To 'decarbonize' electricity supply, significant technological challenges remain


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As WDR 2010 observes in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 7, "Technological innovation and its associated institutional adjustments are key to managing climate change at reasonable cost."  The development as well as diffusion of climate-smart technology was an important part of the debates leading up to Copenhagen.  A recent blog by Professor Geoffrey Heal  of Columbia University, whose work on climate change damages is referenced in the WDR, addresses this topical and controversial issue.  Writing at, a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, Heal argues that

..."neither costs nor capital requirement will prevent us from decarbonising the electricity supply. The real obstacle to doing this largely with renewables is our current inability to store power, and as long as we cannot store power we will need to use non-renewable sources like nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage."

Heal's blog can be found at


Michael Toman

Research Manager, Sustainable Development, Development Research Group

Join the Conversation

Chad Charles
March 18, 2010

The high number (6-10 US cents/kWh) used by Heal must be commercial wind (100kW capacity machines and above) at the low end and residential. Since commercial installations dominate, and will continue to dominate trends, 6-7 cents/kWh can be used instead.

It would be well to also put "transmission costs" into perspective. The need to milk the high wind areas of the central USA is overstated. Turbines are available with slightly larger swept areas for taking full advantage of lower wind speeds nearer to existing grid coverage and points of electrical use. The current Indiana wind farm boom is an example. The need for massive expansion of existing transmission lines is only necessary when planning and regulation fail speedy and economical integration.

Finally, storage in the form of hydrogen does not have to wait for fuel cell technology to rapidly become a part of the solution. Hydrogen won from electrolysis can be added to natural gas up to 20%, supplementing a huge portion of a non-renewable resource. In addition, the natural gas / hydrogen mix has lends to a disproportional and desired reduction in SO2 and NO2 emissions. Further aspects entail the use of hydrogen as feedstock to displace oil in the petrochemical industry. The above mentioned uses for hydrogen would give it the foot-in the-door needed to ramp up production infrastructure.

Burnice Karimi Ireri
August 22, 2016

The challenges we have in Kenya is usage of Non-renewable sources of energy, depleting resources e.g. Destruction of Forests for income and also as a source of Energy .i.e fuelwood. You people are way advanced. I would advocate for renewable sources of Energy. Our government has started projects on Geothermal Energy, Wind Energy in Isiolo and Meru, Kenya and we have been using HEP which is now being connected to the schools (in order to introduce digital education in primary schools- They are currently piloting in some schools.) and in rural areas for lighting. Since majority households use kerosine lamps and tin lamps which have other effects like indoor pollution, and health effects, academic performance etc and other major effects like climate change, when you consider the collective contribution of carbon from those households.I would also advocate for Solar Energy since we have Solar exposure all year round in different parts of the country especially the North Eastern region.
Great Job Michael Toman.