Friday, June 19, 2009

Emission Reduction and the Energy Gap: How Easy is 17%?

Note: A more complete, advanced and accurate model for this subject matter can be viewed at:

For more information on the relevance of this topic read the Introduction and Waxman-Markey post.

One of the most important issues in any climate legislation is establishing a workable emission cap. The nuance of establishing a proper cap can be tricky because if the cap is too soft the overall level of abatement will be insignificant to reduce the probability of detrimental and permanent climate change. However, if the cap is too stringent it may become apparent long before the target year that the goal is unattainable which may reduce the driving motivation for abatement, period. In addition a cap that is too stringent will run into the problem of the energy gap. The question of the energy gap will be specifically addressed below.

Note that after reading this post it will become apparent that individuals who talk about how easy reaching a 17% reduction in 2005 emissions by 2020 are not looking at all aspects of the issue. Those that believe in the ease of attaining 17% must neglect to consider the total power generation that coal is responsible for, overestimate the ability of efficiency increases to reduce energy requirements and/or disregard the highly probable reality that energy requirements will not flat-line from now until 2020. Out of these three factors the most important one is future energy demands that will be made on the energy production infrastructure by 2020. If the United States did not require additional energy then a 17% reduction by 2020 could be easy. Unfortunately that is not the case. It is irresponsible to simply play the Wizard of Oz with the additional energy requirement [pay no attention to the energy that will be required in the next decade].

The total amount of U.S. energy generation from various sources in 2006 and 2007 is shown in the table below.1

* includes both Thermal and Photovoltaic
# all values are in MW-h rounded to the nearest thousand;
Note: There is an error in the table [Petroleum % Change should be +1,573,000 not -1,573,000]

From the table coal, oil and natural gas make up »71.62% of all energy generation. Unfortunately these sources are those that need to be targeted when reducing CO2 emissions, most notably coal. Therefore, successful reduction of CO2 emissions will result in the loss of a significant portion of energy. The real question is not whether or not there will be an energy gap, but how large will that gap be and what needs to be done to fill it?

The figure below illustrates the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2007.2

It is logical to expect that a vast majority of the emission cuts in the United States will come from the transportation sector and the energy generation/use sector. The energy sector accounted for 53.6% of the total emissions in 2007 and 64.8% of CO2 emissions (3,902.3 million tons) and the transportation sector accounted for another 27.66% total emissions and 33.45% of CO2 emissions (2,014.4 million tons).3,4 Overall it would difficult to expect significant cuts from the agricultural sector not only because it is responsible for a lower percentage of emissions, but the emissions associated with the agricultural sector are more difficult to control than those in the transportation or energy sectors.

Another element that must be considered in any analysis of the energy gap is the fact that energy requirements are not going to reach equilibrium at any point in the near future, but instead the demand for energy will increase. Therefore, not only must zero/low emission sources supplement the energy that is lost from the higher emission sources, but they must also accommodate these new demands for additional energy.

The following analysis is designed to answer the two above questions, how large will the expected energy gap be and will the anticipated growth rates of non-emission producing sources be sufficient to eliminate this gap? In addition a third question will be addressed: how will the additional energy that will be required for the future be generated while still staying in the confines of the emission cap?

General Analysis Assumptions –

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) is passed by the House and Senate as is (17% reduction of 2005 emission levels by 2020)

The reason for this assumption is that the analysis must have an emission reduction target and the one provided by the ACES makes the most logical sense to use because it currently has the highest probability of actually being reality.

By 2020 carbon emissions have been reduced to 100% of the cap.

What is the point of even conducting the analysis if the emission cap is not successful at reducing emissions? On the other side it is probably unrealistic to expect a significant emission reduction beyond the cap.

Economic considerations are ignored.

Initially one might view this assumption as unrealistic and irresponsible, but the purpose of this analysis is to identify possible solutions for bridging the energy gap, not to investigate the most economically efficient solutions. In addition it is difficult to make cost estimates for certain energy sectors over a decade into the future due to changing technology and demands.

100% of the energy reductions come from the coal sector.

Coal is commonly regarded as the ‘dirtiest’ form of energy. For every 1 MW-h of coal »1 ton of CO2 is released into the atmosphere whereas natural gas and petroleum only release »0.4 and »0.75 tons of CO2 per every MW-h of energy produced.5 Therefore, an optimized emission reduction scheme would remove the highest polluting entities first. Also petroleum only produces »1.5% of the energy in the United States, thus any petroleum cuts would be merger anyways.

No offset considerations were included in this analysis

The goal of this analysis was to develop a strategy where one would have a level of rational confidence regarding the energy requirements for both the successful acquisition of the emission cap as well as bridging the energy gap. Offsets cannot be regarded as genuine emission reductions 100% of the time (in fact no one can really define even a genuine percentage for offsets although most would assign a range from 33 to 67%). Clearly inclusion of offsets would be counter-productive to a real analysis concerning the energy gap. Would the inclusion of offsets lessen the required growth for all other power suppliers, it is highly probable that they would; however, it is difficult to determine an accurate assessment due to the lack of a defined percentage or even an estimate to how many will be purchased from now until 2020; therefore it is not rational to include them in the analysis.

Any changes in atmospheric methane, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (NOx) concentrations are insignificant.

This assumption is probably not very accurate because realistically it is highly probable that concentrations of methane and various nitrogen oxides will increase, but estimating additional requirements is not easily identified and could skew the analysis. Basically this assumption hopes for a favorable outcome with regards to other GHGs.

All reductions in the transportation sector come from either increased fuel efficiency or use of gasoline/biofuel blends where the biofuel is derived from an algae source.

This assumption is a little stretch, but a vast majority of the early reduction in transportation emissions is going to come from increased fuel efficiency and incorporation of gas/biofuel blends. Although hybrids, plug-ins and electricity vehicles have a significant amount of attention, until an automotive infrastructure supporting them is better established, it is difficult to conclude that their impact will be significant through widespread incorporation.

Due to the importance of emission reduction in both the transportation and energy sector, the analysis looks at three different scenarios for transportation emission reduction, a poor transition, an average transition and an optimistic transition. The poor transition scenario will assume a 10% reduction in transport derived CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2020 (a 2.766% reduction in total CO2 emissions). The average transition scenario will assume a 20% reduction in transport derived CO2 emissions (a 5.532% reduction in total CO2 emissions). The optimistic transition scenario will assume a 30% reduction in transport derived CO2 emissions (a 8.3% reduction in total CO2 emissions). All other emission reductions not included from the transportation sector were taken from the energy sector.

The energy providers that were explored to fill the gap consisted of nuclear, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. Natural gas was examined independently because it is not a zero-emission energy provider. It was assumed that there would be no significant growth in the petroleum or hydroelectric sectors. Petroleum was excluded because similar to natural gas, petroleum is not a low/zero-emission energy provider so any increases would not result in a significant enough emission reduction vs. coal. Also petroleum only makes up approximately 1.5% of the total energy generation anyways so any reduction in petroleum as a means to successfully adhere to the 2020 cap would be rather insignificant vs. the other reductions that have to be made. Hydroelectric was excluded because the overall growth rate of hydroelectric stations has pretty much peaked and energy generation has largely cycled within a range of 240,000,000 MW-h to 290,000,000 MW-h since 2000.1 Any tide based hydroelectric power was considered insignificant based on its growth potential and total energy generation potential.

The total amount of emissions between the energy and transportation sectors in 2007 was approximately 5,916,700,000 Gt of CO2 (2,014,365,849 via transportation and 3,902,334,178 via energy).3,4 The 2020 emission cap for the ACES is 17% of the total carbon dioxide equivalent of 2005 identified in Section 721, subsection e, Part 2, Section A, subsection i of the ACES as 7,206 million tons, thus the emission cap would be 5,980,980,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. However, assuming no reductions from any non-CO2 gases reduces the allowable amount of CO2 that can be emitted to 4,615,180,000 tons. Therefore, if the assumption of no significant reduction of CO2 from sectors other than energy and transportation holds, the total reduction of emissions required between those sectors equals 1,301,520,000 tons.

Information from 2007 is used in the analysis because it is the most recent complete data for both carbon emissions and energy generation from various sectors. Although preliminary information has been compiled by the EIA regarding 2008,6 the information will not be officially released as a full report until sometime around mid November. Also the use of 2008 information may not be accurate due to investment and use aberrations generated by the economic slowdown that occurred in mid 2008 and carried over into early/mid 2009.

The following table describes the expected emission reductions in tons of CO2 under each of the three proposed transportation reduction scenarios.

In addition to the energy gap that is generated from removing coal, there is the additional energy that society will demand as it grows between now and 2020. The EIA estimates that the additional amount of energy that the U.S. will utilize in 2020 that is not directly transportation related in the form of petroleum is approximately 4.9 quadrillion Btu.7 However, due to possible efficiency measures in the ACES as well as increased public awareness to the importance of efficiency, it is reasonable to assume that some of this anticipated energy requirement will not be necessary. Three scenarios were analyzed pertaining to possible changes in efficiency, no efficiency change (0%), a 30% reduction in the EIA estimate and a 50% reduction in the EIA estimate.

In the report “International Energy Outlook 2009” the EIA estimates various growth trends for various forms of energy and fuels up to 2030 for a variety of countries including the United States. Using the growth estimates from this report and other available EIA information, will enough energy be generated to bridge the gap? From the information an annual energy generation and capacity growth rates from 2006 to 2020 can be estimated for wind, nuclear and geothermal.8,9,10 Unfortunately no trusted growth rate for biomass could be isolated so what was deemed to be a reasonable rate was assigned. Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal growth rates were also calculated, but because EIA information on 2007 energy use does not differentiate between the two the larger of the two calculated growth rates was used to model the growth of the solar power sector.11 Calculated annual growth rates were 8.165, 0.65, 2.94, 5 and 11.17% for wind, nuclear, geothermal, biomass and solar respectively.

However, the annual growth rates calculated above are different from the growth rates that were experienced between 2006 and 2007 as shown in the first table. Most of the growth rates between 2006 and 2007 exceed those that are calculated from the long-term EIA estimations. The energy generation potential of alternative energies was also examined using these growth rates.

The first analysis looked at the ability of the two suggested growth rates to cover only the energy gap created by removing coal to reduce emissions to meet the 2020 cap under all three transportation scenarios. The inclusion of natural gas was not utilized in this initial analysis and no future energy considerations or savings due to efficiency were included.

The growth rates calculated from the EIA projected information result in an energy generation that falls well short of filling the energy gap for any of the three scenarios providing only 190,834,782.5 MW-h of additional energy. The growth rates seen between 2006 and 2007 successfully covered all of the potential energy gaps providing 1,277,540,577 MW-h of additional energy. This success was due in large part to the huge 29.56% annual growth rate attributed to wind energy, which accounted for 75.45% of the new renewable power generation.

The results of the first analysis are shown in the table below.

* the % difference is structured that a value of 0 relates to an energy value exactly equal to the energy gap;
** GR = Growth Rate;
*** Wind Power Alone represents the percentage of the energy gap that is filled by only using energy generated by wind with the 06-07 annual growth rate;

Unfortunately there are some problems with making the assumption that the 2006-2007 growth rate for wind will persist until 2020.

The first big problem is that is it unreasonable to assume that wind will continue to grow at an enormous 29.56% annually. First, percentages can at times be misleading. For example it is much easier to generate a 100% increase in the GDP if the GDP starts at 1 million dollars instead of 1 billion dollars. Due to the initial low energy generating capacity of wind in 2006, a merger 26.589 million MW-h, generating large growth rates is rather easy when significant investment is made in wind power.

Second, due to the fact that most large wind turbines only produce between 1 and 3 MW each, wind power generation on the scale of that which is needed for 2020 just to fill the anticipated energy gap will require large swathes of land. For example the largest wind farm in the United States is Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Taylor and Nolan Counties in Texas, which produces 735 MW of peak power from 421 turbines, covers a land mass of 47,000 acres or approximately 64 acres/MW.12 Such a land/power ratio does not compare favorably to that of the average 500-1000 MW coal plant, which has a land/energy ratio of 10-19 acres/MW. Assuming an increase in wind turbine efficiency from now to 2020 of 20%, wind based energy would still have a land/power ratio of 53.29 acres/MW for wind farms of comparable size. The land issue aside, the problems of the unpredictability of wind power/capacity issues or the lack of sufficient batteries to store it during high times must also be solved.

Moving the wind generation base offshore may somewhat alleviate the problem of land use, but would also increase costs as well as possibly reduce efficiency due to long transmission lines. So unfortunately although wind power currently has the most potential to fill the gap left by coal energy, realistically one should not expect a large percentage of that gap to be filled by wind as the decades roll on, unless some new cost-effective technological discovery is made pertaining to wind power such as aerial suspension or a greater increase in efficiency than is assumed in this analysis. Overall it is difficult to predict an annual increase in wind power of greater than 20% leading up to 2020 and that may be stretching it.

Using the 20% growth rate for wind in lieu of the 29.56% seen between 2006 and 2007, the energy provided by various forms of alternative energy was 647,716,387.2 MW-h, which falls short of the energy gap generated in all scenarios. So clearly something other than wind power has to fill the remaining gap.

Nuclear power has the second largest generation potential. Unfortunately in recent years the growth of nuclear power has stalled due to persisting and for the most part unwarranted fears about meltdowns and weapon proliferation from left over waste, yielding an annual growth rate from 1996 to 2007 of only 0.646%, similar to what the EIA assumes will be the growth rate leading into 2020.13 The biggest problem with nuclear power is waste disposal, which still lacks a viable solution. The disposal site at Yucca Mountain has not been expanded like previously planned and some in the current Obama administration and current Congress even believe that it should be shutdown. An additional, but lesser discussed problem is the lack of low-radioactive waste storage sites, those used to store items with low levels of radioactivity.

Some argue that breeder reactors solve the problem of both nuclear waste and questions about stolen nuclear material for terrorism, but despite decades of research on breeder reactors by France and Japan, the leaders in the field of nuclear technology, breeder reactors still have failed to really excel in the nuclear market. Even if the main problems with breeder reactors (economics and cooling safety) are sorted out, there is still the time required for construction that needs to be taken into consideration. This construction time is also an obstacle for non-breeders (thermals) as well. Normally it takes anywhere from 4-8 years to build a nuclear plant from the planning period to the ‘ribbon’ cutting. In addition although it looks promising, pyro-metallurgical processing, which is considered to be superior to current reprocessing methods, has yet to be demonstrated beyond the pilot plant level. Some estimates put the actual operational time for a pyro-metallurgical processing breeder at least 15 years away.

Despite all of these problems nuclear still has a significant advantage over all other forms of alternative energy generation on the market, its operational capacity. The new generation of nuclear plants can run over 90% of the time and last for over 60 years with little maintenance costs, well little once the problem of nuclear waste is neutralized. So reinvestment in nuclear power may be exactly what the doctor ordered for the emission target in 2050, but not for the emission target in 2020. However, if this is the case, clearly the nuclear revival has to begin soon, if not immediately.

Overall there is little to discuss about solar power and its ability to fill the gap; it is still far behind in energy generation, much further behind then it needs to be, but that can be attributed to the high cost of the conventional silicon solar cells. New thin-film solar cells have generated significant reductions in cost, but a percentage of those reductions are diminished because these thin-film solar cells are less efficient than the conventional silicon solar cells. Hopefully lower costs from the thin-film cells and an increase in future subsidies will generate a drive in solar photovoltaic production.

The good thing about solar power is that realistically it can only go up in energy generation; the bad thing is it may be a long time before its cost effectiveness vs. other low/zero emission energy technologies like wind, nuclear and geothermal will be competitive, which will stunt its growth potential and its ability to be a significant contributor to the energy gap in the United States unless some just put their heads down and pays the higher costs.

Biomass offers a wide variety of possible methodologies for power generation ranging from co-firing in coal plants, dedicated steam cycles, integrated gasification combined cycles and combined heat and power (CHP). However, each of these methodologies has a significant concern that could curtail long-term growth. Co-firing has a concern with the loss of coal plants in general due to tightening emission standards, which will threaten its efficiency. CHP has a problem with the long-term viability of its supply chain, for feedstocks will compete with other agricultural processes. Also regardless of the electricity generation methodology, biomass has another hidden cost in the emissions that are generated as a result of transporting the feedstock to the plant itself. Biomass plants are rather inefficient unless they have access to large amounts of feedstock. Until the transportation mechanism runs on zero emissions it is difficult to regard biomass energy production as an energy medium that can produce the required quantities of energy and be generally carbon neutral. The growth potential of biomass is difficult to gauge. The overall base load is huge, up to 20 billion MW-h14 a year, but the range of how much of this capacity will actually be accessed is large and difficult to prognosticate.

Geothermal energy is in a similar boat to that of nuclear, it has the capacity to run longer and generate more energy per land mass than solar, wind or coal, has a specific methodology of production (enhanced geothermal systems) that if developed will generate even more energy and has a long construction time due to neglect. Before geothermal can produce a significant amount of energy new information pertaining to appropriate construction sites need to be identified, most likely through a new geological survey, which would take a number of years. Initial surveys have developed a reasonable estimate of geothermal activity, but those estimates need to be augmented in order to identify the most promising locations to maximize output in the shortest period of time. It needs to be noted that geothermal technology is currently not carbon neutral, but its emission ratio of 7.5 MW-h per ton of CO2 is 3 times cleaner than natural gas and 7.5 times cleaner than coal.15 Overall aside from nuclear, geothermal might represent the best opportunity for future sustainable alternative energy growth.

Therefore, with little hope of driving any low/zero emission technology to the radical growth potential required to significantly aid in filling the energy gap created by the elimination of coal from the energy generation market, natural gas needs to be tapped to fill the gap. Natural gas is already utilized in large quantities for power generation accounting for 21.56% of the energy utilized in 2007. The good thing about natural gas is that it produces anywhere from 50-60% less CO2/MW-h than coal.5 The bad thing about natural gas is that it is still a significant emitter over other cleaner technologies, so its use makes achieving the carbon emission cap more difficult.

Due to the fact that natural gas does release about a ton of carbon dioxide per about 2.5 MW-h of energy generated, it is important to compensate for those additional emissions. Therefore, as long as there is coal generating energy, that coal is removed from the energy equation by a ratio of 2.5:1 versus energy generated by natural gas.

For example suppose an additional 1000 MW-h of energy is generated from natural gas. This energy also results in an additional 400 tons of CO2, which will increase the amount of CO2 emitted over the cap by 400 tons. Thus, 400 MW-h generated by coal needs to be removed from the equation to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted to adhere to the cap. Therefore, only 600 MW-h of net energy will be generated from this sequence (1000 – 400). Then an additional 400 MW-h of energy is produced from natural gas and more coal is reduced until enough coal is reduced that the energy gap is filled and the emission standard is met.

The analysis utilizing natural gas involved both the three scenarios of transportation emission reduction and the three scenarios of efficiency. Three different elements involving natural gas were examined, natural gas without the assistance of any other energy sectors, natural gas in consort with the future calculated growth rates and natural gas in consort with the 2006-2007 growth rates projected to 2020. 27 different investigations were carried out to explore each grouping of parameters where success required both adherence to the cap and filling the required amount of energy.

The table below outlines the energy requirements for each scenario in the analysis in MW-h.

Overall 13 of the 27 (48.18%) investigations successfully fulfilled both conditions of maintaining the cap and filling the energy gap. Somewhat surprising was that 2 of the 9 investigations at 0% efficiency created a successful result. Unsurprisingly only 1 of the investigations at 10% transportation created a successful result. The reason for such a lack of success when using 10% transportation as a criterion was that the energy gap was too large because 90% of the emission reduction had to come from energy and not enough energy is derived from burning coal to offset the additional emissions produced by natural gas to bridge the gap. The reason the lack of coal as a power base is a problem is there is too little energy generation from zero emission sources causing natural gas to do a lot of heavy lifting to bridge the gap. Only at 50% Efficiency using 2006-2007 growth rates was the 10% transportation reduction successful because the above problems were lessened.

As expected the burden on efficiency was reduced with higher the transport emission reduction percentage and visa-versa. Understandably the most successful investigations took place assuming 50% efficiency and 30% transportation due to the significantly reduced energy demands.

The table below summarizes the successes in the analysis and the respective details of those successes.

Although the above table documents all of the investigation parameters that resulted in successfully attaining the emission cap of 17% and the generation of enough non-coal derived energy to eliminate any energy shortfall, not all success is equal. Most notably although all of the above scenarios met the first checkpoint for a valid situation, there are other factors that must be considered.

First, the coal energy % factor determines the amount of total energy that is still derived from coal as a function of the percentage of coal that still remains producing energy. For example a coal energy % of 30% does not mean that coal energy would be reduced from 48.5% to 30%, but that 48.5% of all energy being derived from coal is reduced by 70% changing the 48.5% number to 14.55%. Basically the coal energy % number represents the remaining percentage of energy derived from coal from the original 48.5%.

At first glance one might suggest that the lower the number the better, however, this assumption is incorrect. The higher the number the better because not only does a higher percentage indicate a greater emission reduction well to draw from for future reductions, but it also indicates a more orderly transition from coal derived power to lower emission sources. It is difficult to imagine that in a decade the United States can transfer a vast majority of energy generation from coal sources to lower emission sources without a significant level of cost and energy disruption. Therefore, the lower the coal percentage the lower the probability that such a scenario will actually occur in real life.

Looking over all of the results one is not inspired with much confidence as from 2006 to 2020 the EIA estimates an annual growth rate of coal based energy coal of 0.46%16 whereas the most promising investigation scenario suggests a required annual transition away from coal derived energy of 6.772%, an extraordinary high number. Overall it is unlikely that any scenario with a coal energy generation under 15% will be successful.

Second, the natural gas growth rate is the required annual growth rate to attain the necessary energy and emission values. This factor creates another avenue for failure for the initial successes because overall if the growth rates are too high then it is unrealistic to expect those rates to be achieved. So how high is too high? Since 1996 until 2007 the highest year to year growth in natural gas as an energy source was 10.82% from 1997 to 1998.16 2006 to 2007 produced the second highest year to year growth with the aforementioned 9.81%. In addition the future annual growth rate of natural gas from 2006 to 2020 can be calculated at 0.78% with 96.5% of that growth coming in the last 5 years (from 2015 to 2020).17 Some may argue that with continuing increases in production from shale gas reserves that the EIA estimate is far below what will actually happen. Even if this contention turns out to be turn overall it would be rational to conclude that any growth rate over 10% would be difficult to sustain from now until 2020.

Third, the total natural gas volume figure represents the additional amount of natural gas that will have to be burned in 2020 to provide the requisite energy. Approximately 2.97 trillion cubic feet (cf) of natural gas was utilized in energy production in 2007, which accounted for about 12.86% - 15.9% (depending on whose estimate is used) of the total volume of natural gas utilized. Some argue that such a low percentage of natural gas is used in energy generation because the economics favor coal derived energy production and they would be correct. According the EIA, in 2007 the average cost of natural gas at electric power plants is approximately $7.11, over four times higher than the average cost of coal ($1.69).18

The figure below demonstrates that while costs of natural gas has steadily increased over the last decade, coal costs has barely increased.

However, this analysis demonstrates that these costs will have to be addressed because to fulfill adherence to the cap and attaining the required energy for 2020 estimates an increase in natural gas utilization in energy generation of 142 to 361%. With the sheer amount of natural gas that will have to be utilized to simply maintain appropriate levels of energy in the coming decade, some fear that natural reserves of natural gas in the United States will become stressed to the point where the United States will have to rely on other nations to provide the natural gas. Others claim that by tapping into shale gas resources importation of natural gas will be unnecessary. Either way decisions will have to made regarding whether or not the United States will accept the environmental costs of expanding the domestic supplies of natural gas or greater economic costs through importation.

Fourth, recall that for the purpose of this analysis natural gas was assumed to emit 60% less CO2, but what would change if natural gas based energy generation occurred at the lower end of the emission ratio (50%) instead of the higher end of the emission ratio (60%). If the lower emission ratio is utilized 6 of the 13 successful investigations are no longer successful. Now such a change is valid within the confines of this analysis because of the assumption that the concentration of non-CO2 GHGs does not change. However, in reality it is more likely that the higher-end of the ratio is more legitimate than the low end, thus the reason the high-end was used; however, it is important to realize that natural gas plants need to be run at levels that produce at least this 60% less ratio otherwise the conversion between coal and natural gas will make it significantly harder to meet the 2020 ACES emission cap.

In total when analyzing all of the initial successes under the secondary set of examination conditions only four of the original thirteen investigations remain successful. Most of the failures stemmed from exceeding the emission cap rather than failing to bridge the energy gap. Clearly if the 17% emission cut is going to be acquired without an energy gap, the United States will at least either have to increase energy efficiency by 50% against the anticipated increase in energy that will be required by 2020 or reduce the amount of emissions from the transportation sector by at least 30%, a pair of daunting tasks.

With the results generated from analyzing the elements required to attain a 17% reduction in 2005 emissions, an additional question was asked, ‘What is the maximum reduction in 2005 emission that can be successfully attained?’ Assuming acquisition of the maximum efficiency potential (50%), the maximum transportation reduction (30%) and the maximum renewable growth rates from either set of estimates, 23.974% is the largest emission cap that can be attained under the maximum boundaries assigned in this analysis. However, logic indicates that even though this percentage can be achieved it would be difficult because it assumes that all optimistic parameters are attained.

One interesting question from this analysis regarding the progression of the future energy infrastructure in the United States is the debate between energy efficiency and renewable innovation and infrastructure. The ACES Section 782 subsection g allocates permits to go into a fund labeled the State Energy and Environmental Development (SEED) from which state and local governments can draw funds for efficiency and renewable projects. 20% of the SEED money must go to renewable energy programs and another 20% must go to energy efficiency leaving the remaining 60% to be allocated freely between the two. Both increasing energy efficiency and advancing renewable innovation are important; however, there is a push for more focus on efficiency than renewable development, which is a mistake. Some encourage a 75%/25% ratio of energy efficiency to renewable energy, which it is estimated could save up to 2.45 quadrillion Btu of energy by 202019, cutting the required energy projected by EIA in half as outlined in the optimistic efficiency scenario. Unfortunately most people become enamored with energy efficiency because it represents the quintessential ‘low-hanging fruit’ of emission reduction.20 However, as demonstrated in this analysis, the problem with this strategy is two-fold.

First, energy efficiency can only go so far and until world population trends change efficiency will be unable to do anything about all of the new individuals that will demand a greater amount of energy in the future. Second, renewable energy projects take time, one cannot just snap a finger and invest a half billion dollars and the next day have a 600 MW wind farm up and running. It takes years to construct the energy infrastructure for just one alternative energy based plant that will produce a significant amount of energy to be meaningful, but if too much focus is placed on energy efficiency when additional power required from alternative energy is needed, the time gap will be too great and there will be a high potential for the formation of an energy gap.

The question between energy efficiency and renewable energy investment can be viewed in the following analogy. Suppose you are on an island and stumble on a supply of fish. You could spend your time doing one of two things: studying cooking and fish anatomy or teaching yourself how to fish. By studying cooking and fish anatomy you will increase the amount of meat you can consume from a given fish. By learning how to fish you will increase your supply of fish. Increasing energy efficiency is similar to studying cooking it increases the amount of energy/food derived from a specific quantity of material. Learning to fish is similar to investing in alternative energy it increases the amount of energy/food you have. If there is a limited supply of material and/or the demands on the material is at a certain level, which is the current situation for the environment, it is more beneficial to increase the supply of the material over maximizing what can be acquired from the material.

Overall the energy requirements that are necessary to both fulfill the expected economic growth for the future by ensuring that enough energy is available as well as meet the emission cap provided by the ACES is doable, but daunting. Based on this analysis it appears that cheerleaders who crow about how easy it will be to meet the 17% goal need to re-evaluate their stance because it is not going to be that easy. Investment in alternative energy innovation and infrastructure in all sectors (wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal and biomass) will need to be significantly higher than most propose or predict in order to achieve the growth rates that will result in the necessary production capacities. Although energy efficiency cannot be abandoned, it appears that it needs to take a backseat to alternative energy innovation and development, otherwise either the emission cap of 17% will be much more difficult to attain or economic growth will slow significantly due to the resultant energy gap. However, it must be emphatically stated that the cap cannot be lowered any further than 17% in some desperate attempt to kowtow to the viewpoint that the cap must be attainable or there is no point in having a cap. Meeting the cap is not a black and white issue; a tougher cap will typically mean more momentum to achieve tougher standards in the future. This analysis did not even consider looking at the caps beyond 2020, but if anyone honestly believes that the United States will make a 42% cut in 2005 level emissions by 2030 without focusing largely on renewables over efficiency in the coming decades then those individuals might be interested in this remarkable bridge that is for sale.


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2. Energy Information Administration. Figure 1. U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Gas. 2007.

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5. Hong, B.D, and Slatick, E. R. “Carbon Dioxide Emission Factors for Coal.” Energy Information Administration, Quarterly Coal Report, January-April 1994 pp 1-8.

6. “U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Energy Sources 2008 Flash Estimate.” Energy Information Administration. May 2009.

7. “International Energy Outlook 2009.” Table F3. Delivered Energy Consumption in the United States by End-Use Sector and Fuel, 2006-2030. Energy Information Administration. May 2009.

8. “International Energy Outlook 2009.” Table H8. World Installed Geothermal Generating Capacity by Region and Country, 2006-2030. Energy Information Administration. May 2009.

9. “International Energy Outlook 2009.” Table H5. World Installed Nuclear Generating Capacity by Region and Country, 2006-2030. Energy Information Administration. May 2009.

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11. “International Energy Outlook 2009.” Solar Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Electric Technologies Box. Energy Information Administration. pg 68-69.

12. Mims, Christopher. “The World's 10 Largest Renewable Energy Projects.” Scientific American Magazine. June 4, 2009.

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14. Kharecha, Pushker, Kutscher, Charles, Hansen, James. “Energy and Climate Mini-Workshop Report Options for Near-Term Phaseout of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal Burning in the U.S.” February 2009.

15. Bertani, Ruggero, Thain, Ian. "Geothermal Power Generating Plant CO2 Emission Survey". IGA News (International Geothermal Association) (49): 1-3. July 2002.

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17. “International Energy Outlook 2009.” Table H12. World Net Natural-Gas-Fired Electricity Generation From Central Producers by Region and Country, 2006-2030. Energy Information Administration. May 2009.

18. “Electric Power Annual 2007.” Energy Information Administration. January 2009. pg 7.

19. “HR. 2454 Addresses Climate Change Through a Wide Variety of Energy Efficient Measures.” American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. June 2009.

20. Creyts, Jon, et, Al. “Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How much at What Cost? U.S. Greenhouse Gas Abatement Mapping Initiative Executive Report.” McKinsey & Company. December 2007.

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