Energy & Technology

Green Flights Take to the Air in 2011

From commercial airplanes from Virgin Atlantic to a U.S. Navy fighter jet, powering airplanes with biofuels has been long been a goal of the airline industry. Following test flights by a number of airlines and the U.S. Department of Defense, Lufthansa will be the first to offer a biofuel-powered commercial flight in April of 2011. Though a 50-50 mix of biofuels and jet fuel (traditional kerosene) will power only one of the aircraft’s engines, the German airline is achieving a considerable milestone. The program is a 6-month trial using the Hamburg-Frankfurt route to evaluate the wear and tear of biofuels on an aircraft engine. The program should reduce the airline’s carbon footprint by about 1,500 metric tons of CO2 in total (the annual emissions of about 300 cars) and cost about 6.6 million euros. The plane is no slouch either – an Airbus A321 has a seating capacity of 220 and a range of 3,000 miles.

BACT guidance

On November 10, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released guidance to be used in implementing “best available control technology” (BACT) requirements for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from major new or modified stationary sources of air pollution. Under the Clean Air Act (the Act), major new sources or major modifications to existing sources must employ technologies aimed at limiting emissions from these sources.

Under the Act, the BACT requirements for a given facility are to be established in a way that addresses the specific conditions of the facility and reflect the maximum degree of emission reduction that has been demonstrated through available methods, systems, and techniques, while accounting for the economic, energy and environmental considerations of the facility. In most states, the state environmental agency, rather than US EPA, will be issuing the permit to the facility.

The use of BACT to limit emissions of regulated pollutants from facilities has been part of the Clean Air Act for decades. Its first application to GHG emissions occurred in February 2010, when Calpine Corporation voluntarily agreed to an air permit that included a BACT determination for GHGs at a new power plant in California. The approved power plant included a slightly more efficient generation unit than had been initially proposed.

The new EPA guidance itself is technical in nature. Most importantly, under the guidance, covered facilities will generally be required to use the most energy efficient technologies available – much as was the case with the Calpine facility – rather than be required to install particular pollution control technologies. Among other things, carbon capture and sequestration technology will not be considered BACT except in extremely rare circumstances, such as when a facility is located next to an operating oil field whose operator wants to purchase carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. Nor will the guidance require that specific types of fuels be used. In particular it does not require that proposed coal burning power plants switch to natural gas. The guidance also includes particular guidance for biomass facilities, stating that biomass itself could be considered BACT. EPA has indicated that it intends possibly to pursue additional rulemaking next year that may eliminate biomass burning facilities altogether from this permitting process. Overall, the BACT guidance maintains the same steps for individual BACT determination for GHGs that have long been used for BACT determination for traditional air pollutants. 

In an earlier rulemaking, EPA established the threshold limits for which major new or modified sources would be required to meet BACT requirements. In its “tailoring” rule, EPA specified that beginning January 2, 2011, only sources that were already subject to BACT for “criteria” air pollutants (such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) and had emissions of GHGs that exceeded 75,000 tons per year would have to meet BACT for GHGs. In July 2011, these requirements will be extended to apply also to any new source with GHG emissions above 100,000 tons per year and any modified source that increases GHG emissions by more than 75,000 tons per year.

 

More information from C2ES:

Frequently Asked Questions about the EPA and GHG Regulations
Sequence of Events Leading to EPA Regulation of GHGs

Other information: 

Clean Air Act Regulation for Greenhouse Gases overview from EPA
BACT Guidance from EPA
Fact Sheet on Proposed Rules on Clean Air Permits from EPA

Post-Partisan Power?

A new report, Post-Partisan Power, puts forth several interesting ideas for how the United States can accelerate technological progress to advance U.S. energy security and global climate protection. The authors are Steven F. Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution, and Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute. The report has created a buzz, in part because of the “man bites dog” nature of the story – Brookings and AEI agree on something! And they are saying “post-partisan” out loud in these hyper-partisan times.

The authors recommend a number of initiatives that ought to be no-brainers – invest more in energy science and education, overhaul the energy innovation system by increasing funding for the new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and developing regional energy innovation centers, reform energy subsidies, use military procurement and competitive deployment to drive innovation and price declines, and pay for all this through a very small carbon tax or electricity fee. The major critique of the report, best articulated by Harvard economist Rob Stavins, is that these recommended steps are necessary but not sufficient – i.e., it is all very well for the government to invest in these technologies, but we also need to create a market for them through a strong carbon price or serious greenhouse gas reduction requirements. 

The authors have responded that they didn’t mean to imply that their recommendations include all we need to solve our energy and climate problems. However, their subtitle, “How a limited and direct approach to energy innovation can deliver clean, cheap energy, economic productivity and national prosperity,” makes it sound an awful lot like they did. And their opening critique of “both sides of the debate” on climate and energy is dismissive of pricing in general and cap and trade in particular – noting, for example, cap and trade’s defeat in the Senate but not its victory in the House, and saying pricing has not succeeded in reducing emissions in Europe, when in fact it has. But let’s set that aside for the moment. 

The more intriguing question this report raises for me is why the energy and climate debate is so stuck and why even the modest proposals described in “Post-Partisan Power” face an uphill battle. 

The report’s authors lament our irrational energy subsidies and dysfunctional federal support system for energy innovation, and I agree substantively with their critique and their proposed fixes. But this irrationality and dysfunctionality have persisted for a long time. Each energy source has a powerful constituency for federal subsidies and tax breaks. And for each DOE lab in the current national network that does most of our federal energy research, powerful regional interests protect the status quo. 

Similarly, policy analysts have made an airtight case for decades that pricing policies are both effective and cost-effective at reducing emissions, but for the most part politicians and the public have resisted such policies. We seem to prefer our regulatory costs to be high and hidden rather than low and transparent.

What is going on? I’m not sure, but I can think of at least two partial answers. The first is our political system’s focus on the size of government rather than its efficacy. The “great debate” in this election is whether the government should be bigger or smaller, not whether government is effectively doing whatever tasks it is assigned. The key critique of cap and trade was that it was a tax and that it looked like too much government, when the debate should have been about its efficacy in reducing emissions and minimizing costs. We measure success or failure of federal action with respect to a particular energy source by the size of the budget or tax breaks devoted to it, not whether such action is effectively driving innovation or bringing down technology costs. Hayward et al. suggest we fix this through better program design, but that will not be easy. It requires a transformation of our nation’s political thinking at a very deep level. 

The second answer is specific to the energy system. It is an inconvenient truth that fossil fuels have some really attractive characteristics as energy sources. They are abundant, seemingly cheap (if one doesn’t take into account their environmental or energy security impacts, and of course the market price does not do so), and “energy-dense” (meaning they can produce a lot of energy per unit of volume and mass). They have also been used for a long time, and their use has co-evolved with extensive fuel distribution infrastructure and fuel-using equipment. Thus, shifting away from these fuels requires displacing a suite of interdependent incumbent technologies. 

This problem is really different, in kind and in scale, from any the U.S. government or the U.S. economy has wrestled with before. It is not like computer innovation, where a new set of technologies created new markets for new services; or airplanes, in which military procurement dominated an emerging market. To move away from the energy system we have, which meets our private needs very nicely, to one that may have lower social costs but higher private ones (at least for some transitional period), is going to be very difficult. Hayward et al. hope that we can eat our cake and have it, too, by finding new technologies that have both lower social costs and lower private costs. But substantially increasing government investment won’t guarantee this outcome – certainly not by itself. Rather the United States must make climate protection and national security a priority, and develop and implement a conscious, ambitious, and comprehensive national strategy with full public support. This is a daunting challenge.

Judi Greenwald is Vice President for Innovative Solutions

Some Heavy-Duty Good News

At a time when political gridlock in Washington has blocked climate legislation, EPA and NHTSA have jointly come forward with a sensible proposal that will substantially reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from heavy-duty trucks. EPA and NHTSA’s proposed new rules build on their recent success in finalizing GHG and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks. Once again, the two agencies collaborated with industry to make sure their standards accomplish environmental and energy security goals in a practical manner.

The transportation sector is responsible for 27 percent of our nation’s GHG emissions. Within this sector, heavy-duty vehicles are the second largest source of emissions (after light-duty vehicles), accounting for 20 percent of the sector’s total. The new proposal covering heavy-duty vehicles (long-haul trucks, large pick-ups and vans, school and transit buses, and utility trucks) manufactured from 2014 through 2018 is estimated to reduce emissions by 7-20 percent from these vehicles (depending on the category of truck) from current levels, achieving an overall reduction of 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the life of the vehicles sold during this five-year period. As a result, emissions in 2030 from this fast growing subsector will be 9 percent below what they would have been in the business as usual case. The proposed rule is also estimated to reduce oil consumption by 500 million barrels over this same period. 

Cost and Benefits

To achieve the proposed standards, truck manufacturers will need to modify their vehicles drawing from a range of existing technologies including improvements in aerodynamic designs, lower rolling resistant tires, advanced transmissions, and reduced idling. The agencies report that the cost of meeting the standard for many trucks will be recouped in less than 2 years in the form of fuel savings. The regulatory impact analysis accompanying the proposed rule looks at both the costs and benefits of meeting the proposed standards. It shows the following:

Estimated Lifetime Discounted Costs and Benefits for 2014-2018 Model Year Heavy-Duty Vehicles

3 percent discount rate$ billions
Costs$7.7
Benefits$49
Net Benefits$41


Source: Table I-4 of the proposed regulations.

The bottom line is clear – with a net benefit to society of $41 billion, the proposed rule is a worthwhile investment in reducing both our reliance on foreign oil and our emissions of greenhouse gases.  

Steve Seidel is Vice President for Policy Analysis

Ambitious GHG Targets for California Drivers

On September 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced the adoption of ambitious, though aspirational, greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets associated with the total miles traveled by California drivers. This is the latest step in the process of implementing Senate Bill 375, signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2008. The significant increase in stringency of the CARB target levels over recommendations made by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) last May was surprising and although praised by some, has received significant criticism.

The law provides incentives, not mandates, for MPOs to use regional transportation strategies that encourage smart growth. Incentives for MPOs, which meet the GHG targets, can include easier access to federal funding and exemption from certain environmental review requirements. Although called ‘precedent setting’ by the media, it establishes growth policies considered similar to others that have already been implemented in California, and this law would not have a strong impact without stringent GHG reduction targets. SB 375 required CARB to set the targets, giving it the power to determine how seriously MPOs would have to invest in new development plans if they wish to take advantage of the incentives. Using 2005 as a baseline, the GHG emissions per capita reduction targets set by CARB for 2020 and 2035 were, respectively:

 

Region2020 Target2035 Target
San Diego Area7%13%
Sacramento Region7%16%
Bay Area Region7%15%
Southern California8%13%
San Joaquin Valley (to be revisited in 2012)5%10%
Targets for the remaining six MPOs making up 5 percent of the population match or improve upon their current plans for 2020 and 2035

The targets CARB defined were more ambitious than what the largest MPOs recommended in May. For example, recommendations for the Bay Area were 5 percent per capita for 2020 and 5 percent for 2035 (the same to account for projected population growth, which would make higher targets more difficult to achieve in 2035). Critics complained that these targets were “hijacked” by environmentalists, as CARB did not provide an explanation for the increase.

While more stringent targets are a victory for champions of climate change policy, some Californians have claimed CARB’s numbers as irresponsible because MPOs cannot afford to implement the plans needed to meet the targets. Given the state’s budget deficit and lingering impacts from the global economic recession in 2008 and 2009, budget crises for transit agencies have resulted in decreased service and increased fares. To combat expected costs, CARB has promised to help seek out more state and federal funding, although CARB member and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts is pessimistic about their chances. Business groups angrily predict that such funding will have to come from increased transportation taxes such as vehicle miles traveled fees, parking fees, and congestion pricing. Critics (Example 1, Example 2) also cite the prediction by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) of San Francisco that gas would reach a cost of $9.07 per gallon if there were a carbon or ‘vehicle miles traveled’ (VMT) tax.

CARB could address these concerns by clarifying the rationale for its decision and exposing half-truths propagated by some of its critics. For example, whether or not targets are too ambitious, SB 375 requires CARB to review them regularly and consider revisions based on economic and demographic conditions, as well as actual results achieved. The critics’ references to the MTC’s $9.07 per gallon gas are disingenuous warnings. The MTC’s gas price forecast is actually for 2035, not the immediate future, and the MTC considers a carbon or VMT tax as just one of multiple policy options. Only when this tax is added to the MTC’s unlikely forecast of gas prices (a linear extrapolation based on gas prices in 2008, the highest price ever, hitting $7.47 per gallon by 2035) does the cost of one gallon reach $9.07 in 2035. This forecast is significantly different from that of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which, as of 2010, expects a national average of $3.91 per gallon gas in 2035. In addition, sustainable development experts Calthorpe Associates’ ‘Vision California’ study highlights attainable smart growth savings for Californians that would provide a significant boost to the economy. It quantifies savings, potentially achievable through SB 375, at $6,400 per year per household by 2050, among other significant opportunities.

While it is natural to be wary of the ambitious goals, California has previously defied naysayers and achieved ambitious policy goals at lower costs than initially predicted, as happened with Title 24 building energy efficiency standards in 1978. Furthermore, it is worth noting that SB 375 will remain intact no matter the fate of Proposition 23, which seeks to suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill 32, in the upcoming elections. By providing incentive-based aggressive targets, MPOs now have greater reason to invest significantly in future transportation and land use plans. With such an investment, Californians can look forward to a more comfortable life with shorter commutes, reduced air pollution, and long-term economic growth.

Sam Wurzelmann is the Innovative Solutions intern

Making the Case for Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Smart Shopping

This is the third post in a three-part series on PEVs. This one examines the reasons to consider purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle. Part 1  Part 2 

In our previous posts, I described some of the benefits to national security and the environment with the use of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). This final post takes a look at what is often the most important issue to Americans: their wallets. PEVs are not cost-competitive with conventional vehicles in most situations yet, but there are some considerations that could be compelling for consumers to consider this winter when the first PEVs hit the market.

At a Policy Crossroad for Clean Energy Technologies

The United States is at a crucial crossroad in its stance on clean energy policy. Once the leader in emerging clean technology markets, the U.S. now trails European nations and China in the research, development, and deployment of many new energy technologies. Financial analysts and industry insiders presented a stark choice at a standing-room only hearing hosted by the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming last week: either we can adopt and extend policies that promote domestic growth of clean energy industries, or we can continue to fall further behind other countries around the world in our ability to compete in the markets of the 21st century. Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) echoed the experts in saying that without clear long-term and short-term incentives, companies will invest clean energy dollars in other countries, most notably China. In effect, we will be trading our addiction to Middle Eastern oil for an addiction to Asian clean energy technologies.

Clean energy technology markets are already substantial in scope and are likely to grow in the coming decade. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global investments in new forms of clean energy have already surged from under $50 billion in 2004 to more than $170 billion four years later. And as mentioned in our brief on Clean Energy Markets, annual investments in global renewable energy could reach $424 billion a year in 2030.

The panel of expert witnesses advised the Committee that if the United States wants to be a leader in clean energy, it needs to foster innovation by extending successful programs like tax credits, loan guarantees and grants, and adopt a renewable energy standard (RES). Tom Carbone, Chief Executive Officer of Nordic Windpower, said firms like his need clear market signals, such as a price on carbon or a RES, so they can respond to market demand.

Michael Liebreich, Chief Executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, emphasized the importance of market signals. Under an RES, the government would require that a certain percentage of utilities’ power plant capacity or generation come from renewable sources by a given date, and mechanisms such as credit trading would allow flexibility in meeting this requirement. However, the RES needs both to be ambitious and to have stiff penalties for noncompliance in order to be successful. Such a policy solution could help create the market demand clean energy firms need to establish footholds and ultimately achieve significant, self-reinforcing growth.

Mark Fulton, Global Head of Climate Change Investment Research at Deutsche Bank, urged the adoption of policies that are transparent, have longevity, and have certainty (TLC) in order to ensure the United States has a competitive advantage in global energy markets. Investors want transparent policies that clearly define the rules and create a level playing field. So to attract private funding, these policies should be in place for the length of the investment and should not be subject to the kind of frequent and uncertain renewal that has stymied the production tax credit and investment tax credit.

In addition to their environmental benefits, Ravi Viswanathan, General Partner at New Enterprise Associates, believes that these policies are exactly what are needed at this uncertain economic time. Mr. Viswanathan argued that clean energy investments can lead to job creation and energy independence. If we have the right incentives, clean energy jobs would be created domestically rather than abroad. Innovation has long been a source of our competitive advantage. Other countries, such as China, have speed, capital, and scale, and they are exercising their manufacturing advantage. Now, these countries are beginning to do something that investors had not anticipated: foster innovation. Once other countries start innovating in earnest, unless the United States takes action, the economic benefits associated with these technologies will go elsewhere.

In his closing statement, Chairman Markey highlighted the role government has played in fostering innovation and developing new markets, citing examples from the Manhattan Project to the internet. In all past cases, the United States showed leadership in developing a national plan that incentivized private investment. We need a similar plan today in the energy sector that incorporates Fulton’s principles of TLC and harnesses the power of the markets to spur innovation. As mentioned in our Clean Energy Markets brief, well-crafted climate and clean energy policy can give nascent clean energy industries a foothold by creating domestic demand and spurring investment and innovation. The time to act is now: through policy leadership at home and abroad, the United States can position itself to become a market leader in the industries of the 21st century.

Solutions in Shopping

This month I joined John Donahue, the CEO of eBay, at a National Press Club event to discuss the climate benefits created by small, online retail businesses. The retail sector—and the private sector more broadly—has a huge opportunity to innovate and drive us toward a more climate-friendly clean energy economy, and we are encouraged that eBay is stepping forward to make this point.  

Active business community engagement is fundamental both to achieving effective climate policy and to achieving real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Industry must work with their employees, their supply chain, and policy makers to make the case that addressing a changing climate is essential and can be good for business—providing policy certainty, leading to innovation and investment, and ultimately helping to move our economy towards a low-carbon future.

According to the new eBay-commissioned white paper, small e-retailers facilitate the reuse of products and eliminate the need for carbon-intensive brick-and-mortar stores, both of which are climate-friendly compared to big box retail. For instance, it suggests that since eBay’s founding 15 years ago, the infrastructure savings from its online marketplace alone have cumulatively displaced emissions equivalent to approximately 4 million tons of CO2 per year, or the annual output of 760,000 cars—roughly the number registered in the state of Kansas or West Virginia.

In our current period of policy uncertainty, one thing we do know is that energy efficiency matters and it works. We also know from the work we do on employee engagement that individuals and consumers are a huge untapped resource in the effort to seriously address our energy-climate challenges. It’s clear that the key role for retailers—both online and “offline”—is to connect consumers to low-emission/energy-efficient goods and services, and companies such as eBay and Best Buy, a featured case study in our recent report on corporate energy efficiency, are doing just that.

Eileen Claussen is President

Making the Case for Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Breathing Easier

This is the second post in a three-part series that examines the reasons to consider purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle. Part 1  Part 3

Last week, I discussed why consuming oil is bad for U.S. national security. In this post, I’ll look at another reason to consider a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) – helping the environment. I’ve previously explored the effect PEVs will have on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is clear that PEVs have the potential to reduce GHG emissions significantly so long as society also reduces the carbon intensity of the electrical grid. But the environmental benefits of PEVs are not limited to climate change.

Figure 2: It's hard to see through all the smog, but that’s the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC in 1988. (Source)

PEVs also benefit local air quality, which might matter a lot if you live in a city with poor air quality. Despite enormous strides in the U.S. to reduce air pollution, the EPA estimated in February of this year that nearly 127 million Americans live in areas where air quality concentrations are above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to establish and periodically update and evaluate the NAAQS. While air quality has improved significantly since 1990, nearly half of Americans still face air quality-related health risks, including decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, and premature mortality.

Air pollution primarily comes from stationary fuel combustion, industrial processes, and vehicles. Transportation mainly contributes to two air pollution problems: ground-level ozone and particle pollution. Particle pollution or particulate matter (PM) consists of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air; coal fired power plants, as well as diesel vehicles including cars, trucks, and buses, are some of the sources of PM. Ground-level ozone, a serious air pollutant also known as smog, results when sunlight reacts with oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (which are components, for example, of vehicle exhaust).

The health effects of air pollution include decreased lung function, respiratory infection, and even increased risk of heart attacks and strokes under certain conditions. While the U.S. EPA and state governments are moving ahead with regulations that improve the air quality for Americans, most people (especially in urban areas) remain at risk of effects from excessive ozone and PM. The American Lung Association recommends the EPA reduce air pollution from vehicle tailpipes. One way consumers can help is by purchasing vehicles with lower tailpipe emissions such as PEVs.

The more miles Americans travel in passenger vehicles powered by electric motors, the more local air quality will improve according to a study completed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). It is difficult to quantify air quality benefits from using PEVs since air pollution can come from multiple sources, including vehicle tailpipes as well as power plants. All-electric vehicles in cities will almost certainly improve local air quality since a mile traveled that is powered by electricity does not produce any vehicle emissions and the power plants that produce the electricity are often located away from city centers. For plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, those improvements are tempered by the percentage of miles that rely on the gasoline or diesel-powered backup energy source rather than by the batteries. In fact, using PEVs can result in more local air pollution at the electricity generation source, especially if the source is a coal power plant. This potential problem underscores another reason (in addition to the goal of reducing GHG emissions) that we should work on reducing power plant pollution as we green the vehicle fleet.

PEVs will not end air pollution in the United States, but increasing the market penetration of these vehicles will help reduce air pollution in cities throughout the country. In the next post, I’ll look into how the financial numbers might work out with a PEV for your next vehicle purchase.

Nick Nigro is a Solutions Fellow

Making the Case for Plug-in Electric Vehicles: National Security

This is the first post in a three-part series that examines the reasons to consider purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle. Part 2  Part 3

Though it is unlikely that the first generation of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will be adopted by the masses, there is a compelling case for everyday consumers to take a look at these vehicles when they become available this winter.  There is no silver bullet to solving climate change, but PEVs could play an important role as one of a broader set of solutions. As is the case for many climate solutions, the benefits from PEVs are more than environmental. In this three part series, I’ll make the case for PEVs based on the gamut of issues that matter to Americans – national security, the environment, and their wallets.

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