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Everything that is good for the environment is a job

Van Jones. (Photo by Zach Gross.)

In his newest book, Rebuild the Dream, green economy pioneer Van Jones reflects on his journey from grassroots outsider to White House insider, shares intimate details of his time in government, and provides a blueprint for reinventing the American Dream. Along the way, he contrasts the structure and rhetoric of the 2008 Obama campaign, the Tea Party movement, and Occupy Wall Street. The following excerpt from the book focuses on a new green economy.

Many politicians want us to lower our expectations about the economy. I say it is time to raise them. We should go beyond the shriveled thinking imposed upon us by today’s mania for austerity. The time has come to propose solutions at the scale of the problems we face. We can and we must revive the economy -- in a way that respects people and the planet.

For too long, we have acted as if we had to choose between strong economic performance and strong environmental performance. We have been torn between our children’s need for a robust economy today and our grandchildren’s need for a healthy planet tomorrow. We have been trapped in the “jobs versus the environment” dilemma.

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If fossil fuel subsidies were distributed to every person, we’d each get $58/year

Globally, every year fossil fuels get six times as much money in subsidies than renewable energy. Given a world population of around 7 billion, that means every man woman and child on the planet is spending an average of $58 a year to prop this industry up, but only around $9 to support renewables.

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Chris Hayes on the absurdity of oil subsidies

Guest hosting for Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes unspools a nice, long segment on the latest failed attempt to remove oil company subsidies. It's worth watching the whole thing:

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More on ramping down baseload power and ramping up storage

This puppy says baseload is as outmoded as VHS! (Photo by defekto.)

The other day I wrote a post about one of the main reasons Germany is phasing out nuclear power: It has decided that baseload power is not compatible with a system based on renewable energy. Since then I've run into some interesting stuff that's related, and in my new bloggy spirit, I'm just going to toss it out there.

First, I highly recommend Chris Nelder's "Why baseload power is doomed," which covers much of the same ground, but in somewhat more technical detail and more focused on the U.S. The most direct statement of the thesis comes in his summary of another report:

A 2010 study called “The Base Load Fallacy” [PDF] by Australian researcher Dr. Mark Diesendorf, an expert on integrating wind into power grids, fingers the “operational inflexibility of base-load power stations” as the main obstacle to further integration of renewables. “The renewable electricity system could be just as reliable as the dirty, fossil-fuelled system that it replaces,” he observes, if demand were more efficient and intelligent, and supply were made up of a wide variety of renewable sources plus a small amount of gas-fired capacity to cover the peaks. The perpetrators of the baseload fallacy, he argues, are mainly the industries who benefit from the status quo: coal, oil and gas companies, the nuclear industry, power generators, and industries who depend on them like aluminum and cement manufacturers.

As Nelder notes, countries like Germany, Denmark, and Spain are already defying confident predictions that modern grids can only accommodate a small percentage of renewables. And there's every reason to think we can go higher:

Renewables should be able to meet at least 20 percent of electricity demand without disrupting the grid just about anywhere in the world with good grid planning and management. As geothermal and marine power technologies mature, they will become a much less intermittent, natural substitute for the baseload technologies of the past. A host of other technologies will even out the bumps in renewable generation by adding storage (batteries for distributed storage, and pumped hydro and solar thermal for utility scale); increasing the connections between grids (allowing better transmission between sunny and cloudy, or windy and still areas); and transitioning to on-demand natural gas-fired peaking generators. Over the next decade, the current assumptions about the need for traditional baseload capacity will begin to fade as new storage, interconnection, and smart grid management strategies come into play, and ultimately, a combination of these technologies might raise the limit on renewables to 100 percent. (my emphasis)

Woo!

As Nelder notes, "the market" is not going to do this magically. To get there, the insane patchwork of U.S. power system regulations must be reformed and U.S. utilities must shed their traditional aversion to innovation. We have to begin planning (gasp) for the system we want.

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George Bush’s hometown is running out of water, thanks to climate change

Here's a theme we're going to see a lot in the 21st century:

Payback is a bitch.

The president who nixed America's commitment to the carbon-reducing Kyoto protocol, whose administration censored reports on climate science, and whose State Department thanked Exxon executives for their "active involvement" in helping to determine climate change policy, is watching the town in which he grew up squirm in the grip of Texas' epic, climate change-enhanced drought.

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The Solyndra sideshow peters out

Time to pack up the Solyndra circus, boys. (Photo by Thomas Totz.)

No one is more invested in seeing the Solyndra investigation continue to produce "news" than Politico, so it's significant that reporter (and Solyndra devotee) Darren Samuelsohn has basically called it. After over a year, Republicans have turned up nothing, as this sad excerpt makes clear:

"Is there a criminal activity? Perhaps not," Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa told POLITICO after last Tuesday’s showdown with Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Is there a political influence and connections? Perhaps not. Did they bend the rules for an agenda, an agenda not covered within the statute? Absolutely."

The agenda was to give innovative clean energy companies the best possible chance to survive and thrive. It’s difficult to see how that’s not “covered” in a statute establishing a loan guarantee program to give innovative clean energy companies the best possible chance to survive and thrive.

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Media produces, laments public ignorance on gas prices

[See update at bottom.]

Painful source: Why can't the media get gas prices right?

Media coverage of gas prices has made me want to smash my head on my desk. So it was with some amusement that I read the first paragraph of Politico's piece on how dumb voters are:

Voters are appalled at President Barack Obama's handling of gas prices, even though virtually every policy expert in both parties says there’s little a president can do to affect the day-to-day price of fuel in a global market.

Ha ha stupid voters! Where do they get such bad information?

As Politico says, the U.S. president has virtually no control over gas prices. Time's Bryan Walsh lays it out clearly here (in an entirely factual piece that is nonetheless labeled "viewpoint"). Gas prices are tightly linked to oil prices, which are set by forces over which the U.S. has little control.

This is something that energy experts and analysts are more or less unanimous on. The Initiative on Global Markets gathered a panel of economic experts, from across the professional and ideological spectrum, and asked them to react to this thesis: "Changes in U.S. gasoline prices over the past 10 years have predominantly been due to market factors rather than U.S. federal economic or energy policies." Some 92 percent agreed. Eight percent were "uncertain." Not a single one disagreed.

So, just to be clear: Anyone who says the president is responsible for gas prices is either lying or woefully ignorant. This category includes all of the Republican candidates for president, virtually every GOP elected official, many conservative Democrats, legions of conservative and centrist pundits, and occasionally Obama himself.

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Does cap-and-trade produce technological innovation?

Cap-and-trade is dead, but some folks never tire of kicking the corpse. Corpse kickers received a boost last week from a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which purported to show that cap-and-trade programs "do not provide sufficient incentives for energy technology innovation."

This strikes me as a classic example of a press release overhyping and oversimplifying a paper to get attention. Consequently, I bet a lot of people are going to misread it, and discussion of cap-and-trade, to the extent it still exists, will get even more caricatured and divorced from reality. Too bad -- the paper is actually pretty interesting. It's worth teasing out what it does and doesn't show.

Scientist Margaret Taylor of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory analyzed two existing cap-and-trade programs: the national U.S. market for sulfur dioxide (SO2) and the nitrogen-oxides (NOx) trading program in Northeast and mid-Atlantic states. (Right off the bat, we need to be careful. The SO2 and NOx programs can be instructive, but a robust carbon trading system would be very, very different, incomparably larger and more complex.)

In particular, Taylor looked at the relationship between those two cap-and-trade programs and the rate of technological innovation. Here's the story she tells:

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Obama debuts new energy theme: Past vs. future

Photo by Nick Knupffer.

The Obama administration has learned from history, it seems. They're not going to sit passively by as their opponents demagogue gas prices. This week they've gone on the offensive, with the president giving a series of interviews and speeches, including a major address today at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.

Most of the details from today's speech were familiar from previous speeches. Obama argued that his administration has substantially increased oil and gas drilling, but that drilling will never be enough to reduce gas prices or make America independent of imported energy. Thus, America needs to invent and build new technologies to produce clean energy and use less energy.

That's all been said before (though obviously nothing's wrong with repeating it). There was, however, a new theme in the speech, tying all these points together. I don't know if it's entirely new, but I've never heard it emphasized as much. And since it's a theme I've been pushing for years (clearly Obama is reading my blog), I was quite gratified to see it.

It's simply this: the past vs. the future. In his prepared remarks, he said a state of constant vulnerability to events overseas is ...

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How high do gas prices have to get to trigger behavior change?

Gas sign, $5.27 regular.Is this high enough?

This week, an average gallon of self-serve regular is going for $3.81. Is that enough to get Americans junking their minivans in favor of cargo bikes, or ditching their exurban McManses for walkable city living? In short: no. Still, two new polls offer a little insight on gas prices and lifestyle changes.

A AAA survey conducted at the beginning of the month found 84 percent of respondents saying they have changed their driving habits or lifestyle in some way in response to recent gas-price increases, and 87 percent would change driving habits further if prices remain this high for long. The most common change adopted so far is combining trips and errands, which 60 percent of respondents say they've done. And 16 percent say they've purchased or leased a more fuel-efficient vehicle.