Problem with carbon dating

"We are a nice little country of petroholics and that has made us lazy", he says.On paper at least, the poorest of the four countries is in the lead – Costa Rica plans to reach its goal by 2021.It said that it was winning the prize by offsetting its entire emissions for 2007 though planting trees to restore an ancient forest in Hungary.But critics say that the true champion will have to achieve carbon neutrality at home – and point out that the Holy See has failed to count the carbon emitted by its travelling officials, or emissions from its buildings outside the Vatican City.Now, a proposal from MIT researchers shows this ancient invention could play a key role in enabling the world to switch away from fossil fuels and rely instead on carbon-free energy sources.The researchers’ idea is to make use of excess electricity produced when demand is low — for example, from wind farms when strong winds are blowing at night — by using electric resistance heaters, which convert electricity into heat.Only 1 per cent of its homes are heated by fossil fuels, and 99 per cent of its electricity is generated by geothermal and hydroelectric power."But we have not entirely kicked our carbon habit", writes its Environment Minister, Thorunn Sveinbjarnardottir, in the forthcoming issue of UNEP's magazine, Our Planet.

Iceland has gone the furthest, already achieving almost complete carbon neutrality in heating buildings and in electricity generation.These devices would use the excess electricity to heat up a large mass of firebricks, which can retain the heat for long periods if they are enclosed in an insulated casing.At a later time, the heat could be used directly for industrial processes, or it could feed generators that convert it back to electricity when the power is needed.And it is planning to capture and store carbon in old North Sea oil fields.But Frederic Hauge – the head of Bellona, the country's largest environment pressure group – is sceptical.

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The technology itself is old, but its potential usefulness is a new phenomenon, brought about by the rapid rise of intermittent renewable energy sources, and the peculiarities of the way electricity prices are set.

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