Climate & Energy

Succeeding in the free market

One of my favorite writers, Jonathan Chait, has an article in The New Republic on “the latest in global warming denialism” (the latest being acknowledging it exists but refusing to do anything about it). It mostly goes over familiar ground, but I wanted to call out one part where Chait makes an unwarranted concession. Discussing recent efforts to repeal some oil industry tax breaks in order to fund tax credits for renewable energy, Chait writes: Objection number one is that repealing the tax break to pay for renewable energy amounts to “taxing successful energy sources and subsidizing unsuccessful ones,” as …

Cheap clean coal now dirty, expensive

The WSJ energy blog points out that skyrocketing demand for coal in the developing world is rapidly driving up the commodity price. (And WSJ proper points out that rising prices for coal mean rising prices for steel.) Meanwhile, Reuters says “clean coal” is “elusive” and the head of one of Australia’s biggest energy companies — AGL — says that coal’s days are numbered: … Michael Fraser said it is unlikely any new coal generators will be built without significant improvements in technology and the ability to capture and store carbon. Mr Fraser says he is accelerating the company’s investment in …

When does additionality matter? Part 4

The carbon offset market needs additionality

This post is the slightly tardy conclusion of a series (see parts one, two, and three). Let's wrap this up by shifting gears a bit. Additionality is central and essential part of the carbon offset market. Additionality is also, in the long term, probably not relevant to the energy efficiency market. The reason hinges on the difference between carbon offsets and carbon allowances. Both are often lumped together under the term "carbon credits," but they're different in important ways that are sometimes lost in discussions of cap-and-trade systems. Some basic definitions are in order. Carbon allowances are those things that everyone is eager to auction off these days: pollution permits for greenhouse gas emissions. Under a cap-and-trade system, the government issues a fixed number of these permits, and every year the number drops. That's the cap, and as long as it covers a sufficiently large swath of the economy, it's difficult for polluters to evade. (New Yorkers can't, for example, buy electricity from China.) Carbon offsets, on the other hand, are pollution permits generated from specific projects that exist outside the cap. For example, no matter how big a chunk of the economy the cap covers, it probably won't cover cow manure on small dairy farms. If you can demonstrate that you took specific measures to reign in a certain number of tons of dairy farm methane, you can use those emissions reductions to satisfy your obligations under a cap.

Open skies the limit?

As nonstop flights between the U.S. and E.U. increase, what will be the effect on climate?

Throw open the skies and get your passports ready! You may have heard by now that the proverbial jump across the pond is about to get much easier and, perhaps, cheaper. As of March 30, an “open skies” agreement between the United States and the European Union has gone into effect, opening up more possibilities for the recently struggling airline industry than you can shake a complimentary pack of peanuts at. Read it in all of its legalese glory here [PDF]. “Open skies” translates to several significant changes in international air relations. First, it lifts restrictions on which airlines can …

World Bank should get out of carbon-offset market, says report

Carbon-offset dealings by the World Bank have been criticized (and not for the first time) in a report released Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies. In the past two years, the report charges, the bank has loaned $1.5 billion to fossil-fuel companies to make minor greenhouse-gas reductions. It then sells carbon credits for those reductions, says coauthor Daphne Wysham, “takes its 13 percent cut, and everyone is happy.” (Well, except the planet and its advocates — the bank has come under much protest recently for funding a massive coal plant in India.) The bank would be better off getting …

Entrepreneur Lyndon Rive wants to solarize your house for a low, low price

Would you pay $25,000 to $30,000 to put solar panels on your home? If you’re like most cash-strapped Americans, you’d balk at that five-figure expense, no matter how green you aspire to be. OK, what if you could do it for $1,000 or $2,000? SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. SolarCity, based in sunny Silicon Valley, has just launched a new program that will push the upfront costs of a residential solar system down to a grand or two. Under the company’s SolarLease financing program, backed by Morgan Stanley, SolarCity will own the solar panels it installs on customers’ roofs, and homeowners …

The human side of global warming

Death, disease, and infection, thanks to our friend climate change

Daniel J. Weiss and Robin Pam of the Center for American Progress have a new article on the health impacts of global warming. As they explain, "Some of the most severe health effects linked to global warming include the following": More illness and death resulting from heat waves. Worsening air pollution causes more respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Vector-borne disease infections will rise. Changing food production and security may cause hunger. More severe and frequent wildfires will threaten more people. Flooding linked to rising sea levels will displace millions. Already, "WHO now says that 150,000 deaths annually are attributable to the effects of climate change." And we've only warmed about 1.5 degrees F in the past century. We might warm 10 degrees F each century! The time to act is now.

Do we need a massive government program to generate breakthroughs to make solar energy cost-competit

Concentrated solar power is already doing great; no breakthroughs needed

Almost certainly not and absolutely not. I give two answers here because there are two very different types of solar energy: Solar photovoltaics, PV, which is direct conversion of sunlight to electricity. It is well known, high-tech, uneconomically expensive in most parts of this country (but poised to resume dropping sharply in price), and intermittent (power only when the sun shines). Solar thermal electric or concentrated solar power (CSP), which uses mirrors to focus sunlight to heat a fluid to run a turbine or engine to make electricity. It is, as I've blogged, "The solar power you don't hear about." It is relatively low-tech, competitive today (and poised to drop sharply in price), and can be made load-following (matching the demand curve during the day and evening) and possibly baseload (round-the-clock). Absent major subsidies, solar PV is simply not a big-time winner (in terms of kWh delivered cost-effectively) in rich countries with built-out electric grids in the near term. It is, however, a big winner in the medium-term (post-2020). I don't agree with the Scientific American article that calls for a massive $400 billion 40-year plan for solar. I have been meaning to blog that it has many weaknesses, in my mind. No energy efficiency. No wind. Heck, nothing but PV and CSP, and it looks to be mostly PV, which needs expensive storage.

May the truth force be with you

Gandhi, King, and climate change

The need to reduce our impacts is actually a tremendous opportunity to build a green economy, green jobs, and green infrastructure. But first it will require us -- the developed world, emerging economies, oil and coal interests -- to change the way we think. Gandhi and King understood this. In fact, they eerily anticipated our predicament and speak to us across the decades about it. They both quite clearly foresaw a time when technological development divorced from development of consciousness would threaten the survival of the planet.