Energy & Technology

Putting the "U" in CCUS

I spent the last few days at the eleventh annual Carbon Capture Utilization & Sequestration Conference (CCUS) in Pittsburgh.  

For its first 10 years, it was the CCS conference, focused primarily on advancing efforts to capture and permanently sequester carbon emissions underground. This nascent technology is absolutely critical if we are going to continue burning fossil fuels and have any hope of averting dangerous climate change.

This year the conference organizers added “Utilization” to the title. This addition reflects a new reality: in the absence of strong climate policy, the key driver of CCS innovation is the utilization of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR). This is a little-known technique in which CO2 (usually drawn from naturally occurring underground reservoirs) is injected into declining oil fields to boost their output. It now accounts for about 6 percent of domestic U.S. oil production.

Speech: Utilizing CCS to Reduce Emissions

Keynote speech by Eileen Claussen, President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
11th Annual Conference on Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
May 1, 2012

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here in Pittsburgh. And I want to thank Exchange Monitor Publications and Forums, together with the Department of Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory and their partnering organizations, for convening this very timely and very important conference.  

Everything is so well organized and the breakfast spread was so perfect and so tantalizing … for a moment I thought I was at an event put together by the General Services Administration.  

I also congratulate you for putting added emphasis this year on the utilization of carbon emissions and for changing the title of the conference to reflect this … Now it can officially be said that this is the event that put the “you” in CCS. If only we could add an “A” word to the end and make it CCUSA, then we could add some patriotic flair to this whole endeavor. 

In all seriousness, I want to talk with you today about why CCS (or any acronym we choose to employ for it) is so important … not just for the future of fossil fuels—but also for the future of this country and its efforts to get a handle on the twin challenges of energy and climate change. 

And I also want to discuss one of the most promising technologies available for making large-scale CCS a reality. I am talking, of course, about CO2-enhanced oil recovery, or CO2-EOR, which is an issue that my organization has been working intently on as a co-convener of the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative.

Whether you spend the bulk of your waking hours worrying about the potential dangers of climate change or not, CO2-EOR makes a huge amount of sense for a number of reasons that I intend to go over later in my remarks. But first I want to talk about why we are even having this conversation and why the United States and the world must finally get serious about taking full advantage of big opportunities CO2-EOR.

When it comes to energy and climate, the United States stands at a crossroads today. Indeed, we are standing there with the rest of the world. At this crossroads, we have a choice to make. We can continue with a business-as-usual or status quo approach to energy and climate issues. If that’s what we choose, we’ll continue to face the same questions and the same concerns not just about the environment and climate change but about energy-related risks to our national security, our economy and jobs, and more.

Or we can choose a new road to the future--that protects our economy, our security and our climate for decades to come. 

The environmental case for doing this is compelling enough. According to most scenarios, global emissions of greenhouse gases need to peak by 2015 in order to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. This is the level where many scientists say we can manage the risks of climate change, but there is considerable debate even on this point and some think we will already be flirting with disaster at 2 degrees Celsius.  

Whatever the case, 2015 is just three years away. Are emissions showing any signs of peaking? Not even close … After a brief downturn due to the recession, newly released figures from the EPA show that U.S. emissions resumed their upward march in 2010, rising by 3.2 percent compared to 2009. And global emissions are projected to grow 17 percent by 2020, and 37 percent by 2035. Under that scenario, we could see average global temperatures rise 3 to 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

But, even if you are an ardent skeptic of the science of climate change or of our ability to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the energy case should be motivation enough for abandoning the status quo and following a new and different road to the future.   

What do we care about? Reliability. Affordability. Security. Reduced environmental impact. These have to be the hallmarks of U.S. energy policy going forward, and carbon capture and storage can and must be an important component of that policy. It provides us with the means to continue using fossil fuels in a carbon–constrained future. It is especially critical for producing electricity from both coal and natural gas, while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions.    

Coal, of course, has the most at stake in this discussion. Coal, in fact, is at a crossroads itself. The latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration confirm that coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation is decreasing. 

In 2006, coal-fired generation accounted for more than half (50.4 percent to be exact) of the total generation mix in this country. By the end of 2011, that figure had declined to 43.4 percent of the mix, a drop of 7 percentage points. The biggest factor in coal’s relative decline, of course, is dropping natural gas prices. According to EIA, natural gas prices are forecast to remain below $5 per million BTUs for the next 10 years. This is why we’re seeing so many new natural gas power plants. EIA’s latest estimates for 2011 and 2012 show around 20 gigawatts of added capacity planned for natural gas versus around 9 gigawatts for coal. Add to this the spare capacity of existing gas-fired power plants that were built to generate electricity during the daytime hours only and you can see the challenges facing coal.   

New EPA rules also pose challenges for coal. The new Mercury Rule alone, which was issued last December, will affect 1,325 units at 525 power plants of all types around the United States. Some of these plants are more than 50 years old, and companies may retire older plants rather than paying to install new pollution control equipment.

In addition, there is EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and, on the industrial side, the 2011 rule imposing new emissions reductions requirements on coal-fired boilers. And most notably, of course, earlier this spring the EPA proposed the first-ever national standards for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. In order to comply with the rules, new plants would have to install carbon capture and storage technologies. There is essentially no other way for these plants to reduce their emissions to the level required under this proposal. 

After detailing all of these challenges for coal, I am inclined to ask the question, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

The proposed GHG rules make it official: In order to keep coal’s share of the U.S. energy mix from declining further, we need to throw out old ways of thinking. We need to think big. This is not just about trying to compete with natural gas on price; it is about embracing new ideas and new technologies to ensure that coal can continue as a fuel of choice in a world that, whether you like it or not, will become increasingly focused on limiting and reducing carbon emissions.

Coal alone is responsible for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide, 43 percent of CO2 emissions from fuel combustion come from coal. Clearly, something has to give. In order for the world to get a handle on the climate problem, and in order for coal to hold onto its place as a major energy source in the decades to come, we need to show – and very quickly – that it is possible to achieve substantial cuts in emissions from coal-fired power generation.

In other words, we need to find a low-carbon solution for coal. And coal is not our only challenge – we need all the low-carbon and carbon-free technologies we can get. The good news about natural gas is that it generates half of the emissions of coal when used as a fuel source. But that’s also the not-so-good news about natural gas; it still generates substantial emissions, and in order to achieve the level of reductions that will reduce the risk of climate change, we need CCS for natural gas as well as for coal.   

The potential for CCS to reduce emissions is undeniable. Studies show that CCS technology could reduce CO2 emissions from a coal-fueled power plant by as much as 90 percent.  Modeling done by the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that CCS could provide 19 percent of total global GHG emission reductions by 2050. That includes reductions from coal and natural gas-fired power plants, as well as all other sources.

But these are just studies, they are merely estimates of what could happen if CCS finally emerges from the world of drawing boards and demonstration projects to actual widespread deployment throughout this country and around the world.  What we are doing right now to develop these technologies is not enough; it’s not even close to enough.  We have two decades at most to deploy these technologies at the scale needed to achieve substantial reductions in emissions.  

And one way to start is by taking a more serious approach to the development of CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery in this country.  

For nearly 15 years, my organization has sought to bring industry, government, NGOs and others together to explore innovative solutions to the climate and energy challenges we face in the United States and around the world. We see CO2-EOR as a very important piece of the puzzle. And this is why we worked with the Great Plains Institute to convene the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative, or NEORI. NEORI is a coalition of industry, state, environmental and labor leaders who have come together to develop and present recommendations for boosting domestic oil production and reducing CO2 emissions through the expanded use of CO2-EOR.

The participants in this effort believe that EOR using captured carbon dioxide offers a safe and commercially proven method of expanding domestic oil production that can help the U.S. simultaneously address three urgent national priorities. 

  • The first priority is increasing our nation’s energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil, including oil that is imported from unstable and hostile nations. CO2-EOR potential in the United States equals 26 to 61 billion barrels of oil with existing technology; with next-generation techniques the potential rises to 67 to around 140 billion barrels. U.S. proven reserves are 20 billion barrels, so we are talking about at least doubling U.S. oil potential. That’s huge. 
  • The second priority that CO2-EOR addresses is creating economic opportunity – if we do this right, it will create jobs, boost tax revenues, and reduce the U.S. trade deficit. We can put dollars we now spend on oil imports to work right here in the U.S. economy. How much money are we talking about? One estimate, from Advanced Resources International, projects that the reduction in oil imports associated with CO2-EOR would total $600 billion by 2030. 
  • And the third priority addressed by CO2-EOR? Protecting the environment. Capturing and storing CO2 from industrial facilities and power plants will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while getting more American crude from areas already developed for oil and gas production. By fully developing American reserves that are amenable to this practice, we could reduce CO2 emissions by 10 billion to 19 billion tons, an amount equal to 10 to 20 years of emissions from personal vehicle use in this country. And the bonus is that it can help us further the commercial deployment of the CCS industry in this country — not just with coal and natural gas power plants, but with other domestic industries such as natural gas processing, ethanol and ammonia production, and steel and cement manufacturing. Driving innovation in CCS technology will allow us both to take advantage of our nation’s vast fossil fuel resources and achieve much larger CO2 emission reductions.

I have worked on the climate issue for many years now, and I assure you this is a big deal. Reducing U.S. CO2 emissions by up to 19 billion tons while also advancing CCS technology would be a major achievement.

So if CO2-EOR is so important, why aren’t we doing more of it? Well, as all of you know, the major hurdle standing in our way is that there’s just not enough readily available CO2. And this is why our organization joined with the Great Plains Institute to convene the NEORI. 

The idea behind this initiative was to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders and try to come to agreement about what needs to happen to realize CO2-EOR’s potential. More specifically, we wanted to develop a set of recommendations for federal and state incentives that will stimulate the expansion of CO2-EOR using carbon dioxide from power plants and industrial facilities. 

Were these conversations easy? In a word, no. This is a group that included participants ranging from major coal companies and industrial suppliers of CO2 to environmental NGOs, organized labor, and state officials. The diversity of the group meant we had some very tough discussions. But in the spirit of the saying, “Nothing that is worthwhile is easy,” the final participants in this project stuck with it, and they came up with a plan that already has attracted bipartisan interest in Congress. We released this plan earlier this year at an event on Capitol Hill, and I want to give you a quick sense of what it entails.

NEORI’s centerpiece recommendation is a competitively awarded, revenue-positive federal production tax credit for capturing and transporting CO2 to stimulate CO2-EOR expansion. This federal tax credit would more than pay for itself because it will lead to additional oil production subject to existing tax treatment. The new incentive will enable a variety of industry sectors to market new sources of CO2 to the oil industry, and to reduce their carbon footprints. It will drive innovation and cost reduction in CO2 capture and compression, and help build out a national CO2 pipeline system.  

For the near term and until the broader credit is in place, NEORI also recommends specific “good government” changes to improve the workability of the existing carbon capture and storage credit known as Section 45Q

Of course, states also have an important role to play in fostering CO2-EOR deployment. This is why NEORI identifies existing state policies that should serve as models for policymakers in other states to adopt and tailor to their particular needs. 

Later this morning, you will hear more about our recommendations from a panel of NEORI participants. And I encourage you to visit the website, www.neori.org, for more on the recommendations we have made. 

So let’s cut to the chase. What will happen if we adopt these measures I have described? NEORI estimates that our proposed new federal production tax credit for CO2 capture will quadruple the amount of domestic oil currently produced annually through enhanced oil recovery – to 400 million barrels a year in the outyears – while cutting CO2 emissions by 4 billion tons over the next 40 years. In addition, we will be generating new tax revenue for states and for the federal government – as I said, these incentives will more than pay for themselves. And we will be gaining vital experience and creating valuable infrastructure supporting broader deployment of carbon capture and sequestration in the future. 

At a time of economic struggle, fiscal crisis and political gridlock, at C2ES we believe the NEORI proposal is an encouraging example of how we can and must make progress on the climate and energy challenges we face. As much as we would like to see comprehensive solutions to our climate and energy challenges, those solutions are not on the immediate horizon. But if we come at these issues one by one, look for opportunities where interests converge, and are open to compromise, we can arrive at practical solutions benefiting our economy, our security and the environment.

At the Capitol Hill event where NEORI announced our recommendations in February, we also were able to welcome a bipartisan group of members of Congress who were on hand to express their support. Given the political gridlock in Washington in this election year, it was reassuring to see lawmakers from both political parties step up and say they agree that this is important work. 

Will we see comprehensive legislation on this issue pass the Congress this year? That’s unlikely … but we do think we have a shot at Section 45Q reform this year. Still, the NEORI recommendations have started the conversation and we feel optimistic that we can see progress on this issue in the not-too-distant future no matter who controls the Presidency and the Congress next year. 

All of which brings me to the closing segment of my remarks today, in which I simply want to appeal to all of you to help us keep pushing these issues forward. 

Rarely in the current political climate do Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington rally together in support of anything. So we need to make the most of this opportunity. Everyone who supports CO2-EOR has an obligation to educate their representatives in Washington and in state capitals around the country about the benefits this can deliver for our economy, our national security and the environment. 

We also need to help the general public understand what’s at stake here … why we need to reduce emissions, why CO2 use and sequestration in depleted oil fields is an important solution, and what this can mean for the future of our country, and for the future of fossil fuels as well.

Thank you very much.

Speech: Government Role in Low-Carbon Innovation

Eileen Claussen, President of C2ES
Opening Remarks for Low-Carbon Innovation Forum
Washington, D.C.
April 24, 2012

Thank you very much. On behalf of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, I want to welcome you to our latest forum on low-carbon innovation. As we gather here to talk about the role of innovation in addressing the twin challenges of energy and climate change, I am reminded of the story of the first-grade teacher who was reading the story of Chicken Little to her class. She comes to the part of the story where Chicken Little approaches the farmer and says to him, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” The teacher then asks her students, “And what do you think the farmer said next?”

One little girl in the front row of the class raises her hand and answers, “I suppose he said, ‘Holy cow! It’s a talking chicken!’”

In today’s political environment, it’s hard sometimes not to feel like that talking chicken when we bring up the important issues of energy and climate change. Sometimes it seems that no one really wants to pay attention to what we’re saying. It’s hard to get past the posturing and the politics to a place where there’s a possibility of real attention to these issues and real action.

Well, I am here to tell you this morning that we have to get to that place where people pay attention to us … and we have to get there as soon as possible. Spurring low-carbon innovation must be a national priority and I want to use my remarks to set the stage for the three excellent panels that will follow, dealing with the respective roles of business and government in this work.

Most of what we hear in Washington these days about public-private collaboration to advance low-carbon technologies revolves around a single example where things did not turn out well. I’m speaking, of course, of Solyndra. But whatever the truth ultimately proves to be —whether Solyndra is a case of undue political influence, or simply a casualty of a market shakeout — this one, overblown example hardly tells the full story. As we will hear in the course of the morning, both government and business have vital roles to play at every stage on the path to commercialization. And to ignore or undermine the role played by government is to risk losing the fight against climate change and our competitive positioning in the growing clean energy market.

It’s important to remember first and foremost what this work is about: it is about addressing two of the most important challenges facing our country and the world in the years ahead — the twin challenges of energy and climate change. And, even if you are an ardent skeptic of the science of climate change or of our ability to reduce emissions to a level where we can actually have a discernible impact on global temperature trends, the case for addressing our energy challenges should be motivation enough. 

Innovation in low-carbon technologies isn’t crucial solely because it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as important as that is. It is also crucial because it will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, contribute to our energy security and our national security, and drive economic growth and U.S. competitiveness in the years ahead.  

When we do a full accounting of the environmental and the economic and national security costs of our energy status quo in this country, we see that the old ways of doing things just aren’t sustainable. So what’s the solution? 

Well, in the short term, there are steps we can take right now to conserve energy, switch to low-carbon fuels and deploy more efficient technologies. But over the long term, achieving change on the scale that is needed will require new technologies. And we need to seed the technologies of tomorrow by investing right now in low-carbon innovation. 

This is not just a necessity; it is also a huge opportunity. Business leaders from Bill Gates to Jeff Immelt to Andrew Liveris agree that energy innovation is the next great global industry. With world energy consumption expected to grow by 40 percent in the next two decades alone, this is a growth opportunity that could rival what we’ve seen in recent decades with the growth of computing and the Internet.

But our research at C2ES shows that innovation in the energy industry doesn’t come easy. It takes time and one of the keys to success is making sure you have the right industries and the right partners working together. 

Our research also shows that forward-thinking companies, including some of the companies you will hear from today, are developing innovative technologies that could be part of the long-term solution to our energy and climate challenges. Last October, we released a report called The Business of Innovating: Bringing Low-Carbon Solutions to Market, which was developed with members of the our Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC) and included a survey of leading companies, a series of BELC workshops, and in-depth case studies of eight low-carbon innovation projects from four multinational companies. Here were some of the key findings:

  • First, companies emphasized the importance of business leaders or internal champions highlighting the strong contribution that low-carbon innovation can make to the bottom line and to future growth.
  • Second, business executives stressed that reductions in carbon emissions alone will not make low-carbon innovations successful in the marketplace; the innovations must also bring bottom-line value in terms of total cost reduction, enhanced performance, or competitive edge.
  • And third, the report notes the importance of balancing long-term vision and short-term profitability. Companies that are able to successfully commercialize low-carbon innovations have a constant focus on core competencies and customer needs today, while also studying the changing technical, market, and policy landscape of the future. 

The report also laid out the huge opportunities that are out there for businesses that embrace low-carbon innovation. By 2020, total investment in clean energy alone — that includes everything from renewable power to technologies that improve energy efficiency, such as the smart grid — is expected to reach $2.3 trillion. For the United States to sit back and allow other nations to assume a leadership role in meeting these needs would be, frankly, irresponsible.

Business is innovating, as we found in our report. But business cannot do this work alone. Our research confirmed that there are considerable barriers standing in the way of individual companies and industries as they try to move low-carbon solutions from the laboratory to full-scale commercialization. 

Among the companies we studied, one of the biggest of these barriers is what we refer to as “policy uncertainty.” Climate policy is on the back burner, as all of us know very well, and the nation’s elected leaders also can’t seem to come to agreement on a comprehensive energy policy. The result is that companies are left to guess for themselves what type of policy environment they will be operating in five or ten years from now. The current state of affairs makes it a huge challenge for business to make strategic bets on what energy products and services to bring to market.

I will say it again: Business and government each play critical roles in the innovation process. And if we want to develop the low-carbon technologies that will help us protect our environment, our energy security and our economy in the years to come, government needs to be a part of the solution.

And so in today’s panels we are looking at three of the ways in which government plays a vital role alongside business in advancing low-carbon innovation in this country. 

First … government must continue to support basic research, development, and demonstration. We need to keep evaluating and investing in the next generation of low-carbon energy technologies. Tools we rely on everyday — from the Internet to GPS — came out of research supported by the Department of Defense. 

Some of the breakthrough technologies enabling the natural gas boom in the United States were made possible by investments in research, development and demonstration from the Department of Energy and national labs.  It is estimated that U.S. shale gas can now meet our domestic gas needs for the next 100 years — that’s a pretty good return on our taxpayer investments. 

In 2007, Congress created ARPA-E — the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy — to help support the development of breakthrough energy technologies. It’s absolutely vital that government continue to invest in these types of efforts. 

The second role of government that we will explore today is government procurement. Through its purchasing power, the government can help create a market for innovative technologies. The government’s operational needs provide a large, early market for scaling up newly commercialized low-carbon technologies, which can then be adopted for private-sector use as well. For instance, the Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the country, and is very quickly realizing how improved energy technologies can save taxpayers millions. Military bases are becoming important markets for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Other federal and state agencies also are adopting low-carbon technologies that can ease tight budgets by reducing energy expenses. Government procurement can quickly move technologies up the learning curve and down the cost curve, helping these innovations become competitive in the broader marketplace.

And last but not least, we will have a panel today discussing the role of government standards and incentives in driving mass deployment. Time and time again, such public policies have driven the adoption of innovative technologies across the economy. Government plays a critical role as “standards-setter” for industries. Federal and state standards create incentives for companies to make long-term investments in innovation, and create demand for the resulting products.  

A particularly strong example is the recent steps by the Obama Administration to significantly increase fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for vehicles. In February, U.S. auto sales reached their highest level in four years, and the Big Three automakers all cite higher sales of smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles as a contributing factor. Two years ago, the Smart Car was the only conventional car available in the U.S. with a fuel economy rating of 40 miles a gallon or better. Today there are nine. The EPA estimates that the new standards will save the average driver $8,000 over the lifetime of a vehicle and reduce oil consumption by over 2 million barrels a day.

So those are three roles we will be exploring today as we talk about how government can help drive low-carbon innovation. Government as supporter of research, development and demonstration. Government as purchaser and market-creator. And government as a standard-setter driving mass deployment. It promises to be a very interesting and provocative morning, even though we don’t have any talking chickens on the agenda.  

Thank you very much. 

 

Post-Durban and Pre-Election: The Climate Outlook

Remarks of Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Deputy Minister's Speaker Series-Environment Canada
Ottawa, Canada
April 19, 2012

Watch a video of Mr. Diringer's remarks

I’ve been asked to talk today about the international picture – about where the U.N. climate negotiations might be headed after Durban. And I promise I will eventually work my way toward that topic.

But I’d like to start with some reflections on a few recent events in Washington–events that I think in many ways sum up where we stand in our struggle with climate change.   

This past weekend, some of you might know, Washington celebrated its annual Cherry Blossom Festival. This was a special year – the festival’s 100th anniversary. Tens of thousands of people from around the world joined in the festivities. There was only one problem: no cherry blossoms. They’d already come and gone – early – in fact, it was just about the earliest bloom in the century since the festival began. Washington was not the only place that experienced summer in March. Some 15,000 temperature records fell across the eastern half of the U.S.  In parts of Canada, temperatures were higher in March than the previously recorded highs for April.

Now we all know that you can’t really attribute any single event – like a blossom-less Cherry Blossom Festival–to global warming. But even among TV weathercasters, who are generally skeptical of climate change, its emerging influence is getting hard to ignore. Here’s what Stu Ostro, chief meteorologist at The Weather Channel, had to say about the record heat: “While natural factors are contributing to this warm spell, given the nature of it and its context with other extreme weather events and patterns in recent years, there is a high probability that global warming is having an influence…”

My point is this: the impacts of climate change are being felt now–and, on our present course, they are certain to intensify. At some levels, this reality is beginning to sink in.  As the Arctic sea ice begins to melt away, Canada, the United States, Russia and other Arctic states are very actively considering the implications for shipping, for resource development, and for security. Some are strengthening their military capabilities in the region. But in too many places–including here and in Washington–the growing risks of climate change are not yet real enough with the public, or with our political leaders, to drive the changes needed to avert the worst of them.  

Twenty years after the first Rio summit–which launched the international climate effort–we are barely making a dent in the problem. Global leaders agreed in Copenhagen on a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. To meet that goal, according to most scenarios, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015. That’s three years away. Instead, global emissions are projected to grow 17 percent by 2020, and 37 percent by 2035. Under that scenario, we could see average global temperatures rise 3 to 4 degrees by 2100.

So let me come back to Washington, and a second recent event: the latest step by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gases. The recession has significantly moderated U.S. emissions. They dropped 9 percent from 2007 to 2009. They’re now rising again, but fairly slowly. In fact, current projections don’t show emissions returning to 2005 levels until after 2035. But they would still likely be significantly higher in 2020 than the target pledged by the U.S. in Copenhagen.

Three years ago, you may recall, the goal was comprehensive legislation, including an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. A bill did pass the House, which was at the time controlled by the Democrats, but the effort fizzled in the Senate. The Republicans took control of the House in the next election–and a number of moderate Democrats who’d supported the bill were tossed out. Prospects for any major climate legislation in the near future are now generally put at nil.

So the only option open to the Administration is to regulate greenhouse gases under the federal Clean Air Act–and at the moment, it is proceeding cautiously. When it came to reducing emissions from cars and light trucks, the Administration was able to capitalize on a particular set of circumstances to deliver a genuine breakthrough. The automakers were already being pushed by California to lower emissions, and having just been rescued from bankruptcy by Washington, were more obliging than usual. The resulting rules – one already in place, the other pending–will increase the fuel economy of the average new vehicle from 30 miles a gallon today to 50 miles a gallon by 2025, avoiding some 3 billion metric tons of greenhouse emissions. 

Now the Administration is turning its attention to stationary sources–starting with power plants. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to limit greenhouse gases from new power plants. Under the proposed rule, they could not exceed the level emitted by a natural gas combined cycle plant – the most efficient now available. Any new coal-fired plants would have to use carbon capture-and-storage, which could be phased in over time. The reality, though, is that with the natural gas boom there is virtually no talk of building new coal plants.  So the rule would more or less lock in the direction things are projected to be heading anyway. The bigger question is what happens at existing power plants, which account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions. On that–or any other steps to control stationary sources – we’re unlikely to hear anything at all out of EPA until after the November election.

This is, of course, a presidential election year, which helps explain the context for a third recent event in Washington–one that no doubt more of you will have heard about. I’m talking about the President’s denial of a permit for the Keystone pipeline.  

Those of you very familiar with the manmade geography of North America know that Keystone would be but one more addition to a vast network of pipelines linking our two countries. Insofar as it would continue our dependence on high-carbon fuels–something that’s true of countless other investment decisions being made around the globe–Keystone is indeed worrisome. But given the global nature of the oil market, building or blocking Keystone is unlikely to have any significant impact on the price of gas, the U.S. job market, or greenhouse gas emissions. With or without Keystone, as long as oil prices remain high, the Canadian oil sands will continue to be developed, and that oil will reach market. If the real problem is, as I believe, our dependence on oil, then the real answers are reducing consumption and developing alternatives. Blocking Keystone does neither.

Yet with this being an election year; with the economy still struggling; with gasoline prices at record highs; with Keystone advocates promising jobs, cheaper gas and energy security; and with climate advocates rallying outside the White House, it’s easy to see how Keystone has emerged as a symbolic flashpoint. The upshot for now is that a southern section of the pipeline, fully within the U.S., is proceeding, and the President has left the door open for a revised proposal for the upper, transboundary portion.  

The political theatrics of the Keystone episode–with the president trying to punt the issue past the election, and Republicans in Congress forcing him to make a decision now, and the President managing to punt it anyway–underscore a troubling aspect of the climate and energy debate in the U.S.: like so many others, it has become increasingly partisan.

Which leads me to a fourth telling event recently in Washington: A group called Republicans for Environmental Protection took “Republican” out of its name. The group is now called ConservAmerica, a switch that its leaders say is aimed at better highlighting the conservative roots of conservation. Indeed, as far back as Teddy Roosevelt, some of America’s greatest environmental achievements have come with Republicans in power. But Republican moderates are today a disappearing breed. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the last remaining, announced her retirement recently. Looking back over her 33 years in Congress, she lamented that “an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my may or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

Even outside the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Washington, there is a clear partisan divide. Sixty-five percent of Democrats believe global warming is mainly caused by human activities, while among Republicans, it’s only 36 percent. Most Americans generally support an all-of-the-above approach to energy. But here, too, there are clear partisan differences: while roughly 85 percent of Democrats favor more government money for wind and solar, as well as mandatory CO2 controls, 85 percent of Republicans favor opening more federal land to oil drilling.

So that is how things look right now. I imagine many of you are wondering how they might look after the election. And I’ll get there. But for now, I’d like to put Washington aside for a moment and turn, as promised, to the international picture.

I think years from now, it is quite possible that we will look back at the UN climate conference last December in Durban as a critical turning point. The deal that was finally eked out there at 3 in the morning, 30 hours after the conference was supposed to end, delivers little in the way of concrete action. But it does open up some possibilities. I’d say it is a deal delicately poised between two eras in the evolving international climate regime–between the fading age of Kyoto, and a new phase beyond Kyoto, with developed and developing countries presumably on a more equal footing. What that phase might look like is at this stage very difficult to say.

Since the very start of the climate negotiations, there has been a tension between two different approaches: a top-down model with binding targets and timetables; and a bottom up approach called pledge-and-review, with countries undertaking voluntary efforts, and subject to some form of international review. Twenty years later, we’ve yet to choose between them. Right now, we are in fact pursuing both.

We’ve tried the top-down model, of course, in the form of the Kyoto Protocol. The theory there was that binding international commitments would drive domestic action. One might point to Canada as a clear exception in this case–or, perhaps, as proof that the whole theory is wrong. I, for one, think the truth likely lies somewhere in between. We’re all familiar with the Kyoto critique: that it covers a small and shrinking share of global emissions, while leaving emerging economies like China and India free to emit all they want. Canada is the only country to have actually withdrawn from the protocol, but others like Russia and Japan have made abundantly clear for some time that they want nothing to do with it after 2012.  

Now interestingly, even as Kyoto has been sputtering along, other things have been happening in the international regime. The 2009 Copenhagen summit, declared by many a failure because it didn’t produce a binding agreement, did in fact produce an important political agreement, one calling for both developed and developing countries to pledge climate targets or actions for 2020. The Copenhagen Accord also called for a new climate fund for developing countries, and stronger transparency measures so parties could better keep tabs on one another. In another wee-hour episode, this one perhaps best forgotten, formal adoption of the accord was blocked in the final moments by a handful of parties. But a year later in Cancun, parties adopted all of its major elements and began implementing them. They were, in essence, creating a parallel framework that looks very much like pledge and review.

The upside is that so far, more than 80 countries have made explicit pledges for 2020. This includes, for the first time, all of the major economies, both developed and developing. The downside is that taken together these pledges fall far short of what’s needed to put us on track for the 2-degree target adopted in Copenhagen, and again in Cancun.    

For all its failings, the Kyoto Protocol retains enormous symbolism around the globe as the first and only binding commitments to fight climate change.  And going into Durban, many developing countries were adamant that if there was to be any deal there, Kyoto’s survival had to be part of it.  While Canada and others were saying count us out, Europe said it might well be willing to take a new Kyoto target, but on one condition: that parties launch a new round of negotiations toward a binding comprehensive agreement.  

That became the crux of the Durban deal: Europe and a handful of others agreed to take new Kyoto targets, keeping the protocol alive, if only barely.  Parties took a number of steps to further flesh out the framework emerging from Copenhagen and Cancun.  And they adopted the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, launching new talks aimed at a new agreement in 2015.

What kind of agreement?  If you look to the Durban Platform for guidance, you won’t find much.  Here is the critical passage: parties “launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.”  There are two central issues embedded here, and on both, these words leave considerable ambiguity.

The first issue is the agreement’s legal character–will it be legally binding? A protocol would meet that test. So, presumably would “another legal instrument.” But the third option contained in the text–“an agreed outcome with legal force”–is a completely novel formulation. An artful one, to be sure, but one easily open to interpretation. And the interpretations already being suggested by some parties sound less than binding, at least as it’s been conventionally understood.

The second issue is the balance of responsibility between developed and developing countries, a perennial concern. Back at the start, in the Rio convention, the parties spoke to this issue by laying down the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” A country’s responsibility varies according to its contribution to the problem, and its capacity to address it. Kyoto applied this principle in an especially stark and especially rigid manner: binding targets for developed countries, no new commitments for developing countries, and no clear path for ever moving beyond that.  One thing that can be said of the Durban Platform is that it sweeps away this strict notion of differentiation, and with good reason. China has overtaken the United States at the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, and collectively, developing countries now account for nearly 60 percent of annual emissions.

But beyond discarding the strict binary differentiation of Kyoto, Durban offers scant guidance. While it doesn’t directly invoke the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities,” it does so implicitly by placing the new agreement “under the Convention.” It would be a mistake to think for a minute that developing countries have in any way abandoned this core principle. And while Durban says the new agreement will be “applicable to all parties,” the same actually could be said of Kyoto, so it’s hard to read that as ensuring full symmetry.

On another issue–the form of commitments to be taken–Durban is utterly silent. The Copenhagen and Cancun agreements were clear that developed country pledges were to be economy-wide emission targets, while developing countries were free to pledge in any form they chose. Is that the presumption for next time? Can’t say.

So on the one hand, by knocking down the so-called firewall between developed and developing countries erected by the Kyoto Protocol, and by establishing a strong preference at least for a binding outcome, the Durban Platform opens up, for the first time, the possibility of a balanced, binding agreement. On the other hand, it tells us virtually nothing about what that agreement should look like.

Let’s look again at the two models we’ve already created. One option might be to keep the Kyoto approach of binding emission targets, but this time set targets for the major developing countries too. Realistically, I see very little chance of getting there by 2015. Another option is to keep building up the framework coming out of Copenhagen and Cancun. It’s proven to be a very inclusive framework, while allowing differentiation between developed and developing countries in the form of their commitments.   

But how would we move it beyond pure pledge and review? Can we make it a system that actually encourages countries to elevate their efforts by giving them confidence that others are doing their fair share? Can we agree on what a fair share of effort is?  Will countries be ready to legally bind themselves? And with Canada providing proof that binding is not always binding, we really do have to ask ourselves, what is it we even mean by binding?

As we start looking for answers, I think this is a good moment to reconsider what it is we are actually looking to the international climate regime to accomplish. Experience has shown us that in the case of many countries, including many of the largest emitters, we cannot realistically expect the international regime to drive the domestic effort. But I believe it can serve to facilitate and to encourage; and as the place where emerging national efforts are stitched together, hopefully in ways that that build confidence and a sense of reciprocity that, over time, delivers a stronger collective effort.

If that is one’s vision of the international effort, then what follows is that the real work to be done right now is not in the international negotiations, but rather, at home. So let me return to Washington, and our election, and the outlook beyond.

One could very reasonably suggest that a re-elected President Obama would be more favorably inclined to strong climate action than would a President Romney. But the reality is that how quickly we are able to ramp up the U.S. effort depends a lot more on factors other than who occupies the White House. First and foremost is the state of the economy, and while there are hopeful signs, we’re not out of the woods yet. The next most important factor is probably the level of public awareness and concern, and that may be very closely linked to the weather.  In a recent survey, a large majority of Americans said they believe global warming is making the weather more extreme. As the impacts become more pronounced, so may public support for action.

And regardless of who’s in the White House, it matters a lot who is in Congress. Right now the situation is so fluid that you couldn’t rule out the possibility of either the Democrats or the Republicans taking both houses. I think it is fair to say that whatever the outcome of the election, stronger action, whether in Congress or through EPA, will remain an uphill fight.

Given that outlook, we see two priorities. The first is to continue laying the ground for a comprehensive policy solution by working with all parties to explore the options, and by helping to strengthen public awareness and concern. The second is to find ways to make concrete progress now, piece by piece, by looking for opportunities where different interests converge, and are prepared to compromise around practical solutions. To cite just one example, we recently pulled together a group from industry, government, labor and the environmental community that worked out joint recommendations to expand enhanced oil recovery using CO2 captured from power plants and industrial facilities. It’s a plan that would reduce CO2 emissions while boosting domestic oil production. We need to find more opportunities like this, get people together, and prove that progress is possible.

I’d like to end where I began, by noting that climate change is no longer remote–it is here and now. I understand that just as Washington’s festival goers missed out on the cherry blossoms, the world’s largest ice skating rink barely made an appearance this winter. Up north, the permafrost is melting, the sea ice is shrinking, and the ancient ways of the Inuit are in danger. We can see the signs, and we have begun to take some steps. But the truth is that neither the U.S. nor Canada is yet coming to grips with the climate realities and climate risks that we face.  We are not out of time, but it is running short. There are serious choices upon us.  Let us hope we choose well.

Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E): Innovation through the U.S. Department of Energy

Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E): Innovation through the U.S. Department of Energy

April 2012

Download the full brief (PDF)


Summary

Creating a low-carbon future for the United States requires innovative clean energy technologies that are cost-effective compared to the fossil fuels the country has long relied on. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) was established in 2007 to help achieve this goal by supporting the research, development and demonstration of potential breakthrough technologies.

ARPA-E received $858.8 million in federal funding through early 2012, and supported 180 technology projects with $521.7 million of awards. Projects ranged from enhancing wind turbine designs to creating underground energy storage and improving carbon capture and storage technologies. Beyond direct support, ARPA-E awards have helped companies leverage more than $200 million in additional private investment. This brief provides an overview of ARPA-E and highlights of supported projects.

 

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Low-Carbon Innovation Forum

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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Watch the videos of the low-carbon innovation forum.

Low-Carbon Innovation Forum

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
8:45 am - 12:00 pm 
7th Floor Knight Conference Center at the Newseum 
555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC
 

Innovating the next generation of low-carbon technologies is essential for combating climate change. It is also an enormous economic opportunity, especially for early market leaders. The troubles encountered by clean tech ventures such as Solyndra have sparked debate in Washington over government’s role in advancing low-carbon technologies. This Forum brings together representatives of industry and government to explore the vital roles played by each along the path to commercialization – from development and demonstration to scale-up, then mass deployment – and how to ensure U.S. success in the growing low-carbon market. Topics will include collaborative R&D in electric power, the military’s role in driving energy efficiency, and how tougher fuel economy standards have helped revitalize the U.S. auto industry.


Keynote Remarks


 

Teaming Up on R&D

  • Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director for Commercialization, ARPA-E
  • David Mohler, Chief Technology Officer, Duke Energy
  • Revis James, Director, Energy Technology Assessment Center, EPRI


 

The Power of Procurement

  • Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Undersecretary for Installations & Environment, 
    U.S. Department of Defense
  • Mark Wagner, Vice President, Government Relations, Johnson Controls Inc.
  • John Sindelar, Client Industry Executive, HP Enterprise Service


 

Driving Mass Deployment

  • Ronald Medford, Deputy Administrator, NHTSA
  • Mike Robinson, Vice President, Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs, 
    General Motors
  • Brad Markell, International Representative, United Auto Workers

 

Listen to a podcast of C2ES President Eileen Claussen discussing the roles business and government play in advancing low-carbon innovation.

Follow the event on Twitter using #BizInnovate

Can Nuclear Be Part of Our Clean Energy Future?

Nuclear energy is often touted as a reliable, carbon-free element in our electricity portfolio, but three major challenges must be overcome before it can play a bigger role in our energy mix: cost, reactor safety, and waste disposal. Recent progress on each of these fronts shows that nuclear energy may indeed be a greater component of our clean energy future.

As a zero-carbon energy source that also has the highest capacity factor, new nuclear generation is especially well suited to provide baseload generation, which is an emerging gap in our electricity system. As electricity demand rises, aging coal plants are retired, and we pursue greenhouse gas emission reductions, there is a growing need for new low- and zero-carbon baseload electricity generation. Without technological breakthroughs in electricity storage technology, wind, and solar, energy cannot adequately meet baseload demand due to intermittency. Natural gas is lower emitting than coal, but it still emits greenhouse gases and has historically been vulnerable to price volatility.  

March 2012 Newsletter

Click here to view our March 2012 newsletter.

Learn about new EPA power plant rules, an action plan to get more electric vehicles on the road, recommendations from the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Intiative to boost domestic oil production while cutting CO2 emissions from power plants, and more in C2ES's March 2012 newsletter.

Bloomberg Editors Endorse NEORI Recommendation

March 27, 2012
Bloomberg Editorial

In a March 27 editorial, Bloomberg editors addressed how the U.S. can learn from China's push for capturing carbon and highlighted the work of the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative (NEORI), a group of industry, state, environmental and labor leaders convened by C2ES and the Great Plains Institute. In the piece, Bloomberg endorses NEORI’s recommendation that Congress create a production tax credit for power companies that capture CO2 and send it to oil companies for enhanced oil recovery. Below is an excerpt from the editorial.

The federal government, too, could help push the technology forward, by taking up a smart strategy that has been suggested by a coalition of oil industry executives, environmentalists and state officials called the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative. It has to do with the other side of the carbon- capture equation -- what to do with the CO2 once you’ve taken it out of the power-plant exhaust.

China’s Huaneng plant sells its carbon dioxide to companies that make carbonated drinks and dry ice. Duke envisions turning it into solid carbonate to be used for building materials or road construction. Some innovators are feeding CO2 to microscopic algae to produce either fuel or proteins used in nutrition supplements or animal feed.

But it can also be used to coax more oil out of the earth. Since 1972, oil companies have injected carbon dioxide taken from natural sources to free up crude trapped in rock formations. The industry operates 3,900 miles of pipelines carrying 65 million tons of CO2 per year, and “enhanced oil recovery,” as the technique is known, accounts for 6 percent of U.S. oil production.

With new technology and enough CO2, the industry could use enhanced recovery to increase production by 67 billion to 137 billion barrels, according to a report from the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative. The report envisions using 20 billion to 45 billion metric tons of CO2 from carbon capture -- the total amount expected to be produced by power plants for the next 10 to 20 years.

We endorse the coalition’s recommendation that Congress create a production tax credit for power companies that capture CO2 and send it to oil companies for enhanced recovery. By increasing domestic oil production, such a credit is estimated to be able to pay for itself within a decade.

Click here to read the full editorial

 

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