Questions for the Goreacle
Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 10, 2008
I love Al Gore. No one has done more to increase political awareness about the dangers of global warming. And now, having essentially settled the debate over if we should act, Gore has shifted his focus to informing how we should act. His vision is an admirable one. Since last spring Al has been pushing for the US to commit to getting 100% of its electricity from renewable sources in the next ten year. I think everyone agrees that it would be awesome if that happened. Yet while it is the job of politicians to inspire and lead the public and to challenge us to to achieve our stated social goals, its the job of policy analysts like myself to evaluate their propositions. So I have some questions about the plan that Gore put forth in yesterday’s NYTimes and on the We Can Solve It website.
- In the Times op-ed, Gore writes, “The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.” Does anyone know where that $120 billion came from? Or even what it represents? EIA lists total 2007 electricity sales at $343 billion.
- Under the heading “Are materials or land availability a limiting factor?” on the We website, there are charts comparing annual US glass and steel production to the quantities called for under Gore’s plan. The solar thermal glass requirement looks to be about 40% of US production and the steel requirement is 8%. Now I guess the point is to show that these quantities are less that we currently produce, but that’s a pretty useless metric. The real constraint is the cost of displacing the 40% of glass currently going to other uses. Lots of great things are technologically or materialistically feasible if cost is no obstacle. Did we learn nothing from the run-up in corn prices this summer?
- Gore takes 2020 EIA electricity demand estimates as the target level of generation for his scenarios. But then he also calls for the electrification of our transportation sector. Clearly this would increase the amount of electricity demanded (by how much is anyones guess). I like his point about PHEVs acting as batteries for renewables, but doubt that this could really impact the grid. Reliability is a huge issue when it comes to electricity.
- Gore’s plan also meets 28% of the EIA 2020 target with energy efficiency. Where does this come from? Is it really “efficiency” or simply demand reduction as a result of the high price of eliminating fossil fuels? Again, lots of things are “feasible”, but welfare losses matter.
- Finally, what actually happens to all the coal and natty gas plants? Much of our current capacity has another 20-30 years of capital life left. How do we eliminate them? Is it through legislative fiat or does the government buy these plants out and retire them? Either way, this would cost somebody a lot of money.
Ok I realize there isn’t a lot of insight here. I really just wanted to list the questions I had when I read Gore’s plan. Any CT readers have answers to these/ questions of their own?