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?
The LA Times is reporting on the impacts of utility-scale solar power plants in SoCal’s desert counties. What do you get when you start building multi-billion dollar solar installations? Solar land-men, in three piece suits, leaning on your local politicians for favorable tax treatment? Solar astro-turf campaigns, with corporate sponsored buses bringing solar supporters to public meetings? Yeah. Of course you do. How else could it be, within our system? If we do the responsible thing for the climate, and create a wholesale shift away from fossil fuel to renewables like wind and solar, we will have replaced one trillion dollar industry with another, and trillion dollar industries all behave badly. At some level, what we’re fighting for is to create a trillion dollar climate advocate. An incumbent corporate interest, invested in not breaking the sky. And when we’re done, we’ll still have all the greater governance issues lying around, waiting to be dealt with.
Union of Concerned Scientists gives an overview of how water is used in the generation of electricity. I came across this Op-Ed at the NYT that claimed more water is used for electricity than agriculture, and just could not believe it, but apparently if you look at surface water withdrawals, it’s true (power: 41%, ag: 37%). “Withdrawal” just means the water is taken from the river/lake/whatever. Usually most of it is put back (hotter), which means it can be used again for agriculture. In any case, the Texas grid came very close to shutting down 10% of its generation in 2011 because of the drought, right as it was experiencing its highest ever loads. Yet another fun climate-energy feedback.
A good quick look at how administration policies differ from implementation on the ground. Includes a short discussion of the lease by application vs. competitive leasing issue in the powder river basin, and the lawsuits that have been filed against BLM.
Andy Revkin talks to Nate Lewis about the scale of the challenge we face in addressing climate change. Lewis (whom I took Chem 1 from at Caltech) was one of the first people to communicate the scale of the problem effectively to me, in his Powering the Planet talk. He’s of the opinion that there are big technical gaps to be filled if we’re going to address the issue seriously — we need to learn how to do things we’ve never done before, in a technical sense. But one of his underlying assumptions is that we will 1. have continuing economic growth globally, and 2. that this will necessarily mean an increase in energy use (even as we continue to decrease our energy intensity). I think this need not be the case. High quality lives are available at vastly lower energy usages than we see in the US, or even Japan and Western Europe. They’re different, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re inferior. Compact, walkable/bikeable/livable cities. Drastically reduced flying and driving, zero energy buildings, petroleum free agriculture, heirloom designed durable goods instead of cheap plastic disposable crap. These things are huge, and make the remaining energy generation challenge much more manageable. Yes, we still need to figure out long term storage and reliable renewable portfolio management, but it’s not the same herculean task that Lewis puts forward: of running our society as we do today, but on some other energy source. Which simply will not work.
Yale Environment 360 has an interview with the CEO of NRG Energy, a fossil fuel based, nationwide independent power producer (IPP) that sells their 22GW of generation into the wholesale market. He’s bullish on solar PV, much less so on wind. No mention of solar thermal. He believes storage will be vehicle batteries. Net metering policies and pricing will be key to broad adoption. Given the lack of forecast energy demand increase, he sees different sources of energy (esp. coal, gas, solar, wind) having to compete for market share for the first time. It’s important to note that as an IPP his position and incentives are much different from those of regulated utilities like Xcel, who certainly do not want to “keep [their] rates to [their] consumers down and get these electrons onto its grid at a very cheap price”. And I think regulated utilities still make up a large majority of electrical generation in the US.
Xcel appears to be backing away from new transmission lines to the San Luis Valley. This infrastructure is required to implement the several hundred megawatts of solar-thermal generation that they proposed in their 2007 resource plan. Solar thermal is the only renewable power (other than pumped hydro, which has limited availability) for which energy storage is potentially feasible right now (e.g. using huge tanks of molten salt). It’s interesting to contrast the utility’s statements on the San Luis Valley project with what they’re saying about the Pawnee retrofit, and what they said about the Comanche 3 plant.