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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.

Posted in Coal/ CCS, Development, Energy Technology, Idiots | 1 Comment »

Recharging the SEMATECH concept?

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on December 18, 2008

Thom comments on Rich’s post about the new battery consortium:

Furthermore, the comparison to Sematech isn’t terribly exciting. A super-quick Google Scholar search reveals things like “Sematech induced members to cut their overall R&D spending on the order of $300 million per year” (Irwin & Klenow, 1996) and others. Lets hope that isn’t the result the battery people are seeking (getting someone else to pay for R&D they would otherwise do).

I agree to a large extent.  For those who are unfamiliar with SEMATECH, the story begins in the heady year of 1986.  I was 2 years old, the Bangles were on the verge of releasing “Walk Like an Egyptian”, and Duchess Sarah Ferguson married a Prince which paved the way for future stardom as a Weight Watchers spokeswoman.   SEMATECH was an effort by U.S. semiconductor manufacturers to regain their competitiveness in the face of growing Asian dominance.  It was initially funded in equal parts by the constituent firms and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  The basic idea behind a consortium is that since some discoveries will spread across the industry anyway, a joint investment can spread the costs across firms while still obtaining the final result.  In addition, collaboration can reduce redundant innovation; in principle, innovation increases, costs fall, or both.

However, there are always pitfalls in such a collective action case.  How do you determine a firm’s contribution to the consortium, in both funds and manpower?  Is there to be a centralized facility, or will personnel exchange among labs?  What prevents freeriding?  In the end, SEMATECH lost its DARPA funding and restructured, but not before its focus had significantly shifted.  Because so much of the most crucial R&D was proving intensely proprietary, the primary function of SEMATECH evolved toward encouraging R&D by semiconductor manufacturing equipment firms.  Thus, the proprietary R&D could remain in-house, while the consortium members benefited roughly equally from the advances they funded.  Of course, the phrase “in principle” comes to mind again.  Because SEMATECH’s facilities were centralized, it was crucial for firms to send engineers and technicians in to aid technology transfer.  Thus, large, vertically integrated firms benefited disproportionately while smaller companies were stretched thin trying to send even a few experts out to pick up the innovations.

So how does this lesson apply to batteries?  From an ungated Reuters story (check it out if you couldn’t get the WSJ one):

The alliance, which includes battery industry giants such as 3M Co and Johnson Controls-Saft, intends to secure $1 billion to $2 billion in U.S. government funding over the next five years to build a manufacturing facility with an “open foundry” for the participants to pursue the goal of perfecting lithium-ion batteries for cars.

To me, this sounds like a consortium-run sandbox for trying out new techniques for lithium-ion battery production.  Will the firms be able to effectively separate improving the efficiency of battery manufacturing from proprietary technological advances?  I’m not sure, since it seems to me that some of the most profitable innovations will be process-based until a totally new battery paradigm arises.  So I’m pretty skeptical myself, though I don’t really know enough about battery technology to make a good assertion.  Anti-climactic, I know, but I hope you all enjoyed my story about the good old days.

Interestingly, USCAR is an existing auto industry umbrella organization of consortia that used to work on batteries but shifted a lot of money and energy to hydrogen.  You might be surprised about the lack of wisdom in that decision until you look at the membership: Chyrsler, GM, Ford.  Maybe we should also have a consortium to research fuel-efficient private jets.

Posted in Auto, Energy Technology | 5 Comments »

Intellectual Infrastructure

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on December 9, 2008

The NY Times’ Dot Earth blog has a post today discussing the need for investment in “intellectual infrastructure”:

So far the focus seems to be mainly on rebuilding physical infrastructure: insulating leaky low-income housing, building wind turbines, improving the clunky electrical grid and the like. These are, by almost any measure, logical starting points for an effort to cut America’s energy bill and carbon dioxide emissions while restoring prosperity.  But for such an initiative to be green at a scale sufficient for the atmosphere to notice, my sense is it will need to focus just as much on rebuilding the country’s intellectual infrastructure.

Andrew Revkin makes several good points that I’d like to elaborate on a bit:

1.  We need scientists and engineers to perform R&D to really transform our economy.  Unfortunately, you can’t just grab a bunch of random people, stick them in a lab, and expect great things to happen.  Research indicates that the labor supply for scientists and engineers is at least somewhat inelastic, meaning that more money is likely to go to more equipment and high salaries, but will not necessarily result in more actual R&D output.  Thus, we need to begin encouraging today’s students to take paths that will train them in hard sciences and engineering subjects.  There are a lot of policy suggestions here, such as a government pledge to college freshmen to fund graduate study in certain fields if they meet academic benchmarks.  There are more preference-changing actions that can be taken as well.  I particularly liked this line from the post (specifically from Barack Obama’s recent appearance on Meet the Press):

We want to invite kids from local schools into the White House. When it comes to science, elevating science once again, and having lectures in the White House where people are talking about traveling to the stars or breaking down atoms, inspiring our youth to get a sense of what discovery is all about.

Sadly, Mr. Wizard passed away roughly a year ago — let’s keep his memory alive by making science cool again.

2. If you look at Revkin’s first graph, it is quickly evident that non-defense energy R&D spending has generally plummeted from the Carter days of solar panels on the White House.  There is no paucity of federal money laying around for R&D, as you can see in the doubling of NIH funding between 1998-2003.  Now it’s never easy to reappropriate funds, especially from something like health research, but we ought to seriously reconsider our funding priorities intensive to R&D, as well as extensive total R&D funding decisions.

3. The Pentagon receives more than half of all federal basic research outlays.  As we know, cutting defense spending is a politically tricky situation.  However, a nice back-door solution might be to earmark (gasp!) some funds to defense contractors performing energy-relevant basic research (e.g. material science, metallurgical engineering).  Defense is already looking for ways to improve energy efficiency in their operations for obvious reasons.

4. Basic research is crucial.  Why does it seem really unbelievable that some day we might get our energy largely carbon-free?  Because no one has figured out how.  And funding late-stage development is not the way to uncover the transformational technologies we need.  First, private firms ought to be funding a nearly-optimal level because the returns are largely appropriable.  Second, the government can fund failed pie-in-the-sky research over and over because, well, it’s the government.  Clearly, Congress is not concerned about turning a profit (surplus).  However, it must be clear that the viability of any entity designed to encourage basic research is not to be evaluated by strict metrics related to success rate.

These days, Obama seems to be playing Santa Claus in the minds of everyone left of conservative.  I guess you can add my wish list to the pile.

Posted in Education, Energy Technology, Technology Policy | 1 Comment »

Infrastructure

Posted by Daniel Hall on August 27, 2008

There are two articles in today’s New York Times that you should read.  First, Matthew Wald discusses the limits of our current electric grid:

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

The grid’s limitations are putting a damper on such projects already. Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, said that in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50 percent more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas.

Jenny Anderson then surveys the trend towards privatizing infrastructure investment.  I won’t quote from the article (just go read it!) but the figure that pops out is the $1.6 trillion that the U.S. needs in infrastructure investment in the next 5 years.  The article is focused on infrastructure like roads, bridges, and airports, but it is easy to draw links to the need for investment in the electric grid.  Can we get private investment in the electric grid?  I think T. Boone Pickens has discussed building his own transmission lines to support his proposed wind farms in Texas, but I wonder whether he can solve the NIMBY issues.

Here is Felix Salmon arguing that private investment in infrastructure is a good thing and will be more efficient over the long run.

Update: Please read Mike Giberson’s comment below about how T. Boone is (was?) working the NIMBY angles.  Funny stuff.

More update: Ryan Avent has some very smart thoughts about the incentives for private investors in infrastructure.  I’ll add that the experience with BAA and London airports suggests that even when it appears that private investors have properly aligned incentives to invest in infrastructure the actual outcome can be suboptimal. Is this a moral hazard problem arising from implicit government backing of the arrangement? Competition from other firms whose infrastructure is subsidized? Strategic behavior to maximize revenue rather than welfare?

Posted in Electricity, Energy Technology, Infrastructure, Wind | 2 Comments »

Is there such a thing as a free lunch?

Posted by Daniel Hall on May 19, 2008

Yes, at least if you can be in DC at Resources for the Future on June 4:

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions: What are the Opportunities, at What Price and Through What Policies?

A central question for U.S. climate policy is the opportunity and cost of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and the best approaches to achieve them. In December, McKinsey & Company and the Conference Board released a major report — Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much at What Cost? This analysis finds that 30 to 45 percent of forecast 2030 greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced at costs of less than $50 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent — and potentially far less if sizeable energy efficiency gains are captured. Our panel will describe and discuss these findings and their implications for the current policy debate.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
12:45 pm – 2:00 pm
A light buffet lunch will be available at 12:30 p.m.

Please RSVP by sending your contact details in an email to rffseminars@rff.org.

The McKinsey study that will be discussed has gotten a lot of publicity for suggesting that there are many large free lunches to be had in the energy and emissions arena — we can reduce emissions for negative total costs — particularly with energy efficiency projects. I will be there and am very curious to hear what one of the report authors says about the study.

Here’s a previous post from Rich on the McKinsey study.

Posted in Climate Change, Efficiency, Energy Technology, Events | Leave a Comment »

Nuclear power

Posted by Daniel Hall on May 2, 2008

The CBO just issued a new study on nuclear power in America. Via the CBO Director’s blog here are a couple highlights:

Carbon dioxide charges of about $45 per metric ton would probably make nuclear generation competitive with conventional fossil fuel technologies as a source of new capacity and could lead utilities to build new nuclear plants that would eventually replace existing coal power plants. At charges below that threshold, conventional gas technology would probably be a more economic source of baseload capacity than coal technology. Below about $5 per metric ton, conventional coal technology would probably be the lowest cost source of new capacity.

A carbon price of $45 per ton of CO2 is very likely higher than the U.S. could (politically) implement in the near future. Current emissions prices in the EU are around $35/ton right now.  If the U.S. passed a bill with similar stringency to Lieberman-Warner — a big political ‘if’ — then the EIA says the 2020 price would be around $30/ton, while the EPA analysis suggests higher, $40-50/ton.  If I was guessing I would say it is much more likely that any politically acceptable bill will result in prices of $10-30/ton in the near term.

But I think this is actually the most interesting point about nuclear power right now:

Uncertainties about future construction costs or natural gas prices could deter investment in nuclear power. In particular, if construction costs for new nuclear power plants proved to be as high as the average cost of nuclear plants built in the 1970s and 1980s (adjusted for inflation), or if natural gas prices fell back to the levels seen in the 1990s, then new nuclear capacity would not be competitive…

And this is very possibly the state of the world we are in.  Check this recent post from the EU Energy Policy blog.  Power plant construction costs have more than doubled since 2000, with much of the rise in the last two years and much of it very related to nuclear construction costs.  China particularly is consuming so much cement and steel that global prices for construction commodities are going through the roof.

A couple years ago I was relatively sanguine about the prospects for nuclear power but I am much more skeptical now.  I think the big problems are:

1. In the short run the price of global commodities and NIMBYism mean that it is both very expensive and very difficult to build new plants.

2. In the long run bad news about climate change could make nuclear look much more attractive but here proliferation worries me.  The long run is all about China and India and other not-so-stable parts of the world.  Fine, you can nuke up the U.S. or Europe completely (a la France) but this doesn’t make a huge difference because those places aren’t the future of the emissions anyway.  To really make a dent in the emissions trajectory you are talking about a huge number of plants in parts of the world where there are major religious and ethnic tensions (Jammu and Kashmir, western China) or where governments are authoritarian or (perhaps worse) incompetent.

Essentially I think the U.S. and Europe should be thinking now about which energy technologies they’d like to export 20 years down the road.  In this regard I’d rather us do a bunch of carbon capture and storage research than try to reinvigorate the nuclear industry.

Here is the MIT study on nuclear power, recommended.

Posted in Electricity, Energy Technology, Nuclear | 9 Comments »

Sunshine on my double-glazed low-E windows makes me happy

Posted by Daniel Hall on February 15, 2008

Economist.com’s Tech.view columnist has a great article up today about his research into putting solar cells on his own home. The article provides an accessible overview of photovoltaic technology as the author goes through the calculations of home installation. His conclusion? Even living in sunny southern California, he estimates that going solar would cost him “$600 a month for ten years, even after setting the interest charges against tax. And all that just to feel good about saving $75 of electricity a month.”

Although the article doesn’t state it explicitly, it sounds as if the downfall of solar technology is not only the expense — around $65,000 at his home, before any subsidies or rebates — but that there are easier ways to go green. We get a clue here, as he talks about the electricity needs of his home:

It’s not even as though the place gobbles electricity. When the house was being rebuilt five years ago, the new roof came with over a foot of thermal insulation. The floor-to-ceiling windows along two sides of the structure were replaced with double-glazed “low-E” glass (the sort that blocks infra-red radiation), and thermal linings were included in all the exterior walls. Even during the summer, the air conditioner usually stays off.

Admittedly, the architect went overboard on lighting. Fully illuminated, the house demanded seven kilowatts of raw lighting-power before fluorescent lights replaced thirsty tungsten filaments. Overall electricity consumption is now a reasonable 8,300 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year.

Based on this description it sounds like his home is already pretty efficient. And those efficiency improvements were probably undertaken primarily because they made financial sense — the installation cost was less than the expected savings on energy. But given the author’s interest in going solar and his exactitude in calculating the cost, it’s also likely that he’s much more environmentally aware and economically savvy than your average homeowner. There’s a lot of research suggesting that many other — less savvy — property owners are leaving money on the table by failing to increase the efficiency of their buildings.

From the viewpoint of both the homeowner and the electricity company, efficiency improvements and solar technology look very similar: they reduce a home’s demand for electricity from the grid. Given the large subsidies regulators seem ready to give out to solar panels — perhaps $14,000 in this author’s case — it’s easy to think that regulators could be getting a much better deal if they figured out how to buy some energy efficiency with those dollars.

Posted in Efficiency, Electricity, Energy Technology, Solar | 1 Comment »

NEX returns show just how good 2007 was for clean energy

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 16, 2008

The WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index (NEX) is an index of global clean energy companies published by New Energy Finance and WilderHill. You can read more about its components here. In the chart below, I’ve pegged daily Nasdaq, S&P and Amex Oil returns to the January 3, 2006 price for comparison purposes. I think the trends are clear enough.

nex chart

The more important question, of course, is not how clean energy has done in the past but how it’s going to do in the future. Though not on the graph above, anyone who follows clean energy has witnessed what might be the beginning of a market correction on clean energy stocks so far in the new year (First Solar and Clipper come to mind). I’m no financial analyst, but it seems that the emerging consensus that the US is heading for a recession (or at least a considerable slow down) probably doesn’t bode well for the sector. The American experience has shown that people’s enthusiasm for environmental protection is positively correlated with the health of the economy. While the Democratic candidates have recently tied “green jobs” into their spiels about avoiding recession, I have to think that economic downturn will dampen public enthusiasm for policies that will increase costs, at least in the short run. Not that there’s a whole lot on the table in ’08 anyways, given that W is still in office and congress already passed an energy bill (albeit a relatively toothless one).

Ok I’m gonna stop rambling now.

Posted in Energy Technology, Finance | Leave a Comment »

Google drops a dime or two (or a billion) on solar

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on November 29, 2007

From the Guardian:

The web portal Google aims to develop cheap and clean sources of energy to replace polluting fossil fuels and tackle global warming…The company’s clean technology initiative, called REC, aims to develop renewable energy sources that are cheaper than coal, the cheapest, most abundant and dirtiest fossil fuel.

This initiative was slightly disparaged by one of the discussants at yesterday’s RFF U.S. Climate Policy rollout because it seems unlikely to attain its goal of making solar power cost-competitive with coal. I agree that this is a pipe dream for the near future, but essentially carbon-free energy sources such as solar must be aggressively pursued to successfully create a suite of clean energy. Clearly Google is setting a tanglible, discrete goal (cost of solar ≤ cost of coal). They aren’t necessarily expecting to achieve this goal, but if they feel like investing hundreds of millions of dollars to edge us toward cheap renewable energy, I think that’s great. It would be encouraging if more concentrated sources of capital undertook major green initiatives instead of simply greenwashing. At any rate, isn’t this a great situation for everyone? We basically have a private enterprise willing to accept potentially massive technology spillovers due to their organization’s preference for monumental green investment. This is the kind of R&D for which the federal government normally has to accept responsibility, and if private enterprise wants to absorb the costs for society, I’m totally willing to live with that.

Posted in Energy Technology, Renewables | 7 Comments »

Rich people, meet smart people

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on November 26, 2007

According to The Independent, the Second Annual Fortune Forum will showcase a breakthrough energy technology:

[Kane] Kramer, who was 23 in 1979 when he conceptualised the technology that led to the creation of the first MP3 player, refused to give specific details of the new discovery, or to name the inventor, so as to maintain the element of surprise for Friday. But he indicated that it is a breakthrough in micro-technology, and that British scientists who have tested it are convinced that it will work.

“This is something … that’s the accumulation of almost a decade of work,” he said. “It’s a new science, a Super Material. It would be 80 per cent cheaper than any alternative means of production, and it will contribute in a major way to reducing climate change.

Before we climate change folks all quit our jobs, note that the last time I heard this kind of announcement, we got the freaking Segway. The greatest benefit of this previous “revolutionary technology” has been watching Gob Bluth ride a monogrammed unit on Arrested Development.

On a broader scale, I do think the idea of matching wealthy investors (the total net worth of this year’s diners is estimated at over £100 billion) with inventors is an important one:

There is an old saying that if you invent a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door, but he says the adage is true only for inventions that improve gadgets that are already known to work. Big corporations can be very coy about putting money into something genuinely new. “Business wants to jump on a bandwagon, not build the bandwagon,” [Kramer] said.

Imperfect information, as we have so often noted, causes serious problems when people with no access to capital have great visions.

Posted in Energy Technology, Humor | 1 Comment »

From whence the wind

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 23, 2007

Today’s New York Times has an article about a new offshore wind farm in Sweden. Although not the major focus of the article, one of the points it makes is that Europe has developed a lot of offshore wind, while in the U.S. wind development has been mostly limited to inland areas, and particularly the central part of the country. Over at env-econ.net they recently noted the opposition that offshore wind proposals face in the U.S.

Is the difference explicable purely in terms of NIMBY-ism? Is Europe less inclined towards onshore wind because of population density and the value of land? Are coastal residents relatively more wealthy/powerful in the U.S. and hence successful at blocking development?

The article is worth reading in its entirety. Here’s another interesting tidbit about solving the dispatch problem:

…Sweden does not need to build wind parks to get wind power. It could simply buy more surplus wind power from Denmark, which it uses, as does Norway, to pump underground water into elevated reservoirs. The water is later released during periods of peak electric demand to drive hydroelectric stations.

In this way, hydro acts as a form of storage for wind energy — addressing one of wind power’s biggest shortcomings.

Posted in Energy Technology | Leave a Comment »

NIMBY quote of the day

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 16, 2007

“Sometimes I think the only reason that coal with carbon capture and storage is so much more socially accepted than nuclear power is that nuclear exists and carbon capture and storage doesn’t yet.”

– Howard Gruenspecht, Deputy Administrator, U.S. Energy Information Administration, at today’s CBO Director’s Conference on Climate Change. (About which more later…)

Posted in Energy Technology | Leave a Comment »

Electric power sector carbon emissions database

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 14, 2007

Dani Rodrik points us to an awesome new resource:

Want to know how much CO2 is emitted by the power plant across town, and how it compares to the one in the city you are planning to move? The Center for Global Development has just launched a web site that will tell you exactly that. In fact, the site has emissions data for every single power plant in the world–some 50,000+ power plants and 20,000+ power-producing companies.

Called the CARMA (CARbon Monitoring for Action) website and database, the site focuses on the global power sector, the largest carbon emitter industry. …

This is an amazing treasure trove of data. …

No joke. This is an amateur dataminer’s dream come true. I played around with their interface for a few minutes. It seems fairly intuitive. You can look up the utility in your area and see what generation resources they hold. The site also has pre-set geographic regions which you can bring up to see all the generation resources in the area. Here is the larger DC metro area. Here is Beijing. They also have a blog which includes some tips to get you started exploring.

Go forth and datamine!

Posted in Climate Change, Electricity, Energy Technology | 2 Comments »

Brown thinking green?

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on November 6, 2007

Gordon Brown unveiled a new British energy plan in the Queen’s Speech today, as he laid out his first full governmental program. The Bill will supposedly enforce emissions reductions of 60% by 2050 and 26-32% (which I assume can be taken to mean 26%) by 2020. Crucially, the new plan includes international aviation and shipping (what will I post about now?). The bill also calls for an expanded renewables standard and facilitation of private investment in carbon capture and storage. The standard is okay; in the context of binding targets, I think a wisely designed RPS could be an effective complementary policy. The CCS incentive is good. Although we run into the problem of government trying to pick winners, CCS holds enormous potential and faces huge initial capital and risk thresholds.

This is momentous, as it makes Britain the first country to introduce domestic legally binding emissions limits. How binding is “binding”? Only time will tell.

Note: I would love to get some feedback on this from people more familiar with proposed U.S. climate legislation. (Hint, hint, Daniel)

Posted in Climate Change, Energy Technology, Government Policy, RPS, Transportation | Leave a Comment »

Technology Policy: Part 2

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on November 1, 2007

As promised in Part 1, here is some discussion of Richard Newell’s comments from the Brookings event. More details on this and the topics discussed in Part 1 can be found in Newell’s relevant RFF Backgrounder. Full disclosure: I worked for Richard on a couple of relevant memos.

Anyway, getting right down to it, Newell’s policy suite included:

(1) Making the R&E tax credit permanent

(2) Doubling the federal climate research budget to $7 billion/yr

(3) Improving research strategy and coordination

(4) Experimenting with inducement prizes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Climate Change, Energy Technology, Events, Technology Policy | Leave a Comment »

Technology Policy: Part 1

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on October 31, 2007

I attended the Brookings event with Daniel. The panel was quite impressive, as noted in Rich’s earlier post. The first discussion was a quasi-debate between Rob Stavins of the Kennedy School and Gilbert Metcalf of Tufts University as to the merits and deficiencies of permit trading versus a carbon tax. Daniel addressed this issue hours before the event in a recent post. Hence, I will skip ahead to the second panel which dealt with energy technology policy. The presenters were John Deutsch, John Podesta, and Richard Newell. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Energy Technology, Events, Technology Policy | Leave a Comment »

Lifestyles of the carbon-constrained

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on October 31, 2007

The British Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, has released a report claiming that the British transport system can expand considerably without increasing carbon emissions. From the Guardian:

It argues that forcing the pace of technological change is the best way to ensure that transport helps Britain meet its goal of a 60% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050. At the moment the transport sector is responsible for 23% of CO2 emissions and its share is rising the fastest.

The report does argue that we need a price on carbon, whether via cap-and-trade or taxation. It also proposes significant expansion of congestion charges. However, the report outlines the widening of major roadways as well as an explosion in air travel. So technology is clearly going to be our savior: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Cap and Trade, Carbon Tax, Climate Change, Energy Technology, Technology Policy, Transportation | Leave a Comment »

Carbon capture and sequestration

Posted by Daniel Hall on October 29, 2007

Those of you who are interested in energy and environmental issues, and particularly developments in Congress on these issues, should check out E&ETV and their daily news program OnPoint. Last week they interviewed John Venezia of WRI about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), in conjunction with the release of an 8-page overview from WRI. It’s an excellent primer on how the technology works and what lies ahead in terms of research, development, and demonstration. One key message:

Natural gas processing plants that use captured CO2 for EOR [enhanced oil recovery] represent “low-hanging fruit,” and this type of project may be economically feasible at just $10/ton CO2; however, the sequestration potential is limited…. Today, a cost driver of about $40–60 per ton of carbon dioxide is required to make CCS economically feasible at a much larger scale at power plants.

My take? Getting this technology to work at far lower costs would be a really big deal. China has a lot of coal sitting around, it needs a lot of power, and it is very unlikely to be willing to pay $40–60 per ton CO2 to reduce emissions in the near (or even not-so-near) future.

Posted in Climate Change, Energy Technology | Leave a Comment »

Cool ideas

Posted by Daniel Hall on October 24, 2007

The journal Nature reports [subscription required]:

When a newly expanded Wal-Mart store opened in Burton, Michigan, last month, it seemed like just another case of American gigantism…

But over in the frozen-food section, something more interesting than mere wretched excess was happening. The display cases are lit not with fluorescent bulbs, but with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The LEDs last longer than the fluorescent bulbs they replace — and are so energy efficient that Wal-Mart expects to save $2.6 million a year by installing them in 500 stores nationwide.

…LEDs make sense for Wal-Mart’s freezers because fluorescent bulbs are less efficient at cold temperatures, whereas LEDs are unaffected.

Who knew? The article goes on to say that LEDs haven’t quite caught up with fluorescent bulbs at regular temperatures, but they’re expected to soon:

An incandescent bulb produces about 20 lumens per watt of power consumed, and a compact fluorescent produces about 60 lumens per watt. Commercially available LEDs now average about 30 lumens per watt, but over 100 lumens per watt has been reached in the laboratory. Most people expect LEDs to outperform fluorescent bulbs within a few years…

Posted in Electricity, Energy Technology | Leave a Comment »

Ze Germans

Posted by Daniel Hall on October 20, 2007

Congrats to the German students who won the Solar Decathlon just held in DC! Via the AP:

A team of students from Germany’s Technische Universitat Darmstadt won a weeklong competition Friday on the National Mall for the best, most efficient and well-designed and -engineered solar home.

The competition attracted 20 universities, most from the United States. Other foreign competitors came from Canada and Spain. …

The German team was cited for it use of passive heating and cooling, photovoltaics and its smooth integration of technology into the overall design of the one-bedroom home. …

A team from the University of Maryland finished second and a team from Santa Clara University in California was third.

I didn’t make it down to the National Mall this last week to see the competitors. My roommate did, and he said that his personal favorite was the Santa Clara entry. Apparently they got docked quite a few points in the “Architecture” category for not being sufficiently avant-garde creative, but he said that if you didn’t care about living in a piece of modern art and you wanted a comfortable and functional living space they seemed the best to him.

Posted in Energy Technology | 1 Comment »

 
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