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Comments by Mark Caine Subscribe

On Collecting and Spending Carbon Emissions Revenue

Good piece, and interesting debate. On the one hand, hypothecation offers the tantalizing possibility of significantly increased R&D funding for low-carbon energy innovation, which is necessary. Isabel Galiana, Chris Green, and others have been arguing for this for years, as summarized in their 2010 Hartwell Paper.

On the other hand, the political prospects of a carbon tax, at least in the US, are significantly higher if the carbon tax can be said to be revenue-neutral. But proceeds from such a tax would have to go into the national treasury, where it would probably not be used to induce low-carbon innovation.

It's a tough nut to crack. My sense is that a hypothecated carbon tax, even a tiny one, would provide more long-term benefit than a non-hypothecated version. It's unlikely that carbon taxes could rise to a level sufficient to change behavior any time soon, so better to leave the tax low but make sure the proceeds are spent strategically. Over time the tax can rise as low-carbon sources decrease in cost and improve in performance.

Of course this all presupposes that economy-wide carbon taxes of any sort will be possible in large emitter countries (especially the US), which can't be taken as a given in the short to medium term.

May 10, 2013    View Comment    

On IEA: Global Progress on Clean Energy Has Stalled, New Policies Needed

Thanks for your comment Randy. I'd second your recommendation of Smil - he is essential reading for anyone interested in energy transition. Or, for that matter, agricultural and natural resources.

 

April 19, 2013    View Comment    

On For New Energy Sources, Unlocking Technological Energy Innovation

Thanks for your comment Roger, and for the link to Professor Kim's presentation. I'm not especially bullish on LENR, mainly because I think the time horizons involved in developing and commercializing it are too long. My guess is that to the extent that we embrace nuclear in the coming decades, it will be through deployment of existing Gen 3/3+ technologies and possibly some of the promising Gen 4 concepts currently in development.


That said, I do support continuing basic research on blue sky possibilities in LENR and nuclear fusion more generally.

 

 

April 3, 2013    View Comment    

On Oil Sands: The Resources, The Technologies, The Consequences

Mark -


Thanks for your comment, which correctly identifies an important consideration surrounding the exploitation of Canadian oil sands. As you mention, Canada has stronger environmental regulations than most countries, which means that extraction sites for oil and other resources tend to be less damanging to the local environment than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

A similar logic applies to the situation south of the border, where some of the KXL syncrude would be consumed: because of industrial and environmental regulations in the US, consumption of Canadian syncrude in the US would likely be more efficient than consumption in Asia, where much of the oil might otherwise flow.


Knowing that the US and Canada have stronger environmental protections than many producers and consumers of oil complicates the KXL picture. If Canadian syncrude would be sent to China in the absence of KXL, is blocking the pipeline a net climate benefit? If less investment into oil extraction in Canada means more investment in less stable, environmentally and socially conscious countries, is Canadian oil sands extraction ultimately a better proposition?

 

 

February 23, 2013    View Comment    

On Oil Sands: The Resources, The Technologies, The Consequences

Thanks for your comment John, and for linking me and other readers to your WTW analysis. The reason I provided a range encompassing both government and industry estimates is that in my view the exact syncrude vs. crude WTW GHG emissions differential remains uncertain. As you correctly highlight, the outcome of any given analysis depends on the assumptions governing the model being used, which can differ widely. It's therefore extremely important to analyse a model carefully before accepting its findings and using them to inform policy making.

With that said, I haven't come across many  criticisms of the assumptions underlying the GREET model, though I also haven't studied in detail the components covering the refining of current fossil fuels. Can you point me to some independent analysis of the faults in GREET that you identify? 

February 23, 2013    View Comment    

On Oil Sands: The Resources, The Technologies, The Consequences

I'm always looking for sage advice!

February 12, 2013    View Comment    

On Oil Sands: The Resources, The Technologies, The Consequences

Thanks Bob. My goal in this post was to provide a modest overview of the 'good information' that you highlight as necessary to making the best decision(s) on these resources. But, as you suggest, the information provided can't tell us exactly what to do: it merely clarifies the issues at play in our decisions.

Dan Sarewitz done some excellent writing (PDF) on how disputes about fundamental values often take the form of arguments over science. As Dan highlights, science can never 'tell us' what to do: ultimately, we have to make decisions and resolve disputes through a deliberative democratic process, to the extent that this is possible given the contraints on our imperfect democratic system.


As discussions over Keystone XL and oil sands development move forward, let's hope we can have the right conversations and making smart decisions accordingly.

February 12, 2013    View Comment    

On Oil Sands: The Resources, The Technologies, The Consequences

Thanks for this comment Robert.

I agree with you that the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline is a proxy debate over oil sands exploitation more broadly, and that this exploitation is likely to happen whether or not the pipeline is built. That said, it does seem to me that the movement against the pipeline has slowed down the exploitation of the oil sands by injecting uncertainty into the economics and logistics of major oil sands projects. This represents a victory -- at least a temporary one -- for those fighting against the pipeline. 

You're also correct to point out that what we ultimately need are new, clean technologies capable of providing the same (or better) energy services offered by oil. We sometimes forget just how extraordinary a substance oil is: it's very hard to beat on energy density, stability, and transportability. This is why many clean energy efforts, e.g. advanced biofuels development, focus on emulating its properties. A clean, cheap, energy dense oil substitute would go a long way towards curtailing our CO2 emissions.


Finally, I wasn't aware of efforts to use nuclear power to extract the bitumen from oil sands. That would certainly impact the resource's EROEI and the well-to-wheels carbon emissions oil sands oil, though it's hard to say by how much. I'll be keeping a close eye on those efforts.

 

February 12, 2013    View Comment    

On Oil Sands: The Resources, The Technologies, The Consequences

Thanks for this reply Rick. You're absolutely correct that the scale of this resource places it amongst the world's most significant. It's therefore important that we assess it carefully and make smart decisions about how we engage with it.

I'm curious about your statement that Keystone XL is bad energy strategy. What about it do you think is a bad strategic move? Are you opposed just to the pipeline, or to the exploitation of the oil sands in general?

I'm going to be diving into these issues much more deeply in my next post, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts (and those of others) in the meantime.

 

February 12, 2013    View Comment    

On New Energy Sources: Possibilities and Prospects

Thanks for your comment Paul.You're right that taking nuclear off the table makes the challenge of getting to a low-carbon energy mix that much more difficult. And you may well be right that China will capture the value of the future nuclear industry as companies and governments in North America and Europe continue to drag their feet. 

That said, I wouldn't write off wind w/ gas backup so quickly: prices are coming down while capacity factors and turbine size (especially offshore) continue increasing. Intermittency will continue to be a problem, but one that better storage and grid mgmt will help mitigate.

The larger point, I think, is that no one energy source will ever power the planet. The last time we had just one energy source was before the industrial revolution, when we relied almost entirely on biomass for local, small-scale energy needs. We'll continue to have an energy mix going forward, as we have since coal began eating market share from biomass in the 18th century. The question is what this energy mix will look like and how quickly it will transition away from coal, oil, and gas and towards lower-carbon alternatives. As I mention in the article, much hinges on policy and investment decisions. 

Finally, I don't think you have to be a policy expert or scientist to have thoughts on energy. Given that our energy use impacts everyone in the world, my view is that everyone is entitled to have views on the topic. Thanks for sharing yours!

January 21, 2013    View Comment    

On New Energy Sources: Possibilities and Prospects

Thanks for your comment Jessee. I agree that advanced materials could hold the key to unlocking significant performance improvements and cost reductions across a broad range of technologies, from solar and wind to storage and even nuclear. The DOE hub is a great step towards realizing this potential. I also agree that we're on a pathway towards a cleaner and more efficient energy mix. Smart policy and investment decisions will be key, as will innovative R&D and better ways of moving promising technology from the lab to the market.

January 21, 2013    View Comment    

On New Energy Sources: Possibilities and Prospects

Thanks for your comment John. It certainly is amazing that we burn biomass at present levels, and that biomass's share of primary energy supply has remained steady for several decades. It's even more amazing given the deleterious impacts of black carbon (soot) emissions, of which biomass burning is a major source. We've known about the local impacts of black carbon for some time, and its (very serious) impact on the climate is becoming clearer and clearer.

January 21, 2013    View Comment