Good News? Bad News? Confuse?


by Emil Morhardt

Woodard et al. (2019) have calculated that climate change is sufficiently disruptive of the global economy that it will lower carbon dioxide output significantly going forward.  In other words, no matter what we do about the Paris Climate Agreement, CO2 levels from burning fossil fuels are likely to fall.  This might be viewed as good news…it ought to offset the existing high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and at least stabilize things, never mind that the economy (and therefore, we) will suffer.  Not so fast. The other thing that climate change is doing is heating up the oceans which reduces their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere; this and other natural climate sinks are failing, so even with reduced human CO2 production, atmospheric levels are still going to rise.  Plus the global economy is going to sink. This latter fact suggests that we’ll have fewer economic resources (money) to spend on adapting to the adverse effects of climate change.  We know what these are: wealth inequality, crop failures, coastal flooding, etc.

I guess it’s bad news all around.

Woodard DLDavis SJRanderson JT (2019) Economic carbon cycle feedbacks may offset additional warming from natural feedbacks. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 116:759764.

Regulating Greenhouse Gas Pollution from Existing Power Plants

by Makari Krause

One of the most ambitious components of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP combines regulations on new and existing power plants and will drastically reduce power plant emissions once implemented. Authority for the CPP is granted by Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act and requires that the EPA issue a set of emissions guidelines. Once they have done this the states then need to come up with their own way of meeting those emissions guidelines but have discretion in deciding what instruments to use as long as the resulting abatement is either the same or superior to that mandated by the EPA. Continue reading

How to Reduce California’s Greenhouse Gases by 80%

by Emil Morhardt

According to the latest runs of a complex computer energy model (CA-TIMES) coming out of the University of California at Davis (Yang et al. 2015), the energy scene across California may be quite different by 2050. The model is not designed to predict what will happen, but instead to examine the economic and policy implications of just about every possible major perturbation of energy generation and use in the state to get us to the current policy goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. What results is a series of least-cost scenarios to get to various policy-driven energy endpoints. The bottom line is that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced enough to meet the 80% goal at low to moderate costs, but not without major investments in wind and solar power generation, production of synthetic fuels directly from biomass using the Fischer–Tropsch synfuel pyrolysis process (more about that in upcoming posts), and hydrogen production and distribution infrastructure to power fuel cells. Continue reading

Energy Storage Under Regulatory Uncertainty

by Emil Morhardt

A fundamental shortcoming of the US electricity grid is shortage of connected storage: the grid operators must instantaneously provide enough electricity to maintain an acceptable voltage and frequency by ramping generation up or down in real time, mostly using expensive CO2-releasing electricity from natural gas peaking plants, and if there isn’t enough demand to accommodate the electricity coming in from wind and solar, it just goes to waste. Amy L. Stein, writing in the Florida State University Law Review, does a masterful job of describing the existing energy storage facilities operating on the US grid, including hydroelectric pumped storage, compressed air energy storage, batteries, flywheels, and thermal energy, and the multiple grid services they provide. She then goes on to analyze the regulatory uncertainty that is partially responsible for the lack of grid storage, and makes an attempt at figuring out how to minimize it. This is a comprehensive document and worthy of reading by anyone interested in US energy storage initiatives.