Trash, Trees, and Taxes

The High Environmental & Economic Costs of Germany's Energy Transition

Germany’s renewable energy transition, the “Energiewende,” has long been a subject of scorn among conservatives, who have argued that it is a massive ratepayer-subsidized boondoggle that has harmed Germany’s economy and imposed significant regressive costs on poor and working class energy consumers. But the last several months have seen growing skepticism about the Energiewende from the center-left as well. Both Der Spiegel and the Wall Street Journal have published lengthy investigative pieces raising troubling questions about the costs and the environmental benefits of Germany’s headlong pursuit of an all-renewable energy future. Even left-leaning Dissent Magazine recently published a long expose about the failure of the Energiewende to reduce carbon emissions, concluding that Germany’s enormous investments in renewables, together with plans to phase out its nuclear fleet, would cost the nation a generation in the fight against global warming.

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Nuclear and Gas Account for Most Carbon Displacement Since 1950

US Saved About 54 Billion Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Emissions Switching to Cleaner Energy

A new analysis finds that the vast majority of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with America’s carbon intensity decline since the mid-1900s can be attributed to the increasing shares of two energy sources: nuclear fission and natural gas. These two fuels have done more than any others to displace coal, and have saved the country 54 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since 1950. By comparison, in 2012 the entire world energy sector emitted 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

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Clean Energy Stagnation

Growth in Renewables Outpaced by Fossil Fuels

The world was moving faster towards reducing its reliance on carbon intensive energy consumption in the 1970s and 1980s than in the past several decades. In fact, over the past 20 years there has been little if any progress in expanding the share of carbon-free energy in the global mix. Despite the rhetoric around the rise of renewable energy, the data tells a far different story.

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President Obama, Coal Killer

How America's Climate Strategy Became Tied to Natural Gas

Last week, President Obama forcefully put natural gas at the center of his agenda to deal with climate change. "Sometimes there are disputes about natural gas," he acknowledged, recognizing the local controversies over fracking, "but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions." 

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Can the British Decarbonize?

Targets Require Complete Coal-to-Gas Switch in a Decade

If the United Kingdom is going to hit its short-term targets for the emissions of carbon dioxide, then it is going to have to accelerate its rates of decarbonization observed since the passage of its 2008 Climate Change Act by a factor of four. Since the passage of that Act the rate of decarbonization in the UK has slowed dramatically from the rate observed during the pervious decade. The enormous magnitude of the task called for in the Act has been overshadowed by a debate of the setting of targets for the decarbonization of energy supply, targets which are already implied by the 2008 legislation and thus unnecessary.

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Obama’s Climate Pragmatism

President's Proposals Signal New Era for Climate Politics

President Obama’s big climate speech this week was historic, but not for the reasons many observers have suggested. To his credit, Obama is following through on his promise to pursue climate policy in “chunks” in the fall of 2010, after cap and trade had died the summer before. But these chunks are not the old climate agenda in new clothing.

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Coal Killer

How Natural Gas Fuels the Clean Energy Revolution

Amid a flurry of regulations and political activism against coal plants, one phenomenon has proved the most effective in killing coal in the United States: the arrival of cheaper, cleaner energy. Natural gas fuels the clean energy revolution by displacing dirtier coal, lowering carbon emissions, providing a platform for deployment of lower-carbon energy technologies, and creating economic surpluses that can be directed towards energy innovation. And while questions have arisen in the last several years regarding the local and global environmental impacts of the shale revolution, a survey of the empirical literature reveals gas to be a highly favorable environmental alternative to coal.

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‘Pandora’s Promise’ Stirs National Debate Over Nuclear

"The Most Important Movie about the Environment Since ‘An Inconvenient Truth'’’

Following a strong critical reception at the Sundance Film Festival, the new documentary “Pandora’s Promise,” which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, is sparking national debate over whether to embrace nuclear energy to address global warming.

“Life is about choices, and we need to make one,” writes Michael Specter in the New Yorker. “Being opposed to nuclear power, as [Richard] Rhodes points out [in the film], means being in favor of burning fossil fuel. It’s that simple. Nuclear energy — now in its fourth generation — is at least as safe as any other form of power.”

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San Onofre Nuclear Closure to Boost State Carbon Emissions by 8 Million Tons

Replacement Electricity Equivalent to Adding 1.6 Million Cars

The retirement of two nuclear reactors at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California, announced Friday, is expected to increase state carbon emissions by at least 8 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of putting 1.6 million new passenger vehicles on the road, according to a Breakthrough Institute analysis.

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The Green Nuclear Conversion

'Pandora's Promise' Cuts Through Misinformed Fears

Kamakura, Japan—Chances are pretty high, based on prevailing public opinion, that you will think my wife and I are a tad crazy, maybe even guilty of child abuse. During the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which is a couple hundred miles from where we live, we stayed put while thousands of others fled the Tokyo area and many foreigners left Japan for good. Not only that, we buy as much of our fruits and vegetables as possible from Fukushima Prefecture, the Connecticut-size jurisdiction where the plant is located (we even specially order boxes of Fukushima produce) while millions of others in Japan take extreme care to consume only food from the far west and south of the country. And yes, our whole family, including our 12- and 10-year-old sons, eats Fukushima food. We’re convinced it’s perfectly safe, and we like helping people whose products suffer from an unjust taint.

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Green Hypocrisy on Nuclear

Dismissing Zero-Carbon Energy, Paul Gilding Handicaps Climate Fight

All of the evidence in Gilding’s piece is pulled together to support his premise of imminent renewable revolution as part of global mobilization against climate change, while any and all countervailing evidence is blinkered out. He references the headline from a Bloomberg article regarding new renewables in Australia now being cheaper than coal. This headline’s claim and the work underpinning it was demolished in a critique by me and Tristan Edis of Climate Spectator, both of us (but the latter in particular) being supporters of renewables having a role in the changes to come. But Gilding took the Bloomberg piece at face value, along with everything else. His article managed to talk about winning the climate crisis seemingly on the back of wind and solar. There was no mention of biomass, energy storage or, you guessed it, nuclear power. So I picked up Gilding’s book with trepidation to check his treatment of nuclear power in Chapter 12. It began promisingly:

I’m simply advocating a careful rational discussion about the opportunities open to us, and an intelligent debate about the alternatives, in the context that a failure to change will have consequences.

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The Surprising History of Energy Tech Innovation

AEIC Report Dispels Myths of Shale Gas Boom

The federal government played a crucial and often unexpected role in the decades-long technological innovations that led to the shale gas revolution, according to a new report from the staff of the American Energy Innovation Council, the latest independent investigation into the public sector origins of the North American gas glut first uncovered by the Breakthrough Institute.

The report shows how government funding and institutional support amounted to billions of dollars over three decades and a complex structure of policies that combined government and industry resources to solve a critical technological challenge: tapping a vast underground bounty of energy recently considered inaccessible. The conclusions further challenge the longstanding myth that the shale gas boom was brought about through private sector innovation alone and offer important lessons for energy innovation more broadly. 

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EDF: Lock In Soft Energy, Not Coal-Killing Gas

Why We Can't Leave Emissions Reductions to Establishment Greens

In response to our last blog post about how celebrity fracktivists have reversed the longstanding support of national environmental organizations for a coal-to-gas switch, the Environmental Defense Fund's climate and energy communications director Keith Gaby wrote us to say we had taken Fred Krupp's position on gas out of context.

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Deadly Air Pollution Declines Thanks to Gas Boom

Cleaner Air in Pennsylvania Inconvenient for Fracktivists

The wild artistic license of movies like Gasland notwithstanding, the common feeling in the media and, therefore, among the public, is that fracking is causing significant environmental damage (Energy Justice). However, it seems that fracking may be getting a bum rap, at least from the standpoint of toxic emissions.

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A Squandered Opportunity

Germany's Energy Transition

My conclusion so far is that unfortunately Germany’s ‘renewables revolution’ is at best making no difference to the country’s carbon emissions, and at worst pushing them marginally upwards. Thus, tens (or even hundreds, depending on who you believe) of billions of euros are being spent on expensive solar PV and wind installations for no climatic benefit whatsoever.

Although I have been unable to find clear figures for the changing CO2 intensity of German electricity (if anyone has them, please post in the comments below), nuclear’s fall of 1.7% almost exactly equals the rise in renewables of 1.6% between 2011 and 2012. This means that the dramatic and admirable increase in renewable generation in Germany is simply a story of low-carbon baseload from nuclear being replaced by low-carbon intermittent supply from wind and solar (which, incidentally, also raises system costs by making the grid harder to manage due to intermittency).

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Europe’s Climate Fail

How Renewable and Carbon Capture Policies Brought Back Coal

A few years ago, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology was seen as the best way to clean up coal and cut carbon emissions. And Europe was seen as the expected leader in the field. But instead, reports the science journal Nature, Europe has fallen behind North America in the race to create systems that separate carbon dioxide from exhaust gases.

And what’s worse, Europe is increasingly turning to coal, the most polluting of all sources of electricity. In some European countries, reports The Economist, the amount of coal-generated electricity is rising by up to 50% a year, at annualized rates. Ironically, some experts say CCS is the only way to eliminate coal emissions.

 

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Gas Continues Assault on Coal

The Disruptive Innovation of the Shale Revolution

The ongoing displacement of coal by natural gas in the US electric generating sector was neatly illustrated in two recent articles. The Washington Post examined it from the perspective of utilities faced with expensive decisions about which fuel to bet on for the future, while the Wall St. Journal looked at the resource and tax implications of this trend for states. The intensity of competition between coal and gas would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago, when the price and energy security advantages of the former seemed insurmountable. The shale gas revolution continues to upend conventional wisdom on energy.

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The UK’s New Zero-Carbon Energy Alliance

How Climate Change is Bringing Together Nuclear, Wind, and CCS Industries

The energy debate is shifting. With wind, nuclear and CCS (carbon capture and storage) trade associations in the United Kingdom issuing their first-ever joint statement, the political tectonic plates of climate change have begun subtly to move.

But it is a risky strategy. Many of those who defend wind power from attacks by Nimbies and rightwing Tories are ardent opponents of nuclear power, for example.

The three trade associations clearly risk losing core supporters by this temporary pooling of lobbying resources.

But the fact they are taking this risk is a sign that all three see vastly greater danger in the current attacks in the media and the Conservative Party against the entire decarbonization agenda.

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The Other F-Word of Shale Drilling

Where the Interests of Greens and Industry Converge

If you think fracking is a deal-breaker, then you have not thought much about “flaring.” Both controversies could undo the shale gas industry, although the burning off of natural gas found alongside oil discoveries is something that oil drillers and green groups alike would prefer to minimize. But how?

Shale gas derived from sedimentary rocks deep underground needs to be captured, piped and processed before it is consumed. That requires the development of an infrastructure, or the pipelines necessary to carry the fuel to the utilities that would burn it to make electricity. Beside piping it, the energy companies are considering liquefying the gas and creating LNG that would be globally shipped.

In the absence of either option, the gas is flared, meaning it literally goes up in smoke — in the form of all types of types emissions. That inflames not just the environmentalists who are concerned about greenhouse gases but also investors who furthermore say that such fuels are valuable assets that must be monetized.

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New Nukes

Why We Need Radical Innovation to Make New Nuclear Energy Cheap

Not long after a tsunami washed over Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plants in March 2011, causing a partial meltdown, it appeared to many that humankind's half-century experiment with nuclear power might be in permanent jeopardy. Although nuclear energy provides 15 percent of the world's electricity, all without spewing greenhouse gas emissions, many countries seemed ready to forgo nuclear for deadlier but less viscerally frightening power sources. And sadly, while U.S. political leaders, including those at the just-concluded Democratic National Convention, are quick to trumpet their embrace of natural-gas drilling, the word "nuclear" is scarcely ever mentioned.

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A New Climate Paradigm

Gas-Driven Carbon Reductions

U.S. emissions have plummeted 7.7 percent since 2006, thanks to the rapid switch from coal to cheaper and cleaner natural gas. Where did all this cheap gas come from? A concerted, public-private effort dating back to the mid-1970s to cheaply extract gas from shale. There is a clear lesson for those concerned about global warming: seek public-private investments in technological innovation to make clean energy cheap.

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CO2 Scorecard Misses the Point (Again) on Rebound and Efficiency

The debate over energy efficiency continues to miss the big picture. Efficiency, which is central to just about every mainstream strategy for addressing climate change, risks being sabotaged by what's known as the "rebound effect." The rebound effect--the phenomenon whereby improvements in the efficiency of energy services leads total energy use to decline and then rebound as consumers re-spend savings on increases in the same or other energy services--seriously undermines climate mitigation models that rely on efficiency for emissions reductions but ignore rebound effects. But those debating the significance of rebound consistently focus almost entirely on end-use energy services in more developed countries, where rebound effects are observed to be the least significant.

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Energy Efficiency, ‘Rebound,’ and the Rise of the Rest

Quick quiz: If you improve the productivity of energy use at a steel plant in China, will that plant save energy, or produce and sell more of its now-cheaper steel? If ultra-efficient lightbulbs spread across rural India, will we see energy consumption there decline or rise?

With about two-thirds of global energy consumed in the refinement and transport of energy and the production of goods and services and over 90 percent of growth in energy demand spurred by the so-called "Rise of the Rest" in the emerging economies, these two examples should be at the front of our minds as debate spreads across the blogosphere about rebound effects -- the economic dynamics by which energy efficiency improvements lead to a rebound in demand for now-more-efficient energy services (see an FAQ on rebound here).
 

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CO2 Scorecard Misrepresents and Misunderstands Efficiency Rebound Research

Recent posts by the CO2 Scorecard group claim to have discredited the analysis on rebound effects in industrial sectors of the US economy presented in one of my recent papers--let me here call it "Saunders." The authors offer an analysis of their own said to "devastate" the results I have reported there. Herewith is my response.

It is worth reminding readers of the stakes here. The energy consumption forecasts relied on by the IPCC, the IEA and McKinsey ignore rebound effects, or--to be maximally generous--treat them very inadequately. To the extent ignoring rebound effects results in underestimates of future energy use, it means we have less time than is generally believed to devise climate change solutions. This is surely problematic, but no serious individual would dispute the contention that uncomfortable reality must always trump wishful thinking. I believe rebound effects are significant and quite large, and I believe the peer-reviewed literature, including my own extensive contributions to that literature, supports this view. Unfortunately.

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Collateral Damage From Not Knowing What You Are Talking About

A group called CO2 Scorecard, whose efforts to compile energy data I have praised in the past, has issued a report which argues that so-called "energy rebound" at the micro-level might be in the range of 30% or less rather than the higher levels that have been argued by my colleagues at The Breakthrough Institute. While longtime readers of this blog and readers of The Climate Fix will know that I think that the debate over the rebound effect is largely inconsequential to the debate over efforts to decarbonize the economy, the report and reaction to it provide a great opportunity to highlight a key intellectual challenge that we all face when overwhelmed with information - beware promoting bad analyses simply because they accord with your tribal convictions.

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MIT Study: Rebound Effects Erode Auto Efficiency Gains

Automotive engines steadily improved in efficiency by roughly 60 percent from 1980 to 2006, according to a new study by MIT economist Christopher Knittel. That means we could already be driving cars that get an average of 37 miles per gallon (MPG), well above today's average of 27 MPG. The catch, points out Reason's Ronald Bailey: we'd have to be driving cars with the same average weight and power as the average car on the road in 1980.

Instead, consumers took the majority of the improvements in engine efficiency over the last three decades to enjoy larger and more powerful cars (e.g. increasing their use of energy services) rather than reduce energy use, according Knittel's paper, published in American Economic Review.

As Reason's Bailey notes, "This seems an example of the energy rebound effect in which increased energy efficiency encourages people to use even more energy; in this case to fuel bigger and peppier cars."

Indeed it does. 

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A Clean Energy Deployment Administration

In a series of policy briefs released last month by the Breakthrough Institute, we document the challenges faced by clean energy innovators and entrepreneurs working to bring advanced energy technologies from the lab to market and offer policy proposals for carrying nascent technologies across the clean energy "Valleys of Death." In particular, we offer detailed recommendations for the establishment of a Clean Energy Deployment Administration, or CEDA, a flexible, independent government financing entity which would use a diverse set of financing tools to bridge the Commercialization Valley of Death.

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U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Plunge in 2008

Driven by record-high gas prices in the first half of the year and the economic crisis that hit in the later half of the year, United States greenhouse gas emissions plunged by the largest amount in decades, according to preliminary data released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which drive global climate change, fell to 2.8% in 2008 to 5.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e), the lowest level of emissions in any year since 2000. Total U.S. energy consumption also fell 2.2% in 2008, the EIA reports.

(Sorry for poor image quality, blame the source: the EIA)

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