Innovation vs. Deployment
One of the continuing debates among climate and energy analysts and advocates is whether public policy should emphasize innovation or deployment. A hardy round of wonky discussion brought to light the nuances of each point of view, but it still leaves one lingering issue: how do we make energy innovation part of advocates’ climate policy pitch?
There are two levels to the debate between innovation analysts and deployment advocates. The most significant debate is over policy nuance and is what has been in the blogging spotlight recently. The debate logic chain typically plays out broadly this way:
- Mitigating climate change requires cutting global carbon emissions to near zero, which requires no less than a transformation of the global energy system from fossil fuels to clean energy. For its part, the United States has set a goal of 80 percent carbon reductions by 2050 and a midterm goal of 17 percent reductions by 2020.
- Innovation analysts argue today’s technology isn’t enough to get us to 80 percent global (or US) carbon reductions. Cheaper and better technologies are needed to fully address climate change, which requires looking at the full innovation ecosystem and aggressively strengthening through policy. Today’s policy approach is woefully lacking because it underinvests in research, development, and demonstration, and provides limited deployment incentives that don’t drive innovation. As a result, innovation analysts (for example, myself) typically focus on boosting R&D budgets, bridging the valley of death, and reforming deployment policies to drive technological improvements as the best path to addressing climate change.
- Deployment advocates argue today’s technologies are enough to at worse meet our midterm climate goals and at best get us much closer to our 80 percent goal than innovation analysts argue. Most commonly, this extends to deployment advocates arguing that big innovations really aren’t necessary. In other words, we need to do everything we can to push deploying today’s technologies by using policies including subsidies, carbon pricing, and mandates. By no means is funding research not important, but it’s not a high policy priority. As a result, deployment advocates (for example, Climate Progress EditorJoe Romm) champion clean energy subsidies and incentives to accelerate the deployment of existing technologies and as the best path to addressing climate change.
As Dave Roberts at Grist argues, there is in fact a lot both “camps” agree on at this level. Cheaper and better clean energy technologies will make deep carbon reductions less and less “difficult, expensive, and politically contentious” than if we relied solely on today’s technologies. The agreement only breaks on the policy implementation side. ( Continue… )
President Obama's visit to the center of a national energy-storage-research effort Friday highlights an overlooked tool in the administration's push for renewable energy: batteries.
The technology is ubiquitous – in our phones, our cars, and our planes – but the science is far from simple. The challenges are well-documented in news stories about bankrupt batterymakers, winter-averse electric cars, and grounded Dreamliners.
Many in the energy community believe we need a better battery. That's the focus of the work under way at the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago – and the reason for Mr. Obama's visit. The president is expected to urge Congress to provide an additional $2 billion for battery and transportation research meant to end the nation's use of oil.
Better batteries would not only extend the range of electric-only and hybrid cars, they would also make the nation's electric grid a lot "greener," capable of storing energy from wind turbines and solar panels on a large scale and then delivering it when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining.
"It’s not glitzy; it’s not glamorous," said Donald Sadoway, a battery researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., in a phone interview. "But – boy – if this thing works, it has enormous benefit." ( Continue… )
If a mine has received a federal permit to expand its current operations, can the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoke the permit retroactively to protect the nation’s water?
That was the issue at stake in a Washington, D.C., courtroom hearing held Thursday over Arch Coal’s 15-year battle to expand its mining operations in West Virginia. The case involves the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act and is closely watched by energy companies and other industries worried that EPA could also pull their environmental permits after the fact. Final answers aren’t expected anytime soon in a case that could go to the Supreme Court.
“Allowing EPA perpetual and unrestricted license to modify a permit after its issuance – even when the agency authorized to modify the permit has concluded there are no grounds to justify doing so – would destroy the certainty that the permit is intended to provide and upset Congress’s allocation of regulatory authority among the Corps, the States and EPA,” Arch Coal states in documents prepared for Thursday’s court hearing. “Congress did not give EPA such unbridled power.”
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Explaining the coal company’s position in the US Court of Appeals March 14, Arch Coal attorney Robert Rolfe insisted that although the EPA has a recognized role in the permitting process, “that role has to be exercised before the permit is issued,” not retroactively. ( Continue… )
The Great Plains are back. Written off a decade ago as a population drain – with some counties losing so many people that they were back to frontier status – portions of the nation's midsection have made a stunning comeback.
A big reason: the energy boom.
"After a long period of out-migration, some parts of the Great Plains ─ from just south of the Canadian border all the way down to West Texas ─ are experiencing rapid population growth," said Thomas Mesenbourg, acting director of the Census Bureau, in a release announcing the new population figures Thursday. "There are probably many factors fueling this growth on the prairie, but no doubt the energy boom is playing a role."
For example: The nation's fastest-growing metropolitan area is Midland, Texas, in the West Texas oil fields. Its population grew 4.6 percent between July 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012, census figures show. Oil-dependent Odessa, Texas, ranks No. 5 among the nation's fastest-growing metros. ( Continue… )
Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin has made a splash with his latest federal budget proposal, but in the energy portion of his plan, he has simply rehashed the themes that the Romney-Ryan ticket sounded during the 2012 presidential campaign:
- Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline;
- The opening up of more federal lands to oil and gas exploration;
- A reduction in federal loans to private energy companies.
That's not necessarily a bad thing – some of those ideas have bipartisan support. But the energy landscape has shifted since the 2012 election. Most notably, the hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" revolution has already put the US on course for virtual energy independence, making the Ryan plan seem dated. His plan also uses some questionable job estimates and was, apparently, so off-base in one area that a clean-energy chief executive has written the congressman to protest the claims.
"The Ryan budget is ideological blither-blather," said Joshua Freed, vice president for the clean energy program at Third Way, a think tank of centrist Democrats based in Washington. "There is an enormous opportunity for pragmatic regulatory reforms and policy action in energy," Mr. Freed added in a telephone interview. "But it requires a fresh look from both parties to accomplish." ( Continue… )
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) is spending $600 million on developing biofuels for motor vehicles from algae, but the company says success is still a quarter of a century away.
Over three years into a joint venture with Synthetic Genomics Inc., Exxon says the technology just isn’t there yet for algae-based fuels, though it had originally predicted it was only a decade away from producing these fuels.
So far, the JV has been unable to come up with a way to produce enough raw material from algae to supply a refinery, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson told PBS television, as reported by Bloomberg. (Related article: Camelina – Tomorrow’s Biofuel, Today)
“We’ve come to understand some limits of that technology, or limits as we understand it today, which doesn’t mean it’s limited forever,” Tillerson said. The venture is “probably further” than 25 years away from successfully developing fuels. ( Continue… )
We couldn’t pin down global warming, exactly, so now it’s re-labelled as climate change, which is an incredibly vague loaded term that no-one fully understands. The difficulty of pinning down this “wicked problem” has produced more uncertainty than ever and rendered the subject the purview of politics that has polarized the public and turned the issue into something reminiscent of the dark ages and conjuring up of weather-focused demons.
Amid these dark ages, the voice of former TV meteorologist and meteorological instrumentation specialist Anthony Watts has become unusually controversial. The knee-jerk reaction of a polarized public has been to place him in one of two climate change camps, and to categorize him as a “denier”. But Watts insists his latent climate change scepticism is pragmatic and based on his experience as a meteorologist and a long process of connecting the scientific dots. His message, he says, is misunderstood, and he best describes himself as “lukewarm” on the issue. He believes that climate change is happening, but that there’s no need for panic.
Pope Benedict XVI made environmentalism a central theme of his nearly eight years as Bishop of Rome, earning him the nickname "the green pope." With the conclave underway, it's possible that legacy will have some sway over the 115 red-robed cardinals charged with choosing a new pope.
Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras could further Catholic environmentalism if elected Pope, Mother Jones notes. Cardinal Rodríguez has called climate change a "faith issue," and has advocated for a global treaty to reduce worldwide carbon emissions.
For some, the greening of the church would be less an adaptation to modern trends, and more a reflection of traditional Christian values.
"It's not unlike the realization a few decades ago that social justice isn't a side issue for Christianity but a central aspect of it that flows out of our relationship to a loving God concerned for all people," wrote Robin Gottfried, director of the University of the South's Center for Religion and Environment in Sewanee, Tenn., in an e-mail. "[B]ecause many young people are greatly concerned about the environment and sustainability – by addressing these concerns the church also will position itself to address the youth and help stanch the flow of youth out of the church."
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There's a connection between a concern for natural resources and Catholicism's "long-standing, centuries-old" critique of consumerism and materialism, Randolph Haluza-DeLay, an editor of the forthcoming book "How the World’s Religions are Responding to Climate Change," said in a telephone interview. ( Continue… )
A continued viable domestic coal industry (Sponsor content)
Last week at the Platts Coal Properties & Investment conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Stephen Braverman, vice president for coal services, at DTE Coal Services predicted that “No matter what, the U.S. is still going to have a viable domestic coal industry.”
According to Platts, Braverman said “the end result of the slew of new regulations facing the industry will be bigger units that burn more coal.”
Braverman said, he predicts a 4% drop in coal-fired generation by 2020, and that older, high-heat rate plants are more at risk of being shuttered.
But larger, more efficient coal-fired plants will continue to operate and provide baseload generation, Braverman said.
That’s why affordable, stable electricity from coal is essential to this country. We need this natural resource—there is more than two centuries of coal in the U.S.—to keep the doors open at small businesses, power our hospitals and keep assembly lines running at manufacturing plants across the country.
America has depended on the reliable and abundant coal that comes from our land and powers our lives for more than a century. With the energy in America’s coal reserves being roughly equal to the world’s known oil reserves, it’s clear that coal should continue to be a reliable source of electricity for all of us.
The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster left some Americans wondering: Could such a destructive failure happen to a nuclear plant in the US?
Two years later, US officials say the country's nuclear plants are safe, but a new report from an environmental organization challenges that assertion.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found safety equipment problems and security shortcomings in a dozen nuclear plants across the country, according to a report the group released last week. While none of the issues resulted in injury to plant workers or the public, UCS says the frequency of the incidents are the result of lapses by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the agency charged with overseeing the nuclear industry.
“It’s evident the NRC is capable of being an effective watchdog,” Dave Lochbaum, director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project and author of the report, said in a statement. “But too often the agency does not live up to its potential, and we are still finding significant problems at nuclear plants that could trigger a serious accident.”
The nuclear industry disagrees. Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, said the UCS uses a misleading metric to measure safety issues. The NRC, by contrast, counts two significant, "abnormal occurrences" at US nuclear plants over the past decade as its benchmark, he said. ( Continue… )