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Resources on Coal & Climate Crisis

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  • Felix Kramer
    Coal is at the heart of two intertwined issues important to PHEV advocates: * Can we develop a transitional strategy to power vehicles (and many other human
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2007
      Coal is at the heart of two intertwined issues important to PHEV advocates:
      * Can we develop a transitional strategy to power vehicles (and many
      other human activities) with renewable fuels?
      * How clean will our power grid become and how can we reduce
      greenhouse gases from energy production?

      During this long presidential campaign season, some candidates are
      saying "no new coal plants that aren't capable of capturing CO2."
      That way, if it ever becomes feasible to "sequester" CO2 underground,
      presumably we'll have power plants that are ready. Others say
      sequestration will never be practical or affordable, and we should
      simply say "no new coal plants, period. Let's invest our research and
      incentives in renewables that don't emit CO2 rather than hope we can
      capture and store it. It's a critical discussion, because coal plants
      operate for 50 years or longer. (Our view is very straightforward: if
      the entire world woke up and were willing to make the huge adjustment
      in being willing to pay something less than twice as much for our
      energy than we now pay, we could make the most rapid transformation
      ever seen and avoid the worst consequences of global warming.) Here
      are some resources and the subject:

      Many Presidential candidates favor coal-to-liquid for fuel, which is
      twice as bad in CO2 emissions as petroleum, and even if carbon
      sequestration ever becomes possible, is still worse than petroleum.
      (See the extraordinary chart from the Environmental Protection Agency
      reproduced by The New York Times at
      <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/business/29coal.html> in an
      article that surveys the candidates' views. If you can't access that
      story, see the chart at
      Treehugger <http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/05/america_to_the.php>.

      CalTech Chemistry Professor Nathan Lewis is doing extraordinary
      research. See a photo of him with our car last June at
      <http://www.calcars.org/photos-people>. He also presents the
      scientific issues in global warming in very broad and useful ways.
      "Powering the Planet" (12 pages in Engineering & Science Magazine is
      a good overview. He's doubtful on how much carbon sequestration is
      possible. Though he tends to favor liquid fuels over batteries, he is
      open to the discussion....It's a 10MB PDF at

      Joseph Rom (author of one of the books above) writes Climate
      Progress, a great blog. He posted this entry on July 27, 2007,
      writtne by NASA's James Hansen, director of the National Aeronautics
      and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies our "top
      climate scientist" (for more about Hansen, see
      <http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/282.html> from February 2006. At
      that time, Hansen said,""The plug-in hybrid approach, as being
      pursued by CalCars, seems to be our best bet for controlling vehicle
      CO2 emissions in the near-term." See also

      Hansen on "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

      California had a regulation that would have required automobile
      manufacturers to produce a small percentage of cars without emissions
      by such-and-such date, and a larger percentage later. Automakers
      despised this rule, and decided that they had enough clout to ignore
      it, arguing that it was impractical. Environmentalists seemed to
      conclude that they were overmatched. Rather than go to the mat, they
      decided to play ball with the automakers, to try to work with them,
      accepting promises that the automakers would do everything that they
      could to improve vehicle efficiencies and reduce emissions.

      The glee with which the automakers tracked down the trial electric
      cars that they had produced, and crushed the cars into small cubes,
      must have been palpable. Profit margins on large SUVs were much
      bigger. Automakers soon forgot their promises about better gas
      mileage, instead using technical efficiency improvements to make
      vehicles bigger and accelerate faster.

      So who killed the electric car? The automakers? Government officials?
      All of us who let them get away with it? That vehicle story
      continues, as plug-in hybrid-electric cars are perhaps the best bet
      for a path toward a vehicle fleet with sustainable fuel requirements.

      However, my reason for bringing up the electric car story is some
      similarities to the coal story, which is even much more important.

      Coal interests are at least as powerful as the automakers. If coal
      interests have their way, the damage to the planet from coal will
      greatly exceed that caused by automakers. Their approach is similar
      to that of the automakers. They have bought influence with law-makers
      in Washington. They have convinced energy experts, even those with an
      environmental bent, that they, the coal interests, will win if the
      parties "go to the mat".

      Specifically, they want to continue to make more coal-fired power
      plants, claiming that the technology to capture and store CO2 will be
      ready in a decade or so, and promising that when it is ready they
      will convert the power plants to capture and sequester CO2. This
      would require not only technology to capture this enormous stream of
      CO2, but also a pipeline carrying the CO2 to a place where it is
      safely stored. If you are willing to accept their promise to do that,
      I have a bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn that I will sell to
      you for a very good price. Even if you believed them, in the
      meantime, for a decade or likely longer they would be pouring out CO2
      into the air at a rate that would destroy the effect of other efforts
      to slow climate change.

      If we want to save the planet, creation, with all of its creatures,
      somebody is going to have to go to the mat with the coal interests.

      Do not let anyone tell you that there is no viable alternative to
      increased coal use. If the rules for utilities were changed such that
      they made bigger profits by selling us less energy by helping users
      improve efficiencies, rather than bigger profits by selling us more
      energy, that alone could avoid need for more power plants for the
      time needed to develop CO2 sequestration technology. Not to mention
      the potential for renewable energies to contribute, or the potential
      via changed building codes, lighting and appliance standards, etc.

      Of course it is sensible to allow a trial power plant to be built of
      the sort intended to eventually include carbon capture and
      sequestration. But there is no way that anything more than a trial
      should be allowed. These plants are gargantuan. There is no guarantee
      that they will even make sense, once carbon is properly priced.
      Scandinavia provides a good example (B.E. Johansen, The Progressive,
      July 2007): Denmark, e.g., has remade its energy infrastructure.
      While in the 1980s it had 15 large power plants, it now has several
      hundred smaller ones, thus closer to homes and offices with reduced
      power loss during transmission. Much of the energy is renewable.
      Energy efficiency has been promoted, so the average Dane uses less
      than half the electricity used in the U.S. In the process, their
      economy has become strong.

      We recommend you read the multi-part presentations by Michael Hoexter
      on what he calls "The Renewable Electron Economy."

      You'll find EVs and PHEVs and V2G (vehicle-to-grid technology)
      included in this executive summary of a new book due out this fall --
      called Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy
      Policy. It's produced by the Institute for Energy and Environmental
      Research and the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, and the executive
      summary is available now at <http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree>. Here's
      the July 30 press release

      Landmark Energy Policy Study Points the Way to U.S. Energy Future
      without Fossil Fuels or Nuclear Power
      Protecting Climate Will Require Essentially Complete Elimination of
      U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions by 2050

      Takoma Park, MD - At the G-8 summit in Germany in June 2007,
      President Bush promised to "consider seriously" the European Union
      goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to limit global
      temperature rise to about 4 degrees Fahrenheit. A new study concludes
      that the United States could eliminate almost all of its carbon
      dioxide emissions by the year 2050. It also concludes that it is
      possible to do so without the use of nuclear power. The landmark
      study, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy
      Policy, was produced as a joint project of the Nuclear Policy
      Research Institute and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

      "A technological revolution has been brewing in the last few years,
      so it won't cost an arm and a leg to eliminate both CO2 emissions and
      nuclear power," said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, author of the study and
      president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "We
      can solve the problems of oil imports, nuclear proliferation as it is
      linked to nuclear power, and carbon dioxide emissions simultaneously
      if we are bold enough."

      The "Roadmap" concludes that the United States can achieve a zero-CO2
      economy without increasing the fraction of Gross Domestic Product
      devoted to lighting, heating, cooling, transportation, and all the
      other things for which we use energy. The fraction was about 8
      percent in 2005. Net U.S. oil imports can be eliminated in about
      twenty-five years or less, the study estimated.

      "The climate crisis has put the earth in the intensive care unit,"
      said Dr. Helen Caldicott, President of NPRI and a physician who has
      long advocated elimination of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. "We
      must respond to this acute clinical crisis and act today to save the
      planet, without resorting to nuclear power, which will aggravate our
      problems. Dr. Makhijani's report is essential reading for all who
      care about our future."

      The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that a
      global reduction of 50 to 85 percent in CO2 emissions is needed to
      limit the temperature rise to less than about 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
      If emissions are allocated equitably, in view of the greater
      historical and present emissions of the United States and other
      Western countries, the Roadmap estimates that the United States will
      have to eliminate 88 to 96 percent of its CO2 emissions. The United
      Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty that the
      United States has ratified, places a greater responsibility on
      developed countries to reduce their emissions in view of historical
      and present inequities.

      According to the Roadmap, North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota,
      Montana, and Nebraska each have wind energy potential greater than
      the electricity produced by all 103 U.S. commercial nuclear power
      plants. Solar energy is even more abundant - solar cells installed on
      rooftops and over parking lots can provide most of the U.S.
      electricity supply. Recent advances in lithium-ion batteries are
      likely to make plug-in hybrid cars economical in the next few years.

      "Plug-in hybrids should become the standard-issue car for governments
      and corporations in the next five years. That demand will make prices
      come down to the point that it can become the standard car design in
      the next decade," said S. David Freeman, President, Los Angeles Board
      of Harbor Commissioners and former chairman of the Tennessee Valley
      Authority. "The health benefits of eliminating fossil fuels and
      greatly reducing urban air pollution will be immense. Dr. Makhijani's
      study also shines a light on how we can liberate our foreign policy
      from oil imports."

      Mr. Freeman was the Director of the Energy Policy Project of the Ford
      Foundation at the time of the Arab oil embargo in 1973. That
      project's report (A Time to Choose: America's Energy Future), which
      he, Dr. Makhijani, and others co-authored, became the foundation of
      U.S. energy policy in the mid- to late-1970s.

      "What is really innovative about this Roadmap is that it combines
      technologies to show how to create a reliable electricity and energy
      system entirely from renewable sources of energy," said Dr. Hisham
      Zerriffi, Ivan Head South/North Chair at the University of British
      Columbia and an expert on distributed electricity grids. "The United
      States must take action now in order to lead and this Roadmap lays
      out specific steps that it should take. The study is also remarkable
      in that it provides backup plans and recommends redundancies that are
      important for avoiding major missteps on the road to an economy
      without zero-CO2 emissions."

      The study recommends an elimination of subsidies for nuclear power
      and fossil fuels, and also for biofuels like ethanol when they are
      made from food crops.

      "Ethanol from corn is inefficient and, at best, has only a marginal
      effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions" said Dr. Makhijani.
      "Even at current production levels it is causing inflation in food
      prices in the United States and hardship for the poor in Mexico and
      other countries. Biofuels can be made much more efficiently, for
      instance from microalgae, on land not useful for food."

      The study recommends a "hard cap" on CO2 emissions by large fossil
      fuel users (more than 100 billion Btu per year). The cap would be
      reduced each year until it reaches zero in 30 to 50 years. There
      would be no free emissions allowances, no international trade of
      allowances, and no offsets that would allow corporations to emit CO2
      by investing in outside projects to reduce emissions. The emissions
      of smaller users would be reduced by efficiency standards for
      appliances, cars, homes, and commercial buildings.

      Copies of the 23-page executive summary of the report are available
      at <http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree>. The full study will be available
      for download in August 2007. It will be published as a book by RDR
      Books in the fall of 2007.

      Available for download: Executive Summary of Carbon-Free and
      Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy [PDF 450kB]

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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