Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting China this week, and she seems to be making climate change a key issue on her trip. While in Beijing, she talked about how although the Chinese people are certainly entitled to improve their standard of living, the issue of greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed.
It’s no secret, of course, that China has been building coal-fired power plants at a blistering pace (two per week) to provide electricity to its rapidly growing middle class. The argument in defense of this has traditionally been: Yes, China is emitting lots of greenhouse gases, but it’s still less than the US when you consider emissions per capita. Plus, the US used coal to develop quickly, so why shouldn’t China?
Secretary Clinton responded by saying that, first of all, China’s per-capita emissions have now exceeded the US. Secondly, climate change doesn’t care about per-capita anything – it’s about the total amount of emissions, period. And lastly: True, the US developed using coal, but that was a mistake. Please don’t repeat our mistake.
The subtle finger-pointing was put aside, however, when Secretary Clinton took a tour of Beijing’s new Taiyanggong Thermal Power Plant. This CHCP (combined-heating-cooling-and-power plant) uses natural gas to drive the turbine, part of the waste heat for municipal heating and the rest of the waste heat for cooling (via absorption coolers). This power plant does not emit the particulates found in coal exhaust, emits less CO2, and is far more efficient. It’s a poster child for the next generation of Chinese power production.
But let’s be realistic for a second. It’s not going to be easy to replace the two weekly coal plants with two of these things. This plant was paid for in part by the UN Clean Development Mechanism, a fund that helps pay for clean energy projects in the “developing world”. This was great for publicity, but what we really need is either some favorable economics (maybe these plants would pay for themselves over time if there were a carbon tax/cap), or a serious government initiative to bring coal to a halt.
Image via Reuters
The Department of Energy has made it clear that they will try to make carbon sequestration work, and they recently put out a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to help them do it. The FOA states that up to $24 million will be set aside for projects that will test out different ways of sequestering carbon in “geological formations” – i.e. underground or underwater. The people who are granted the awards will get about 80% of the costs covered by the DOE.
There are various aspects that need to be investigated. First of all, carbon dioxide can be sequestered in different places. Some suggest pumping it into empty mines and natural gas wells, others promote the idea of storing it deeper under the Earth’s crust itself, and yet others advocate dissolving it into deep parts of the ocean. We don’t really know which one will be most effective and risk-free.
Besides figuring out the big picture, there are also details that need to be worked out, like establishing standards and protocols for measuring how much carbon dioxide is stored in a given system, how much leaks out, etc. And scientists also need to agree on a way to model these systems and predict how they will behave. Because we want to be pretty darn sure that the gas we pump underground stays there and doesn’t burst out like a colossal champagne bottle.
In other words, this is a big step for carbon sequestration in America – we’ve progressed from just talking about it all the time to actually challenging people to make it work.
Carbon sequestration is a funny thing. Dealing with greenhouse gas emissions by diverting them into the ground seems a lot more like treating the symptoms rather than the cause of our national energy disease. It’s not – to quote an overused and poorly defined word – “sustainable”. Still, the realists out there will remind me that attempting to curb global warming without it is impossible. In a perfect world, carbon sequestration represents an imperfect, but necessary transition technology. So let’s make that transition smooth, quick and successful.
Via Green Car Congress
Image via climatetechnology.gov
In November, Californians voted in favor of 800 miles of high-speed rail connecting cities throughout the state. The initiative promised major reductions in CO2 emissions and tons of new jobs, but the major drawback has been the hefty $10 billion price tag.
Californians should have felt some relief today as President Obama signed the stimulus bill that includes $9.3 billion in incentives for high-speed and intercity rail projects. Last Thursday, it was announced that California's high-speed rail project was eligible for assistance from the stimulus package, although an exact amount has yet to be allocated. Although voters approved the rail project, tax payers have been skeptical about the amount of the cost they'll be responsible for. Also, many people have criticized the 22-year schedule for building the rail system. An influx of federal money may help on both fronts - the tax burden may be lessened and construction may be able to move forward more quickly.
The $9.3 billion allotted for rail systems is actually an increase from the Senate version of the bill and is separate from $8.4 billion assigned to public transit agencies in the bill. Congress has definitely been responding to the growing need for mass transit and the money in the stimulus bill has the potential to do a lot of good in California and beyond.
It seems we've devoted quite a bit of attention to CFLs lately, but here's some news that addresses the number one complaint people have about CFLs: the mercury content. If CFLs aren't properly disposed of, they could leak mercury into landfills, and so far there haven't been many solutions offered. Here to help is the Green Action Project, an initiative that is offering free CFL recycling for non-profit and community organizations, charities, schools and events.
All any group has to do is prove a need for CFL recycling and agree to use their service to promote environmental awareness and the initiative will provide a ComPak CFL Recycling Center. The ComPak is an environmentally safe container where CFL bulbs can be disposed. Once the container is full - it can hold up to 180 bulbs - the user attaches the included FedEx return label and ships it to the recycling center.
According to the project's website, some Whole Foods stores in the Northeast have begun CFL recycling. For this to be effective, every community needs to have an organizaton or store that keeps the containers on hand so that people always have a place to recycle their bulbs. While I know that people still have other concerns about CFLs, this idea could take care of one of the major issues, at least until LEDs take over.
I have to admit, when I first read that analysts at McKinsey & Co were making global warming predictions, I was taken aback. Management consultants may be very smart, but most of them are not climate scientists by training…
After closer inspection, though, it became clear that the report mentioned in the headline was not about climate science. It was rather a broad, sweeping look at all of the different technologies out there that could potential reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years, and the relative costs and benefits of each.
In other words, this report gives a very realistic answer to the questions we’ve all been asking: 1. Can we keep CO2 emissions below dangerous levels? 2. What do we do? and 3. How much will it cost?
The short answer is: 1. Yes, 2. Improve energy efficiency, develop low carbon energy and conserve/replant forests, and 3. Between 500 and 800 billion Euros.
(To read either the executive summary or the full report, scroll to the bottom of this link)
For a bit more detail, keep reading…
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