… and it truly comes down to simply putting a price on carbon.
Hansen supports new nuclear technologies, fast reactors and thorium reactors with safe shutdown and automatic or no cooling. He believes that renewables are not enough. That, contra Amory Lovins, efficiency is not enough.
Some experts support nuclear, others oppose. Some support shale as a transition, others oppose. Some think efficiency is all we need, others think it’s not even close.
Here’s what we do know:
1. Coal has twice the carbon emissions of natural gas.
2. It’s far easier to decarbonize electricity than it is motor vehicle fuels or heating fuels.
3. Much electric policy is set at the state level, and different parts of the country have both different natural resources and different cultural preferences with respect to energy production.
If we focus on those three realities, we get to a few places quickly:
(a) Retire coal. Now. As much as possible. There are loads of coal fired power plants that are in excess of 50 years old — they’ve lived their useful lives. Shut them down.
(b) Energy efficiency is the most cost effective, most carbon-reduction effective resources. Let’s do as much of it as we can. This includes both increasing minimum performance standards for buildings and autos, as well as programs to help building owners improve their envelopes.
(c) Where renewable energy is cheapest — let’s do lots of it. Build wires to get it to urban areas.
(d) PV is expensive, but it can go anywhere. Keep at it.
(e) Not enough? Fine. Now let’s talk about how different regions are going to make up the capacity and/or energy they need because (a) exceeds (b) + (c) + (d) in your neck of the woods. Want nuclear? Go for it. It’s expensive, but it can be done. Want combined cycle natural gas? It’s got more flexibility, less cost, and less risk than nuclear, but it does have carbon emissions. Want storage? For sure — it gets you capacity, but you’ve got to build even more (c) or (d) to create the energy for it. Want to let folks figure out the most economically efficient way to remove carbon? Put a price on it — all of it. Gasoline, home heating oil, natural gas, coal, bunker fuel, the works. Folks will figure out that switching from fuel oil to an electric air source heat pump will save them oodles, and you get less emissions to boot. MPG will continue to go up.
Instead of worrying about what specific solution the giant ecosystem of 300 million Americans, 1000s of large companies, 10,000s of small companies, and 1000s of governments should pursue, just eliminate the problem. Make it harder to emit carbon, and folks will figure it out. Not everybody will get it right the first time through, and there’ll be lots of competing ideas. S’OK. That’s how we do here in America.
So yes, the carbon tax. Make it so. Make it just, but make it so.
I find it hard to believe that our own Marcellus Shale isn’t under our own feet and over our heads, in the form of our own inefficient buildings, cars, appliances, etc. Our own EnerNOC, for instance, is making a business helping companies find those efficiencies. You know how we joke about eliminating the “Department of Waste” to find tax dollar savings? There actually is one in energy efficiency, and people are making money finding it.