This information was derived from a meeting in November of 2008:
Outline of policy options.
by Dr. Jim Hansen
The imperative of near-term termination of coal emissions (but not necessarily coal use) requires fundamental advances in energy technologies. Such advances would be needed anyhow, as fossil fuel reserves dwindle, but the climate crisis demands that they be achieved rapidly.
Fortunately, actions that solve the climate problem can be designed so as to also improve energy security and restore economic well-being.
A workshop held in Washington, DC on 3 November 2008 outlined options (presentations are at http://www.mediafire.com/nov3workshop). The workshop focused on electrical energy, because that is the principal use of coal. Also electricity is more and more the energy carrier of choice, because it is clean, much desired in developing countries, and a likely replacement or partial replacement for oil in transportation.
Workshop topics, in priority order, were:
- energy efficiency,
- renewable energies,
- electric grid improvements,
- nuclear power,
- carbon capture and sequestration.
Energy efficiency improvements have the potential to obviate the need for additional electric power in all parts of the country during the next few decades and allow retirement of some existing coal plants. Achievement of the efficiency potential requires both regulations and a carbon tax. National building codes are needed, and higher standards for appliances, especially electronics, where standby power has become a large unnecessary drain of energy.
Economic incentives for utilities must be changed so that profits increase with increased energy conservation, not in proportion to amount of energy sold.
Renewable energies are gaining in economic competition with fossil fuels, but in the absence of wise policies there is the danger that declining prices for fossil fuels, and continuation of fossil fuel subsidies, could cause a major setback. The most effective and efficient way to support renewable energy is via a carbon tax (see below).
National Electric Grid
The national electric grid can be made more reliable and “smarter” in a number of ways.
Priority will be needed for constructing a low-loss grid from regions with plentiful renewable energy to other parts of the nation, if renewable energies are to be a replacement for coal.
Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energies
Energy efficiency, renewable energies, and an improved grid deserve priority and there is a hope that they could provide all of our electric power requirements. However, the greatest threat to the planet may be the potential gap between that presumption (100% “soft” energy) and reality, with the gap being filled by continued use of coal-fired power.
Therefore we should undertake urgent focused R&D programs in both next generation nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration. These programs could be carried out most rapidly and effectively in full cooperation with China and/or India, and other countries.
Priority & Resources
Given appropriate priority and resources, the option of secure, low-waste 4th generation nuclear power (see below) could be available within about a decade. If, by then, wind, solar, other renewables, and an improved grid prove to be capable of handling all of our electrical energy needs, there would be no imperative to construct nuclear plants in the United States.
Many energy experts consider an all-renewable scenario to be implausible in the time-frame when coal emissions must be phased out, but it is not necessary to debate that matter.
However, it would be dangerous to proceed under the presumption that we will soon have all-renewable electric power. Also it would be inappropriate to impose a similar presumption on China and India. Both countries project large increases in their energy needs, both countries have highly polluted atmospheres primarily due to excessive coal use, and both countries stand to suffer inordinately if global climate change continues.
The entire world stands to gain if China and India have options to reduce their CO2 emissions and air pollution. Mercury emissions from their coal plants, for example, are polluting the global atmosphere and ocean and affecting the safety of foods, especially fish, on a near-global scale. And there is little hope of stabilizing climate unless China and India have low- and no-CO2 energy options.
Carbon Capture & Sequestration
We should also urgently pursue R&D for carbon capture and sequestration. Here too this may be done most expeditiously and effectively via cooperation with China and India.
Note that, even if it is decided that coal can be left in the ground, carbon capture and sequestration with other fuels still may be needed to draw down the amount of CO2 in the air.
An effective way to achieve drawdown would be to burn biofuels in power plants and capture the CO2, with the biofuels derived from agricultural or urban wastes or grown on degraded lands using little or no fossil fuel inputs.
Opponents of nuclear power and carbon capture must not be allowed to slow these projects. No commitment for large-scale deployment of either 4th generation nuclear power or carbon capture is needed at this time. If energy efficiency and renewable energies prove sufficient for energy needs, some countries may choose to use neither nuclear power nor coal. However, we must be certain that proven options for complete phase-out of coal emissions are available.
Jim Hansen reviews atmospheric CO2 reduction targets and considerations:
Ed Mazria examines energy efficiency in buildings:
Mark Levine reviews energy intensity:
Chuck Kutscher reviews Geothermal Power:
Chuck Kutscher reviews biomass potentials:
Rob Gramlich reviews wind transmission power:
Doug Hall reviews solar photovoltaic power:
Fred Morse reviews solar thermal power:
Steve Hauser reviews advantages of improving the grid:
Current Status of Nuclear Energy
George Davis reviews current status of nuclear energy:
Kirk Sorensen reviews current status of nuclear thorium power:
Carbon Capture & Sequestration (CCS)
Howard Herzog reviews CCS technology:
Ed Rubin reviews CCS technology
A Tour of Climate Protection Technology Decision Space
Michael Hoexter reviews climate protection decision space: