Wind farm in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS
Computers Help Create a Clean Energy Future
By Emilio Godoy
Planning and development of clean energy initiatives, crucial for developing countries, require detailed analysis of many factors. Information technology offers solutions.
MEXICO CITY, Jul 25 (Tierramérica).- The use of information technology in energy planning can contribute not only to developing renewable energy sources but also to moving towards a green economy.
The Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning System (LEAP) is a software tool developed at the non-governmental Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) that is widely used for energy policy analysis and climate change mitigation assessment.
“It’s a sophisticated tool but at the same time user-friendly and functional,” Charles Heaps, LEAP developer and director of the U.S. branch of SEI, told Tierramérica. For example, he explained, if a government wants the answer to a specific question, such as the carbon footprint of a generator, the software gives rapid responses concerning a series of related questions, such as the location, capacity, and potential options for the resources to be used.
Distributed free of charge to government agencies, academics and non-governmental organizations in the developing world, LEAP has been adopted by hundreds of users, including consulting companies and energy utilities, in more than 150 countries worldwide.
LEAP is becoming the de facto standard for countries undertaking integrated energy resource planning and greenhouse gas mitigation assessments. More than 85 countries have chosen to use the software as part of their commitment to report to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The RETScreen Clean Energy Project Analysis Software was created in 1996 by Natural Resources Canada - a Canadian government agency - and can be used to evaluate the energy production and savings, costs, emission reductions, financial viability and risk for various types of renewable-energy and energy-efficient technologies (known as RETs).
The software “can be used to eliminate the barriers frequently associated with clean energy projects,” RETScreen engineer Kevin Bourque told Tierramérica.
“The program enables a rapid assessment of the feasibility of these projects, given the decision-making tools for evaluating various options and focusing on the most viable,” he said.
The 2009 World Bank-sponsored report “México: Estudio sobre la disminución de emisiones de carbono” (Mexico: Carbon Emissions Reduction Study) was based on LEAP, as was “Energy Consumption, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Mitigation Options for Chile, 2007-2030”, a study published in 2009 by the University of Chile’s Environmental Management and Economics Program.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Honduras designed an energy policy extending to 2030 which was modeled using LEAP.
RETScreen includes product, project, hydrology and climate databases, and has been adopted by more than 300,000 users in 222 countries and territories, with 1,000 new users a week. It is used in 300 universities, including 19 in Latin America, and has been translated into 36 languages.
In 2010, the software had 2,661 users in Mexico, which ranked 19th among countries where RETScreen is most frequently employed. For instance, four students from Humboldt State University in the United States used it to assess the viability of building a mini hydroelectric dam in a community near the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
For long-term planning, the Federal Electricity Commission of Mexico uses the MARKAL (Market Allocation) model, an analytical tool developed by the International Energy Agency.
But Mexico has a long way to go when it comes to clean energy: 93 percent of the country’s energy is still generated from fossil fuels, with wind, solar, steam, hydro and nuclear power accounting for the remainder.
According to the Environment Ministry, Mexico’s emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, total 709 million tons a year. Most of these emissions are produced by the generation and consumption of energy.
Tools like LEAP and RETScreen can help jump-start the green economy, based on income-generating activities that contribute to the well-being of humans without harming the environment, which could create 500,000 jobs in Mexico, according to the environmental organization Greenpeace.
“Modeling can help build the credibility of alternative energy strategies,” while answering questions about how much these options cost and how they can be financed, noted Heaps.
LEAP, for example, can be used to measure energy consumption and production as well as resource extraction in all sectors of the economy.
RETScreen International is developing an energy management program with the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and the Langley Research Center, run by the U.S. space agency NASA.
Meanwhile, the SEI is preparing a global energy and climate model of 15 regions around the world in order to explore the implications of moving towards a green economy and potential mitigation measures, which will be presented at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Río+20) taking place June 2012 in Brazil.