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On The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Red Herring

All true, though other factors also play significant roles, including the quality and availability of practical mass tranit options and greater walkability of many city centers.

May 15, 2015    View Comment    

On The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Red Herring


Your argument certainly aligns with intuition but what does the evidence show? Have we seen a dramatic retreat from carbon-based energy in places where carbon taxes or their proxies (e.g., cap & trade) have been tried? Or is the effect of the relatively low carbon prices in states participating in the RGGI market, to take one example, dwarfed by the impact of very large (per unit of energy) incentives for renewables in the form of production or investment tax credits, renewable portfolio standards and other policies?

Despite decades of very high taxation on petroleum products and other fuels in Europe, these fuels have not disappeared from European economies. And it has taken Herculean subsidies (e.g., the German solar FIT, which is approaching a cumulative €50 B) to prompt signficant uptake of renewables in Europe, in spite of the high taxes on other forms of energy.


May 14, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?


I firmly believe that competition in transportation energy among a variety of alternatives will increase before it reconverges down the road. So I don't object to synfuels from whatever source as another alternative to petroleum-based fuels. However, I do object to driving them "via policy support" of the kind that has given us an ethanol industry we no longer need, with its unintended consequences for food price volatility and environmental impacts from fertilizer runoff. The opportunities for unintended consequences would multiply if we pushed an alternative like Audi's that we know is inherently much more energy inefficient than what it's intended to replace, especially when better alternatives (EV, H2, CNG) alerady have a big head start.

May 7, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?


My main objections to this approach boil down to a simple fact. Even in its "450" (2 deg. C) scenario that the IEA just confirmed we are not on track to achieve, 60% of the world's energy would still come from fossil fuels in 2040. (75%  in the "New Policies" scenario that we might reach.) So for at least the next several decades, we are very unlikely to have such a surplus of low-emission energy to justify using it so inefficienty.

Electricity is already at the top of the energy hill Robert described. Using it to make synthetic liquid fuels may be elegant engineering, but is it smart?

May 6, 2015    View Comment    

On Is Audi's Carbon-Neutral Diesel a Game-Changer?


Thank you for taking the time and effort to explain in such clear detail why this idea is a lot more complicated, and ultimately less attractive, than it appears.

Building on your discussion near the end concerning why any carbon inputs to the process would be magnified, the same logic applies in reverse for the low-carbon inputs used into this process: their benefits would be shrunk, compared to other uses in which they more directly displaced high-carbon fuels like coal or fuel oil. Fundamentally, Audi is mistakenly--for understandable reasons--drawing the "envelope" for its analysis too close to the vehicle, rather than encompassing the broader energy system where the renewable energy sources it needs as inputs function.

It's hard to avoid concluding that this is a publicity, or perhaps more apt, political stunt. Audi builds highly refined cars based mainly on a technology that its home government's policies are intended to make obsolete. This demonstration is clearly aimed at the politicians behind those policies. 

I can understand why Audi might deem it necessary to demonstrate another pathway, aside from running their ICE cars on H2, for reaching zero emissions without producing only EVs. However, that doesn't mean it will ever go into mass production, especially since Germany has turned its back on the most practical energy source for such a process, nuclear power. As a practical matter, the emissions per km of diesel hybrids running on petroleum diesel are probably low enough already to meet Germany's national emissions reduction goals to mid-century, if the bulk of the decarbonization occurs in the power sector, where there are more and better options available.  

May 6, 2015    View Comment    

On Tesla Battery Economics: On the Path to Disruption

Although I can certainly see the allure for early adopters and technophiles at this price the cost is still a long way from an attractive level for average American consumers. Consider that the average residential electricity price is currently around 12 cents per kWh, roughly what I pay in VA. Rooftop solar comes close to matching retail electricity, after tax credits, especially in higher-cost states, but as you show adding storage more than doubles the cost for all kWh shifted from PV in daylight to evening or nighttime use.

And without a solar array, as an alternative to a backup generator, you have to be in love with the technology to prefer this to buying a Honda or other gas generator at Home Depot for 1/5th-1/3rd the price.

Selling more batteries makes lots of sense for Tesla and its business partners and investors. It will be interesting to see how many consumers think it makes sense for them.

May 4, 2015    View Comment    

On We're Using Natural Gas All Wrong for the Climate


If we're talking about an entirely new pipeline to feed the power plant, you may be right. But if we're comparing the cost of making the same pipeline 40% bigger, using the same right of way, construction resources, etc., to the cost of an entire, brand new regional gas distribution.reticulation network, I don't see it as an obvious choice without running the numbers on both. But then maybe I'm too focused on what it would cost to put in a new distribution network in a developed country, where that cost has likely already been incurred years ago, vs. what it would cost in a developing country now, with cheaper labor, etc.

Even if it did cost more to deliver the gas to individual users than delivering the larger quantity of gas to a power plant, I suspect the difference would be defrayed over time by the benefits you describe elsewhere in your analysis.

May 1, 2015    View Comment    

On We're Using Natural Gas All Wrong for the Climate


You make a strong case for end-use gas substituting for electricity, and other than for our clothes dryer my family has maximized this. However, one of your assumptions under the "second practical question" can't be taken at face value without additional cost estimates.

"If the same gas is instead supplied to a power plant, it will likewise have been gathered and processed and delivered via pipeline to the power plant, so these costs are the same in the two alternatives (somewhat more for the power option, actually, as it needs 40% more gas to deliver the same end-use energy). "

Certainly the gas would have to be gathered from wells, processed and delivered to the regional market in both cases. However, it is not at all clear to me that a 40% larger gas pipeline to feed a power plant would cost more than the signficant investment required to build a complete gas distribution network (reticulation) down to individual homes and businesses, if it didn't already exist. My guess is the infrastructure for the former would actually cost quite a bit less, and could be constucted faster if permitting weren't an issue.

In the developed world, most such comparisons would involve only incremental costs, which for putting more gas into local distrition would be modest. However, in developing countries lacking a "last mile" gas grid, particularly those relying on expensive imported gas, the comparison of these two alternatives would have to be worked out rigously on a full-cost basis.

April 30, 2015    View Comment    

On Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas are on the Rise, Confirm Latest EPA Data


Context matters, and a review of the actual numbers involved provides the context that is missing from your post. As you stated, EPA's tally of reported methane emissions from "natural gas systems" and "petroleum systems" increased by 2.8% from 2012 to '13. Looking beyond a single year, though, the net increase since 2010 has been just under 1%. During that period combined US oil and gas production grew by 22%, and not from a small base as we so often have to add in regard to other energy sources. 

In other words, methane emissions appear to be going up slightly because the US has experienced a technology-driven step-change in hydrocarbon production, and emissions have significantly lagged the growth of output. Doesn't that suggest steady improvements in managing methane leakage?

I agree that the industry can do more to reduce methane emissions, but I wouldn't trade our current situation for the one in which we found ourselves in 2005, when methane emissions from oil and gas were dropping because our production was in deep decline and our import dependence (with embedded emissions somewhere else) was going up every year.




April 27, 2015    View Comment    

On Throwing the Carbon Capture Baby Out with the Coal Bath Water


I think you are missing the point. Whether coal is 8% of US/EU primary energy in 2040, as you suggest, or 13% and 10%, respectively, as the IEA's 2014 WEO actually projects, it would have an even more disproportionate share of emissions than today as the overall mix decarbonizes. CCS would thus still be a relevant strategy under those assumptions.

As for the choice of IEA scenarios, what counts isn't what we would prefer in a normative sense, but what is actually feasible under the circumstances. Pehaps this explains the heightened interest in adaptation measures in recent years.

April 27, 2015    View Comment    

On Throwing the Carbon Capture Baby Out with the Coal Bath Water

Bruce, Take a look at the current energy mix. Per the IEA, fossil fuels supply 82% of global primary energy today and are expected ("New Policies Scenario") to supply 75% in 2040. Even in their optimistic "450" scenario--which the IEA itself says we are not on track to achieve--in 25 years coal, gas and oil would still provide 60% of an energy pie that's bigger than today's. So this isn't about stranded assets: no matter how you slice it, coal and other fossil energy will remain in the mix for a long time, albeit with a reduced share of total energy.

CCS provides a way to mitigate directly the impact of energy sources we won't be able to phase out for a long time, for various reasons of scale, cost, reliabiliity, infrastructure, etc. Maybe it turns out to be too expensive, even on an "nth plant" basis, in which case we don't do it and will instead live with the higher emissions. But if we're serious about reducing emissions without kneecapping the global economic growth that's the crucial fuel for such an effort, then it is premature to rule out CCS.

April 24, 2015    View Comment    

On Going Solar Should Be No More Difficult than Getting Cable TV

Perhaps another way to think about this analogy is to imagine what a cable hookup would entail if users were pushing their own programming back into the cable system for part of the day (as distinct from internet uploads.)

April 23, 2015    View Comment