Banning new coal power plants will slow warming: NASA scientist
AFP, Mon Feb 26, 2007
A moratorium on coal-fired power plants is key to cutting carbon dioxide emissions that promote global warming, NASA's top climatologist said Monday. "There should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester the (carbon dioxide emissions) is available," said James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
While I agree with this statement in principle, what are we to do to meet our power needs in the meantime? This has been a dilemma of mine for some time. Conservation, renewable energy, nuclear power plants and coal plants with sequestration are all answers, but no technology except conventional coal can meet our near term needs for power. The above statement does't really address emissions from vehicles, but obviously my stand on this would be to promote vehicles that use battery power.
Power companies have about 150 conventional coal powered power plants planned for the next few years and, although they are receiving strong opposition by environmentalists, there is little alternative if we are to build anything.
If anything is to be done about this, the government needs to intervene. This must take the form of a major emphasis on a new policy, A "Manhatten Project" aimed at reducing global warming through conservation and the use of alternative energy methods. A redirection of government funding away from hydrogen and nuclear projects to projects that can meet near term needs is needed. The hydrogen economy has been debunked by enough scientists to justify reducing work in this area except for projects, such as SOFC fuel cells that promise a relatively short term return. Research on hydrogen production from nuclear should be eliminated and redirected to distributed production. Government subsidies are required if we want to slow the construction of conventional coal plants. In the nuclear arena I would stop virtually all work, except for that devoted to supporting demonstration plants.
A major push for conservation needs to be made, as this is the easiest and least costly way of saving energy. This is really the only way that needs for more power can be reduced in the short term. Conservation in lighting, insulation, energy efficient appliances and the use of geothermal heat pumps are some of the most obvious areas where this could take place.
Incentives for thermal solar and wind should be extended to all states, where they are applicable, so that they can be implemented as rapidly as possible. Even such an effort will not make a large impact on our basic power needs for some years. In addition to incentives it will take time for these industries to build up their manufacturing capacity to the point that it could be large enough to make an impact.
Distributed power offers another immediate way that our short term energy needs can be met. Wind and PV solar are the primary technologies that can be applied to this purpose. Although PV solar is too expensive at the present time for widespread use, it has found enough applications to keep the industry running at full capacity and promises to be the primary source for distributed energy in a few years. In addition to PV solar, concentrating PV solar, such as that being developed by Green and Gold Energy and others is coming along fast and soon will be suitable for widespread use. I cannot see that distributed energy will make a significant impact in the next few years.
The use of sequestration with coal fired plants cannot wait for the FutureGen plant to be built. There are at least ten IGCC plants in development and a few of these, those that are furthest along, should be given government support to incorporate sequestration in order to demonstration this technology. I have no objection if sequestration is applied to conventional coal plants, if fact this it is preferred if it can be shown to be economical, I just have not seen anything to support this approach. It will take 4-6 years to see this technology developed.
As far as nuclear is concerned, I have supported the building of demonstration plants to prove that this is a viable approach. Although 3rd generation plants are designed to be safer, to my knowledge they do nothing to produce waste that is more easily disposed of. The only proposal from the government regarding waste, other than permanent storage, is to use a form of breeder reactor to dispose of these wastes and this has not received much support that I have heard of. The advocates of thorium plants claim that they have several advantages, including less waste and waste with a much shorter half-life. As I understand it there is little change in the design of a plant that is required, just the replacement of uranium with thorium as the source of energy. No one, or very few, in the government are supporting thorium plants and until this happens thorium plants will be ignored. At this time I do not know enough about thorium reactors to give them an endorsement, but I have started research on the subject. It might make sense to start use of thorium by demonstrating its use in a pebble bed reactor or a AP1000 reactor. Any advances in nuclear technology will take at least 8-10 years to be demonstrated in the US.