Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

World Bank: IGCC = clean technology

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 29, 2009

Oh dear god.  David Wheeler over at the Center for Global Development’s Views from the Center blog writes that the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund Trust Fund Committee is voting on investment criteria that would make “best available coal technology” eligible for subsidy as a clean technology (it’s a good post).  I believe this refers to higher-efficiency IGCC plants that could hypothetically later be retrofitted for CCS.  I think that at this point, CCS is so untested at large scales that claiming IGCC plants to be low-carbon technology because of this potential extension is completely ridiculous.  Let’s just start clearing space for all the sweet fusion power plants that we might possibly build someday maybe.

I guess can see a situation in which investing in modern coal plants would increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions in the short term, to be replaced/augmented by low-carbon energy technologies (CCS, wind, solar) when the costs and technology uncertainty have decreased in the future.  In addition, it will probably be important for the developing world to have some capacity to start using CCS — if it works, if costs fall, and if there is no sufficiently prevalent superior alternative.  Regardless, under the present levels of uncertainty associated with scaling up CCS any time soon, the path dependency problem of subsidizing IGCC plants under the guise of clean technology is troubling.

Technology transfer is going to have to play an enormous role in solving climate change., but this is probably not the way to move forward.

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One Response to “World Bank: IGCC = clean technology”

  1. barry said

    Evan, if capital cycles were shorter you might be right, but coal plants last 40 years. the BRICs (mostly china) are building huge plants which will generate massive amounts of emissions over their technical lives. if this current tranche of power sector investment is not capture ready then it might be game-over in terms of not moving into “undesirable” levels of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

    while the path dependency argument is valid, the truth is that there are big time coal reserves in huge countries that are growing fast. if we had nice global CO2 prices, then this argument would be moot, but we don’t and BRICs are going to burn their coal. Given the magnitude of the coal fired generation capacity going in right now, CCS is the only option/hope for near term emissions stabilization. Maybe this IGCC nudge is the only way to influence technology choices when no global agreements exist. in that case, it is better then nothing.

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