Koonin said we need to transition to a much more efficient system with less pollution and wasted resources and the good news is that we’ve done it before. Since 1850, the US has shifted its energy sources a number of times, from wood to coal to oil to natural gas. These changes have taken between 50 to 100 years [and overlapped]. Change of this magnitude takes time; for example, dams last 100 years, but, even if cars last only 15 years, hybrid vehicles account for only 10% of the cars currently sold. This means that internal combustion engines could remain on the road for decades more.
However, we don’t have a century this time due to climate change. Koonin, the DOE, the Obama administration are planning for 2050, only 40 years away [and climate scientists have been saying “about a decade” since 2007 or so].
Some of the issues we must face are scale, as the dimensions, the sheer enormity of the changes needed are not yet fully appreciated by most people; ubiquity, because these changes must be across the board, all the houses, all the vehicles, all the generators, all the airplanes, all the uses of energy, fuels, and electricity, all with an 80 percent reduction in carbon [or greenhouse gas] emissions; longevity, as these are changes made for generations, at least a century if not more; and incumbency, as we have to work within the limitations and opportunities presented by the existing energy infrastructure. The coordination between the state and federal governments these energy innovations require will be unprecedented.
Undersecretary Koonin said 38% of our energy is used in buildings and the rest is split between transportation and industry. He talked mostly about transportation and buildings.
In transportation, new CAFE standards are needed. The EU is already at 42 mpg.
“A couple weeks ago, the US raised fuel economy standards, with the new standard for the average of the fleet being 35.5 mpg, and for passenger cars 39 mpg for 2016. It appears China is about to step up its game and increase its fuel economy standards as well. China already gets the equivalent of 35.8 mpg for the average of the fleet, and will be boosting that to 42.2 mpg in 2015.”
Current CAFE performance in the US are 28.5 for the fleet, 32.5 mph for cars, and 24.5 for light trucks.
Two of the promising technologies to improve internal combustion (IC) engines are homogeneous charge compression ignition, which has a higher efficiency than spark ignition, almost as high as diesel, and reduces nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The second is exhaust gas recirculation, which also lowers NOx. [Higher efficiency means less pollution. Less pollution means better health.] Koonin believes we will need all kinds of hybrid cars with combined IC and electric drives [and mass transit and human power vehicles?] to reach the 80% reduction by 2050 goal. But we will still need liquid fuels. He spoke in depth about one liquid fuel, butanol, an alcohol with a high flame point, safer than the other alcohols like methanol and ethanol. [He didn’t talk about hydrogen.]
With buildings, the big energy use in the residential sector is space heating and cooling. In the commercial sector, it is lighting. Here again, we need efficiency standards to conserve electricity as well as liquid and solid fuels. To improve efficiency we need monitoring to make sure we are meeting our standards [which also provides an opportunity for continuous improvement]. Utility regulations will have to decouple power production from efficiency [MA already has decoupled but I’m not sure what the state of play is presently in the Commonwealth]. Utilities should earn as much saving a kilowatt hour as producing one. Modernizing the grid and establishing a “Smart Grid” gives us the flexibility to balance a variety of sources and allows for better energy management and added savings.
The climate change legislation in both the House and Senate and any cap and trade plan must result in these changes. Portfolio standards will set the schedule for progress in reducing carbon emissions. Wind will probably supply 20 percent of electricity by 2020. There should be 35 GW of hydro, include pumped storage for wind electricity. Natural gas (methane) will become an intermediate fuel. [He did not talk about methane as a greenhouse gas.] Koonin [and the Obama adminstration] believe we need to invest in carbon capture and sequestration which means that we have to work toward clean coal. We will need nuclear fission. [Koonin did not talk about thorium.]
In the q and a after the formal remarks, one member of the audience asked what progress has been made in nuclear to make it a better partner to wind, wind and other renewables being intermittent renewables while nuclear and coal power plants are large and inflexible. Koonin replied that smaller scale nuclear plants are better but base load electricity is a necessity. [Bill Moomaw of Tufts and the IPCC reported to the Boston Area Solar Energy Association in September 2009 that Germany has finished a successful one year test of a renewable baseload system.]
cross posted to dailykos and eurotribune