Friday, July 18, 2008

Gores' Speech

Al Gore’s much-awaited speech yesterday proposed making US electricity generation entirely carbon-free in ten years. He is right to focus on electricity generation rather than on cars and other transport, if only because the most promising alternatives to gasoline pre-suppose a clean supply of electricity. But one has to doubt the feasibility of making this change so rapidly, especially as he seems to eschew nuclear power as part of the solution.

Gore is also right in saying we need to act now, but that does not mean that we could or should change a whole industry in ten years. Already, most of the new coal fired plants planned in the past few years are on hold and these are unlikely ever to be built. Gore seems to favor clean coal power station, using sequestration, but this is hardly proven technology. We can and should press ahead with wind and solar power, but we still need to solve the problems of storing electricity produced when the sun shines or the wind blows, and of transporting it to where it is needed. Without this, these renewable sources cannot be relied upon for a base load.

In contrast, nuclear energy is a proven technology which can be relied upon to provide clean energy when and where needed. It should be a major part of the solution in the short term, while other technologies are still in the development stages. Meanwhile, the lowest-hanging fruit is energy efficiency, where big improvements could be made very quickly.

A carbon tax or cap-and-trade system is the best way for government to promote all of these efforts: efficiency; nuclear power for base-load power; solar and wind power; and research into sequestration and into new storage and transmission technologies.

Perhaps most importantly, doing more to help the developing nations, especially China, to build clean power stations would be more cost-effective than replacing existing power stations in developed countries like the US. Ratifying Kyoto might be a good start!

1 comment:

nltnjnns said...

Hi Tony -

I'm glad for your article on Al Gore's speech.

I agree with much of what you've said, that there should be a multi-pronged approach to solving our energy needs and climate change.

Enjoyed your perspective.