategroup.org/led (Accessed 15 October).