Thursday, January 17, 2019

100% Renewable Energy Vs. All-of-the-Above Clean Energy

The debate about a Green New Deal (GND) has been launched. It's great that it's getting a lot of attention, but there's a lot of potential for pointless internecine left scuffles about what precisely a GND should consist of.
The most idiotic of these arguments is likely to be over whether the goal should be 100 percent renewable energy or not. This is the stated goal of Ocasio-Cortez's version of the idea and, just recently, of a letter sent to Congress by 626 left-leaning environmental groups. The environmental groups' letter specifically says "any definition of renewable energy must also exclude all combustion-based power generation, nuclear, biomass energy, large scale hydro and waste-to-energy technologies"--in other words, none of that stuff could be included in the energy portfolio they envision.
This seems, to use a technical term, batshit crazy. The goal is to decarbonize right? To replace dirty energy with clean energy and do it fast. It makes sense to entertain any and every way of making that swap--all-of-the-above clean energy, not just renewable energy. Why limit yourself?
Bizarrely this insistence on 100 percent renewables and nothing else tends to come from the very same people who seem to be most panicked about going over the 1.5-2 degrees C global temperature rise limit recommended by the IPCC. If you're so worried about it, shouldn't you be pulling out all the stops to make it happen?
Talk about letting the best be the enemy of the good. The wall of hostility in sectors of the left to nuclear energy makes particularly little sense. The safety problems of nuclear are vastly exaggerated (as David Roberts puts it in the article below "Fears about nuclear power’s safety are generally overblown (I’d live inside a nuclear plant before I’d live next to a coal plant)") The real issues are economics and scalability, but those issues too may have solutions (see the other article linked to below).
Or maybe they don't. In which case, fine, we won't do it. But it would be foolish to rule out a potentially huge source of clean energy simply because environmental groups prefer using renewable energy. Same for all the other methods of producing clean energy the environmental groups want to rule out a priori.
In short, the goal should be de-carbonization, not renewability per se, in which case all-of-the-above clear energy is clearly the right approach. That is, if the goal is truly to stop global warming as quickly as possible.
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The smart political move is leaving the question of what counts as clean energy as open as possible.

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