Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Emissions

A Huge, strange cloud that won’t go away

Issue 5 and Volume 112.

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Uncertainty over where the United States is headed on climate change looms large despite pressure from the public to get something done, FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller told an exec-level forum hosted by consultancy KEMA.

“I contend that there is a huge cloud over the country right now and it is tasteless, it’s odorless, it’s increasing in its concentration,” he said.

“I’m not talking about carbon dioxide. I’m talking about the uncertainty over where we’re going as a country with carbon regulation. It’s the strangest public policy phenomenon I’ve experienced in my career.”

Moeller said the issue has transformed itself into a “pop-culture phenomenon” that is not going to go away.

He said that half of the world still lacks power and that the problem of serving that demand while cutting emissions is going to prove difficult. Even in countries with well established grids, many generating plants are old and will need to be replaced. For example, the average age of a plant in PJM is 55 years, he said.

What’s more, said, the cost of building power plants is outstripping inflation with materials such as steel and labor resources “going through the roof.” Provided, we presume, anyone can still afford a roof.

Slow Going on the H2

Four years ago, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order aimed at creating a network of hydrogen fueling stations where the state’s motorists could fill up fuel cell cars.

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“Hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations will be built” along the state’s “hydrogen highway,” Schwarzenegger said as he outlined the plan. “And these stations will be used by thousands of hydrogen-powered cars and trucks and buses. This starts a new era for clean California transportation.”

Today, not a single hydrogen fueling station has been built under the program (although 24 hydrogen stations do exist statewide). Earlier this year, a state agency recommended that California lawmakers not fund the hydrogen highway program in 2008 because “the administration has little visible progress to show.”

Officials in charge of delivering the H2 highway insist that between 50 and 100 stations still will be built. But the date mentioned most often now is 2015, not 2010 as first thought.

Precise numbers and dates probably don’t matter much right now, anyway. Around 175 vehicles in California run on hydrogen, nearly all of them experimental and in government fleets. Retail sales could still be 10 years in the future.

General Motors last year began leasing its Chevrolet Equinox, but only to people who live near Burbank and Irvine in southern California, where several hydrogen fueling stations already exist.

“Before we can put these vehicles in San Jose, Silicon Valley and San Francisco, we have to be sure we have the refueling infrastructure to fill them up,” GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss said. “And right now, that doesn’t exist. It is the classic chicken-and-egg.” (Better make that a chicken and egg with fries and a medium drink, please…at the drive-up window.)

CO2 Cuts Too Optimistic?

Cutting global CO2 emissions over the next hundred years may be tougher than was first thought, according to the journal Nature.

Authors from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and McGill University said the technological challenges of reducing CO2 emissions have been significantly underestimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

They said the IPCC was too optimistic in assuming that, even without action by policymakers, new technologies that will lead to dramatic reductions in future emissions growth will be developed and implemented.

Recent changes in “carbon intensity”–that is, CO2 emissions per unit of energy consumed–already are higher than those predicted by the IPCC because of rapid economic development, the article said. In Asia, the demands of more energy-intensive economies are being met with conventional fossil-fuel technologies, a process expected to continue for decades and eventually move into Africa.

“According to the IPCC report, the majority of the emission reductions required to stabilize CO2 concentrations are assumed to occur automatically,” said the study. “Not only is this reduction unlikely to happen under current policies, but we are moving in the opposite direction right now. We believe these kinds of assumptions in the analysis blind us to reality and could potentially distort our ability to develop effective policies.” Hardly a first for that sort of result.