Kelly Sims Gallagher, “Acting in Time on Energy Policy”


The general theme of this book, which comprises a number of essays treating different facets of U.S. Energy policy, is that the U.S. government has been consistently short-sighted in its responses to looming energy crises, doing just enough to satisfy short-term goals and nothing more. If we remain on this path, it will lead to drastically increased costs down the road. The sooner we act, the less it will cost.

Kelly Sims Gallagher discusses Climate Change in her chapter (which kicks off the book). She details international attempts made since 1990 to combat climate change, noting that while a number of industrial countries have met or exceeded their emission reduction goals (related in particular to the Kyoto protocol), the world’s two largest emitters, the U.S. and China–together accounting for 46% of global GHG emissions–have increased their emissions drastically in the past twenty years. She notes a widening gap between official goals and actual achievements in emissions reductions, and proposes that a cap-and-trade or GHG tax be imposed in the U.S. as soon as possible, as well as negotiation with China to cooperate in reducing emissions, before reasonable stabilization goals become impossible to meet.

Daniel Schrag focuses on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which he proposes as the most promising way to reduce carbon emissions worldwide. He argues that it is appealing to large industrialized nations because it allows them to continue using coal for power generation by capturing the CO2 emissions from stationary sources (including all coal power plants). Coal is in abundant supply and is the most inexpensive source of power, at least for countries with large coal deposits (including the U.S., China, India, and Russia). 95% of coal is used for electricity generation, and thus CCS technology would virtually eliminate CO2 emissions from electricity generation, while proving far more practical than replacing all coal plants with nuclear or renewable energy plants. Because current and future mass emitting countries have large coal deposits, the U.S. can have a large impact on global emission reduction by investing in CCS. The technological and regulatory hurdles would be massive, however, as his proposals make clear. It would not be cost effective to retrofit many old coal plants; the technology is best deployed in new plants, and would greatly reduce the energy output of those plants. It is also not clear where all of the liquid CO2 that would result from capture could be stored, even if depleted oil formations can be used. He recommends that incentives for CCS used in new plants, combined with large-scale studies of these questions and a price on carbon, will ensure that the technology will become cost effective in the future.

Henry Lee tackles oil security, mostly in the transportation sector. He claims that of the many perceived security threats, the only legitimate ones are:

– short-term economic dislocations from sudden increases in oil prices.

– long-term supply inadequacies

– a foreign policy overly constrained by oil considerations

– environmental threats (climate change)

He argues that it is unlikely (contra popular belief) that any technological silver bullet will be developed to solve these problems, given the enormous expense and diffused market for such technologies. The best we can hope for is slow, steady progress in alternative fuel production and distribution technologies. Given that more and more American’s drive longer distances in larger cars each year, increasing fuel efficiency is not sufficient to reduce oil consumption. He argues that regulation must focus on placing a high price on carbon, investment in infrastructure, taxing vehicles, and reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled.

Laura Anadon and John Holdren outline a policy for energy technology innovation, noting that “leadership in [energy] innovation has been passing from the United States to Europe and Asia.” Its government spending on Energy R&D has remained static in the past 25 years, while its private industry has failed to make significant inroads in the ballooning global markets in wind power, solar, and battery technology. Coordinated government response is needed because private investment has focused on short-term, low risk, high payoff strategies, which have done little to meet long-term energy challenges affecting the private and public sectors alike. Lack of an effective federal department to coordinate all energy needs (the DOE doesn’t handle all energy investments and must handle many non-energy related tasks) as well as a similar short-term budgeting process in Washington contribute to a directionless ETI. Anadon and Holdren advocate a massive increasing in funding for energy efficiency research, but emphasize the necessity of a full range of technology-push and market-pull policies, including public-private partnerships for demonstration projects, systematic use of prizes and other incentives, education policy (including curriculum setting and teach compensation) designed to improve and expand the ETI labor force, deployment incentives, placing a price on carbon, and implementing more stringent standards in energy efficiency (performance) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS, numerical targets in absolute or relative terms of required renewable energy production by a particular date).


Link to book on Amazon

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