clean energy technology
A group of nearly 50 companies and organizations, including the Center, sent President Obama a letter this month asking the Administration to lead the way to providing all consumers access to their energy information. The April 5 letter calls for giving consumers access to this information via devices such as computers and phones; making it easier for them to monitor and manage their energy use.
With timely and actionable information on energy consumption, households and businesses can avoid inefficiencies that drive up consumer costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Through its Make an Impact program, we also works to weave sustainability and energy efficiency into the fabric of its partners’ corporate culture. The program provides accessible information to employees and their communities on ways to reduce energy use, lower their carbon footprint, and save money. These savings can be significant: If every U.S. household saved 15% on its energy use by 2020, GHG savings would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road and would save consumers $46 billion on their energy bills each year.
ANCHORAGE - Alaska is a big state, with big mountains, big wildlife, and big development projects. It’s also a place of big changes: the state has warmed more than 4 degrees, creating tremendous pressures on the natural environment and society. But in a place where the people are always looking for the next big economic driver, like a $40 billion Alaska natural gas pipeline, uncertainty about carbon regulation is an Alaska-sized problem.
First among the big news items related to nuclear power is the official naming by the Obama Administration of a much-anticipated Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to recommend a safe, long-term solution for used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. The commission, announced on January 29, will issue its final report within 24 months. Energy Secretary Chu noted that the commission is not tasked with recommending a site for a long-term waste repository.
In tackling climate change, a diverse transportation sector can contribute greatly to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2008, the transportation sector accounted for 28% of U.S. GHG emissions, according to the EIA. In achieving the goal of reducing emissions, transportation policy must reduce GHG emissions from travel without compromising the mobility of Americans. To that end, electric vehicles provide a much-needed alternative to gasoline and diesel powered cars.
Carmakers are responding to this challenge by designing plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) and all electric vehicles (EVs). Nissan’s Leaf, a new electric vehicle, is slated to hit showrooms throughout the U.S in late 2010. One of two Leafs seen in public was on display last week at the Washington Auto Show where the Green Car Journal named the Leaf its 2010 Green Car Vision Award winner.
At first, Nissan will likely place prospective buyers on a waiting list, but it anticipates ramping up Leaf production at a factory it is retooling in Smyrna, Tennessee. The company secured a $1.4 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week to prepare the plant to manufacture the vehicles and the advanced batteries that will power them. DOE points out that the facility will “create up to 1,300 American jobs and conserve up to 65.4 million gallons of gasoline per year.” The 150,000 vehicle-per-year factory positions the U.S. as a leader in the next generation of low-emissions vehicle manufacturing.
At the DC auto show, the Nissan representative shared details about the vehicle along with the company’s program to distribute it worldwide. Nissan is partnering with Better Place, an innovative electric vehicle services provider, to sell the Leaf in Denmark and Israel in 2011. The company intends to make modifications to the Leaf’s chassis to support Better Place’s battery switch stations. The Leaf will also meet SAE’s J1772 standard for electric vehicle charging. Lastly, by laminating the lithium-ion battery packs in order to make them self-cooling, Nissan solved a complex technical problem without using a computer control system. More information about the Leaf is available on Nissan’s website.
The L.A. Time reports Nissan hints at a sticker price of less than $30,000, before accounting for the $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles provided in the Recovery Act. No pricing information was available at the auto show.
The three most important issues to Americans today are the economy, jobs, and terrorism according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. If one makes the logical connection between protecting against terrorism and promoting energy security, Nissan is timely in releasing the Leaf in 2010. With the Leaf, the company will create American jobs to manufacture an affordable vehicle that lowers U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Nick Nigro is a Solutions Fellow
In a letter to Secretaries Clinton, Geithner, and Locke, Attorney General Holder, and US Trade Representative Kirk, 19 business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, argue that new “indigenous innovation” programs are designed by the Chinese government to find “national champions” of industry that can be advantaged in a variety of sectors, including green technology, and create "barriers to competition." The Hillicon Valley technology blog over at The Hill notes that this concern comes in the context of rising trade conflicts between the United States and China.
This attention comes on the heels of increasing concern over China’s leadership in clean energy technology. As noted in this weekend’s New York Times piece on the subject, the country has become the world’s largest manufacturer of wind and solar generation equipment. Through industrial policy, China is trying to take advantage of the growing export market for power sector equipment of all types, especially clean energy.
We should have expected that China would be a strong competitor in the clean energy sector. Regardless of the outcome of continuing international climate negotiations, countries from Europe to most U.S. states to China itself have already made unilateral policy choices to increase the use of clean energy technology in the coming decades for a multitude of reasons. The demand will be tremendous for the manufacture of clean energy technologies, and there is potential for fortunes to be made in their export.
What should the appropriate policy response be? As the authors of the letter suggest, the US should promote fair access for American goods and services in foreign markets. Protectionist responses and trade wars have never helped any country grow its economy and create jobs.
But reducing protectionism is not enough to regain the American lead in the clean energy sector. The US needs to have a policy of its own that encourages innovation and gives the right incentives for US companies to compete globally. America is a land of innovation, and we should be the ones taking advantage of these new and growing markets, not ceding them to competitors. Part of the answer is for the US to put a price on carbon. Doing so would encourage innovation in the private sector and provide regulatory certainty for companies to make investments here in clean energy technologies. American ingenuity is second to none, and Congress needs to work on a climate and energy bill that provides the right framework for our businesses to flourish.
Michael Tubman is a Congressional Affairs Fellow
We just added a brief on natural gas to its Climate TechBook that helps to explain why natural gas is unique among fossil fuels. Natural gas is both a contributor to climate change (natural gas combustion accounts for about 16 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions) and an option for reducing emissions since natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal and petroleum. The United States could actually reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by burning more natural gas if it’s displacing other fossil fuel use (this is particularly the case for fuel switching from coal to gas in power generation).
Like coal, but unlike petroleum, natural gas is primarily a domestic energy resource, with net imports of natural gas constituting only about 13 percent of U.S. consumption and about 90 percent of imports coming from North America. Unlike coal (93 percent consumed for electricity generation) and petroleum (more than two thirds used for transportation), natural gas consumption is more evenly split across the electric power, industrial, residential, and commercial sectors.
The past few years have seen a “revolution” in the outlook for natural gas supply. Until recently, experts thought that the United States would become increasingly dependent on expensive imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas, but the recent boom in domestic “unconventional” gas production (driven by shale gas) and the dramatically increased estimate of U.S. gas reserves have led to projections of increasing domestic natural gas production and declining imports.
Natural gas is receiving a lot of attention in the discussion about U.S. climate and energy policy. The gas industry is pressing for favorable treatment in possible climate and energy legislation, with a specific set of policy priorities recently put forth by a major industry lobby group.
While some tout natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future others fear that a “dash for gas” (i.e., fuel switching by electric power generators) could increase demand for and the price of natural gas, thus negatively impacting manufacturers that rely on natural gas for energy and as a feedstock.
Recent analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the climate and energy bill passed by the House in June 2009, illustrates how the projected role of natural gas in reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions depends in large part on the use of offsets under cap and trade and the relative cost and commercial availability of low-carbon technologies (e.g., wind, solar, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear power). When low-carbon technology deployment and offsets are constrained, EIA finds a much heavier reliance on natural gas for electricity generation under cap and trade, but the new outlook on U.S. natural gas supply means that even this pessimistic scenario does not lead to major increases in projected natural gas prices.
A new modeling analysis from Resources for the Future (RFF) sought to quantify the implications of the dramatically expanded U.S. natural gas supply. RFF researchers found that without new energy and climate policy, more abundant and less expensive natural gas could actually mean slightly higher U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 than would otherwise be the case (as cheaper natural gas competes with non-emitting energy sources and increases total energy consumption).
This last point brings us back to the overarching importance of implementing a policy that puts a price on carbon, as a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program would do. Putting a price on carbon would harness market forces to drive the deployment of a portfolio of low- and lower-carbon technologies and fuels, including increased natural gas use to the extent it can cost-effectively reduce emissions.
Steve Caldwell is a Technology and Policy Fellow
The Pew Center just published a summary of many of the major clean energy policy developments of the past five years (2005 through 2009). This look back gauges progress on clean energy policy since the “10-50” Solution Workshop, sponsored by the Center and the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) in 2004, which convened leading experts to discuss key technologies likely to enable a low-carbon future by mid-century (50 years henceforth) and to identify the critical policies necessary in the next 10 years to enable this long-term vision.
The smart grid is a hot topic these days. President Obama touted the smart grid during his campaign and continues to be a booster. The 2009 stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA) provided nearly $4.5 billion to the Department of Energy (DOE) for smart grid investments. In October, DOE made $3.4 billion in awards under the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program, and, in November, DOE announced awards totaling $620 million as part of the Smart Grid Regional and Energy Storage Demonstration Project.
Last month, we added a smart grid factsheet to its Climate Techbook. While it’s not easy to give a short definition of the smart grid, one can think of it as the application of digital technology to the electric power sector to improve reliability, reduce cost, and increase efficiency. Smart grid technologies—including communication networks, advanced sensors, and monitoring devices—provide new ways for utilities to generate and deliver power and for consumers to understand and control their electricity consumption.
The smart grid has several anticipated benefits unrelated to climate change, such as improving electricity reliability (e.g., fewer power outages) and reducing utilities’ operating costs (e.g., by eliminating meter reading). Much of the buzz around the smart grid, however, has to do with the ways that smart grid technology can facilitate greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Efficiency, renewables, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are three of the primary climate solutions the smart grid can enable. Initial evidence suggests that giving consumers direct feedback on their electricity use via smart meters and associated display devices can by itself lead to energy savings of 5-15 percent. One of the challenges that will become increasingly important as the United States relies more on renewable electricity from wind and solar power is that these resources are variable (i.e., they only generate electricity when the wind blows or the sun shines) rather than schedulable like traditional fossil fuel power plants. Smart grid technology makes it easier to add energy storage to the grid and to exploit demand response (e.g., cycling air conditioners on and off) to more easily balance electricity supply and demand as output from variable renewables fluctuates. Finally, smart grid technology would facilitate charging PHEVs during periods of low electricity demand (when generating costs are lowest and existing capacity is underutilized) so that PHEV charging can be done most cost-effectively.
Achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions at the lowest cost will require deploying a portfolio of energy efficiency measures and low-carbon energy technologies, several of which can build upon smart grid technology.
Steve Caldwell is a Technology and Policy Fellow
Not surprisingly, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) is interested in carbon capture and storage (CCS) and its application to coal-fueled electricity generation. North Dakota gets almost 90 percent of its electricity from coal, and the state is the 10th largest producer of coal in the United States.
In mid-2008, Senator Dorgan convened a group of stakeholders with interest in CCS under the banner of a “Clean Coal and Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technology Development Pathways Initiative” (CCS Initiative) and asked them to provide input related to a number of key questions regarding CCS. Participants included representatives from the electric power industry, coal industry, manufacturing, labor, academics, and NGOs. The questions posed by the Senator focused on such issues as how much funding for CCS is required to ensure the technology is ready for broad deployment and how the United States can expand its cooperation with other key coal-producing and coal-consuming nations to accelerate international deployment of CCS.
On December 1, Senator Dorgan released a report prepared by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) that summarized input provided by the CCS Initiative participants.
As President Obama called for U.S. leadership in clean energy technology in a speech at MIT Friday, up on Capitol Hill members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) demonstrated how they’re already putting innovative ideas into practice.
At a Clean Technology Showcase, we joined six corporations and fellow USCAP members to present cutting-edge solutions to a low-carbon future. While the displays varied from solar shingles to renewably-sourced swimwear to advanced coal technology, all participants agreed that making these solutions mainstream requires enacting comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Economy-wide federal policies that put a price on carbon and deliver incentives for clean energy development and deployment are today’s big missing ingredient.
Instead of the policy talk more common to Capitol Hill, Friday’s event focused on existing and emerging solutions to our energy and climate concerns. It proved an uplifting view of the opportunities that a clean energy economy can deliver.