Published: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:29:04 -0400
Tue, 07 Mar 2017 08:50:00 -0500
The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg's New Energy Finance have recently released their 2017 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, which looks, among other things, at the benefits of rising natural gas use across the United States. According to the report, Americans now devote less than four percent of their total annual household spending to energy—the lowest since government record-keeping begun. That welcome development is, in part, a result of the fracking revolution and of the declining prices of natural gas.
Lower energy prices have also helped to reduce manufacturing costs, thus reviving the U.S. economy. Today, the United States generates very cheap electricity for industrial use, outranking China, India and Mexico. In spite of those low energy costs, American producers have been growing more efficient. The United States, the report notes, "has decoupled economic growth and energy demand." Since 2007, American GDP grew by 12 percent, while overall energy consumption fell by 3.7 percent.
The use of natural gas, which is now the top fuel source for electrical generation, has also been good for the environment. The burning of natural gas emits between 50 and 60 percent less carbon dioxide than the burning of coal. As such, the carbon footprint of the power-generating industry has actually shrunk by 24 percent since 2005. Rounding off a set of positive numbers, after many decades of use, we now have greater proven reserves of natural gas than ever before.
Market forces fueled a rise in domestic natural gas production, providing the economy with a cheap, cleaner burning source of fuel. However, the report notes that development of necessary natural gas infrastructure is not keeping pace with demand and should be improved going forward. The report provides proof of natural gas' many positives.
Americans are saving more on energy bills than ever before, the economy is growing and the United States is the only major country reducing its green house gas emissions. Happily, as infrastructure expands and improves, the benefits will only increase.
Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:15:00 -0500
(image) If you're a fan of the Ornery Holdout Battling Eminent Domain genre of newspaper writing, you should read Anya Litvak's profile of David Rheinlander in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here's the lede:
If David Rheinlander believes that his 5.5 acres, which include woods and a modular home, are worth $10 million, then who exactly is the Rover Pipeline or the federal government, for that matter, to say otherwise?
"If they don't like it, go around me," Mr. Rheinlander said less than a week after Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based firm developing a massive natural gas pipeline, asked a federal court to condemn a 150-foot-wide line across his Washington County [Pennsylvania] land so it can cut down his trees as soon as possible.
Litvak goes on to describe Rheinlander's early encounters with the company's land agents ("Even during those amicable conversations, the phrase eminent domain was a frequent garnish, he recalled") and the ensuing arguments over safety, property rights, and where the best route for the pipeline would be. My knee-jerk sympathies, as always, are with the holdout. The company claims that it faces "billions of dollars of lost revenue" without the property, which to me suggests they should pay Rheinlander more than the $3,500 they're offering, but I guess they think they've found a legal workaround.
The story also gives us a glimpse of a bigger issue, a dark side of the fracking boom:
The number of eminent domain pipeline cases has risen in proportion to the pace at which pipelines are being built to accommodate the shale gas boom—which is to say, it has ballooned...
Read the whole thing here.
Tue, 24 Jan 2017 14:00:00 -0500Ask any American born before 1960 for an example of corporate greed resulting in environmental disaster and the odds are good that he or she will name Love Canal. Love Canal, for readers who don't know, is a neighborhood in the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y. that was once a chemical waste dump. The dump became a major news story in the late 1970s, including sensational articles in the Niagara Falls Gazette by registered nurse turned reporter Michael Brown, who would later write the book Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals (Pantheon, 1980). The incident led to passage of the so-called Superfund legislation of 1980, which imposed a tax on petroleum and chemical companies to generate revenue for government-directed cleanup of toxic chemical sites. But the real story of Love Canal isn't the "corporate guys: bad; government guys and community activists: good" tale that many people believe. In its February 1981 issue, Reason magazine published an exhaustive, fact-filled, 13,000-word article on Love Canal written by independent investigative reporter Eric Zuesse. The article dramatically recast many of the characters in Brown's reports, including Brown himself. I recently asked Reason's longtime science writer, Ron Bailey, whether further information in subsequent years had led him to doubt any important factual claims in Zuesse's piece, and he replied, "I am not aware that his article has been contradicted or found deficient in any important way." In the years following that article, when I read about Love Canal, I do so with an eye on two topics: (1) Does the work discuss Zuesse's version of the story? (2) Does it challenge his claims? Those questions were on my mind as I read the latest addition to this literature, historian Richard Newman's new book Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present. Newman does not mention Zuesse, but he does raise some of the issues that Zuesse did. Disappointingly, he ultimately ignores those issues and adopts much of the story that Brown presented. Before diving into the book, some backstory is needed. In the 1890s, an entrepreneur named William Love proposed to build a canal bypassing Niagara Falls, which would allow shipping between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, better connecting the hydro-powered industrial area to markets. As part of his vision, Love proposed a planned community along the waterway. His project ultimately was dashed by the Panic of 1893 and a congressional prohibition on diverting water from the Niagara River, resulting in the abandoning of the partially dug canal. However, some of the residential development Love envisioned did become reality. Decades later, the unfinished canal, which had become filled with groundwater, became a dumpsite for the city's municipal waste. During World War II, a city–based chemical company, Hooker Electrochemical Company (later Hooker Chemical) received permission to dispose of chemical waste in the canal. Late in the decade, Hooker drained it, lined it with clay, and began depositing drums of chemicals at the site. Dumping continued through the early 1950s, when Hooker capped the site with clay. But the site was soon disturbed. The Niagara Falls City School District decided it wanted the property for a school, threatening to use eminent domain to gain the land. Rather than fight the action, Hooker offered to sell the property to the school board for $1. The school board agreed, even though it was aware of the site's history. In the deed of sale, Hooker included the following closing paragraph: Prior to the delivery of this instrument of conveyance, the grantee herein has been advised by the grantor that the premises above described have been filled, in whole or in part, to the present grade level thereof with waste products resulting from the manufacturing of chemicals by the grantor at its plant in the City of Niagara Falls, New York, and the grantee assumes all risk and liability incident to the use thereof. It is therefore understood and agreed t[...]
Fri, 25 Nov 2016 13:30:00 -0500Some 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2016 report. About 2.7 billion still cook and heat their dwellings with wood, crop residues, and dung. In its main scenario for the trajectory of global energy consumption, the IEA projects that in 2040, half a billion people will still lack access to electricity and 1.8 billion will still be cooking and heating by burning biomass. The agency defines the initial threshold for modern energy access as 250 kilowatt-hours (kwh) for rural and 500 kwh for urban households per year. How much is that? "In rural areas, this level of consumption could, for example, provide for the use of a floor fan, a mobile telephone and two compact fluorescent light bulbs for about five hours per day," the IEA explains. For comparison, in 2015 the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. household was 10,812 kwh—43 times the IEA's energy access threshold for rural households. In September the United Nations issued 17 new sustainable development goals that are supposed to be achieved by 2030. Universal access to affordable and clean energy is number 7. To achieve this goal, the U.N. says countries can "accelerate the transition to an affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy system by investing in renewable energy resources, prioritizing energy efficient practices, and adopting clean energy technologies and infrastructure." The transition to renewable energy resources in poor countries was discussed in "Scaling of Innovative Solutions for Mitigation and Adaptation," a side event at the U.N. climate change conference in Marrakech, Morocco, last week. The panel highlighted the distribution of solar lanterns to poor households in Africa and the distribution of small solar panels that can be used to for lighting and to recharge mobile phones. Giving poor people access to such technologies is certainly better than nothing, but that still leaves them mired in energy poverty. The eco-modernist Breakthrough Institute takes a very different view than the U.N. in a new report, Energy for Human Development. Eco-modernists argue that through technological progress humanity will increasingly withdraw from nature, enabling a vast ecological restoration over the course of this century. The Breakthrough report rejects any approach based around small-scale energy projects aimed chiefly at supplying tiny amounts of electricity to millions of subsistence farmers. "There is no nation on earth with universal electricity access that remains primarily agrarian," the authors note. "Modern household energy consumption has historically been achieved as a side effect of electrification for non-household purposes such as factories, electrified transportation, public lighting, and commercial-scale agriculture." Rural electrification has always come last, after urbanization and economic development have taken off. For example, in the U.S. nearly 90 percent of city dwellers had electricity by the 1930s but only 10 percent of rural Americans did. Given this universal growth dynamic, the Breakthrough writers call for prioritizing energy development for productive, large-scale economic enterprises. Copious and reliable energy will accelerate the creation and spread of higher-productivity factories and businesses, which then will generate the opportunities for a better life; that, in turn, will draw poor subsistence farmers into cities. They further note that energy access and electricity access are not the same thing. In fact, in 2012 electricity accounted for only about 18 percent of the energy consumed globally. "Efforts to address energy poverty must address needs for transportation fuels and infrastructure, and for fertilizer and mechanization of agriculture," they argue. But what about climate change? Current renewable sources of energy are not technologically capable of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty. Consequently, the Break[...]
Fri, 25 Nov 2016 13:30:00 -0500
(image) Some 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2016 report. About 2.7 billion still cook and heat their dwellings with wood, crop residues, and dung. In its main scenario for the trajectory of global energy consumption, the IEA projects that in 2040, half a billion people will still lack access to electricity and 1.8 billion will still be cooking and heating by burning biomass. In its new report, Energy for Human Development, the eco-modernist Breakthrough Institute make the case that ending energy poverty for hundreds of millions of poor people should be prioritized over efforts to mitigate future climate change. They correctly argue that "it is untenable morally and practically to insist that global climate change targets be balanced upon the backs of the poorest people on earth."
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 09:30:00 -0400
(image) Apparently Google searches for the terms like "oil glut" and "too much oil" are now much more popular than those for "peak oil" from a decade back. Back in in 2009, I wrote:
In May 2006, I reported in Reason that global oil reserves were ample to supply humanity's needs for liquid fuels until at least 2030, despite headline-grabbing predictions that our supply had already peaked. Afterwards, the world experienced an unprecedented run-up in oil prices topping out at $147 per barrel in July 2008, which led some negative prognosticators to get a little cocky. One of the leading doomsters, Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons, told CNBC in July 2008, "The idea that it's a bubble is all poppycock." He confidently added that the price of oil "is not going to collapse." Simmons advised Americans to move into villages and to buy locally produced foods and goods.
Prices did surge again, but human ingenuity in form of fracking and other innovations proved again that extent of resources is determined by technology and markets not just the accumulation of stuff in the ground. Global production soared and prices fell. The peak oil chorus of doom has largely gone silent. Over at RealClear Politics, there is a terrific article detailing the sorry history of periodic peak oil hysteria. From the article:
This perception that we would run out of oil, and sooner rather than later, became more than a theory, one that went by the name "peak oil." It became a kind of catechism. It was included in the prayer books of the environmental movement and incorporated into the legislative history and language of U.S. federal energy policy. It became an underlying basis for everything from Jimmy Carter's admonition to turn down the nation's thermostats, the enactment of 55-mile-per-hour speed limits, and federal mandates on gasoline standards for cars and trucks.
Today, the question is how policymakers should one react when the conventional wisdom is proven so spectacularly wrong, as is the case here. ...
One factor the peak-oil adherents never seemed to consider was that the supply of oil, like many commodities, was directly influenced by price—and that drillers and investors previously not searching for it would return to exploration if market prices became high enough.
"The biggest supporters of Peak Oil almost all are petroleum geologists; almost none of them are economists," said Ronald Bailey, an author and science correspondent with Reason magazine who has written extensively on climate and energy. "They really don't understand markets."
*Oh, wait. The article quotes me. Despite that, reading the whole column is well worth your time.
Mon, 18 Jul 2016 10:09:00 -0400
(image) The Energy Information Administration has just released its new data on energy intensity trends. Basically, the agency finds that humanity overall is using ever less energy to create more value. How much less? About a third less energy is being used to produce a dollar's worth of goods and services than was being consumed in 1990. In the meantime, world GDP nearly doubled and world population increased by 40 percent. This does not, however, mean that humanity is using less oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy. In fact, the amount of energy being consumed globally increased by 60 percent between 1990 and 2015. On the other hand, U.S. primary energy consumption has been essentially flat since 2000 while the economy grew by more than 30 percent and U.S. population expanded by around 14 percent.
Is it possible that energy efficiency gains could become so great that that the absolute amount of energy consumed by humanity will begin to fall sometime in future? All things being equal - especially the price - this is not likely because energy freed up through efficiency would be used to fuel other new activities. The plain fact is that the only way to reduce energy consumption (like the consumption of any other normal good) is to increase its price relative to other goods. Ultimately, the EIA projects that world energy demand will increase by nearly 50 percent by 2040.
Tue, 05 Jul 2016 12:31:00 -0400The Rystad Energy consultancy has just released its new calculations of global oil reserves and estimates that the U.S. may harbor as much 264 billion barrels of oil compared to Saudi Arabia's 212 billion barrels. Overall, world oil reserves exceed 2 trillion barrels. At current production rates, this is enough oil to supply the world for 70 years. The Rystad analysts compare their estimates with those of the closely watched annual BP Statistical Review that conservatively calculates that the U.S. has 55 billion barrels of proved reserves and that world reserves stand at just under 1.7 trillion barrels. ExxonMobil's 2016 annual Outlook for Energy report observes: Technology is not just expanding our daily oil production; it also continues to increase the amount of oil and liquid fuels we can count on for the future. In 1981, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that remaining global recoverable crude and condensate resources were 1 trillion barrels; today, the IEA estimates that it is 4.5 trillion barrels – enough to meet global oil demand beyond the 21st century. By 2040, the amount of resources yet to be produced will still be far higher than total production prior to 2040, even with a 20 percent rise in global oil demand. However, the folks at Rystad do note that ... ...cumulatively produced oil up to 2015 amounts to 1300 billion barrels. Unconventional oil recovery accounts for 30% of the global recoverable oil reserves while offshore accounts for 33% of the total. The seven major oil companies hold less than 10% of the total. This data confirms that there is a relatively limited amount of recoverable oil left on the planet. With the global car-park possibly doubling from 1 billion to 2 billion cars over the next 30 years, it becomes very clear that oil alone cannot satisfy the growing need for individual transport. Well, maybe. As I explain in my book The End of Doom: The the advent of self-driving vehicles could provide a technological end run around such projections of a growing vehicle fleet. Instead of sitting idle for most of every day, as the vast majority of automobiles do now, cars could be rented on demand. Researchers at the University of Texas, devising a realistic simulation of vehicle use in cities that took into account issues like congestion and rush-hour usage, found that each shared autonomous vehicle could replace eleven conventional vehicles. Notionally then, it would take only about 800 million vehicles to supply all the transportation services for 9 billion people. That figure is 200 million vehicles fewer than the current world fleet of 1 billion automobiles. ... In addition, a shift to fleets of autonomous vehicles makes the clean electrification of transportation much more feasible, since such automobiles could drive themselves off for recharging and cleaning during periods of low demand. Back in 2000, former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yamani famously declared, "The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil." Given technological trends that prediction still sounds right.[...]
Tue, 10 May 2016 11:31:00 -0400
(image) Carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The Energy Information Administration has just released its analysis of carbon dioxide emissions for 2015 and reports that after a slight uptick in 2013 and 2014 energy-related emissions have again fallen. The agency notes, "U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were 12% below the 2005 levels, mostly because of changes in the electric power sector." The agency further notes that most of the reductions have occurred as a result of switching from coal to natural gas to generate electricity. Overall, the EIA reports that "the fuel-use changes in the power sector have accounted for 68% of the total energy-related CO2 reductions from 2005 to 2015." The bottom line is that this reduction in carbon dioxide emissions results largely from cheap natural gas from shale produced by horizontal drilling combined with fracking.
More good news: Companies are wringing more and more value out of each unit of energy consumed and each ton carbon dioxide emitted. The EIA reports that "on a per-dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) basis, in 2015, the United States used 15% less energy per unit of GDP and produced 23% fewer energy-related CO2 emissions per unit of GDP, compared with the energy and emissions per dollar of GDP in 2005." (image)
Warmer winter weather also contributed to lower emissions as Americans burned less fuel to keep themselves comfortable. Interestingly, I reported earlier that a new study has concluded that climate change so far appears to be making the weather more pleasant for most Americans.
While U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from declined by 12 percent, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that as of 2014 overall greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases, are only about 9 percent lower than they were in 2005. The Obama Administration has promised the United Nations that the U.S. will cut by 2020 its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below their 2005 levels. And by 2025, U.S. emissions are supposed to fall by 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels.
Tue, 10 May 2016 07:00:00 -0400British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three well-known laws, the third of which, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," is pertinent to my column today. From air-conditioned rooms in summer and heated apartments in winter, to hot cups of coffee at breakfast and cold glasses of water at lunch, the life of a typical Westerner is powered by energy that is both cheap and ubiquitous. Few of us stop and think about its almost miraculous abundance or can conceive of a world without it. Yet, only two centuries ago, most of us relied, primarily, on two types of energy—human and animal muscle—to meet our everyday needs. If you got tired or sick, or if your mule or horse had died, you were out of luck. The Industrial Revolution changed all that, as Alex Epstein documents in his superb book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. Today, energy is so abundant that many Western governments are trying to limit its use through punitive tariffs. "Fuel poverty," or the unenviable choice between a freezing cold apartment and a massive heating bill, is already killing thousands of poor people and pensioners in Europe, and compounding the continent's manufacturing woes, as high energy prices force factories to close and move overseas. Unfortunately, our obsession with global warming and supposedly looming planetary destruction, and our misguided attempts to curtail CO2 emissions through limits on energy use, are slowly filtering down to places where access to cheap energy is still a distant dream. I was reminded of the pernicious effects of Western eschatology when speaking to a young World Bank official who works on promoting "renewable" energy in those parts of Africa which have not yet experienced the magic of abundant energy derived from fossil fuels. Angola, for example, is oil rich, but energy poor. What the Angolan people, not to mention the Angolan economy, need is a reliable and cheap source of energy. Why should they pay extra for unreliable sources of energy - like solar and wind - when they have oil to burn? Consider, also, South Africa. The country is, by African standards, rich in income and, by global standards, super rich in coal reserves. Yet South Africa will build eight Russian nuclear power stations. Why? Because the South African government wants to "transform" the country's "energy mix" from one where 100 percent of energy is derived from coal to one where 11 percent is generated by solar and wind, and another 13 percent is generated by nuclear power. The estimated, which is to say minimum, cost comes to a cool one trillion South African Rands. As the old saying goes: rich countries can get away with idiotic policies—at least for a time. Explore more data like this at HumanProgress.org.[...]
Fri, 22 Apr 2016 09:30:00 -0400
(image) The Earth Day Texas 2016 opens at the Dallas Fair Park on April 22nd and runs through the weekend. I will be on a moderated open-to-the public panel with U.S. EPA General Counsel Avi Garbow discussing public policy related to climate change. Garbow will be focusing on the Obama administration's regulatory efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. According to the organizers I am supposed to address wider policy and energy technology issues related to man-made global warming. From the event website:
Please join the General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Avi S. Garbow, for a discussion of what EPA hopes to accomplish in the last 8 months of the Obama administration as EPA implements The President’s Climate Action Plan, publishes and finalizes regulations, defends its major initiatives in court, continues its efforts on the international front, and prepares for the anticipated impacts of climate change.
What are the legal challenges ahead? What are the next steps in the legal arena if the Clean Power Plan is not upheld? What should we expect from the anticipated heavy duty vehicle emission standards to be published in the next few months, and what impact will these standards have on the environment? What can businesses and citizens do to participate as these critical issues are addressed?
Joining Mr. Garbow will be Ronald Bailey, a leading author on the subject of climate change, whose recent work includes the widely praised 2015, “The End of Doom, Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century.” Mr. Bailey will offer his observations on the most recent science describing climate change, available technologies to reduce carbon, the timing and costs of unleashing innovation, and the role that the federal government might play in supporting research and development.
Mr. Bailey will also discuss the polarized and contentious history of the climate change debate, explore the role of cultural values, and suggest a productive approach for businesses and citizens to take as they continue to participate in these important policy decisions. In the town hall format, the speakers will take questions from the audience and discuss paths forward.
The panel is on Earth Day, Friday April 22 in the Hall of State (next to the Cotton Bowl stadium) in the 2nd floor library at the Fair Park (see map). The event begins at 1:30 pm and runs until 3 pm. RSVP not required but appreciated, email@example.com.
Fri, 18 Mar 2016 13:30:00 -0400"I'll tell you...one thing that no Cabinet has ever had is a Secretary of the Future, and there are no plans at all for my grandchildren and my great grandchildren," the novelist Kurt Vonnegut groused in 2005. Vonnegut's comment came up on the public radio show Marketplace this month, when the program asked, "What if we had a Secretary of the Future?" My quick answer: It's a really stupid idea. Human beings are terrible at foresight, and it would be especially terrible to try marry our purblind premonitions to government power. Vonnegut was far from alone in pining for some sort of far-seeing federal planner. For the past half century, the chief motive for establishing planning bureaucracies has been an allegedly impending ecological and economic castastrophe. For example, in the 1968 book The Population Bomb, the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich proposed a new Bureau of Population and Environment. The tasks of this "powerful governmental agency," he wrote, would include determining "the optimum population size of the United States and devis[ing] measures to establish it." One such measure would be research on sex determination, so as to guarantee that first-born children were always male, thus satisfying the cultural demand for male heirs. Needless to say, male heirs by themselves don't produce male grand-heirs. Ehrlich doubled down in Ark II: Social Response to Environmental Imperatives, a 1974 book that called for a Federal Planning Branch. Ehrlich and his co-author wanted to headquarter the new agency "not in the nations capital but in some relatively pleasant location that would induce talented young people to choose careers in public service." The planning board would, as Kirkus Reviews noted, be "composed of enlightened fellows" like Ehrlich. Its overall goal: to "curb individual appetites" and persuade the population to adopt "the lost tribalism of preindustrial society." Two years later, in The Genesis Strategy: Climate and Global Survival, climatologist Stephen Schneider endorsed the creation of a "Truth and Consequences Branch," a fourth branch of government whose members would be appointed for 20 year terms. The Truth and Consequences Branch would work with the Institute of Imminent Disasters, founded to "assess the probable costs of avoiding any and all perceived disasters impending." The fourth branch would also engage in propaganda, pushing the public to "question present value systems and adopt a new political consciousness. Such a consciousness would move us away from narrow and immediate economic-interest policies and redirect our efforts and resources toward the creation of a stable equilibrium world order." The fraught 1970s were capped off with two ominous federal exercises in crystal-ball gazing: The Global 2000 Report to the President commissioned by President Jimmy Carter, and the National Academy of Sciences' Energy In Transition: 1985-2010. In 1977, Carter directed the Council on Environmental Quality, the State Department, and 11 other federal agencies to analyze "probable changes in the world's population, natural resources, and environment through the end of the century." He added, "This study will serve as the foundation of our longer-term planning." The head of the study was one Gerald O. Barney, who insisted that the study could only establish a "useful and meaningful" planning foundation "if, to the fullest extent possible, the Study was performed by U.S. Government personnel using U.S. Government data, and U.S. Government Models." So what did the Global 2000 Report prognosticate? Let me quote Newsweek's stark summary: "The time: the year 2000. The place: Earth, a desolate planet slowly dying of its own accumulating follies. Half the forests are gone; sand dunes spread where fertile farm lands [...]
Tue, 23 Feb 2016 12:40:00 -0500Microsoft founder and big time philanthrophist Bill Gates predicts in his annual foundation letter: "Within the next 15 years—and especially if young people get involved—I expect the world will discover a clean energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world." Gates accepts the mainstream scientific projections that rising global temperatures resulting from unabated emissions of greenhouse gases would likely cause significant problems for humanity later in this century. In order to avoid these problems, he argues humanity needs to shift away from fossil fuels to carbon-neutral forms of energy. Current versions of carbon-neutral energy, chiefly solar and wind power, are not adequate because the sun doesn't always shine and wind doesn't always blow. While the capital costs for both are falling steeply, they are still far too expensive for the 1.3 billion poor people around the world who still lack access to modern energy supplies. A breakthrough in battery storage would help a lot, but progress remains slow. The "miracle" Gates thinks will happen is that a new suite of zero-carbon technologies will drive the cost of energy production below that of fossil fuels. As he explains over at the Tech Insider, "When I say "an energy miracle," I mean that there will be some form of energy whose 24 hour cost really is competitive with hydrocarbons given, say, 20 years of learning curve. You invent it, then you look at how much its costs go down over the next 20 years, that it really beats hydrocarbons." Gates is the organizer of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition which is a "public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors. Scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs can invent and scale the innovative technologies that will limit the impact of climate change while providing affordable and reliable energy to everyone." Gates is a believer in the role of government in subsidizing energy innovation and argues that such R&D spending needs to be tripled in the U.S. from $5 billion to $15 billion per year. As examples of the type of research that might produce energy miracles, Gates cites work in which carbon dioxide is transformed into liquid fuels. The great thing about such liquid fuels, if they can be manufactured at scale, is that they are more or less compatible with our existing energy infrastructure, e.g., pipelines, internal combustion engines, etc. So what energy bets is Gates making? One is Terrapower which aims to produce electricity by burning nuclear waste in traveling wave reactors. However, as Gates told Andrew Revkin over at Dot Earth, "The best case is that we have our pilot plant built by 2023, and that by 2030, this fourth-generation inherently safe design with all sorts of nice characteristics, including cost, becomes the standard for all nuclear builds from that point forward. That’s the best case for this amazing, brilliant Terrapower design." Last September, Terrapower signed a memorandum of understanding with China National Nuclear Corporation to build the prototype of its reactor. Of course, as I reported recently, there are is a lot of effort and excitement in the nuclear power arena nowadays and it's possible - with the right regulatory system - that nuclear power will cost less than burning fossil fuels. In my newish book, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century, I outlined what I called the emerging energy climate consensus. I noted: The fourth and most provocative plank of the new energy technology consensus is that government research and development spending on zero-carbon forms of energy supply must be dramatically ramped up. ... The better course would be to establish a level playing field by [...]
Tue, 08 Dec 2015 09:38:00 -0500Paris, France – I’ve reported from so many U.N. climate change conferences that I’ve lost count (11 or 12, I think), but I have never before experienced what is happening in the slapped-together particle board hallways of the Le Bourget exposition site: Optimism. Even a bit of giddiness on the part of the diplomats, and even among the always dour environmentalist groups. At earlier meetings the set ritual has been for activists during the second week to issue a constant stream of urgent denunciations. Sure, one still hears here that there is only 24 hours to get this or that deal done, but the upbeat tone is nevertheless widespread. For example, during a press conference John Coequyt, the Sierra Club's Director of Federal and International Climate Campaigns flatly said, “We are very optimistic; we continue to believe that a good deal is possible.” Luxembourg's Minister for the Environment, Carole Dieschbourg, speaking as the European Union’s representative stated, “The new agreement is within reach, a binding global agreement applicable to all parties.” There is another reason for a feeling of serenity at the conference: the absence of mobs of protestors. The commotion produced by of masses of demonstrators inside and outside the climate conferences contributed significantly to the fraught atmosphere that pervaded previous meetings. The French government has used the terrorist atrocities in November as a justification to ban all public protests and marches. This seems to have taken the heart out of lot of would-be climate agitators. Yes, the occasional campaigner dressed in a polar bear costume does wander by, but participants are not being hectored by throngs of doomsters constantly crying climate calamity from their various soapboxes. The result is that the conference venue is imbued with an unaccustomed sense of orderly calm. While many of the 40,000 conference participants may believe that the world is facing catastrophic climate change, they now seem confident that the negotiators will be able to conclude the first ever universal climate accord by the end of this week. As U.S. Special Representative for Climate Change Todd Stern noted during a press conference, the Paris Accord would then guide global energy decisions for essentially the rest of this century. “Paris can be a decisive turning point in history,” declared U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Noting the presence of hundreds of representatives from business and industry at the meeting, Ban said, “The business community is asking for a clear signal from governments that the low emissions economy is inevitable.” In fact, a lot of participants at the meeting are proclaiming that global warming is really a huge business opportunity. Among others so saying was Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Director of Science and Policy, ecologist Peter Frumhoff. “Commitment to a clean energy future is a moral imperative grounded in science and one of the greatest business opportunities of all time,” asserted Frumhoff at a UCS press conference. In the same session, biologist Chris Field who heads up the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, mirrored Frumhoff’s assertion calling the imminently mandated transition away from fossil fuels “the biggest business opportunity of the second half of the 21st century.” For my part, I will just say that people who take investment advice from activist scientists get what they deserve. But what about investment advice from investment banks? On the eve of the Paris conference, Goldman Sachs released its report, The Low Carbon Economy, as an equity investor’s guide to a low carbon world through 2025. The company sees tightening regulati[...]
Tue, 01 Dec 2015 11:05:00 -0500
(image) "Don't Nuke the Climate" is one of the more idiotic slogans being bandied about by activists at the Paris climate conference. Even James Hansen, the godfather of climate change concern, has argued in an open letter in 2013 which stated:
While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power
We understand that today's nuclear plants are far from perfect. Fortunately, passive safety systems and other advances can make new plants much safer. And modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently. Innovation and economies of scale can make new power plants even cheaper than existing plants. Regardless of these advantages, nuclear needs to be encouraged based on its societal benefits.
Over the weekend, entrepreneur Peter Thiel published an op-ed, "The New Atomic Age We Need," in the New York Times that reinforces the point:
Wind and solar together provide less than 2 percent of the world’s energy, and they aren’t growing anywhere near fast enough to replace fossil fuels.
What’s especially strange about the failed push for renewables is that we already had a practical plan back in the 1960s to become fully carbon-free without any need of wind or solar: nuclear power....
In fact, in the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission projected that 1,000 nuclear power plants would be running in the U.S. by 2000. Think how much that would have lowered U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, there are only about 100 operating now. It is also worth noting that the host country, France, derives 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. By opposing nuclear power, environmentalists helped in large measure to create the problem they now claim is destroying the world. Thiel continues:
The single most important action we can take is thawing a nuclear energy policy that keeps our technology frozen in time. If we are serious about replacing fossil fuels, we are going to need nuclear power, so the choice is stark: We can keep on merely talking about a carbon-free world, or we can go ahead and create one.
We already know that today’s energy sources cannot sustain a future we want to live in.
Anyone who claims to be worried about future man-made climate change and who still opposes modern nuclear power is not serious and should be ignored.