The Electric Power Research Institute just released “The Power to Reduce CO2 Emissions” (PDF), its discussion paper to “provide stakeholders with a framework [to] develop a research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) Action Plan that will enable sustainable and substantial electricity sector CO2 emissions reductions over the coming decades.”

coal miner

It is crazy, mathematically bogus, economically disastrous, and generally inane … but will reach an audience vastly larger than its rigor warrants.

First, a bit about EPRI. It is the research arm of the nation’s regulated utilities. It has historically been funded by charges on electric bills, but with restructured markets, it’s had to adapt its revenue model. Still, it has not strayed too far from its funding sources, and has been chronically unwilling to recommend any course of action that:

  • would be contrary to the interests of regulated utilities, or
  • requires anything other than massive technology R&D from which regulated utilities benefit.

That’s all personal opinion, which readers may choose to ignore. Let’s take a look at the facts — what they recommend to control carbon. (I should note that they describe this path as “aggressive but feasible.”)

  1. Increase the deployment of end-use efficiency by 1.1 percent per year. Since electricity consumption is growing at the same percentage, this target has the benefit of being quite safe for utility profit margins. While not aggressive, it certainly is feasible.
  2. Deploy 70 GW of renewables by 2030.
  3. Install 64 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2030 (compare this to the current installed base of 100 GW).
  4. Add 150 GW of “advanced coal” generation, with “up to 90%” carbon sequestration. They do not discuss efficiency, so I’ll help here: coal with carbon sequestration is about 10-20 percent less efficient than coal without carbon sequestration. Which means that — if carbon sequestration works — it leads to a massive increase in our rate of coal consumption. So this one is really good for the coal lobby. Not so good for West Virginia mountaintops.
  5. Carbon capture and storage should be “widely deployed” after 2020.
  6. Ten percent of all new vehicle sales will be plug-in hybrids after 2017, then grow by 2 percent per year.
  7. Five percent of all power to come from distributed resources by 2030. For comparison, the U.S. grid currently draws 7-10 percent of its power from distributed generation, which makes this another big one for the “feasible, but not aggressive” budget.

That’s it! If we follow EPRI’s magic path, we will lower carbon emissions. Better yet, we can do so while increasing the rate at which we consume coal and electric power! What’s not to love? (Please, don’t talk about the costs.)

Let’s parse what the report suggests. Growing efficiency merely at the rate of load growth is equivalent to saying that we should not increase the market penetration of more efficient appliances. That makes perfect sense, since we are already at the perfect level of efficiency deployment, right?

And we absolutely shouldn’t extend the discussion of efficiency to the generation of power, which warrants zero mention in the report, in spite of the fact that the electric industry is only half as efficient today as it was in 1910.

As for renewable energy, it’s about as important as nuclear power — but only half as important as coal — in a carbon-constrained future.

The logic is impeccable, and by “impeccable” I mean stupid. But here’s the rub: this claptrap is sure to be distributed to politicians by the electric industry (the biggest industry in the country, let’s not forget) as they consider carbon policies. Yuck.