Resources on Coal & Climate Crisis
- 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
CLIMATE & ENERGY OVERVIEW
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
HEROIC JAMES HANSEN
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.
MICHAEL HOEXTER'S HOUGHTFUL BLOG ON ENERGY
We recommend you read the multi-part presentations by Michael Hoexter
on what he calls "The Renewable Electron Economy."
EVs/PHEVs/V2G AND CLEAN ENERGY
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]
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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