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.
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.
Newbie New York Governor David Paterson has put the kibosh on a proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound. Paterson and other outspoken opponents say the Broadwater project would damage the sound and be a floating terrorist target. Oil companies TransCanada and Shell, which are pushing the project, point to LNG as a source of clean energy, and say they’ll seek other avenues for regulatory approval.
With today's green energy boom (and over 100,000 existing jobs in the wind and solar industries alone) hanging in the balance, the Senate voted this morning by an overwhelming 88 to 8 margin to attach short-term extensions of key clean energy tax incentives set to expire at the end of this year -- the Production Tax Credit that mostly goes to wind power, the Investment Tax Credit for solar, and other incentives for energy efficient appliances and the like -- to the housing bill that the Senate then went on to pass by an also overwhelming 84 to 12. (None of the presidential contenders were around for today's votes, for those keeping track of such things.) (The overwhelming popularity of wind power was also clearly on display this morning. An effort by wind-hatin' Sen. Lamar Alexander [R-Tenn.] to double the extension to two years by cutting the subsidy to wind in half was trounced on a 15-79 vote -- fewer votes than similar efforts by Alexander have received in the past.) Today's victory -- the first time this Congress that the Senate has approved even short-term extensions of these clean energy incentives -- is sweet, to be sure, as it underscores the strong, bipartisan support for these measures and the urgent need to extend them. However, unless the House and the Senate can bridge some key differences, this particular strategy may not ultimately result in victory on this make-or-break issue.
A few more thoughts on the 4,000 MW coal plant in India recently approved for international aid financing, which David and Joe have noted. I think this deserves attention because it's at the center of the biggest climate question out there: how to meet tens of thousands of megawatt hours of unmet and projected power demand in India and China without huge coal plants like this Tata Mundra "Ultra-Mega" plant. It's not simple. But following the logic for this project involves going down a "There Is No Alternative" rabbit hole. To people in India facing daily brown-outs or a lack of electricity altogether, it may seem like environmental organizations in the U.S. are opposing this power development from a different universe. They may be. But the financiers trying to justify this project in the public interest are themselves in their own universe of self-justifying arguments. The main justification for international aid for this project is that "super-critical" coal-generating technology will make this plant more efficient than others in India. However, the broader situation in India's power sector is such that nearly all of the efficiency gains at the plant are likely to be eaten up by the world-beating levels of transmission and distribution loss of the rickety Indian electricity grid. It's a good bet that the equivalent of the output of at least one of the plant's five 800 MW generating units will disappear before it gets to an actual electricity consumer [PDF].
In 2007, the IPCC wrote [PDF] in its Working Group III summary (page 16): The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades. This assumes that appropriate and effective incentives are in place for development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion of technologies, and for addressing related barriers (high agreement, much evidence). This range of levels includes reaching atmospheric concentrations of 445 to 490 ppm CO2-equivalent, or 400 to 450 ppm of CO2. The first sentence does beg the question, what exactly does "expected to be commercialized" mean? I'll return to that in Part 2. So, what exactly are these climate-saving technologies? You can read about every conceivable one in the full WG III report, "Mitigation of Climate Change." But the summary lists the "Key mitigation technologies and practices" (page 10) in several sectors divided into two groups: those that are "currently commercially available" and those "projected to be commercialized before 2030." I will simply list them all here. In a later post, I'll discuss which ones I believe could deliver the biggest reductions at lowest cost -- my 14-plus "wedges," as it were -- and the political process for achieving them. It is worth seeing them all, I think, to understand exactly how we might stabilize below 450 ppm CO2. Also, one of the technologies is the closest thing we have to the "silver bullet" needed to save the climate, as I will blog on in a few days.
Photo: iStockphoto The hook and bullet crowd, traditionally quite a conservative bunch, is worrying more openly about climate change, particularly its forecasted effects on wildlife crucial to their sports. The Wildlife Management Institute, a sportsperson’s organization, released a report recently highlighting climate change’s possible detrimental effects to oft-hunted species. Disappearing wetlands could contribute to a 69 percent decline in North American breeding ducks, and nearly half of U.S. trout and salmon habitat could disappear by 2100. Climate-fueled habitat changes could also lead to declines in populations of mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and quail. Representatives from WMI and eight other …
Check out the Vulcan Project out of Purdue University (with funding from NASA and DOE). It’s an attempt to quantify and visually represent U.S. CO2 emissions over time: Here’s a nifty video introduction: (via Dot Earth)
“[S]cience doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all,” says a random climate skeptic the widely used 2005 version of Advanced Placement high school textbook American Government. The text, written by two prominent conservatives, goes on to imply that the cause of climate change is in doubt and that the negative effects of global warming will be balanced by positives. “I just realized from my own knowledge that some of this stuff in the book is just plain wrong,” says New Jersey high-school senior …
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