Gore’s five point climate plan


in Economics, Politics, The environment

Al Gore has an op-ed in The New York Times in which he argues that energy security and climate change can both be addressed through the same bold set of policies. He highlights five key areas for action:

  1. Incentives for concentrating solar in the Southwest, wind farms from Texas to the Dakotas, and new geothermal capacity.
  2. A national smart grid, including high voltage direct current transmission.
  3. Plug-in hybrids, capable of acting as an energy storage system for the grid.
  4. More efficiently heated, cooled, and lit buildings.
  5. A price on carbon, and an international agreement to succeed Kyoto.

Gore also highlights the importance that those who are now young will play in bringing this about: “The average age of the systems engineers cheering on Apollo 11 from the Houston control room that day was 26, which means that their average age when President Kennedy announced the challenge was 18.” While comparisons to Apollo can be misleading, the exhortation is a convincing one.

Hopefully, Obama realizes the seriousness of this problem and has the political skill to start the rapid transition to a low-carbon economy, and help lead the rest of the world along that path.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

tristan November 10, 2008 at 9:14 am

Kai is working on the “using electric cars to reduce the need for switchable capacity on the grid” problem.

Why switching over to DC transmission? It’s only beneficial in long distance energy delivery (otherwise the energy cost of the AC-DC transformation is higher than the losses from inductance on AC lines).

Since heating is by its nature much more energy intensive than lighting, (lighting is just heating, or, lighting costs double its numerical consumption because every watt of light becomes heat which must be cooled), it doesn’t really make sense to concentrate on them too the same extent, even though this is almost always the case.

The big problem with “energy efficient lighting” is it assumes some amount of light to be constantly needed – but in effect, we “require” far more light now than in the past, and we could save a lot of energy by having more darkness around (although, again, only when cooling systems are operating).

Milan November 10, 2008 at 9:47 am

Why switching over to DC transmission?

So you can link-up distant renewable sources: say, concentrating solar from the south to pumped hydro storage and wind farms.

If you want to be able to maximize your ability to balance one renewable source against another, HVDC is the only technology currently plausible.

It’s only beneficial in long distance energy delivery

This is the only place where it will be used. The local grids will very likely remain AC.

We discussed lighting before. I agree that heating is the more energy-intensive area. That being said, lighting may offer more ‘low hanging fruit’ – opportunities for low cost emission reductions.

we could save a lot of energy by having more darkness around

In what circumstances? Turning lights off in rooms where nobody is present is certainly a good idea. Systems like those in European hotels, where all the power gets cut when you take away your keycard, are a good idea. So are houses with a universal kill-switch beside the door.

A few devices could be connected to special sockets that remain on (servers, routers, etc). For the most part, though, eliminating power wasted on standby would be fairly painless and easy.

Milan November 10, 2008 at 9:52 am

Two other rather bold elements of the plan:

Implementing either of those would likely have a greater impact than any changes made in how buildings are constructed or operated.

R.K. November 10, 2008 at 10:09 am

What’s the role of nuclear power in all of this?

R.K. November 10, 2008 at 5:53 pm

The 100% renewables pledge is by far the most ambitious and politically difficult thing here.

More money for car companies and energy utilities isn’t likely to arouse much opposition. Forcing the abandonment of coal and gas plants – not to mention coal mines – would require a lot more political courage and capability.

R.K. November 10, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Not 100% renewables, sorry.

100% low-carbon, presumably including nuclear.

Tristan November 10, 2008 at 9:49 pm

“we could save a lot of energy by having more darkness around”

I mean, more darkness around where we are. Like not having it so bright all the time. The idea that we need to replicate daylight at night is a 20th century invention.

Tristan November 11, 2008 at 12:17 am


An appliance on standby is only a waste of power if the house is not being heated. A DVD player that uses 3 watts on standby is just a 3 watt heater, so the furnace needs to work 3 watts less hard to heat the house.

A good way to save energy would be get people out of their houses in the summertime – there is no need to be inside, and being inside means there has to be cooling, there has to be lighting and TV etc… So, perhaps encourage more free wifi in city parks?

Milan November 11, 2008 at 1:03 am

We have established that energy lost to heat is not necessarily a problem for those who are heating their houses: at least as long as the total greenhouse gasses associated with the electrical production are less than those associated with an equivalent amount of heating by means of a furnace.

All that being said, this does seem like small potatoes. You can haggle about light bulbs and what kind of circuits should be in televisions, but the real issues are things like coal-fired power plants, the oil sands, and deforestation.

Milan November 11, 2008 at 1:05 am

What’s the role of nuclear power in all of this?

This is one of the more interesting unknowns in the future energy policy of the US.

Forced to bet, I would guess expansion of the industry is likely.

How Gore feels about it, I don’t rightly know at this point.

Tristan November 11, 2008 at 10:08 am

“You can haggle about light bulbs and what kind of circuits should be in televisions”

If you’ll notice, my argument is usually that we have little reason to haggle over lightbulbs and standby circuits. This “low hanging fruit” is not very substantial.

Milan November 11, 2008 at 12:13 pm

There are many who argue otherwise. For example:

McKinsey ranks mitigation technologies
August 8, 2008

Both lighting systems and standby losses are areas where GHG emissions can be reduced in a way that actually saves money overall, according to this study.

Tristan November 11, 2008 at 12:49 pm

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if that firm, respected as they may be, hasn’t chosen to ignore the fact that every unit of “waste heat” produced isn’t waste heat at all if heating is required.

Tristan November 11, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Actually, I think the general inability to think about the (non) difference between light and heat energy rationally might have something to do with a tendency in scientific thinking which has had a direct influence on economics – less emphasis (and rigorous examination of) axioms, and more emphasis on measurement (experimentation).

Economists don’t today care if their axioms are “true”, they only care that their predictions are correct.

This would at first glance, appear as a move towards anti-realism, and doesn’t tristan believe in anti-realism? Not exactly, I think axioms can have a kind of truth or falsity, I just don’t think that the truth of axioms is something which is essentially binary. I think an axiom can be in a certain sense true, and a certain sense false. However, I don’t believe that the sense in which is is true is insofar as it produces correct predictions, and the sense that it is false is insofar as it produces incorrect predictions – I think we can actually know the thing about which the axiom makes claims, and not only in terms of its effects, but albeit imperfectly.

How does this apply to energy? Well, scientifically there is are claimed true axioms “energy is energy”, and that “all energy tends to turn into heat energy”. But, this isn’t measurable, it’s not easy to measure how five watts of waste heat from a standby device heats a house, but it’s very easy to measure that it is using energy. So, it gets conceived of as waste. But according to the axiom, this is wrong.

I’m going to try to turn this thought about the de-emphasis on axiom and emphasis on measurement into a post on my blog after I find some more examples.

Milan November 17, 2008 at 5:20 pm

If the waste heat from light bulbs is to be equivalent to that from a furnace, it would need to spread throughout the room.

Do you know of any studies about what proportion simply stays near the ceiling or is conducted up through it? It seems plausible that heat could go from bulb to ceiling to sky without warming the people below, whereas heat from furnaces tends to come from vents in or near the floor and rise to the top of the room before escaping.

From my own experience, I can say that the circulation of heat within my apartment is far from ideal. It can be several degrees cooler on the floor than near the ceiling, or in one room as opposed to another.

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