Friday, May 18, 2007

Oil stabilization wedges?

Almost three years ago Pacala and Socolow came up with an innovative way to approach/analyze the problem of atmospheric carbon stabilization: wedge analysis.

They looked at how much carbon would likely be emitted over the next 50 years given business as usual (BAU). They then looked at about 15 different activities that could be pursued (individually) to reduce atmospheric carbon by 1 Gigaton per year of carbon per wedge. They then looked at how much of each activity would be required to accomplish each of the wedges.

I believe this analysis shows both the daunting challenge of the problem facing us as well as (more hopefully) the multiple paths available to solve the problem.

- Doubling fuel efficiency of 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 mpg
- Decreasing the number of car miles traveled by half
- Using best efficiency practices in all residential and commercial buildings
- Producing current coal-based electricity with twice today’s efficiency
- Replacing 1400 coal electric plants with natural gas-powered facilities
- Capturing and storing emissions from 800 coal electric plants
- Producing hydrogen from coal at six times today’s rate and storing the captured CO2
- Capturing carbon from 180 coal-to-synfuels plants and storing the CO2
- Adding double the current global nuclear capacity to replace coal-based electricity
- Increasing wind electricity capacity by 50 times relative to today, for a total of 2 million large windmills
- Installing 700 times the current capacity of solar electricity
- Using 40,000 square kilometers of solar panels (or 4 million windmills) to produce hydrogen for fuel cell cars
- Increasing ethanol production 50 times by creating biomass plantations with area equal to 1/6th of world cropland
- Eliminating tropical deforestation and creating new plantations on non-forested land to quintuple current plantation area
- Adopting conservation tillage in all agricultural soils worldwide

We need a stabilization wedge analysis of this caliber for reducing the US’s dependence on foreign oil. Such an analysis would allow us to compare which steps are most likely achievable and any possible synergies from combining or sequencing activities.

Given the annual focus on high and rising fuel prices as the summer driving season kicks off, perhaps someone will develop the thought.


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