Monday, March 31, 2008

Doing it the Hard Way

The threat of global warming is truly an inconvenient truth of life in the 21st century. One of the most troublesome inconveniences is the fact that we cannot go on building coal plants to meet our energy needs as we have done in the past. That is because coal in uniquely good at spewing millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming, into the atmosphere every year.

Santee Cooper, unfortunately, is learning this the hard way. As of 2006, nearly 80% of Santee Cooper's energy came from coal. If its plans unfold as they'd like, they will have added 2400 additional megawatts of coal to their system between 2006 and 2016, dramatically increasing their dependence on coal and nearly doubling their greenhouse gas emissions to the size of a country like New Zealand.

This "all eggs in one basket" strategy puts Santee Cooper's customers (and really the whole world) at great risk. Clearly, they are not taking global warming seriously.

They say they'd rather not build a coal plant (which is good), BUT the technology is not available to do it any other way (which is wrong). But don't take it from me. Below is a weekly "Climate Fact" from the folks at Environmental Defense. Santee Cooper could play a role in nearly every one of the 5 sectors indentified below.

We CAN do it! Technology exists to cut greenhouse gases.

Think we don’t have the technology to significantly cut our greenhouse gas emissions? Think again.

In December of 2007 the widely-respected management consulting firm McKinsey & Company released an analysis[1] showing that the U.S. has the technologies available today that can significantly cut U.S. emissions. In fact, the report identifies more than 250 opportunities within the U.S. to cut emissions using conservative assumptions: No less than 80 percent of these reductions can be had with technologies that have already been proven to work at a commercial scale, while the remainder can be achieved by existing technologies with high-potential for commercialization by 2030.

All together the emission-cutting opportunities McKinsey identifies could result in U.S. emissions in 2030 that are 28 percent below 2005 levels, about the level called for in leading climate legislation.

These technologies fall into five key sectors:

1. Buildings and Appliances – Increasing energy efficiency in buildings and appliances can cut up to 870 million tons of annual emissions – and actually save consumers money in doing so.

2. Transportation – Lowering the carbon intensity of fuels and improving the efficiency of transportation can reduce emissions by up to 660 million tons each year.

3. Industry – Deploying a variety of existing technologies in the industrial sector, like expanding the practice of combined heat and power and recovering non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, could cut up to 770 million tons annually, many of which can directly benefit companies’ bottom-line.

4. Carbon Sinks – Expanding and enhancing carbon sinks in agriculture and forest lands can capture up to 590 million tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere each year, which can also benefit farmers and create new habitat for wildlife.

5. Electric power production – A variety of options exist for the utility sector—including the expansion of renewables like wind and solar, improving the thermal efficiency of electric generation, and co-firing fossil fuel with biomass, as well as other options— which combined could cut up to 1,570 million tons each year.

McKinsey also found that the total cost of adopting these technologies is small: Nearly 40 percent of the emission-reduction opportunities would not only pay for themselves, but earn enough savings to largely offset the cost of more expensive options. And, of course, the report does not even consider the costs to society of not taking action on climate change, or the benefits of doing so.

McKinsey did warn, however, that unless we enact strong policies we will fail to capture these opportunities. In fact, we may miss opportunities – especially the cheapest ones – if we wait too long. In other words, the more we delay, the harder and more expensive is becomes to reduce emissions.

We have the technology to reduce emissions steeply and cheaply – if we act soon. It’s time to cap emissions now.

[1] Reducing US Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much at What Cost?, conducted by McKinsey & Company and published jointly with the Conference Board in November , 2007is available here.

6 comments:

cool Kim said...

Hey Nrgy! You found it! The Rosetta Stone for all of our energy problems! You are always looking for the hidden truth. Great job!

Oh, but wait. There's something missing from the report. From page xvii:

"We DID NOT examine economy-wide effects associated with abating greenhouse gases, such as shifts in employment, impact on existing or new industries, or changes in the global competitiveness of U.S. businesses."

Hmmm.. Wonder what those are? Seems like a big hole in the analysis to me.

You can have zero emissions for $100,000 said...

Yes, I agree that the technology exists to lower our carbon dioxide emissions. But at what price? These options do not exist solely for utilities - any homeowner in the United States can have their home a "zero emissions home" if they so choose.

If you really believe that
"McKinsey also found that the total cost of adopting these technologies is small: Nearly 40 percent of the emission-reduction opportunities would not only pay for themselves, but earn enough savings to largely offset the cost of more expensive options. And, of course, the report does not even consider the costs to society of not taking action on climate change, or the benefits of doing so" then why isn't your home off the grid? Is the Southern Environmental Law Center or the Coastal Conservation League still using "dirty energy"?

Can someone from either of these hypocrite organizations explain why they don't spend $100,000 for a photovoltaic system with battery backup? Could economics be an issue here? Someone answer, please, and you may make me change my mind. If you can give me at least one good reason then I may join your cause.

Anonymous said...

Cool Kim, I realize you are just parroting the latest rhetorical strategy from the fossil camp (i.e. moving from denying climate change to decrying the "costs" of action), but you should stick to hawking coal (or maybe not, since probably only the dinosaurs of your industry are going to get stomped by impending GHG regulation):

"Economic studies have found that there are many potential policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for which the total benefits outweigh the total costs. For the United States in particular, sound economic analysis shows that there are policy options that would slow climate change without harming American living standards, and these measures may in fact improve U.S. productivity in the longer run."
— From a statement signed by ~2500 economists led by Nobel laureates Kenneth Arrow and Robert Solow, at a January 1997 meeting of the American Economics Association. Italics added for emphasis.

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