Comments by David Levy Subscribe

On MIT Study: Rebound Effects Erode Auto Efficiency Gains

hi Jesse,

I think it's a mistake to take at face value the notion that this the rebound effect is just a function of consumer choice - the US auto companies have made design and marketing decisions resulting in larger, heavier, and more powerful cars, partly because they have found it tough to compete against smaller, more efficient cars from Japanese and European firms (though they are also getting bigger, it's true). The car companies have also tried to sell the story that larger cars are safer, resulting in an "arms race" - of course, larger cars are dangerous weapons for everyone else on the roads!

January 12, 2012    View Comment    

On Normal Accidents?

and I thought I was going to get attacked for minimizing the BP oil spill! and I agree completely re the everyday dangers of coal power - hence the need to really evaluate risks and costs. My main point is that complex systems generally CAN be managed to operate more safely over time, in an incremental fashion, but it's very hard to eliminate failure risk completely. This has important implications.

I don't claim to be an expert on nuclear engineering, and I do hear optimistic things about thorium nuclear - we had someone down to speak at UMass from Lightbridge, who was talking it up - but hardly an unbiased source!

as for costs, we are paying around 18c/kwh here in Mass. partly to bail out the bankrupt nukes, who cannot afford to decommission (oops, forgot to factor those costs in...)

But Bill, you ask that I "describe in detail the sequence of events that could produce a nuclear accident that ejects a large fraction of the core outside the containment building of a modern nuclear power plant."

- the problem with complex systems is that there are so many feedback loops between technical and human factors that it's hard a priori to describe the sequence that could lead to a release of toxic nuclear materials. Software engineers can check for rarely occuring bugs through simulation, but that's hard to do with live nuclear plants.

The French (and Japanese) experience tends to make me think that nuclear plants generally can be operated safely for decades on end, but we don't have data on thousands of plants (with new technologies) operating for hundreds of years. What failure rate is acceptable?

and back to the question of nuclear waste - the Hanford example is more than carelessness - if nuclear technology proliferates, at least some plants might be operated like this, if not in the US or France, then elsewhere. I still have not heard a good answer for the 24,000 year half life issue.....(aside from Thorium, a very different technology as yet untested on commercial scale).

July 13, 2010    View Comment    

On The Jevons Paradox: Time to Send it The Way of the Dodo?

The Jevons effect (rebound) exists, the issue is how strong, and can it be attenuated? Since I switched to CFL lighting, I cannot be bothered to run around the house all the time switching every last light off - and am considering some oudoor lights for security that might be on all night. When marginal costs fall 80%, our behavior is bound to change.See my recent blog post related to this: Energy Efficiency Adventures

June 27, 2010    View Comment    

On Racing for Clean-Tech Jobs: Why America Needs an Energy Education Strategy

In addition to science and engineering, there will be increasing demand for professionals and managers in related financial and service sectors, from carbon accounting and finance to marketing, law, and architecture. With support from a state grant, we are setting up interdisciplinary programs, graduate and undergraduate, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston in clean energy coordinated by the College of Management and the department of Earth, Environment, and Ocean Sciences. Employers in every kind of business in the region tell us that they want people who are strong in their professional/functional area, but are well versed in climate and energy issues as well.

For more information, see Green Jobs Booming and Training the “Green and White” Collar Workforce.


March 20, 2010    View Comment    

On Even Shell’s CEO Expects Electric Cars to Dominate

The key point here is that we are on a treadmill - more efficient cars (mostly hybrids, I assume) offset by rising numbers of cars - total gasoline powered cars are forecast to rise 20% (though there might be a role for biofuels). I've pointed out before (see blog post Back to Petroleum?) that the oil industry moderated its strong opposition to carbon regulation when it realized there was no mortal threat after all; liquid fuels for transportation will be hard to replace and natural gas for power will boom in the coming decades.

David Levy

March 7, 2010    View Comment    

On RE-ENERGYSE America: Obama’s proposal for clean-energy education

Good news that there is a plan to expand education for clean energy, but it's important that it's interdisciplinary and not just focused on the science - most of the jobs are going to be in related professional services and management. We are taking the lead at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in educating the "green and white" collar professionals of the future - see Green Jobs Booming and Training the “Green and White” Collar Workforce.

February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On Clean Energy Competitiveness in a Global Economy

I read that land-based wind power costs a long term average of 4-8c/kWh, depending on location and scale. At least we have plenty of wind online to be able to estimate the costs. True, there are problems of intermittency, but gas powered peak backup is needed for multiple reasons, including plant downtime, etc. It doesn't need to back up wind one-to-one. Intermittency only becomes a major problem when wind reaches 15-20% of grid capacity, a limit being reached in parts of Europe. But a balance of wind, solar thermal (good for the hot afternoons and with some storage potential), some long-distance transmission (esp. across time zones), and new storage technologies will address the issue. We really don't know the long term costs of nuclear, including decommisioning. In Mass., we are paying around 2c/kWh, I think, for the 'transition charge', the nuclear bailout.
November 6, 2009    View Comment    

On MAC Alliance: Promise of Clean Tech in Region

Building regional clean energy clusters is crucial, given the scale and breadth of Chinese investment in clean energy. The US needs to do a lot more than some subsidies and cap-and-trade -we’ll just end up sucking in imported solar and wind systems from China. A serious effort to build clusters with technology, infrastructure, labor skills, and a design and manufacturing base is needed. See my recent post on this: Clean Energy Competitiveness in a Global Economy 
November 5, 2009    View Comment    

On Increasing competitiveness through clean energy: Taking on China’s broad-based effort to be the world’s clean energy leader

Given the scale and breadth of Chinese investment in clean energy, the US needs to do a lot more than some subsidies and cap-and-trade. We'll just end up sucking in imported solar and wind systems from China. A serious effort to build clusters with technology, infrastructure, labor skills, and a design and manufacturing base is needed. See my recent post on this: Clean Energy Competitiveness in a Global Economy

November 5, 2009    View Comment    

On The simple math of green jobs

I trust that this is just an effort at humor... if unemployment exists, you don't need calculus to think that "new job creation" might lower unemployment. Of course, if the boost to Green Jobs comes from taxes on brown jobs, then yes, brown jobs will decrease. Overall employment is likely more a matter of macroeconomic than sectoral policies. But targeted green Keynsianism that stimulates the green sector might do the trick.

But the US is a player in an open global economy - so an even more important question is which pieces of the value chain end up in the US - high paying design, engineering, marketing, and management jobs in green sectors? or low wage assembly and installation? What kind of business clusters will we get here? The NYT piece today about 

China supplying wind systems   and financing to the US is not encouraging. See my recent blog piece Green Jobs Booming about some green jobs trends.

David Levy.

October 31, 2009    View Comment    

On Cap-and-Trade versus the Alternatives for U.S. Climate Policy

While it's obvious to most economists (and not a few policymakers!) that putting a price on carbon is the simplest mechanism to overcome the externalities, the political reality is that the price levels implicit in Waxman-Markey of under $30/ton in the initial years won't get us very far. Moreover, the price is too uncertain and won't overcome organizational inertia and systemic/infrastructure type issues. Cap-and-trade will have high transaction costs for reporting companies and in the trading mechanisms, not to mention the potential for gaming.

It's easy to bash regulations, but directly controlling auto emissions, building standards, and RPS for utility fuel mix will be the main tools that will actually work in the next decade. Yes, some inefficiencies, but it might just get the job done.

 For more on this, see Carbon Markets to Serve the Planet and Whacking the MAC on my blog Climate Inc.

October 6, 2009    View Comment    

On Let’s have a grown-up debate about climate change

Cap and trade is an important symbol for the climate agenda - it creates a regulatory infrastructure and signals industry that business will be living in a carbon constrained world - but the Waxman-Markey version, sure to be weakened if it survives at all after passing through the senate, won't contain an effective price signal to shift consumer purchases or business investment decisions. For that, the price would have to be predictable, rising, and reach $30/ton. Carbon markets could play an important role, but markets have to be set up right: here's my critique of cap-and-trade, which takes a closer look.
September 27, 2009    View Comment