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An Alternative to the Green New Deal–Fifty 2% Solutions

I like many of the new initiatives folded under the umbrella title of the Green New Deal. The ones I like concern the reshaping of our economy. As I have long advertised here that I am to the left of Groucho Marx, that should surprise no-one. It seems clear to me that someone rammed in a bunch of climate stuff into a fairly standard left-of-center sheaf of economic policy proposals and are trying to pretend it’s all part of the same Big Deal. I fear that the illogic of the environmental proposals will help defeat many of the economic goals that I support. Hence this post.

Most of the parts about dealing with Climate Change are, umm, not robustly thought out, or at least not detailed for our examination. As laid out on Wikipedia,they are:

“Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

“Repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States, including . . . by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible.”

“Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘smart’ power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity.”

“Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.”

“Overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in — (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and (iii) high-speed rail.”

“Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible.”

“Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”

There are some elements here that I support–clean, affordable and accessible public transportation, upgrading the power grid, improving the energy efficiency in buildings.

And much of the language is vague, as has been pointed out repeatedly. But the first point is clear. It is not only clear, it is expensive. It is not only clear and expensive, if successful it would not really make much of a dent in global warming.

As I pointed out in a previous post, it would be extremely difficult as well.

I would like to suggest a different approach. Let’s take all of the environmental messaging out of the GND and call what’s left (Left, get it?) a New New Deal. But let’s not ignore climate change. Let’s do some concrete things that will make a difference.

There is no silver bullet solution to climate change. We cannot in good conscience even ask the developing world to stop using fossil fuels as they climb out of poverty. So getting emissions down to zero won’t even start until the world is as developed as Europe and America are today.

But that doesn’t mean we can or should do nothing. People like Bjorn Lomborg and Roger Pielke Jr., and institutions like the Breakthrough Institute have come forth with a number of what I call 2% solutions to climate change. Even the George H. W. Bush administration came forth with no-regrets policies regarding climate change. As I consider current climate change impacts to be responsible for about 1% of our current environmental and economic woes, there’s a certain symmetry to it. And if we can find 50 2% solutions, well, that adds up to something.

I don’t know if I can get to fifty of them, but I know there are actions we can take to deal with specific issues that are responsible for 2% or more of our contributions to climate change. The trick is to remember that greenhouse gases are not the only things we do to cause climate change.

1. Lower the impact of cement on CO2 totals. Recently, two new products have been introduced. One actually uses existing CO2. The other uses less CO2 in its production. As cement is estimated to cause 6% of our CO2 emissions, using either or both of these would get us off to a flying start.

2. Uprating the efficiency of existing hydro-electric plants. This paper explains how uprating can increase hydropower’s output by 50%. Hydroelectric power produces 7% of global energy, cleanly and renewably. Increasing its efficiency by 50% gives us 3.5% of our goal.

3. Take the low-hanging fruit of reducing emissions from air travel. This PBS article highlights 7 easy, money saving steps to halving emissions from air travel, which produces 5% of global emissions. And it doesn’t even mention my favorite–removing old no-fly zones put in place during the Cold War (and some from WWII), which would shorten many of the most popular journeys. Reduce emissions by 2.5% and save money… what a thought.

4. In 2000, the IPCC commissioned a special report that found that afforestation, which I think is technically known as planting trees, could suck in 3.2% of global emissions. Plus there’s the shade…

So, you get the idea. These 4 initiatives, if taken up globally, could reduce emissions by about 15%. The Green New Deal would reduce emissions by 3%.

So I want your help in identifying the next 46 2% solutions. I haven’t drawn on material available from The Hartwell Paper, Fast Mitigation, Bjorn Lomborg’s book Global Problems, Smart Solutions and many other sources. I’ll bet some of you could think up your own. Maybe the LED will light up over your head. Telecommuting, painting roofs white, garden solar, better/cheaper electric cars… let your imaginations run wild!

I promise you–even you skeptics are welcome to play this game.

12 thoughts on “An Alternative to the Green New Deal–Fifty 2% Solutions

  1. Thomas
    I wouldn’t place too much credence on the uprating of hydros paper. It is written by an academic (economist!!) who I suspect has never set foot in working stations. He definitely hasn’t worked there.
    The main performance degradation on hydros is the cavitation damage that occurs when operating in the dirty water regime. They have to be there because there is not enough water to run flat out all the time. Because of the river flow regimes, the runners are always a compromise, but the overall efficiencies are higher that way. They also have to fit in with grid requirements.
    The rest of his suggestions are just a theoretical wishlist without any idea of the cost benefits.
    Hydro plant operators do monitor their performance very closely, and refurbish or uprate if the economics justify it. There is very little in that paper that adds to that knowledge

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  2. Hiya Chris, I have heard that when they uprated Hoover Dam they actually did better than a 50% improvement–that they doubled its production. Oh, well, one more thing to look up. Let me check on it.

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  3. “How much energy does Hoover Powerplant produce on a yearly basis?

    The average annual net generation for Hoover Powerplant for 1947 through 2008 was about 4.2 billion kilowatt-hours. The ten-year annual average for 1999 through 2008 was about 4.2 billion kilowatt-hours. The maximum annual net generation at Hoover Powerplant was 10,348,020,500 kilowatt-hours in 1984, while the minimum annual net generation since 1940 was 2,648,224,700 kilowatt-hours in 1956.”

    Maybe they just didn’t need any more…

    https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/faqs/powerfaq.html

    “The 2,074-MW Hoover project began operating in 1935 on the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation operates the project, which provides electricity to about 1.3 million people in Arizona, California, and Nevada; water for agricultural and municipal use; and flood control.

    To keep the two Hoover powerhouses (one on the Nevada side and one on the Arizona side) operating efficiently, Reclamation began overhaul work on the 17 turbines in 1998. Then, in 2001, water levels in the Colorado River Basin began dropping, reducing water available in Lake Mead, the reservoir behind the dam. The following year, Reclamation began investigating methods to retain unit performance during low water periods. Reclamation decided to perform modifications designed to increase flow rates through the units.

    As of May 2009, 11 of the 17 units had been overhauled, producing additional power valued at $3.2 million per year. In addition, work to increase flow had been completed on eight units, resulting in recovery of 84 MW of capacity at Hoover. This recovered capacity has a value of $2.7 million per year. Work continues to complete the remaining six turbine overhauls and to regain lost capacity from at least three more units.

    The need to regain lost capacity and improve efficiency

    When water levels in the Colorado River Basin began dropping in 2001, Reclamation did not know it would be the beginning of an eight-year drought. However, personnel foresaw the opportunity to make improvements to retain performance of the facility.

    In 2002, Reclamation personnel performed an initial scientific study and an economic analysis of the situation.

    The drought continues today, making these improvements invaluable to continue providing low-cost electricity from the Hoover facility. In 2009, available capacity of the facility is only about 1,700 MW because of the reduced head pressure resulting from the low water level in Lake Mead. The maximum elevation of this reservoir is 1,220 feet; current elevation is 1,095 feet.

    The 17 Francis turbine-generating units at Hoover were installed from 1936 to 1961. Because of the span of years, the equipment is not identical. There are five turbine designs in operation at Hoover, requiring careful and detailed inspections of each unit to ensure that upgraded and/or rehabilitated components have the proper fit and function.

    The work to improve plant efficiency began in 1999, after some units at the plant had been operating for more than 60 years. The goal of this work is to restore machinery to a more efficient operating condition. On each unit overhauled, Reclamation personnel determined they could improve efficiency by 3 to 4 percent. This would add about 8,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year per unit, with a value of $290,000 per unit.”

    https://www.hydroworld.com/articles/hr/print/volume-28/issue-6/featured-articles/cover-story/equipment–turbine.html

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  4. They can uprate power stations by getting more MW out of the units by putting more water through the units. The initial designs were very conservatively designed. You put in a bigger runner and push up the current limits and more MW. That doesn’t make them more “efficient”, just better tuned.
    At Hoover, it looks like they did a rerunnering as well as redesign for lower operating level
    https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/faqs/powerfaq.html https://www.hydroworld.com/articles/hr/print/volume-28/issue-6/featured-articles/cover-story/equipment–turbine.html

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  5. Looks like we cross-posted to the same link at the same time. SNAP.
    According to other data, the lake full level is 1229′ while they now don’t seem to take it above 1100′.
    http://mead.uslakes.info/level.asp
    I suspect the generation profile is a lot different now to what was originally planned.
    Both very good and beneficial reasons to refurbish with new kit.

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  6. The problem with many of these mini-solutions is that they are brilliant in theory but don’t get taken up in practice. In the 1980s, when I last worked in industry, great savings were forecast from the “paperless office” and from teleconferencing. We ended up with even more paper, and managers hated teleconferencing so much they avoided using it at every opportunity.
    Commonly we do the things we do the way we do them as a result of the experience from multiple trial and errors. Alternatives, although initially attractive, may not be the most efficient.
    We don’t use electricity for many applications because by the time we have generated the necessary electrical energy we have used multiple times that in primary energy. I would prefer to heat my home with natural gas rather than being more profligate with electricity.

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  7. Thomas,
    When you state “I consider current climate change impacts to be responsible for about 1% of our current environmental and economic woes” do you mean 1% of GDP? Is so,
    1. It is way more than current estimates
    2. Estimates of damage costs are estimated as a function of temperature rise. Nordhaus 2018 ( https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/pol.20170046 ) BAU scenario has damage costs of 1.03% of output in 2050 from around 2.1C of warming and 4.15% of output in 2100 from 4.2C of warming.
    The justification for having climate mitigation policies is to replace the uncertain long-term future projected costs of climate change with the more immediate and and knowable costs of mitigation. It is not to combat current costs.

    There fundamental flaw with such policy justifications for climate mitigation is geographical. Your policy solutions are for the United States, which currently has just under one seventh of global emissions. Most countries have no current or prospective policies that will reduce their emissions. That means that if the United States were to add to those global policies, the United States would be a net loser. The countries who would be net gainers, (based on model assumptions) from US policies would be every other country. The biggest gainers of climate mitigation are the countries without policies.
    The nature of the cost function is crucial to understanding optimal strategy for a country that puts its citizen’s first. Nobel Laureate William Nordhaus had climate costs as a quadratic function of temperature rise in his original model. I believe that the Stern Review had an implied quartic function. If you accept these costs then very little constraint of emissions will offset most of the future costs. The optimal strategy for countries is to get other countries to shoulder the burden of mitigation.
    I for one do not accept the cost function, as costs are exogenous to the cost models. That is, globally people do adopt behaviours based on long term changes. That is, over decades as sea levels rise they continue living in the same coastal locations without building sea defenses. Or as temperatures rise they do not use air conditioning more or change crops.

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  8. Persisting in the belief that Earth’s atmosphere works like a greenhouse is foolish, and any thinking that follows from such ideas is misplaced.

    Too many of the world’s real problems are getting sidelined in pursuit of the trace gas non-problem.

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  9. “In the 1980s, when I last worked in industry, great savings were forecast from the “paperless office” and from teleconferencing. We ended up with even more paper, and managers hated teleconferencing so much they avoided using it at every opportunity.”

    Perhaps you observed some initial resistance to change, but by more than a decade ago my industry was essentially paperless and I typically had several conference calls a day, albeit more without video than with (at that time it was only used for more pivotal or group hug type calls). Later when ‘Skype for business’ and other cheap solutions came in, video crept back in as inserts of everyone’s faces as they spoke. Given folks were frequently very distributed anyway, for most day to day calls this is both cheaper and more convenient than trying to concentrate folks in say 3 formal video conf rooms in the US / UK / Europe, say. So it may have taken a while, maybe about 20 years from the talk to the walk, it was most certainly taken up. The biggest benefit was not the savings in paper or travel though, but the obviously increased level of interaction / activity within international business orgs. Of course travel doesn’t reduce to zero anyhow, still have to press flesh and huddle for real at times, and especially meeting customers for real at least once because this seems to establish a trust that technology connections cannot yet convey, but nevertheless there is overall far more activity but with less travel.

    Resistance to change is common, but should not be taken as an indicator that beneficial changes will never get taken up. Clearly this happens constantly. It should merely inform us that things may take longer than we imagined, as this in part is indeed the filter, the safety net, on taking steps the right way and without unintended consequences, and when technology / costs have hopefully matured / reduced.

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  10. Andy that is why I was most careful to place my experience into a time context. I am, however, somewhat surprised by your comments about a paperless office. Even today one lender is making great play in its TV advertising about its paperless morgages.

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  11. Alan, presumably because they interact directly with the public (my business did not, nor does most of industry). I guess the public was the last on-board with paperless, they trusted paper, although that ad (I don’t know it) still seems a strangely old-fashioned angle to me (unless its maybe emphasising mobile app control rather than paperless per se). For instance, I finished my mortgage several years back and didn’t get paper deeds because this service was long terminated, the docs all being via online access. And I haven’t had any paper involved in my car insurance for quite a number of years too (maybe ~8), unless I choose to print off any of the docs for some reason (there’s no need to because all the agencies involved do their checks online too).

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  12. Andy. I think you’re right , the mortgage lender is suggesting everything can be done on-line. So the fact that this is not unusual suggests they may be using a old and tested marketing ploy. This was exemplified by a campaign of a US pharmacy chain that boldly advertized that they provided free iced water (when every other pharmacy did this). This strangely made the chain one of the leading pharmacies in the USA.

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