Archive for the ‘Energy Policy’ Category

“A [insert policy goal] Moon Shot” – Good Politics, Dubious Policy

January 18th, 2009

Posted by: admin

In Senator Ken Salazar’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Interior, he made reference to an “energy moon shot.” (H/T Politico, via SEFORA.)  The specific quote:

“I would not have taken this job if I was not given the assignment to help to craft the energy moon shot that we will take.”

It’s great shorthand, evoking images of success, triumph, dominion over nature, defeating of a seemingly intractable opponent, etc.  Look a bit deeper, and what do we have?  Not a sustainable investment, but a ’surge’ of money best spent for quick results.  I expect what the Obama Administration, and Salazar, want is an investment, a foundation, for future research and deployment of more energy efficient technologies.  I don’t think they want a concerted effort for a few years that acheives an important first step, followed by a return to prior practice and the loss of earned capacity.  As I’ve described elsewhere (subscription possibly required), in part due to the way the moon shot was handled, we can’t do now what we did in the 1960s – land a man on the moon and return him safely.  To me that’s a waste, and undercuts the value of the moon shot as metaphor or political shorthand.  So I hope Salazar is committed to something more sustainable than an energy moon shot.

Watch the Chu Confirmation Hearing

January 13th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Today the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held its confirmation hearing for Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy.  There is an archived webcast currently online (the hearing actually starts around the 15 minute mark, and runs roughly 2 hours and 14 minutes from that point).  The same committee has a confirmation hearing scheduled Thursday for Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior.

I have not watched the Chu hearing, and Dr. Chu’s nomination is not considered problematic.  What coverage I have seen on the hearing is one article from The Washington Post indicating that Dr. Chu carefully navigated through questions about climate change and alternative energy.

Forget the Nobel, How Does Chu Run a Lab?

December 24th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Also in the New York Times is a small piece on Secretary of Energy designate Steven Chu’s experience at the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory.  Like the current science adviser, Dr. Chu comes to federal service with significant management experience at a federal lab, which is at least as important, if not more so, than significant scientific credentials.  We see in the piece suggestions that Dr. Chu is innovative, and entrepreneurial.  He’s managed to see an increase in the lab’s budget while other labs have dealt with cutbacks, and he’s sought partnerships with industry in ways not typically associated with the national labs.  While the collaboration with BP has raised eyebrows, I appreciate Chu’s willingness to try new things, and suspect that had a lot to do with his selection by the President-elect.

House Science and Technology Committee Outlines Plans for 111th Congress

December 19th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Yesterday House Science and Technology Committee chair Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tennessee) held a press conference outlining plans for the next Congress.  Given the energy emphasis of Presidential science appointments and the current economic debacle, Rep. Gordon emphasized those issues.  Topics covered included plans to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), science investment recommendations for the stimulus, R & D for possible cap and trade legislation, and a balanced portfolio for NASA.

I’m not sure how instructive Gordon’s comments will be, as it seems that he was jumping on the energy and climate bandwagon driven by the appointment of Dr. Chu as Energy Secretary.  Once subcommittee assignments are finalized in January, the agenda of the committee might become more clear.

The one House race left to watch

November 12th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Now that the election is over there’s one House race left to watch: Dingell v. Waxman.

John Dingell is the Ann Arbor/Detroit Representative who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee.  E&C is the key House committee of jurisdiction for climate policy and Dingell has been unabashed in his reluctance to move climate policy forward.   Considering the aggressive moves by other Congressional Dems – particularly Bingaman, Boxer and Markey — on trying to move the policy conversation forward within the Democratic caucus in advance of January 2009, Dingell has been the bottleneck to movement.

Now, the always-aggressive Henry Waxman, #2 on the E&C committee, has started a push to wrest the gavel from Dingell.  The differences in philosophy and approach between the two men are quite clear, especially on climate.  Dingell has been upfront about protecting the auto industry at all costs and being reluctant on carbon regulations (see for example), while Waxman is clearly itching to move forward on carbon caps.

The politics behind this will be fascinating as it is no secret that many Dems, including Ms. Pelosi, would like to see Dingell relinquish control of the committee (and the attendant control it will have over climate policy in the coming term, although that’s not the only reason).  Pelosi tried to go around Dingell in 2006 by creating an ad hoc committee on climate change (chaired by Markey), only to see Dingell win a fight that ensured the ad hoc commitee would have no legislation-writing authority.  Apparently Dingell is taking the current challenge so seriously that he’s formed a “whip team” to help him fight off Waxman.  But Waxman has apparently been planning this coup for a while, contributing heavily to incoming freshmen Dems.

You can bet that savvy watchers of climate policy are watching this “race” more closely than anything else in D.C. right now.  Ultimately, the ramifications of this fight will have serious and long-lasting implications for the direction and scope of the country’s first real foray into carbon regulations (whether they happen sooner or later).

One Big Reason Why We Have an Energy Crisis

July 30th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Some hard-to-believe numbers reported in the Financial Times yesterday on the investments by major energy companies in R&D (emphasis added):

The west’s biggest oil companies raised their research and development spending by an average of 16 per cent last year but still lag behind many other industries, a survey by the Financial Times has found.

There is also a wide variation in R&D budgets, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of revenues.

Royal Dutch Shell, already the top spender in 2006, raised its budget the fastest with a 36 per cent increase to $1.2bn for 2007. Last year it spent more than twice as much as BP on R&D.

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, has a market capitalisation almost twice that of Shell, but spent only two-thirds the amount on R&D, at $814m.

Relative to revenues, oil companies’ R&D expenditures are strikingly low: about 0.3 per cent last year for Shell, and 0.2 per cent for Exxon. That compares with typical proportions of 15 per cent for technology and pharmaceuticals companies, and 4-5 per cent for motor companies.

In other words, compared to revenues technology and pharmaceutical companies spend 50 to 75 times the amount on research and development than Shell or Exxon. Is it any wonder that your desktop computer would have been considered a supercomputer a few decades ago, whereas you are still filling up your car with the same stuff that your great-grandparents did?

Fuel Subsidies and the Politics of Higher Priced Energy

July 28th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today’s New York Times has a very interesting article by Keith Bradsher on fuel subsidies in developing countries, which sheds some light on the politics of efforts to increase the costs of energy. Here is an excerpt:


The New Global Growth Path

June 16th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


A very important new paper is forthcoming in the journal Climatic Change which has been published first online. The paper is:

P. Sheehan, 2008. The new global growth path: implications for climate change analysis and policy, Climatic Change (in press).

The paper argues that:

In recent years the world has moved to a new path of rapid global growth, largely driven by the developing countries, which is energy intensive and heavily reliant on the use of coal—global coal use will rise by nearly 60% over the decade to 2010. It is likely that, without changes to the policies in place in 2006, global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion would nearly double their 2000 level by 2020 and would continue to rise beyond 2030. Neither the SRES marker scenarios nor the reference cases assembled in recent studies using integrated assessment models capture this abrupt shift to rapid growth
based on fossil fuels, centred in key Asian countries.

This conclusion strongly supports the analysis that we presented in Nature (PDF)not long ago, in which we argued that the mitigation challenge was potentially underestimated in the so-called IPCC SRES (and pre- and post- SRES) scenarios due to overly aggressive assumptions about future trends in the decarbonization of the global economy. Such overly optimistic assumptions are endemic in the literature, found in the Stern Review, and IEA and CCSP assessments, among others.

Sheehan comes to similar conclusions:

To the extent that NGP is a reasonable projection of global trends on current policies out to 2030, it follows that all of the SRES marker scenarios seriously understate unchanged policy emissions over that time, and do so because they do not capture the extent of the expansion in energy use and emissions that is currently taking place in Asia. Nor, as a consequence, do they capture the rapid growth in coal use that is also occurring. . .

The SRES scenarios were a substantial intellectual achievement, and have stood the test of time for almost a decade. But the central feature of global economic trends in the early decades of the twenty-first century—the new growth path shaped by the sustained emergence of China and India, in the context of an open, knowledge-based world economy—could not be foreseen in the 1990s, and is not covered by these scenarios. Many of the SRES scenarios are no longer individually plausible, and as a whole the marker scenarios can no longer be said to ‘describe the most important uncertainties’. As a result, and especially given the emissions intensity of the new growth path, there is an urgent need for new approaches.

Unfortunately, a major obstacle to discussing (much less achieving) new approaches are the very public intellectual and political commitments that have been advanced, based on the earlier assumptions. Unwinding these commitments — as we have seen — will take some doing.

PS. See also the NYTs Andy Revkin and Elisabeth Rosenthal on China’s growing emissions here. As yet, the dots remain to be connected between such trends unfolding before our eyes and their incongruity with assumptions in energy policy assessments. But reality and policy assessments can diverge only for so long.

Why Costly Carbon is a House of Cards

June 12th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

How can the world achieve economic growth while at the same time decarbonizing the global economy?

This question is important because there is apt to be little public or political support for mitigation policies that increase the costs of energy in ways that are felt in reduced growth. Consider this description of reactions around the world to the recent increasing costs of fuel:


An Order of Magnitude in Cost Estimates: Automatic Decarbonization in the IEA Baseline

June 9th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I mentioned the conclusions of the IEA Energy Technologies Perspectives report. I have had a chance to look at the full report in some depth, with an eye to the assumptions in the report for the spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy.