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4 Green Energy Myths
For those paying close attention to environmental news, the “greening” of our utility industry has become a hot topic and an essential component of achieving our climate goals. The development of electric vehicles, Smart Grid technologies, renewable resources, and low-carbon energy generation provide hope that we can refashion our utility infrastructure into a thriving “green” industry and recharge our weak economy while we’re at it.
The utility industry, however, is extremely complex. Both the economics and science of new technologies can be challenging to follow for those outside of the industry. Low-carbon sources of electricity will be more expensive than traditional sources for several decades to come, and massive investment will be needed to create a smarter, greener grid. As we witness this transition and promote new options, it’s crucial to understand the benefits and limitations of new technologies. Unfortunately, many of the best sources of information on green technologies are not written for the general public and other materials provide misleading messages designed to advance a particular point of view or business interest.
Some of the major myths about green technology that we should begin questioning are identified below.
Myth #1: Electric vehicles (EVs) don’t reduce pollution because they get their power from power plants that pollute.
Fact: EVs use much less energy per mile than gasoline vehicles. Even when you factor in the pollution from power plants, EVs cause fewer emissions.
“Costs and Emissions Associated with Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Charging in the Xcel Energy Colorado Service Territory,” by K. Parks, P. Denholm, and T. Markel, National Renewable Energy Lab, May 2007.
“How Green is the Smart Grid?,” by Ryan Hledik, The Electricity Journal, April 2009.
Myth #2: Our electric power grid is antiquated and unreliable.
Fact: Most of the high-voltage grid is not antiquated and overall it is still one of the most reliable systems in the world.
The National Electric Reliability Council (NERC)
Myth #3: “Clean coal” plants have no global warming pollution.
Fact: Plants that are called “clean coal” have lower levels of some pollution, but the same levels of greenhouse gases that lead to global climate change. There are experimental coal-fired power plants that remove most of the greenhouse gases from the plant’s emissions, but these are not ready for commercial operation.
“The Future of Coal- An Interdisciplinary Study,” led by John Deutsch and Ernie Moniz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007.
“Carbon Capture and Storage Progress and Next Steps,” Report to the Muskoka 2010 G8 Summit, International Energy Agency, 2010.
Myth #4: The only way to transport remote renewable resources is by constructing a national “super grid.”
Fact: The creation of a national “super grid” could create reliability and security issues. Very long transmission lines in a power grid can reduce reliability because they are harder to keep balanced and vulnerable to weather events and physical disturbances, including acts of terror. In addition, a nationwide “super grid” would cost hundreds of billions of dollars (about $3 million a mile).
Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities, by Peter Fox-Penner, Island Press, 2010.
Understanding our options for a cleaner, more sustainable energy industry is the first step to fully harnessing utilities’ contributions to a low-carbon future. In addition we will need a larger shift in their mission, incentives, and regulation. There are promising new approaches to how utilities are run and regulated in California, Nevada, and North Carolina, as well as in other states and countries. Concerned citizens, as well as entrepreneurs and policymakers, should watch new energy technologies and utilities’ efficiency and climate programs closely, seeking out the best information possible and supporting promising opportunities as they emerge.
With the development of the Smart Grid, energy efficient technologies, and low-carbon generating technologies, the utilities of the future will no longer resemble the high-carbon industry they are today. For more information on the transformative changes facing the electricity industry, more information on green energy topics, and explanations of major energy policy debates, see my new book Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities.
Peter Fox-Penner, principal and chairman emeritus of The Brattle Group, specializes in economic, regulatory, and strategic issues in network industries. His recent book, Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities, examines innovative business models for the changing utility industry.
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