Scratching the New, Green Surface
If you haven’t yet, go read MIT Technology Review’s piece on the Green New Deal by James Temple.
The article first and foremost emphasises that the undeniably ambitious proposal has been launched with the critical in-built flaw of restricting options in low-emissions electricity sources. In a letter, the pressure from high profile environmental organisations to ultimately narrow these sources such that “any definition of renewable energy must also exclude all combustion-based power generation, nuclear, biomass energy, large scale hydro and waste-to-energy technologies” would apparently leave the entire task to solar, wind, geothermal and whatever hydro is acceptably small. This preferred combination may be familiar from almost ten years ago:
Even back then, Mark Z. Jacobson — yes, him — was calling this “WWS”. His acronym still hasn’t caught on a decade later and it appears the idea’s supporters also, as Temple puts it, “ignore the latest research”. Research like that published by Dr Chris Clack and colleagues at NOAA, which suggested a broad, optimised energy mix.
The main WWS challenge is that the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine in a given location. Intermittency problems can be mitigated by a smart balance of sources, such as generating a base supply from steady geothermal or tidal power…
Doesn’t “base supply” sound like baseload? Doesn’t it look like it in that typical July day? At the very least, it indicates a definite role for flexible base resources.
The most consistently worrying part of “WWS” advocacy is how it’s so inconsistent.
Temple goes on to point out:
The group’s letter cites the UN climate panel’s latest report in calling for rapid and aggressive action to prevent 1.5˚C of warming, but then it ignores the body’s finding on how that can be done. The report, released in October, says most models that keep the world below that threshold depend on significant increases in nuclear power…
“Most of all, it loses sight of the stated goal: slashing carbon dioxide as much and as quickly as we possibly can.”
Focusing on this goal would mean that these organisations, who are the core of the global anti-nuclear campaign, would finally have to heed the examples of countries like Sweden and France, and more recently Ontario in Canada.
It’s vital to empower people and communities, put informed consultation and democratic representation front and centre, and foster passion and positive momentum in the climate effort. But we only understand what the climate faces thanks to science, so let’s keep the gritty, workable details of all genuine proposals grounded in science too.
Oscar Archer holds a PhD in chemistry and has been analysing energy issues for over 13 years, focusing on nuclear technology for 4, with a background in manufacturing and QA. By day he works in energy efficiency research & development. He helps out at Adelaide-based Bright New World as Senior Advisor and writes for The Fourth Generation. Find him @OskaArcher on Twitter.