Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fire alarm

It seems that the debate in the US about a climate change bill is heating up. A blog entry at the National Review entitled "If Carbon Caps Are Coming, Why Mandate Renewables?" has been published. While the author obviously thinks that carbon trading is necessary, he also gives voice to someone who understands the drawback of waiting until the last minute before we ramp up renewables:

"Otherwise, we end up with a fire drill when the carbon price reaches the tipping point for coal," Hummel e-mailed, "and only the Europeans would have the companies, the manufacturing capacity, or the employees to meet the screaming demand."

Although he then writes, "I'm not sure I'm wholly swayed by either of those points," at least he does mention my line of thinking. I would, however, disagree that we are talking about a fire drill -- I think we are talking about a fire. Or, more precisely, an emergency. If we wait until the last minute, we will then scramble to replace oil, gas, coal, or whatever. And under carbon trading, we will only take the least expensive form of energy first, which means 100 percent wind power. Wind power is the most disruptive of all forms of renewable energy, and any renewables expert will tell you that we need to bring all of them online at the same time to ensure our energy supply; solar, for instance, is an excellent complement to wind power, which is often available in large quantities at sunup and sundown or even during the night.

Of course, the opposite question makes as much sense: if renewables are coming, why mandate carbon caps? Aside from giving an excellent argument to the nuclear industry and creating a completely unnecessary market -- the avoidance of carbon is not a commodity -- what exactly do we gain by implementing emissions trading instead of promoting renewables?

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