Archive for February, 2012

Communicating on climate change—don’t forget the heart

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

or watch on YouTube
Martin Palmer talks on working with world’s religions, and the importance of stories people understand.

Religions can do a lot: some 8% of land is owned by religions, and 15% of forests are considered sacred—in southeast Asia, trees were designated monks, to protect them. Taoists ruled to protect biodiversity from those who were using any of 28 endangered species for medicine: “You can’t be healed if in seeking materials to heal you, you disturb the balance of the universe.” Much more effective than passing laws.

People change with the story their religion tells, not from the values it supposedly promulgates. A good portion of the world’s people get their values from the stories they hear through their religions. (The idea that there is a conflict between science and religion is peculiarly American.)

You are converted by stories, something which touches your heart and mind. Never use a word unless you can show us a poem in which it has been used, because if people don’t love it enough to include it in a poem, it probably means it means nothing to them.

or watch on YouTube
Randy Olson talks on what works in reaching people on climate change, and the changes that have occurred in environmentalism, from the days when the organizations worked together, to today’s unwillingness to do anything without their brand.

Today, we hear the name of environmental groups a lot, but not much is accomplished. Eg, see Losing Ground: American environmentalism at the close of the twentieth century by Mark Dowie.

Olson shares several stories on the importance of telling a good story—a fact wrapped inside of an emotion.

Thanks to Nuclear Australia which got the talks from NY Times Dot Earth.

Blue Ribbon Commission report on nuclear waste

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Prof. Per Peterson from University of California, Berkeley, spoke February 6 on the conclusions of the Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste. He was one of a couple technical people on the commission; most were more into policy.

Visiting New Mexico
Per Peterson, on the left, and others visit New Mexico.

The recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission:

1) A new, consent-based approach to siting and development

The process should be transparent, phased, adaptive, standards- and science-based, and governed by partnerships agreements. Consent-based siting is now occurring in other countries (Sweden and Finland have chosen sites; construction will begin soon. France is in the process.) States must have the ability to negotiate legally-binding agreements (eg, New Mexico negotiated the right to regulate toxic chemical waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for military waste)—this is probably single most important element of consent.

WIPP had a lot going for it (the citizens of New Mexico favored the site) and their senior Senator (Pete Domenici) sat on both appropriating and authorizing committees.

2) A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.

The Secretary of Energy has a very large portfolio, and waste management is a very small part, and today, turnover is too rapid to establish relationships with communities.

3) Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.

Electricity users pay a 0.1 cent/kWh surcharge for permanent waste storage. Every year, >$750 million from this fund is used to offset the deficit. If it is spent, other discretionary programs must be cut. The Administration can make this change without Congressional approval, a very important first step.

4) Prompt efforts to develop one or more geologic disposal facilities.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires a 2nd repository, so even if you favor Yucca Mountain, there are other local communities interested in moving forward.

5) Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.

The report doesn’t say how prompt, but such a facility could save money from court claims for onsite storage, and waste could be moved away from sites that have closed plants.

6) Prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.

7) Support for continued U.S. innovation in nuclear energy technology and for workforce development.

8) Active U.S. leadership in international effort to address safety, waste management, non-proliferation, and security concerns.

There is broad agreement on these recommendations. The President can begin some (where fees go), but most recommendations require Congress to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

The report was delayed after Fukushima, and based on that event, the Commission recommends that National Academy of Sciences undertake another study of security and safety spent fuel storage. Spent fuel storage performed well through Fukushima, but we still need to learn whatever lessons there are to learn.

• The overall record of the U.S. nuclear waste program has been one of broken promises and unmet commitments.
• The Commission finds reasons for confidence that we can turn this record around
• We know what we have to do, we know we have to do it, and we even know how to do it.
• We urge the Administration and Congress to act on our recommendations without further delay.

And—We have ethical, legal, and financial responsibility to find solutions.

Decarbonizing California requires relying more on electricity, once it’s low carbon

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

A 2006 California law, Assembly Bill 32, obligates the state to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (30% below business as usual), and to 80% below that level by 2050 (90% below business as usual). How is it to done? A team from UC, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, and elsewhere examines this challenge in the January 6, 2012 Science.

The conclusions of Jim Williams, et al:
• improvements in efficiency (doing more with less) are critical. If the increase is 1.3%/year, the amount of energy needed in 2050 will be 40% less, and achievable. This rate of improvmenent would be “historically unprecedented”.

• Electricity must be decarbonized, to below 25 grams carbon dioxide equivalent/kWh by 2050. This will be hard. Carbon capture and storage must achieve 98% reduction in GHG emissions, compared to current predictions of up to 90%.

• Only as electricity is decarbonized, other sectors must become more dependent on electricity. Much more dependent—today electricity is 15% of end-use energy, but by 2050, it will be 55%, as buildings and water are heated by electricity, and vehicles are electrified. (About 30% of transportation, long-haul freight and air, will use a combination of biofuels and fossil fuels.)

• Biofuels, such as newer technology ethanol using plant cellulose rather than sugars, or diesel made from algae, would supply 20% of transportation energy, assuming these technologies are commercialized in time.

Some numbers:
• CA consumes 300 TWh electricity today (300 billion kWh, population 37 million). Under business as usual, this will increase to almost 500 TWh by 2050. To meet this goal, and replace existing supplies as they age, CA will need to supply 3,000 MW in new power each year between now and 2050, and add 100 miles of transmission capability each year. High efficiency would keep electricity levels the same, in the absence of electrifying heating and transportation.

Note: 1,000 MW is the amount of electricity provided by a 1,100 MW nuclear reactor running at just over 90% capacity factor (essentially, down time for refueling and a little maintenance). It is the amount of electricity supplied by just over 5,000 MW of solar (almost 20% capacity factor) or 3,000 MW wind (about 35% capacity factor).

• Beginning about 2020, the electrification of transportation and heating will add to electricity requirements, doubling electricity demand on the high efficiency path. Four scenarios are examined for replacing fossil energy with low-GHG electricity. All scenarios assume renewables other than large hydro will supply at least 1/3 of CA electricity. Nuclear remains at today’s levels or increases.

The high renewables scenario (3/4 renewables, and less fossil plus hydro than today), 4,000 MW needs to be added per year, more than for other scenarios because intermittents need backup capacity as well. The 4,000 MW might represent 9,000 MW wind along with backup). (To compare, Texas leads the US in wind power, with 10,000 MW.) This choice requires 600 miles of new transmission lines each year. There are a fair number of details between here and there.

The high nuclear scenario (60% nuclear, and less fossil plus hydro than in the high renewables scenario) requires 3,500 MW in new construction each year between now and 2050. That’s just over two 1,100 MW nuclear reactors/year, plus a lot of renewables. It requires 500 miles in added transmission lines/year.

In the high carbon capture and storage scenario, carbon capture and storage supplies over half of 2050 electricity. This scenario requires 3,500 MW in new construction each year, and 300 miles/year in new transmission lines, less than other mitigation scenarios, presumably because current fossil fuel plants would continue to be used.

The mixed scenario is 1/3 renewables, 1/6 nuclear, and 40% CCS. It requires the same new construction as the high nuclear and high CCS scenarios, 3,500 MW, and 400 miles in new transmission lines each year.

In terms of cost, the authors reach conclusions similar to those in The Power to Reduce CO2 Emissions: The Full Portfolio, 2009 Technical Report. Costs are “roughly comparable” and would be approximately double today’s costs. (Business as usual also has much higher costs, even in the high efficiency case. In the absence of high efficiency, just imagine what happens to prices as demand increases, and increases, and increases.) The document from Electric Power Research Institute finds the costs of nuclear less than wind and much less than solar.

All scenarios require storage capacity for the renewables, from a low of 4,000 MW storage in the high nuclear scenario to three times that in the high renewables scenario.

Other points:
• Technology improvements are needed. Many.

[A]chieving the infrastructure changes described above will require major improvements in the functionality and cost of a wide array of technologies and infrastructure systems, including but not limited to cellulosic and algal biofuels, [carbon capture and storage], on-grid energy storage, electric vehicle batteries, smart charging, building shells and appliances, cement manufacturing, electric industrial boilers, agriculture and forestry practices, and source reduction/capture of high-[global warming potential] emissions from industry.

• Electric cars would face less cost variation than we see today with oil price instability, and cash flow would be domestic rather than to oil powers. However, the cost of electricity would be higher. We don’t know today what capital plus fuel costs will be for electric cars of the future.

The first point is considered important enough that James Murray and David King focused on it in Nature in January, in Climate policy: Oil’s tipping point has passed—demand of fossil fuels is rising faster than supply, so they are susceptible to large increases in price with small increases in demand. We see this now for oil; the same will be true soon for natural gas and coal. The transition away from fossil fuels will take decades, no matter how motivated we are, earlier is better than later:

Governments that fail to plan for the decline in fossil-fuel production will be faced with potentially major blows to their economies even before rising sea levels flood their coasts or crops begin to fail catastrophically.

• Non-energy sources causing climate change also must be reduced by 80% as well. Examples include cement manufacture, agriculture, and forestry.

• There will be a cost, estimated to be 0.5% of gross state product in 2020, increasing to 1.2% in 2035 and 1.3% in 2050 (about $1,200 per capita). Electrifying transportation is the most expensive item on the list. Our current market structure probably can’t make the shift fast enough, requiring “novel public-private partnerships”. Aggressive R&D could reduce the cost of low-carbon electricity perhaps 40% between 2020 and 2050, saving Californians as much as $1.5 trillion.

• Per capita GHG emissions and gross domestic product are similar to those in Japan and western Europe; what works here (if it works here) may have implications elsewhere.

The article has links and >100 pages of supporting online material for those wanting to read more. For a shorter analysis, see the LBL news release.