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Entries in Climate Change (3)

Monday
Nov302015

Washington Post on Electric Vehicles: Coal Generates Electricity

Last week the Washington Post exposed electric cars’ dirty secret: they use electricity! The piece makes the astute point an electric vehicle (EV) is only as clean as the electricity that is used to power it. It is true that in many parts of the world that still heavily rely on coal, such as China, the climate benefit from an EV charging from the grid may be slim or even slightly negative. While it is important to remember that EVs do have a climate impact, EVs offer other advantages over gasoline-powered cars that need to be part of the discussion when evaluating the technology:

1)    EVs shift pollution from many mobile sources to a manageable number of point sources. It is much easier to regulate a handful of coal power plants than it is to regulate a million cars. You don’t have to worry about implementing vehicle emissions tests or removing older, heavier-polluting vehicles from the road. Instead, you can require these specific point sources to employ the best pollution control technology available and easily confirm that the plants are in fact using that technology. In the U.S., for example, stricter pollution regulations and competition from other sources of electricity has encouraged the rapid demise of coal-fired power plants.

2)    EVs shift pollution from population centers to less-populated areas. In addition to carbon dioxide, cars emit other pollutants that are harmful to human health. When most people walk outside their front door, they do not see a coal-fired power plant. Almost everyone sees cars. Moving pollution outside of city centers can improve air quality and bring corresponding health benefits to city residents. The Chinese government apparently recognized the benefits of reducing pollution from cars in 2008 when it banned diesel trucks from driving in Beijing and required city residents to alternate their driving days during the Olympics.

3)    EVs can be integrated into the smart grid to store electricity when it is cheap and sell it back to the grid when it is expensive. As Tesla understands, EVs are really made up of two new useful technologies: (1) an electric motor and (2) a battery. The EV battery can be charged at times when electricity is typically cheaper to produce (i.e., at night). During the hottest days of the year, when electricity demand is at its highest, EV owners could sell some of the electricity stored in the EV battery back to the grid. This could help reduce the need to build additional power plants to meet those high demand periods and reduce the cost of electricity for all customers.

4)    Electric grids are getting cleaner in most parts of the world. The electric vehicle industry is still a fledgling industry. EVs are not likely to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years. However, as electric grids across the world are transformed into cleaner, smarter systems, EVs could play a key role in reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and conventional pollution around the world.

As the Post piece suggests, it may be the case that in some parts of the world, EVs do not currently make sense as a climate solution.  It is difficult to accept, however, that widespread EV adoption would make climate change a more difficult problem.   

Monday
Apr062015

New Misguided Opponent of Renewables: Famous Novelist Jonathan Franzen

In a lapse of fact checking and logic, the normally rigorous New Yorker magazine published a lengthy essay by noted novelist and bird watcher Jonathan Franzen that, among other things, called wind and solar power “blights on the landscape” that should be abandoned in favor of bird sanctuaries because “drastic planetary overheating is a done deal.”

The crux of Franzen’s argument is summed up about halfway through his piece: “The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy. We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe.”

As was immediately pointed out in several incredulous critiques of Franzen’s article, he mistakenly thinks that renewable energy and other strategies for fighting climate change preclude conservation of current animals and ecosystems

In particular, Franzen lashed out at Audubon based on his belief that the organization has lost its way by preferencing the the fight against climate change over protecting birds.  Audubon CEO David Yarnold’s excellent response is nicely encapsulated by his line that “our members can walk and chew gum at the same time.” 

Franzen also wants to give up on climate change because the problem is too big for any one person’s actions to have any effect: “The scale of greenhouse-gas emissions is so vast, the mechanisms by which these emissions affect the climate so nonlinear, and the effects so widely dispersed in time and space that no specific instance of harm could ever be traced back to my 0.0000001-per-cent contribution to emissions.”

He probably thinks voting is a waste of time too.

For more thoughtful and hilarious takedowns of Franzen’s “thinkpiece,” read Climate Progress and Get Energy Smart Now

 

Friday
Dec052014

Two Important Clean Energy Announcements for New England

The following content was originally posted to Verrill Dana’s environmental law blog Law of the Land (and Air and Water) at www.environmentallawupdate.com.

Offshore Wind
January 29, 2015 – that’s the date the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has selected for the auctioning of four leases within the Massachusetts offshore Wind Energy Area (WEA). The WEA is located 12 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and encompasses more than 742,000 acres. A map of the proposed location can be found here (green shading). Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell praised the Commonwealth and Governor Patrick stating, “This sale will triple the amount of federal offshore acreage available for commercial-scale wind energy projects, bringing Massachusetts to the forefront of our nation’s new energy frontier.”

Click to read more ...