Just How Hard Is It To Cut US Greenhouse Gases?

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By Leonard S. Hyman, an economist and financial analyst specializing in the energy sector. He headed utility equity research at a major brokerage house and is author, co-author or editor of six books including America’s Electric Utilities: Past, Present and Future and Energy Risk Management: A Primer for the Utility Industry, and William I. Tilles is a senior industry advisor and speaker on energy and finance. Originally published at OilPrice

It isn’t easy to diet and it may be even harder to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). A new study from Lawrence Berkeley Labs, published in Nature Climate Change, makes that abundantly clear. It argues that after implementing the administration’s current and proposed policies, the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will miss the 2025 goal by 20 percent.

Roughly, the USA now emits 7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases per year. The plan is to get the num-ber down to about 5 billion metric tons in 2025.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plant initiative could reduce emissions by a substan-tial 240 million metric tons if it’s not overturned by the courts. This constitutes a big piece of the package.

The Berkeley researchers then looked for additional reductions in GHGs. They identified 121 million metric tons fewer of GHG emissions by restricting methane emissions (which are greater than previously thought), 67 million from changes in refrigerator chemicals and 29 million from efficiency measures. That still does not get us even close to attaining the 2 billion metric tons of GHG reductions targeted by our government. Even a more coal-restrictive stance by the EPA might “only” reduce GHGs by an estimated 407 million tons. That still leaves a big gap.

Electricity production in the U.S. accounts for roughly 30 percent of the nation’s annual greenhouse gas emission “budget”, about 2.1 billion tons. Existing and enhanced EPA restrictions would reduce that num-ber to about 1.5 billion tons.

Imagine the discussion in the White House. “We have to adhere to the Paris standards for emissions but we are way short of cuts. As ‘Feds’, we can really influence two sectors, transportation and energy. It’s an election year. No way we tell Americas to give up SUVs and drive tiny cars. Too Jimmy Carter-ish. But elec-tric companies could “decarbonize” more if somebody gave them a push. Besides, who understands their electric bill?”

Assuming the new data is correct, electric power generators may see increasing pressures for emissions reductions. The industry is just too big a piece of the nation’s carbon footprint. To us, the implications are an accelerated capital replacement cycle, more efforts at carbon capture and sequestration and higher electricity prices.

These pressures are likely to occur as sales growth in much of the electric utility industry has been flattish in recent years. An added push for more renewables, due to a perceived shortfall in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, could “crowd out” existing fossil fueled generation. This is already happening in Texas where a temporary abundance of wind power displaces fossil and nuclear in the electric grid. Their solution? Build more transmission and move power from West Texas to cities like Dallas further east. In California, solar power can displace considerable fossil resources until demand peaks every evening.

It’s not that electric companies can’t adjust to this. But the systems were never built to compete on a price basis. They were strictly a cost plus operation and fully regulated to boot. Now they are forced to compete in wholesale power markets against sellers with zero fuel costs. They can’t.

Years ago California pioneered a technique (helped by Enron) to bankrupt utilities in short order. Restrain retail prices while effectively forcing utilities to purchase power in unregulated wholesale markets. We doubt we’ll see a return to the “bad old days” but it does point to the need for addressing how to reconfig-ure the grid, its changing operations and the challenges of running this hybrid system of fossil and renewa-bles. The compensation schemes for all base load and intermediate forms of generation, especially fossil and nuclear, will ultimately have to be addressed. Most power generation assets are base load resources in a world that increasingly values “cycling”.

Regulated utilities at least still have relatively “captive” customers to absorb higher costs of environmental compliance and the lost revenues from renewable displacement. But wholesale power producers get no revenue guarantees apart from contractual arrangements. For them, environmental improvement can produce an economic cost as well as benefit.

In short, the latest environmental research seems to tell us that electric companies have a rough road ahead. The electric generating industry may have to bear an even greater burden than presently anticipat-ed. Depending on our nation’s resolve to go “zero carbon”, even plentiful natural gas may not transition us smoothly to a non-carbon future unless it reduces emissions too.

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    1. Mark P.

      Most people don’t even think of it. Though at 17 percent of emissions, IIRC, it’s the largest single source of anthropogenic hydrocarbon release.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        To be fair, I think this article is looking solely at the electricity supply sector, of course there are many more elements to reducing emissions.

        I’ve often thought that there are two very simply ways to greatly reduce agricultures impact:

        1. A tax on grain fed to animals. Grain fed animals are vastly more damaging to the environment that grass fed ones.

        2. A tax on key inputs, most obviously Nitrogen (adding nitrogen to land is pretty much the same as turning fossil fuel into food).

        Much of the damage caused by agriculture is simply the result of an awful set of incentives set by the subsidy/tax system which seems to actually encourage the worst practices. A huge percentage of the ‘low hanging fruit’ available to quickly reduce CO2 emissions is in the Ag sector.

        1. john

          Ok, devil’s advocate. If we tax nitrogen, humans will continue to over-produce and under-distribute food.

          The whole Dept. of Agriculture needs to stop subsidies before we can have ,meaningful taxation.

          A joke on legal weed is that it’ll only be mainstream when the government pays people not to grow it.

          1. JohnnyGL

            You can just ban haber-bosch fertilizer. There’s no real need for it. There are plenty of known biofertilizers like compost-tea or even just plain human urine.

            Carbon needs a tax because we still need some fossil fuels, but we need to incentivize and prioritize where/when to use it. Sitting in stop-and-go traffic on the highway is clearly a waste of concentrated fuel which is in limited supply.

              1. Donna in Inwood

                Delighted to see this discussion here. “Agroecology” could have a big impact on redicing GHG emissions.

                Union of Concerned Scientists put out a paper last year. It called for funding for education and research:

                We recommend the following actions:
                • The USDA, particularly through NIFA and the ARS, should use its authority and budget to prioritize and scale up holistic agroecological research, extension, and education programming. Systems-based research requires significant support over several years, so consistent priorities and substantial awards are essential. The USDA should encourage projects that maximize public benefit through knowledge sharing and cooperation.

                • Land-grant colleges and universities, as well as the extension service, should expand research, education, and extension programming on agroecology and sustainable food systems, and they should foster the exchange of agroecological knowledge. To enable large-scale change, programs should seek to combine agroecological practices with socioeconomic support mechanisms.

                • Congress should significantly increase funding to the USDA and partner agencies for agroecological research, and it should do so through the annual budget and appropriations process. A concentration on systems-based research that brings together ecological and socioeconomic sustainability is vital.


        2. JohnnyGL

          Regarding point 1, you can just stop subsidizing grain instead of taxing and subsidizing at the same time. :)

          You can just ban feedlots or revive the idea Obama mentioned in 2008 (referenced by Michael Pollan’s recent article in NYT) which was to regulate feedlots as polluters by the EPA. They really wreck the Mississippi river.

          I’d also like to see a tax on large landholdings (which are inherently less efficient as farms than smaller-sized ones, whack anything over 100-200 acres, for example).

          Plus, go get the big ag companies with anti-trust lawsuits.

        3. different clue

          I keep reading claims that properly managed pasture and/ or rangeland under livestock net-net sucks DOWN carbon FROM the air, and seQUESters it IN the below-surface soil.

          Surely there is a way to study the issue scientifically and move from anecdata to un-debunkable evidence?

    2. Adam Eran

      Several responses in one:

      1. Animals are not the biggest contributor to global warming by a long shot. (See this for the debunk). They do exceed human transportation, but heating and cooling buildings is a bigger component. That said, if you go vegan, you’ll be healthier (see this for testimonials). Diseases cured or stopped in their tracks include diabetes, heart & artery disease, obesity, lupus and multiple sclerosis. I personally thought this would be a sacrifice, but have discovered that with good salsa, you can eat tree bark and be happy.

      2. Big ag has as much political leverage as any of the plutocracy. Michael Pollan quotes one farmer who describes ag subsidies as “money laundering for Cargill and ADM”…whose execs did time for price fixing, thanks to a PBS Frontline exposee. Guess who is now sponsoring Frontline (hint: Cargill & ADM)

      3. Farm subsidies as currently structured follow Nixon Ag secretary Earl Butz’ dictum: “Get big or get out.” I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to change. (Pollan says as much as 40% of ag income is subsidy, too!)

  1. PlutoniumKun

    The US’s poor transmission grid is a major constraint on renewables – as it is in many countries. Germany is now decelerating investment in renewables for exactly this reason. One of the many missed opportunities of Obama’s period in office was that apparently he was originally very keen on investing in a smart grid as part of the 2008 stimulus, but Christina Romer persuaded him it would take too long to implement. A huge missed opportunity.

    In the absence of a major investment in DC lines connecting up windy/sunny areas with the major population centres, the only way to stop renewable investment from cannibalising itself is to focus on storage. An optimist would hope that the increasing use of electricity in transport (specifically electric cars) will help in balancing load and encouraging further renewable investments. However, we are a decade or more away from that without a major Federal push. And of course we know that we are heading for four years at least of Washington deadlock and numerous States controlled by Republicans. So fat chance.

    I suppose we should look on the bright side and hope that Hilary’s Middle East and Central Asia war with Russia will push up the price of fossil fuels.

    1. Synoia

      focus on storage

      Which has its own environmental impacts, either dreadful land (pumped storage) use or strip (litiium) mining.

      1. FluffytheObeseCat

        Lithium extraction is not done via ‘strip’ mining. In the US it’s pumped from subsurface basinal brines via wells that have tiny footprints. The largest land use component is in the evaporative pools used to concentrated it out of the brine. And I use the word large in a very relative sense. Lithium mining would have orders of magnitude less impact on land than coal, even if it were upscaled to serve the same energy usage levels.

        Underground or open pit methods are used to extract lithium from pegmatite ore, but these are not ‘strip mining’. Even the open pits are small holes (as in 3x to 4x smaller) compared to the vast planed regions that = coal strip mines.

        And lithium is recyclable, unlike fossil fuels. You make the batteries, you use the batteries; the lithium is stripped back out of them and reused.

  2. reslez

    I’m looking forward to seeing some new ideas and infrastructure investment in our power utilities when the Sanders administration takes office in January.


    Given both of the viable candidates we’re going to see flat nothing, forever. When southern Louisiana washes away and Florida is underwater all the yahoos will call it their religion’s “armageddon” instead of a totally foreseeable consequence.

  3. PhilU

    There is no way avoid 2C without LFTR’s The EROI on renewables is just too damn low. It takes about a year or two of full power generation from a wind or solar plant before they have produced more energy than it took to make them. Just thinking about it that way it would take most of the oil we have left just to manufacture all the solar and wind power plants we would need.

    1. nowhere

      Immediately followed by a break through in nuclear fusion…it’s only a few years away…

      1. PhilU

        I’m not naive, I know it hasn’t gotten funding. The fear of nuclear power because 33 people died 20 years ago is still a real thing. The emissions from combustion engines have taken many more lives. But it is the only plausible scenario from an energy density perspective.

  4. ChrisFromGeorgia

    I realize this may be overly simplistic, but isn’t it worship of economic “growth” itself the root of the problem?

    Every unit of GDP must be backed by a unit of energy/work. That energy has to come from somewhere. Until we either figure out how to completely get off of fossil fuels, including methane gas (how much global warming is tied to fracking?) or live with a smaller footprint, we’re screwed.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Growth is of course the fundamental problem, even though there is some evidence to suggest that the link between growth and energy use might finally be breaking down.

      But whatever scenario you look at for addressing the problems, we will need more electricity, primarily because the only way of reducing transport, industrial and domestic heating emissions is to convert those to electricity directly or indirectly. Public transit, electric cars, etc., all require lots of electric power. So a decarbonisation strategy almost by definition will see a requirement for more electricity use, even if we successfully bring down overall energy use.

      1. Nik

        Electricity in advanced economies is typically around 20% of total primary energy use. The scale of the electricity increase required to decarbonize things like transportation, agriculture, and construction is staggering, and that’s ignoring the problem that the technology in many use cases simply does not and will not exist. Can you imagine the size of the battery that could drive a combine or a cement mixer?

        Im extremely skeptical of any hints that the supposed link between energy and our specific conception of economic growth. They most often seem to imply that advanced economies with vast service and professional sectors prove that you can have economic prosperity without churning through vast sums of materials and energy, ignoring all of the goods consumed that are produced elsewhere, and all of the jobs that depend on activity happening around the globe.

        1. PhilU

          You don’t need to have a battery powered combine or, the better example a battery powered plane, to have it be carbon neutral. Biodiesel and Hydrogen are the future of high energy density fuels.

          1. Synoia

            Biodiesel and Hydrogen are the future of high energy density fuels.

            Biodiesel is not. Our machines should not compete with us for food, and EROI (Energy Return on Energy Invested)is negative.

            Hydrogen is very, very difficult to store and liquefy. In addition, because it is the wrong side of the Joule-Thompson limit it is much more liable to spontaneously combust, or be ignited, when there is a leak, because Hydrogen heats when it expands, while all other gaseous fuels cool on expansion.

            1. different clue

              About two months ago someone on these threads wrote about how a mid-sized oil company several decades ago was researching what could be done with the “petcoke” left over after all possible worthwhile-molecules had been refined out of the petroleum. They found out that “activating” the petcoke could fill it up with so many micropores and nanopores that hydrogen atoms would pack right in next to eachother on all these pore surfaces. The hydrogen would in effect become a “paraliquid”: at room temperatures and pressures there inside the petcoke inside a tank.

              Does anyone remember that comment? It seems like a way to store hydrogen as a “non-gaseous” “para-liquid” and let it back out only when/where/as needed.

      2. Hacker

        Growth is of course the fundamental problem, even though there is some evidence to suggest that the link between financial growth for the elite and energy use might finally be breaking down.

        There, I fixed that for you.

  5. Ray Phenicie

    According to the EPA there are two major sources of greenhouse gases in the U. S: Electric power @30% and transportation @26% of 6,870 million metric tons per year. Agriculture contributes 9% of that total. So for the U.S., it makes sense to start looking at Electric power generation as a way to cut carbon emissions. Working on the agriculture sector to cut emissions makes no sense in the short term; from an environmental standpoint, the overall position of agriculture in this country needs to be ‘cleaned up’ but that’s another story.

    1. Brad

      Right, especially as there can be a knock off effect from electrical power generation if the US moved off the internal combustion engine. And converted electric cars into a public service.

      The answer of course will be NADA chance. As in the National Automobile Dealers Ass.

  6. TG

    Not relevant. Nothing can beat the effect of population growth.

    While the Indians make noises about ‘green’ technology, the bottom line is that in the next few decades they are going to add enough coal fired powered electric generating plants that they will add so much CO2 that even if the United States emitted zero carbon, it wouldn’t matter.


    And of course, it’s immigration-fueled population growth that has prevented the United States from lowering emissions. Per-capita energy consumption in the US is well below the peak in the 1970’s and still falling – but with a population set to be pushed to half a billion by 2040 and likely a billion by 2100, it won’t matter (and no, immigration doesn’t just move people around, it does indeed maximize net total global population. Because every third-world refugee that makes it to the US makes room for one more to survive back home, and even more, because of the required propaganda campaign that more people are ALWAYS better).

    Bottom line: progress is possible but outside of the lab it’s slow and steady, and cannot keep up with the pro-natalist policies of the elites. There is no magic wand but only very slow incremental advances. But I guess that’s ‘scapegoating immigrants’ and ‘racist’, so let’s just impotently wring our hands and refuse to do the math…

    1. Vatch

      I’m always pleased when people acknowledge the huge effect that human population numbers have on the environment. Many people try to avoid the topic, either for religious reasons, or because of “political correctness”.

      However, I’m skeptical about your projections that the U.S. population will be half a billion in 2014 and 1 billion in 2100. A recent projection by the U.S. Census Bureau projects 380 million U.S. residents in 2014, and 416 million residents in 2060. I can’t find a projection for 2100.


      Do you have a source for your projections? (Obviously 380 million people is far too many for the U.S. — even our current population of about 324 million is too many)

      1. Vatch

        Arrgh! The 380 million projection is for 2040, not 2014. Ditto for my reference to your projection for 2040. Sorry about that.

  7. susan the other

    I don’t understand, given the dangers, why nobody wants to change their habits. Just changing modes won’t work very well or for long. There is little to no discussion on how to change, radically change, the way we live. No talk on decentralization of the economy; no talk of economizing by coming together in cooperation; no talk of creating sustainability on millions of small scale operations, etc. Nobody even considers giving up cars. The most radical thing done so far is Germany crafting a law which forbids combustion engines, allowing only electric cars at some point in the near future. Which all looks like delusion because we will just prolong our misery, not cure it. We need a lobotomy.

    1. Noonan

      If you believe carbon dioxide is dangerous, go ahead and cut your carbon footprint to zero. The vast majority of the world’s population doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is dangerous, and they are not going to change their behavior. Cheap energy (which you consider misery) is the path out of poverty for billions of people.

        1. tegnost

          A person in poverty is a source of profit for western financiers. An unproductive input that can become a productive input, just as with the ACA a poor person is a necessary input between the gov and the med complex, get o care and mandatory screenings for potentially high dollar payouts from the gov to the corporation, or a prescription for a trial drug to kaching some pharma company, with the plan to include all people on earth in order to create the first trillionaire. Cheap energy is actually a path to poverty as it keeps people in a consumption mode. The homeless crisis in seattle isn’t getting any better, and the civic response is harsh, basically bulldoze their belongings and hope they go somewhere else to “get their life together” other wise known as be in debt and scrambling to keep up with the recurring bills, or die. We are poorly led and imo it’s too late. Look at the responses, it’s basically a shell game to hide the necessary action since it’s an election year (who thinks oil will remain cheap after nov 8?), and as others have pointed out the prospective presidents will do nothing real to change things, while the self driving car crowd will continue to claim that public transportation is a waste of money, better to have everyone of the potential 7 billion (actually the techno dream is 9 billion consumers which is ostensibly why monsanto is, according to the technologists, a necessity) customers/consumers have access to a personal consumption device.

      1. susan the other

        cheap energy to be used by billions of people is going to be misery for all of us, all 7 billion of us – it’s not a mitigating factor that energy is cheap.

      2. different clue

        It is EXCESS carbon dioxide which is dangerous. Just as EXCESS water all at once in the wrong places is dangerous. We call it a “flood”.

        Carbon skydumping reduction combined with plant-drive skycarbon suckdown increase can over time bring the skycarbon level back where we would like it to be.

        The “rich” will have to model low carbon gasoff/ high carbon suckdown lifestyles and civilizations before they will have any credibility suggesting solutions to the Poor World. If no such credibility is forthcoming, then the Poor World ( for example India) will seek greater comfort through greater carbon skydumping. And they will find their greater comfort for a while, till further global heatering makes parts of the Poor World uninhabitable for human beings.

    2. Katharine

      >We need a lobotomy.

      Surely we already have too little brain! Or at least intelligence.

      Realistically, even individuals resist changing their habits. Some of mine are environmentally sound (the push mower), others not so much (the 100w bulb in the reading lamp, but until so-called equivalents have genuinely comparable lumens and color that stays). Collectively, it appears we are, so far, neither smart enough nor brave enough. Elites are not a lot smarter than anyone else, and they have or imagine they have a sizable stake in the status quo which produces all that maddening obstruction and foot-dragging. Other people do small experiments which have some promise, but small groups often lack expertise in one or more areas. I keep wondering about smelting and metal work generally (having started years ago when a loaded shopping cart pulled up a curb developed a warped wheel and I started wondering why former steel workers couldn’t start small-scale production of replacement parts to help minimize waste of largely functional items). Is there a way to produce enough heat without combustion? Being grossly ignorant in this area, I can’t conceive of one even if there is. If there is not, is decentralized production more or less harmful than large mills, and if that depends on circumstances, what circumstances? Most of the people with the kind of knowledge needed to analyze such questions are making a living in the existing system, with responsibilities to children and other family members. Even if they have the imagination to see the problems are important, they probably don’t have the time, or the financial security to make time, to concentrate on them.

      This is not to excuse any of us, but our behavior is all too human. Our first problem is usually how to get around ourselves.

    3. ChrisFromGeorgia

      This was kind of the point I was trying to make in my earlier comment.

      As long as we keep on “doing what were doing” in terms of importing almost all our manufactured goods from countries that are free to ignore environmental laws, driving cars to work, and buying agricultural products that are flown in from thousands of miles away instead of grown locally, I see all these debates on “clean” energy and what proportion to get from wind/solar as at best a side show. At worst they are simply a kind of fairy tale we tell ourselves to avoid real and effective actions.

      1. different clue

        We never asked to send out physical production into foreign exile. The International Free Trade Conspiracy acting through its National Leadership Collaborators did that.

        The only way we can do what you suggest is to institute militant belligerent Protectionism. Capitalism in One Country. Productionism in One Country. Electing Trump might be a first step towards achieving the power smash and grab against the Free Trade Conspiracy necessary to conquer the permission to make this happen. Then we could re-onshore our production-in-exile and practice the efficiency we are currently forbidden from practicing.

        Of course the entire world would respond to us just the way the Big Powers responded to the Infant Bolshevik Republic in Russia. We would have to be ready for a savage war of extermination against the Outside Free Trade World as it tried to recolonize us.

        1. different clue

          ( Of course the most savage part of the Economic Patriotectionism War would be the Civil War in this country between the Patriotectionists and the Free Trade Treasonists.

          ” Hello. And welcome to Coffee Talk.

          Today’s question: Is there anything wrong with Free Trade supporters that can’t be fixed
          with a few million rounds of 50-caliber machine gun fire and a few thousand mile-long
          trenches and bulldozers?

          Discuss amongst yourselves.”

    4. Erika

      I’m with you on this one. It takes government forever and a half, and industry about two forevers, to get realistic about anything. The Paris Agreement is 28% cuts, and somehow the idea that good patriotic Americans could probably all do that to keep their country from being a liar is just not even on the table.

      I live in a crappy old house. Routine maintenance and replacement of dead appliances has come to something like a 25-30% reduction in natural gas and electricity use from when we moved in, and that doesn’t even get into the compost, the vegetable garden, the fruit trees, the hens eating the stuff that would have gone to the landfill and made methane, the reduction in travel… I’m ready to throttle the next person who says, “If this matters so much to you, get off the internet.” I cut back on that, too, but I like my news and social life too much to give it up altogether, sort of like coffee and chocolate. Nobody really has to go to 0 carbon use unless they want to, but I daresay we in the USA could each and all reduce our own consumption pretty noticeably if we actually tried.

      It’s cheaper, too.

  8. jfleni

    It’s much easier than it looks, just stop bu**kissing the fat cats:
    1. Nobody really needs a $$10K+ gas buggy just to get to work and buy food!
    2. Everybody needs a transformed electric system for essential electric
    vehicles, including public transit.
    3. If power companies can’t make money, then let the public,(states,cities,counties) run the systems and take any profits.
    4. The tin-tu**d gas-buggy era is over; deal with it and go on.

    1. Waldenpond

      For every person that steps off, the oligarchs have created plenty of poor they can turn into consumers to back fill.

  9. Oildusk

    We’ll see the end of the anthropogenic global warming theory long before we see the US reaching the 5 million metric ton target for greenhouse gases.

    Solar activity seems be much more strongly correlated with temperature changes than carbon dioxide or any of these other trace gases that make up less than .01% of the atmosphere.


    None of the climate change models have been remotely accurate and none of them can explain why we’ve now had 18 years with no temperature increases.

    At some point in time surely there will be a greater consensus that this exaggerated global warming hoax is a product of a political process and not science?

    Here is what a real climate scientist says about these concerns:


    1. Synoia

      2016 Hottest year on record.
      2015 Hottest year on record.

      None of the climate change models have been remotely accurate and none of them can explain why we’ve now had 18 years with no temperature increases.


    2. nowhere

      My snide comment to this was eaten in moderation.

      At some point in time surely there will be a greater consensus that this exaggerated global warming hoax is a product of a political process and not science?

      No. The science is pretty unequivocal.

    3. different clue


      If you are correct, you have a tremendous contrarian investing opportunity laid out at your feet. Just invest in those things which won’t happen the way we warmists think they will.

      For example, if the Global is not Warming and will not Warm, then the Ice is not melting and will not melt.
      And therefor the Oceans are not rising and will not rise. If the Contrarian is truly Firm in his Belief, he will invest everything he has or can borrow in buying land in Miami, New Orleans, etc. He will be sowing the seeds of a Future Family Fortune. His descendants will be admiring and grateful.

  10. Paul Tioxon

    Here’s How To Build 100% Clean Renewable Energy In The US Before 2040


    The plan builds upon the great work done at http://www.thesolutionsproject.org led by Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson. His work describes the end state of a 100% clean renewable energy future by 2050. What we add is a plan to actually build all that clean energy generating capacity, pay for the $6.3T cost over 22 years with the savings as we cease buying fossil fuels, and do it all in time to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis.

    We follow the mandate from the Dec 2015 COP21 Paris climate talks to keep total warming below 1.5°C by replacing all fossil fuels with clean renewable energy, with 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. This plan shows how to convert the US to 100% clean renewable energy (CRE). Similar plans could be created to convert the energy use for all other countries using the world-wide visions documented at the Solutions Project.


    1) The current factory capacity to build and install wind and solar is tiny vs this need. In 2015 the US installed 7.3GW of solar PV and 8.6 GW of Wind. If we kept installing at that rate we’d need 405 years to reach 100% or 6,448 GW. So we need massive new capacity.

    2) The mandate to reach 50% by 2030 drives a wind and solar factory building boom of truly enormous scale. We have to build 488 gigafactories, most by 2029.

    If we assume that each wind and solar factory is a ‘gigafactory’, ie it builds 1 GW/year of nameplate capacity, and the average solar panel is 300W and average wind turbine is 5MW, we’ll need to build on average 29 of these 1GW factories per year for almost two decades. By 2029 we’ll have all the 295 solar factories built and 113 of the required 193 wind factories. That’s what’s required to reach 50% by 2030. If we then keep building 20 more wind factories per year, all 193 are completed by 2034. These factories will have such huge combined output (488 GW/yr), that it only takes until 2037 to finish the build-out for 100%. See Figure 2.

    SolarCity is building a solar panel gigafactory in Buffalo, NY, with production scheduled for 2017.

    By Tom Solomon, 350 New Mexico

    The above excerpt is from a much longer article, which I urge everyone to read through to educate yourselves on what is commercially available, but for the lack of industrial capacity.
    We know what to do, how to do it and how much cheaper and better it is right now. NY State is paying for and owning the factory and the equipment in Buffalo NY which is leased by Solar City to operate. This could be matched by other states, including PA, CaLi and others that have idle industrial sites, with rail road linkage, trained work force and the public authorities that regularly raise huge sums for similar investments.

    While any money going to corporate America can be criticized, and of course, NY state politics being what it is, investigations into irregularities and spending abound. Consider it the cost of doing business, like shop lifting. Some pols will go to jail, some will skate, but the factory is built and beginning its early phases of productions. The worst damage is already upon us, New Orleans, Houston and now half of the Southeastern Atlantic coastal areas are still flooding with dozens dead. All efforts to ameliorate the worsening effects which I don’t even want to think about after seeing Hurricane Sandy up close and personal just 4 years ago around this time and Hurricane Mathew whose deadliest feature is not wind, but just as bad, the flooding which is going on right now in the bright sunshine due to over 1.5 foot or more water dumped in to the river valleys and tributary system, if this is where we are now, we will have to endure the damage that has been done and prevent even worse conditions.

  11. JohnnyGL

    JohnnyGL’s unsolicited plan to fight climate change (and make a better life for everyone)

    1) Go after big corporate farms with anti-trust law and ban feedlots and have the EPA regulate their pollution (per Michael Pollan’s recent NYT article). Get Mark Shepard and Eric Toensmeier big jobs in the Dept. of Agriculture. Let them start reorganizing agriculture so it’s a carbon-sink instead of a net emitter.

    For large areas unsuitable for farming, but still useful as rangelands, get Alan Savory and his crew involved to restore and manage large, damaged areas of former prairie.

    2) Urban policy, get this guy from Colombia to help redesign cities with denser development and public transport. https://www.ted.com/talks/enrique_penalosa_why_buses_represent_democracy_in_action?language=en

    Get Brad Lancaster under him to make better use of water in the whole southwest. Better water use means better soil and more carbon absorption and more tree cover means cooler streets. http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

    3) Housing policy, make all future housing developments look like this in Davis, CA and retrofit the existing housing stock with better insulation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmFVxPjG2JI

    So that covers, farming, housing and urban planning. That should cut all three major sectors of emissions by reducing demand for A) energy for transport and B) utilities for heating/cooling and C) turning agriculture into a positive instead of a negative.

    If this puts oil/gas and utility companies into bankruptcy, then excellent! Turn crisis into opportunity by nationalizing them. Once bondholders and equity holders take their haircuts, lots of money will be freed up for investment in renewables and in energy storage (for when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow).

    Okay, back to work now. I’m done!

    1. Arizona Slim

      Thanks for mentioning Brad Lancaster. He lives less than two miles away from the Arizona Slim Ranch, and I’ve hired him as a water harvesting consultant. Very well worth the money.

  12. inhibi

    1. Ban Haber Bosch, use human waste
    2. Eliminate agricultural subsidies for current mono-culture farming/provide huge subsidies for permaculture farming
    3. Tax petroleum products (all)
    4. Provide massive research grants for renewable energy sources, specifically solar & microorganism byproducts (fuck wind generation, low output, waaaayyyy to costly)
    5. Provide tax breaks for companies that produce vehicles using renewable energy sources, tax current gas powered cars, and target 100 mpg average among vehicles by 2050
    6. Begin large food industry campaigns promoting healthier (less methane producing) alternatives to meat & dairy
    7. Cut military budget in half, spend on modern energy efficient infrastructure
    7-2. Prioritize mass transit (buses, trains, metro)

    1. JohnnyGL

      Re: 6 – I agree we should eat less meat, but animals don’t have to be so damaging. Feedlots should be banned. If livestock are managed properly they can help improve the vitality of land.

      Geoff Lawton has written that if you are farming and not using animals, you really can’t compete with conventional farming because you need the added fertilizer production. In fact, that’s how it was always done historically, until the loop was broken with haber-bosch fertilizers.

      Actually, that’s another source of renewable energy. Gather up livestock manure into a big tank underground and you get biogas production while the methane is emitted.

      To be clear, methane doesn’t disappear if you take away the animals. I think I’ve read that cows may have more digestive trouble eating grain (they’re designed to eat grass). But whether plant matter decays chemically or biologically, it gives off methane as a byproduct.

  13. Gaylord

    Too little, too late. End of hockey stick. Methane emissions now exceed all human CO2 emissions in terms of forcing, Arctic summer sea ice will soon recede to a blue ocean event, Greenland ice is melting, moisture in the upper troposphere due to increased evaporation is causing more extreme weather, etc., etc. None of this is reversible, as far as we know. All we can do now is to prepare mentally for the accelerated climate change catastrophe that we have caused and that already has begun.

  14. adrian

    Globalisation and green house gas increase is what needs to be studied as well. Offshore all your manufacturing and then import all that stuff back to home countries. I don’t what the increase is, but surely it must be massive. Would like to hear if anyone know any research on this.

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