“Future increases in temperature can vary significantly, depending principally upon our success in reducing GHG emissions today and in the future.”
Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution calculated the expected climate effects of replacing the world’s supply of electricity from coal plants with any of eight cleaner options. They found that to achieve substantial benefit this century, there must be a rapid transition to the cleanest technologies such as solar, wind, or nuclear power – and active steps to conserve energy wherever possible
The easiest and cheapest option is to phase out for coal-fired plants by replacing coal with natural gas. To the Province of Alberta, which is rich in natural gas, this option should be explored as an obvious stop-gap solution. So obvious that in last Alberta election the Wildrose Party included this phase out in its platform.
It is generally recognized that natural gas is not a permanent solution, but its supporters argue that use of natural gas —increasingly the power industry’s fuel of choice, because gas reserves have been growing and prices have been falling—would be better than continued reliance on coal. The study finds that warming would continue even if over the next 40 years every coal-fired power plant in the world were replaced with a gas-fueled plant.
“It takes a lot of energy to make new power plants—and it generally takes more energy to make those that use cleaner technology–like nuclear, solar, and wind–than it does to make dirty ones that burn coal and gas,” Myhrvold added. “You have to use the energy system of today to build the new-and-improved energy system of tomorrow, and unfortunately that means creating more emission in the near-term than we would otherwise. So we incur a kind of ‘emissions debt’ in making the transition to a better system, and it can take decades to pay that off. Meanwhile, the temperature keeps rising.”
Ontario is doing its share to reduce GHG emissions by committing to the replacement of all its coal-fired plants by 2015. It is ironic that the Maxim Power plant in Alberta, which burns coal, will be commissioned that same year.
There will be great stresses in the Canadian Confederation if one or two provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) do not reduce GHG emissions, while others, particularly Ontario do. Premier Redford of Alberta has been attempting to minimize this unfairness by emphasising Alberta’s transfer payments, and the economic benefits to Ontario industry.
That economic justification might persuade today’s voters. But – assuming that the frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events will grow – it won’t persuade them for much longer.
Better to look into alternative energy now.