Monday, March 28, 2005

No silver bullet

Some strangely sensible talk about energy alternatives made its way onto The New York Times op-ed page last week. The authors acknowledge that the sheer scale of a transition to nuclear power, for example, prevents us from making it our energy saviour. In the United States alone, to keep up with projected needs for electricity through 2050 the country would have to build 1,200 new nuclear power plants or one every two weeks between now and then. Similar scaling problems arise with solar, wind and hydrogen. (Unfortunately, they don't point out that hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source.)

While they have enthusiasm for coal gasification which can make burning coal a lot cleaner, their discussion of carbon sequestration is concerning. Preventing the huge amounts of carbon dioxide from coal burning from reaching the atmosphere would be costly and may even negate the energy from the coal, i.e., we'd use more energy to do it than we'd get from the coal.

But of most concern is this phrase: "We need a crash program of research to find out which geological formations best lock up the carbon dioxide for the longest time, followed by global geological surveys to locate these formations and determine their capacity." The danger will be that in a panic we rush to judgement about the efficacy of certain kinds of underground carbon storage without really understanding their limits. We could then find ourselves dealing with a massive, unexpected release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that hurtles us into fatal, runaway global warming.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

No comments: