Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Our Energy Future - II

Peak Oil graph
Where will our energy come from in the future? Peak oil is upon us, even if the exact date is not yet conclusively known. Nuclear power is at best a transitional step, and quite costly when factoring in construction and external costs. What's left?

How about 100% from renewable sources? A new report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggests Europe could be powered entirely by renewable sources, albeit at substantial cost of transition, especially on inter-continental transmission:
A "super-smart" grid powered by solar farms in North Africa, wind farms in northern Europe and the North Sea, hydro-electric from Scandinavia and the Alps and a complement of biomass and marine could render carbon-based fuels obsolete for electricity by 2050, said the report.

The goal is achievable even without the use of nuclear energy, the mainstay of electricity in France.
While the costs and challenges are great, those of clinging to the fossil economy would be much greater. But what is remarkable, of course, is that the modern industrial economy of Europe, roughly the same size as that of the United States, could be run entirely on renewable energy.

Thus, today's announcement by President Obama to expand off-shore oil drilling in the United States is especially disappointing.
It appears Obama is following the playbook in energy that he did with health care: ceding the lead to Congress to produce a variety of half-hearted and conflicting proposals while he unilaterally compromises with himself:
Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate have already made significant concessions on coal and nuclear power to try to win votes from Republicans and moderate Democrats. The new plan now grants one of the biggest items on the oil industry’s wish list — access to vast areas of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling.
His political aim seems obvious:
Daniel Yergin, chairman of the research firm IHS-CERA, said the announcement was designed to help build support for broad energy and climate change legislation being drafted in Congress. Senate negotiators have been meeting with industry leaders to write a bill that combines caps on greenhouse gas emissions with protections for coal-fired power plants, expanded offshore drilling and incentives for nuclear power.
There was little support from environmentalists. Said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune:
The oil industry already has access to drilling on millions of acres of America's public lands and water. We don't need to hand over our last protected pristine coastal areas just so oil companies can break more profit records.
Obama's tepid triangulation won little support from conservatives, whose reaction ranged from complaints that the commitment to oil drilling was inadequate to open hostility: House Minority Leader John Boehner whined that Obama "continues to defy the will of the American people."

In fairness, Obama has complained for years that no, he really hasn't changed his position on offshore oil drilling:
He would be willing to compromise on his position against offshore oil drilling if it were part of a more overarching strategy to lower energy costs.
Obama's announcement is largely symbolic, and designed as an olive branch to Senator Lindsay Graham and others looking for a grand gesture that opens the door to an all-party compromise. But it is a lousy symbol as immediate reactions show, and reciprocation by Republicans in Congress is less likely than a gaggle of winged pigs. Oil production would take years to reach market, and will do little to increase oil supply. And of course, more oil means more carbon emissions, both in the production and the use of the oil. Which makes the prospects in Europe all than much more of a beacon for real progress:
The switch to renewables is more than a matter of energy security, said the report, backed by research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the European Climate Forum, both based in Potsdam, Germany.

"Substantial and fairly rapid decarbonisation... will have to take place if the world is to have any chance of staying within the 2.0 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) goal for limiting the effects of global warming," the report said.
"All of the above" is not a credible energy policy. Leadership means making choices, picking some options and rejecting others. Small, hesitant commitments to a little of everything will produce not much of anything.

Update: fixed broken sentence
Digg It! Delicious Stumble Technorati Twitter Facebook

No comments: