By John Parnell
Swapping coal power generation for renewable energy is the cheapest way for the carbon intensive Western United States to achieve ambitious emission targets, according to new research.
A computer model simulating the electricity generation, transmission and storage in the states west of the Colorado/Kansas border, worked through a number of scenarios.
Under a carbon tax of $70 per tonne, the model predicts a possible 54% cut in 1990 emissions by 2030, by exchanging renewables for existing fossil fuel power generation.
The US as a whole has no binding targets on its greenhouse gas emissions at present. Many question how the country would tackle its perceived addiction to fossil fuels if targets were introduced, as the UN negotiations hope to do by 2020.
The US did propose a target of 17% reductions on 2005 levels by 2020 at the failed Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 although the IPCC, which advises the UN on climate science says a cut of more than 50% is needed from all by 2030.
Making the carbon price right
“While the carbon price required to induce these deep carbon emission reductions [of 54%] is high – between $59 and $87 per ton of CO2 emitted – the cost of power is predicted to increase by at most 20 percent, because the electricity system will redesign itself around a price or cap on carbon emissions,” said Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.
“That is a modest cost considering that the future of the planet is at stake,” added Kammen. “Decarbonisation of the electric power sector is critical to achieving greenhouse gas reductions that are needed for a sustainable future.”
The western states, particularly California, are responsible for masses of carbon emissions with air conditioning, sprawling cities and a reliance on cars for transport the main culprits.
In 2008, California alone was responsible for 473 million tonnes of CO2 (and equivalent), more than Italy (445 mtCO2e) and only just less than Mexico (475 mtCO2e).
The state has outstripped national climate action in the US with a number of initiatives to develop clean energy and to put a price on carbon.