Al Gore's call for renewable energy sets us up for a useful failure
Many environmentalists (like Al Gore) have been calling for more rapid adoption of green technologies. But as this piece illustrates, it won't be as easy as Gore and others have been saying. But as the article points out that doesn't mean we don't start. Building capacity now will reveal issues with scalability of new energy solutions (solar, wind etc.). We need to be learning these lessons now if we're going to make emission reduction targets mid-century.
Government has to take a more active role -- as market maker -- in all of this. It has to build the right incentives now to ensure that private sector investments will pay off. One question that remains is the role that nuclear power will play in filling some of the short to medium term demand gaps. While this may be a good alternative, assesments need to be made on the viability of nuclear given the prospect of water shortages in many countries (most commercial reactors are water cooled).
Also missing from most plans is a significant role for geothermal. Most homes could replace existing furnaces with geothermal furnaces, which would significantly reduce GHG emissions. Whatever the mix of technologies, Timmer is right in stating that we need to start now if we are going to have any hope of succeeding.
Last Thursday, former presidential candidate and Nobel Laureate Al Gore gave a speech in which he called for a national effort to get the entire US electric grid operating on a carbon-neutral basis within a decade. In its aftermath, much of the attention has been focused on whether the idea is actually achievable—Gore says it is; many say otherwise. To a large extent, however, this may not be the most important question. Even if the plan is destined for failure, it's worth considering where it would leave the country if we actually tried it.Going green is inevitable
A grid based on a combination of renewable and nuclear energy is pretty much inevitable. Fossil fuels are a finite resource, and the world will ultimately run short on them; demand may make their price prohibitive well before that happens. Supplies of coal, which provide roughly half of the US electrical generating capacity, will last a bit longer than other fuels, suggesting we may wind up increasing our reliance on it.
But coal has several disadvantages, starting with the fact that it produces the most pollutants per unit of energy. Domestic coal is now relatively inexpensive, but that's partly a function of eased mine safety enforcement and environmental standards that allow it to be obtained by mountaintop removal. Changes to these policies could greatly increase its cost, as could any carbon tax; there will also be increased competition for the supply as global energy demand increases. The net result is that even coal doesn't look appealing in the long term.