There are a lot of voices in the climate and sustainability discussion. I’ve been thinking about where in the spectrum I fall, and why. Who are the people I’m trying to convince? What camp do opponents imagine I’m in? Even amongst those of us who agree that the energy and climate problem is enormous, there’s disagreement about whether change in our daily lives is necessary, desirable, or acceptable.
Below is a list of people I’ve personally been influenced by. Everyone here agrees that the current system has to change, that the magnitude of the required change is large, and that the direction of the change is unequivocally away from fossil energy sources. Where we differ is on what part of the system needs to change, and why. In particular, there seems to be a range of positions taken on the issue of social change. The Pessimists think that no technical solution comes close to being adequate, that large social changes are thus obligatory, and that they will be interpreted negatively by most people. The Optimists think that the best solutions include both technical and social components, and that the required social changes are relatively modest, and not necessarily negative at all. Some Optimists advocate for social change overtly, while others imply that purely technical options look implausible without it. The Cornucopians discount the need for social change, and are thus left with the technical task of supplying virtually unlimited carbon-free energy.
Continue reading Shades of Green
An Op-Ed in the Houston Chronicle warning fellow conservatives off continued climate denial, lest the GOP be left out of climate change policy decisions altogether as public opinion swings behind the scientific consensus. There’s still plenty of FUD and straw man partisan BS in its language, but the fact of climate change and the farce of painting it as some kind of hoax is called out loud and clear.
The NRDC has a plan that would allow the EPA to regulate GHG emissions from existing power plants, without either capitulating to the power sector, or banning coal outright immediately (which would be politically… uh, difficult). The trick is to use fleet-based target, as we do with vehicle emissions standards. The natural (regulatory) unit is the state, so each state could have its own carbon intensity targets or degression pathway, tailored to its initial generation mix. The carbon intensity would decline over time, eventually squeezing coal out of the mix, and could allow energy efficiency improvements to count toward the goal, at least initially. It really amounts to a kind of back-door cap-and-trade for the power sector, and it can be implemented by Obama, all on his lonesome, without any help from the intransigent congress. The hard part here will be setting stringent enough long term targets. 40% reduction by 2025? 90% reduction by 2050?
NRDC blogs about a new study on federal use of discount rates in calculation of carbon costs, which suggests we grossly underestimate the present value of reducing emissions. Did you even know that the feds had put an internal price on CO2? They behave as if it costs $21/ton to emit. But that’s based on a discount rate of around 3%, which is the highest rate OMB suggests using for inter-generational costs. Part II of the very detailed NRDC post is here.
Minneapolis is Xcel’s home town, and a much bigger market than Boulder. The city is now talking about allowing their franchise agreement to lapse, in order to pursue more aggressive renewable energy policies than state law will allow if they’re served by the monopoly utility. The article gives a nod to Boulder’s votes over the last two years to explore the alternatives to franchise agreements, including the formation of a municipal utility. It’s great to see another much larger city looking at its options, and as far as pushing the overall utility business model to change, it’s great to see this happening within Xcel’s service territory. There’s a threshold out there somewhere, beyond which the current arrangement is no longer stable, and even the utility will start begging for something different. The faster we can get there, the better.
A presentation from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, exploring Why Rooftop PV is so much cheaper in Germany than the US. Their feed-in tariff started out quite generous, and has declined predictably over the last several years, which has resulted in the rooftop PV market growing enormously, while installers have been forced to dramatically reduce costs. To the point where today, it’s about half the cost per-watt-installed to get PV in Germany that it is in the US. The physical hardware is the same price, but the process is much easier, and the businesses involved in it much leaner. Good old fashioned German engineering at work, but in the policy realm.
NREL took a nice long look at different ways to design feed-in tariffs (PDF) in July of 2010, based on the past decade’s worth of experience, both in the EU and several US states. It’s 144 pages long and aimed at policymakers… so, not exactly light reading. But if you really want to know how these things work (or fail), it’s great.