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To 'decarbonize' electricity supply, significant technological challenges remain

Michael Toman's picture

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


Submitted by Chad Charles on
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.

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