April 29, 2005

George Bush: Champion of Energy Conservation?

Well, yes, in a way. I mentioned last night that it didn't seem as if the White House press corps was all that interested in the energy section of President Bush's remarks, but one of the items he touched on could actually be pretty important.

Energy is a commodity sold in a global market; rapid increases in energy use by growing economies like China's and India's will make environmental problems worse and tend to drive up energy prices for everyone, other things being equal. Limiting the extent to which this happens is about making the other things unequal.

China and India are large and growing purchasers of oil and natural gas, but both countries get most of their electricity from coal -- according to one source, 80% for China and 65% for India. Each country is expected to add hundreds of coal-fired power plants in the next eight years. So much for Kyoto and curbing greenhouse gas emissions if they add more plants like the ones they have now; beyond that, obviously, the more efficient their coal-fired plants the less coal will be needed to run them, and the less risk that they will seek to use petroleum-based fuels for power generation.

The Department of Energy's Clean Coal program, which has been running for almost 15 years and has funded dozens of projects aimed at reducing increasing efficiency and reducing emissions of various kinds, has surely produced some technologies that can be adapted to foreign conditions. A longer shot might be technology developed for DOE's FutureGen project, which seeks to build an emission-free coal-fired power plant.

Other countries, including Germany, Great Britain and Australia, are also potential sources of advanced coal technologies, summaries of which can be found here and here. But the San Francisco Chronicle notes that


"If China, India and other nations start snapping up this new technology, a big winner could be San Francisco's Bechtel Corp., which has already built two coal-fired power plants and two nuclear plants in China, with several more under construction or projected. Bechtel recently formed an alliance with General Electric Co. to develop IGCC power plants...

"...The IGCC [for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, a promising clean coal technology] technology "hasn't yet taken off," [Bechtel Vice President Amos] Avidan said, "but we believe it can become a mainstream technology in a couple of years or so and eliminate the cost gap. We think it has great potential..."


Not everyone agrees with this. Says a former energy consultant to the World Bank


"The problem with these leapfrog technologies is they have a well-proven track record of mostly failing," said Dale Simbeck, vice president of technology for SFA Pacific Inc., a Mountain View energy industry consulting firm.

He noted that there are only two IGCC power plants operating in the United States, despite two decades of federal subsidies...[China's] main barrier, he said, is rigid government policies that shield state-owned power companies from competition."


Countries struggling to add generating capacity in the shortest possible time are less likely to worry about efficiency and especially emissions without easy access to technologies already in use in the United States and other developed countries. If the Bush administration follows up the President's admittedly cryptic remarks on this subject last night the contribution made toward reducing upward pressure on energy prices and environmental damage could be very useful.

Posted by at April 29, 2005 05:12 PM | TrackBack (3)
Comments

"The Department of Energy's Clean Coal program, which has been running for almost 15 years and has funded dozens of projects aimed at reducing increasing efficiency and reducing emissions of various kinds, has surely produced some technologies that can be adapted to foreign conditions."

Name one.

Posted by: praktike at April 29, 2005 11:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Obviously the reason the press corps didn't pay attention to Bush talking about conservation, is that they realize Bush isn't serious when he talks about this.

It's too bad. This would be the perfect Nixon to China moment for Bush which would have a lasting impact and improve his approval ratings. But he'd risk the wrath of his oil buddies who are reporting record profits on record oil prices today.

Posted by: Radical Moderate at May 3, 2005 09:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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