Friday, October 7, 2011

How to get serious about green jobs: 4 keys


1. We could upgrade the nation's rail infrastructure with electrified rail replacing diesel engines and with the addition of double-track lines to minimize traffic congestion that can slow trains to an average of 2mph on some routes.

2. We could weatherize every home in America. (Heating, ventilation, and cooling puts paid to about a third of all the electricity used by US homes.)

3. We could fully fund fuels management on all federal lands:

Another issue is funding for fuel reduction. Funding and acres treated rose (roughly doubling) between FY2000 and FY2003, and have stabilized since. Currently about 3 million acres are treated annually. However, 75 million acres of federal land are at high risk, and another 156 million acres are at moderate risk, of ecological damage from catastrophic wildfire. Since many ecosystems need to be treated on a 10-35 year cycle (depending on the ecosystem), current treatment rates are insufficient to address the problem.
UPDATE: A recent study found fuels management increases greenhouse emissions. So while it might or might not be worth it, it's off my list of green jobs.

4. We could construct a backbone of HVDC lines connecting the regional power authorities across the United States, an "interstate highway" system for the power grid. This would cut transmission losses, today approximately 6.5% of all electricity generated. (Cutting those losses in half would be the equivalent of bringing 45,000MW of clean energy onto the grid -- and reliably linking the US power grid from coast to coast would greatly reduce the indeterminacy problem of high levels of wind and solar -- while the wind does not blow nor the sun shine all the time, if a thousand wind and solar plants are contributing to the grid, the law of averages will inevitably push their contribution towards a steady state.)

 Incentives to develop wind, or solar, or geothermal energy are all very well and good, but it is difficult to pick an industry and make it successful, especially if an important part of your motivation is to create jobs. Even successful industries may not create very many jobs, and there is nothing to stop the successful, once established, from taking those jobs elsewhere.

What we can and should do is radically upgrade our national infrastructure and our management of public lands. Those tasks cannot be left to the private sector. The private sector cannot set a new standard for rail lines, cannot protect federal lands from wildfires, cannot improve disaster response capabilities. True, a hefty carbon tax would advance many of these goals, including weatherization. But not only are the politics of such a tax difficult right now, but it would fail to provide the short-term stimulus and job creation which our economy needs.


2 comments:

  1. HVDC transmission lines would also make possible large scale development of solar thermal power plants in the southwest. This power could then be sent long distances when needed by the grid.
    If molten salt heat storage is built into these plants, they effectively become base load solar, with firm capacity combined with the ability to follow the load. This would further facilitate the integration of more intermittent PV solar and wind energy into the grid.

    One NREL study, for the Western Governors Association, found potential for 300 GW of solar thermal, already near existing power lines, but HVDC would expand that to about 1,000 GW. Arizona alone has 285 GW potential.

    I forget the source, but I have read that if an area 42x42 miles, of what the NREL calls premium solar resource, was filled with solar thermal plants with heat storage, they could generate as many megawatt hours as all the coal plants in America. My rough estimate is that this about 2-3 times the area now evacuated around the Fukishima nuclear plants in Japan.

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  2. "HVDC transmission lines would also make possible large scale development of solar thermal power plants in the southwest. This power could then be sent long distances when needed by the grid."

    Exactly. But no regional power company could make the decision to create a nationwide network. Either you need one or a small number of power companies nationwide, or the government needs to take the lead, as it did with the interstate highway system or in establishing the backbone of the internet.

    "My rough estimate is that this about 2-3 times the area now evacuated around the Fukishima nuclear plants in Japan."

    For the record, I still think nuclear is a very promising technology that is likely to play an increasing role in the future. As I argued in that wind power post recently, all real industries have accidents.

    I'm concerned about the long-term destination of the wastes, but the dangers of nuclear are dwarfed by the dangers of burning fossil fuels.

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