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Buying a stairway to heaven?

Filed under: — david @ 29 May 2006

Just in the last year or so, a new type of scheme for reducing personal carbon emissions has appeared, the remarkably painless purchasing of “carbon offsets”. claims to neutralize a person’s CO2 footprint on the Earth for the low, low price of $99 per year, plus if you act now they will throw in an extra 5 tons for free! And you get a pen! Prices listed here range from $5-30 per ton of CO2 from a variety of similar organizations around the world. The average U.S. citizen is responsible for about 20 tons of CO2 release per year.

Compliance with Kyoto, a mere 5% reduction in carbon emissions, was forecast by Nordhaus [2001] to cost a few percent of GDP globally. The cost to stop emission completely and immediately may not even be calculable. promises zero net emissions, for a fraction of 1% of the average U.S. income. Can this possibly be real, or are we talking indulgences and snake oil?

The idea behind carbon offsets is built upon the foundation of carbon emissions trading established by the Kyoto Protocol, a scheme called cap and trade. Carbon emissions for industries are capped at some level by regulatory permits to emit CO2. If a company is able to cut its emissions below that level, it can sell its emission permits to another company. The cuts in emissions are thereby steered, by the invisible hand of the market, to the cheapest and most efficient means. Cap-and-trade has worked well for reduction of sulfur emissions in the U.S., that are responsible for acid rain. CO2 emission is intrinsically even better suited for cap-and-trade, because it is a truly global pollutant, so it matters not where the CO2 is emitted.

The carbon emissions market requires a certification process to verify any reduction in carbon emissions. and the other similar operations take donations from people like me and use the money to pay for renewable energy sources like solar cells or wind farms, that would not have been built otherwise. For these efforts, they receive credits for reduction in carbon emissions that are certified as valid, and therefore eligible for trade in the emissions market. Instead of trading that emission credit, “retires” it, so that it isn’t used to balance higher carbon emission from another source. The certification process from the emissions market has an unintended benefit of providing an independent way to verify the carbon impact from sending money to organizations like It’s a nifty idea.

The only piece of this picture that I don’t personally believe is carbon credits for land-use changes, reforestation. This was a U.S. idea in the Kyoto negotiations, back in the day when we were still pissing in the tent from the inside. It is true that forests hold more carbon per square meter than bare land does. However, estimating the exact amount of carbon in a forest is not so easy, because most of the carbon is in the soil, where its concentration is variable and laborious to measure. Could a forest that was cut and burned last year be claimed to be a carbon sink this year, as the forest grows back? What if the forest is cut again next year, will the carbon credits issued this year be chased down and revoked? To its credit, is quite up front about these sorts of concerns, and gives donors the option to invest their money in ways that are more transparent.

What I don’t understand is why entrepreneurs don’t invest in carbon reduction certificates, like does, but rather than retire the certificates, sell them in the carbon emissions market. The going rate for emissions permits in the market is on the order of $20-30 per ton, while claims to reduce carbon emissions for about $5 per ton. Seems like one could make a killing. I guess that’s the whole point of emissions trading. But the discrepancy in prices makes me a bit suspicious.

What about the discrepancy between the huge projected costs for nation-scale carbon cuts versus these cheap fixes for the emissions of an individual? I believe what we are looking at is a situation known as “low-hanging fruit”. If everyone in the U.S. decided to become carbon neutral, the price for doing it would rise, because the easy fixes would be used up. So the CO2 emission reductions achievable by purchasing of carbon offsets, at the low, low price of $99 per year, are almost by definition small relative to the overall scale of the problem. It would take more than $99 per American to prevent global warming; for that we will have to actually reduce our CO2 emissions. Carbon offsets cannot do it alone.

Carbon offsets are beneficial in the meantime, however, because they do cut carbon emissions, and the money stimulates development of alternative energy technologies. The bottom line is, despite my deep initial skepticism, I now see how carbon offsets could actually work as advertised, enabling an individual to live a carbon-neutral life, even in the United States. This is a terrific idea. Sign me up!

Nordhaus, W.D., Climate change – Global warming economics, Science, 294 (5545), 1283-1284, 2001.

157 Responses to “Buying a stairway to heaven?”

  1. 101
    Andrew Dodds says:

    Re: 91

    Although it’s OK for some people (i.e. those with farms and no pressing economic need to make the entire farm productive) to reduce Co2 emissions in this way, once you start trying to do it on a scale that would actually make an impact, you very quickly run out of land for reforestation or food. Especially as – and this should always be in mind – something like 3 billion people in asia are currently trying to get our lifestyle, and the emissions from that are swamping anything from small scale conservation efforts in the west.

    Re: 92

    I would take issue with any assertion that Biodiesel, Wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric can scale in a proven way – wind and solar have serious intermittancy issues; geothermal is only really useful in a few locations (and is not strictly speaking renewable) and pretty much all the best hydroelectric sites are gone. The destruction of waterway ecosystems by dams of any size has to be mentioned as well.

    Biodiesel is so far away from being green that it beggars belief. Cutting down the remaining tropical forests to grow small amounts of liquid fuels is NOT environmentally friendly. And this is assuming that energy returns are substantial.

    Nuclear can scale and run over a decent time scale – the use of a closed breeder fuel cycle would remove the long term waste issues. And is it concievable that the off peak electricity from an all nuclear grid would provide the energy required for (as an example) the transformation of carbon based waste into methanol to make a carbon neutral liquid fuel. Which would give an energy system with CO2 emissions less than 5% of current. The problem being that setting up such a system would run into problems with both anti-nuclear ideolouges and pro-market ideologues.

    Re: 97.

    Ger, I live (in the UK) in a modern semi with excellent insulation and an on-demand hot water system (no tank). All electric bulbs are CF, all appliances as highly eco-rated as possible, and I’ve even invested in switched multi-plugs so I don’t leave things on standby. My car (Pug 406 HDi) does around 50 miles to the gallon. And no, I’m not making this up – all of the above is done mainly to save cash.

    The question is, then, how on earth am I meant to reduce my energy consumption to 40% of current (1/2.5) levels, as you would require, without really quite major financial and/or lifestyle sacrifices?

  2. 102
    Eachran says:

    Hank Roberts, I have searched in vain for the reference but it was a UK woman China historian writing about China centuries and centuries ago. I think you should put it in the geo-myth department even though the use of the word “myth” is wrong. It was essentially about the overuse of resources – in this case hunting shooting and fishing – which you rightly say goes on today (not just for hunting) but not only by the Chinese. I was only trying to be fair.

    More to the point, two references on the New Zealand experience are quite interesting : the country intended to introduce a carbon tax and then scrapped the idea because it was too costly, by which I understand that they hadnt a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting their carbon targets under Kyoto and they were suffering the UK experience of CO2 rising rather than falling and in NZ’s case by between 30 and 40%. The latest news is that the country is being urged to try again.

    The original NZ Gov proposal was also revealing because they thought that the cost of the tax to the final consumer would be trivial : I wonder who did their calculations? Can be found by googling “carbon tax”. carbon-tax-too-costly-says-nz/2005/12/29/1135732693442.html

    I cant help feeling (not a scientific term I know) as do some of the above posters, that the costs are considerably higher than thought and our leaders are terrified of the consequences of doing something/anything.

    Tax, cap and trade are the only really fair and efficient mechanisms for addressing the problem apart from individual action. But if we continue to do nothing……?

  3. 103
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Re 101:
    You ask how you could reduce your energy consumption to 40% of current level. You might want to have a read of Mayer Hillman’s book ‘How we can save the planet”. It helps you to calculate your own carbon emissions and gives details of how they can be reduced.

    60% reductions are needed on average – if your own ‘carbon footprint’ happens to be well below average then you are in a better starting position.

  4. 104
    Stewart Argo says:

    Re. 91: “How big would such a project have to be to have a measurable impact on atmospheric CO2?”

    Rough, back of the envelope calculations:

    It probably depends on the species of tree you select, but if you take an (arguable) estimate of 10Kg Carbon/tree/year, then a plantation of 2,000 trees would reduce the impact of an American family of four by about 25%.
    How many trees you can plant per acre also depends on species, but as an example for long lived poplar trees a spacing of 12 feet will give you about 300 trees per acre (see, so our typical American family would need a forest of 6 or 7 acres, sequestering around 3 tonnes/acre/year.

    Globally, a 25% reduction would need something like 100 to 200 billion trees (about half a billion acres, or around three to four times the size of Texas).

    That’s assuming it’s prime land capable of sustaining a forest (making Texas a bad example).

    Other estimes vary. TreeTec Corp ( claim they can sequester 10 tonnes/acre/year using fast growing Sagitta trees in a seven year cycle (about treble my figure).

    At the other end of the spectrum:

    To reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 7%, as stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol, would require the planting of “an area the size of Texas every 30 years”, according to William H. Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of the environment and earth sciences at Duke University, in Durham, N.C.


    (this works out at rather less than one tonne/acre/year).

  5. 105
    jhm says:

    I highly recommend the following articles from The Christian Science Monitor (you need to pay, or go to a library). Ukraine is often mentioned, but Belarus is often ignored.

    from the Apr 26, 2006 edition
    Still under Chernobyl’s shadow
    By Fred Weir SVETILOVICHI, BELARUS When the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded 20 years ago, pouring radiation equivalent to more than 100 Hiroshima bombs into the air, the people of this small agricultural village a few miles downwind didn’t flee. “No one warned us about the danger. We were left in the dark,” says Alexander Malinovsky, a boy at the time. No effort was ever made to evacuate people from Svetilovichi, says Mr. Malinovsky, who still farms his father’s small plot here, deep… (1348 words)

    from the Apr 26, 2006 edition
    Reporters on the Job
    * Bring Your Own Food: Foreign journalists aren’t typically granted permission to visit the “exclusion zone” in Belarus, downwind from the Chernobyl disaster. It’s a politically sensitive area. “We were smuggled into the zone by local environmentalists. But as we were leaving, we were stopped at a police checkpoint,” says correspondent Fred Weir. Their guide was pulled out of the car and taken to the guard post. Fifteen minutes later he was released. “I think that our presence may hav… (301 words)

  6. 106
    Andrew Dodds says:

    Re: 103

    I am aware that there are things I could do – I could install solar panels on the roof, I could turn the thermostat WAY down, I could cycle to work, etc.. but these sort of things are either very expensive or personally very inconvienient. And that is the political problem faced here – asking people to make sacrifices that seem personally worse than the consequences that those people will face from most AGW scenarios just isn’t going to work.

    Re: 105

    Citing what are basically anecdotes is not a useful way of deciding between enerrgy options. How many people are killed per kWh produced by various energy sources? That is ultimately what defines safety.

  7. 107
    Moondog says:

    Re: 104
    No idea if this has been discussed before, but how good an option is the approach taken by Planktos Inc. (

  8. 108
    Ike Solem says:

    It is interesting to see the renewable energy debate of the late seventies (when climate change wasn’t on many people’s event horizon, but ‘energy independence’ was) repeated almost verbatim some 25 years later. The same issues are still present.

    1) Conversion of biological materials to liquid fuels – essentially, this means taking photosynthetically fixed carbon, subjecting it to various regimes (microbial digestion of sugars to ethanol, for example), and using it as a fuel. The whole process is very analagous to oil formation over millions of years, in which marine organisms were subjected to a heat/pressure regime that produced crude oil or natural gas (depending on conditions). In the US you have corn, which is broken down into animal feed (the protein fraction) and ethanol (the sugar fraction); in Brazil you have sugar cane processes which are very carbon/energy efficient, unlike many US coal-fired ethanol plants. The ‘cutting edge technology’ is the conversion of cellulose to sugars to ethanol; for example Iogen Inc. in Canada has a proprietary process for wheat straw to ethanol conversion using fungal enzymes to break down the straw to sugars. You can also brew a little beer on the side, if so interested. As far as a personal step to take, buy a flexible fuel vehicle or a hybrid that can run on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% fossil hydrocarbons). Biodiesel is made from fossil-sourced methanol and vegetable oil, so it’s similar to E85 – but for diesel engines. Thus, you could also buy one of those efficient European small diesels.

    2) Wind farms – if you are a Midwestern farmer or have similar acreage, this is a good way to go, though if you live in a wealthy community you’ll have to deal with neighbors complaining about the ‘eyesore’. At the least, if you have a windy corridor you can encourage your local gov’t and utilities to build turbines there. This technology is well-developed – turbines have been around for a long time, and they have some massive new designs. There is a problem here though – intermittent energy generation needs to be stored (same goes for big solar projects) for later use – how about large water/hydrogen-oxygen electrolyzer/fuel cells in grid connected power plants for load balancing?

    3) Solar panels – a good investment for the homeowner. About as expensive as a new car, but unfortunately car loans are far more common then solar installation loan programs. Current commercial conversion efficiencies are ~10%, higher for the space satellites, but the new theoretical limit is approaching 50% – look up ‘third generation photovoltaics’. More research/development/production is needed – but where? US universities tend not to have renewable energy programs, and the federal funding is ridiculously low, and the necessary megabillions of investment… Look to Germany, Japan and Australia, I suppose. Or you could take a look at Stanford Universities “Global Climate and Energy Project” – funded by ExxonMobil to the tune of $100 million, with all patents exclusively licensed to – yup, ExxonMobil. I imagine they’ll be developing that technology asap – yes, I’m being sarcastic. On a more positive note, the original Bell Lab silicon PV cells are still generating power today – nice lifetime for silicon PV!

    4) Energy efficiency is a key ingredient of all the above strategies. For the individual, just knowing how much energy you are using is a problem. I hear the new hybrids are always calculating your current miles per gallon (kilos per liter?). Here is an idea (for free): A little readout on the wall of your kitchen that is constantly calculating your monthly energy bill and your current energy usage. I can’t think of anything that would be as effective for the average American to increase energy conservation then that kind of constant reminder of the upcoming bill. This unit would be cheap and easy to build, as well – just a simple AC clamp meter with a little programmable digital calculator attached.

    Buying carbon credits? This is illustraive of the gap between economic and physical notions of reality. Shouldn’t all economists be required to study basic thermodynamics, conservation of energy, etc? I personally have a very hard time relating the cash in my pocket to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, unless I need to burn it to keep warm.

    As far as nuclear vs. coal, consider the difference in effect between a fire and explosion in a coal plant vs. a nuclear plant. Also do a life-cycle cost analysis for a nuclear plant, from construction to dealing with the blazing hot ‘spent fuel’ to the final disposal of the radioactive reactor core. Then you have the military / terrorism implications to top it off. This argument doesn’t need to be revisited.

  9. 109
    Karen Street says:

    George Akerlof, Nobel Prize winner in economics) spoke at the China US Climate Change Forum. He believes that it is a mistake to emphasize too much the costs and benefits of reducing our GHG emissions when we are emitting more than our share. He likens it to walking into someone else’s house and eating their dinner. We can talk about our costs and our benefits, but it’s their dinner (share of the world’s GHG emissions).

    If we’re over 0.3 – 0.4 tonnes Ceq or so, we’re eating more than our share, I qualify.

    Someone asked about the California plan. The current analysis indicates California can cut GHG emissions significantly without net cost, in part because California entrepeneurs will make so much money. Even if you believe this is too sanguine, no one thinks that the cost to California from climate change this century will be cheaper than doing nothing.

    John Holdren estimates that by delaying until 2051 or 2052 economic goals we had hoped to achieve in 2050, we can keep temperature increase below 2 C. The “hope to be in 2050” value doesn’t count the costs of climate change.

    It’s not our dinner. Failing to act will cost more.

  10. 110
    John says:

    I did some seaching last night on the BP claim of reducing their emmissions by 10% below 1990 levels. I found these facts:
    1) In 2002 they had around 80 million tonnes of CO2 which they said was 10% below 1990 levels. Therefore, in 1990 it must have been ~89 million tonnes.
    2) Their high point from 1990 till 2002 was 94 million tonnes reached in 1998.
    3) During this period BP sold two coal fired plants and replaced them with natural gas. They said this resulted in annual savings of about 2 million tonnes (per plant or total was not clear).
    4) They project that by 2050 BP will be producing 150 million tonnes of CO2 per year and need to find new ways to reduce this.

    My conclusions are that while BP seems to have reached below their 1990 levels this was done by some slight of hand. Selling coal plants does not reduce the global CO2 levels. It just moved it to another company. Their starting point included older technology so they were able to take advantage of one time offsets. And finally, BP admits that their expansion plans will force their CO2 levels to go back above the 1990 goal. In fact in 2004 their level of CO2 was back to around 88 million tonnes which was just a hair below 1990 levels. BP has not released any CO2 data for 2005 that I can find.

    Once again this points to acouple of flaws. A certain company or country might claim a reduction in CO2. But this reduction will either be temporary, or the result of shifting the CO2 to another company or country. The real point is that CO2 levels still increased and are continuning to do so. Even this site says this.

    As for my post #83 it seems no one has been able to answer the question or to offer a real solution. All the wind, sun, hydro, bio, etc. just doesn’t cut it. None of those or even a combination will not replace the 12 terrawatts of electricy needed by the world. And this is just electrical power.

    [Response: Fair enough. Possibly the headline figure was a little misleading – though, if anything this points to a problem with any kind of voluntary scheme – poeple not in it just offset the ‘cuts’ made elsewhere. But efficiency improvements and flaring reductions are definite decreases in emissions. To say that efficiency can’t do anything further is a false conclusion though. Example, China has a very low standard of energy efficiency (per capita emissions/per unit GDP roughly 5 times smaller than Europe, 2 times smaller than the US), mainly because of a huge amount of local energy production (small furnaces, dung burning, residential oil/coal generators – also big pollution sources). In the unlikely event of bringing China up to even US levels of efficiency, their economy could double (and air quality improve) while still maintaining their current emissions. No-one (I think) is claiming that in and of itself can bring about the ~70% reductions required for stabilisation, but read the Pacala and Socolow paper for how it can be part of the mix. -gavin]

  11. 111
    Ken Johnson says:

    Re #102
    Eachran – Regarding your statement that “Tax, cap and trade are the only really fair and efficient mechanisms …”, can you be a little more imaginative? (See #34 and #88.)

    Re #109
    “The current analysis indicates California can cut GHG emissions significantly without net cost …”. How much reduction are they talking about, and how much reduction do the climate scientists say California needs to achieve?

  12. 112
    mb says:

    I just heard a rehash of the plan for dealing with AGW by putting particles in the upper atmosphere that will absorb or reflect solar uv waves and subsequently reduce warming. The person who gave the lecture is a respected physicist. Plan doesn’t impact carbon concentration, but that’s considered ok because c02 will help agriculture. He claimed NAS provided evidence that this would be beneficial in resolving climate change and render GHG levels irrelevant. I have a feeling that we’ll be hearing more from people pushing such a plan, and that it will probably be backed by fossil fuel folks. Was wondering if anyone has info on this plan and its impacts.

  13. 113
    John McCormick says:

    Gavin, this Post has run out of rope, in my opinion. It has drawn some wild conversation and not much constructive input. Perhaps I am guilty here, too.

  14. 114
    Hank Roberts says:

    Perhaps inviting someone from among the scientists (and economists!) who contributed to the work in
    might be informative here?

    And after all, auditing (done right) has a place in the future we’re facing, it shouldn’t be left to the skeptics.
    These authors seem to be seriously attempting to work toward being able to do it right. Note E.O. Wilson participated.

    From the beginning of that article, for those who didn’t read it:

    “The human economy depends on the planet’s natural capital, which provides all ecological services and natural resources. Drawing on natural capital beyond its regenerative capacity results in depletion of the capital stock. Through comprehensive resource accounting that compares human demand to the biological capacity of the globe, it should be possible to detect this depletion to help prepare a path toward sustainability.

    “The purpose of this study is to develop such an accounting framework, and to measure the extent of humanity’s current demand on the planet’s bioproductive capacity. We build on many earlier attempts to create comprehensive measures of human impact on the biosphere. ”

    They must be looking at the same measures and proxies the climate scientists use, they’re trying to understand the same thing.

  15. 115
    PHEaston says:

    In my mind, there is little question that carbon offsets are a lazy and hypocritical way of easing your conscience. What it means is that all YOU need to do to ‘save the world’ is buy your way out and not make any personal sacrifice, except a minor financial one. Tony Blair is a classic example. Publicly, he is ‘passionate’ about tackling climate change. For the UK, this means committing us to Kyoto. But to achieve this (in the short term and Blair’s political lifespan) is to move from coal to natural gas – a trend that was already underway for economic reasons when the commitment was made, but one that conveniently allows the UK to register a reduction in CO2 emissions. From his personal point of view – while it is accepted that he must travel around the world in his job as Prime Minister – he could, if he were serious about tackling climate change, choose to spend his holidays in the UK. But he does not. He still flies off to the Carribean and Egypt, suggesting the rich should continue to do as they want. This may sound like a snide criticism, but it is not. Those who are genuninely committed to tackling climate change must set an example by making some personal sacrifice (especially high profile politicians). Blair fails to do this. On another point – for myself as a committed environmentalist who happens to be a ‘global warming’ skpetic, my concern is that climate offsets will not serve to reduce pollution and energy wastage. I am a strong supporter of public transport, and for the use of our feet and bicycles in favour of cars – where possible (and especially against urban SUVs!). It is important to REDUCE energy usage, and to reduce polluting emiisions, rather than just ‘offset’ CO2 emissions. Buying your way out is too simple an option.

  16. 116
    Karen Street says:

    Re #111

    I suspect that costs will not turn out to be as rosy as imagined, and remember, part of the reason there is little net cost is because California entrepeneurs will be making money. Also, technology improvements will be mandated for fuel economy gains, meaning that our crowded highways will not be filled with even more powerful cars. But imagine the costs in an even more crowded California with 90% loss of snowpack.

    This is the proposal:

    By 2010, Reduce Emissions to 2000 Levels*
    By 2020, Reduce Emissions to 1990 Levels**
    By 2050, Reduce Emissions to 80% Below 1990 Levels
    * 59 Million Tons Reduction, 11% below Business as Usual
    ** 145 Million Tons Reduction, 25% Below Business as Usual

    We emit about as much as the typical American, but 40% of emissions are from transportation. The electricity people like to say that it’s because of major improvements instituted in how we sell electricity, encourage efficiency, but part of the reason is that so many Americans moved to air conditioning country.

    Emissions targets:

    By 2010, Reduce Emissions to 2000 Levels*
    By 2020, Reduce Emissions to 1990 Levels**
    By 2050, Reduce Emissions to 80% Below 1990 Levels
    * 59 Million Tons Reduction, 11% below Business as Usual
    ** 145 Million Tons Reduction, 25% Below Business as Usual

  17. 117
  18. 118
    Ken Johnson says:

    Re #112
    Tim Flannery’s book, The Weather Makers, says (end of Chap 31) “Thankfully, jet contrails contribute to global dimming, so it may be just as well that the jets keep flying …”. I would be interested in climatologists’ take on this idea – Use jets for climate stabilization. Should carbon credits be given for air travel? :)
    (Next topic …)

  19. 119
    JMG says:

    RE: #110 Search on the Cal Tech site for a video lecture presentation by Dr. Nathan Lewis called something like “How will be Power the World?” — it’s superb, and I don’t use that term lightly.

    No, wait, here are the links to TWO great presentations from Cal Tech that should be of great interest to visitors here at RealClimate.

    David Goodstein: Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil, 10/13/2004
    58 minutes:

    Nathan Lewis: Powering the Planet: Where in the World Will Our Energy Come From? 5/25/2005 67 minutes:

  20. 120
    Jonathan says:

    The claimed rates for mineral sequestration and other such measures are $60-100 a ton. Thats what I use as a ceiling for cost. So $100/ton times ~25 billion tons CO2 is $2.5 trillion per year or about 5% of annual world GDP.

  21. 121
    Michael Jankowski says:

    Re #86 Gavin:
    “Again, it’s just not so: shows that they acheived an absolute reduction of 10% below 1990 levels by 2001.”

    I am not sure what you are arguing with John about this for. BP may have met their 2010 goal in 2001, but the tidbit John found in your other link suggests they subsequently increased emissions significantly through 2004. This can be verified on BP’s website at , which shows BP’s GHG emissions rising in 2002 and 2003 then dropping in 2004 while still remaining above 2001 levels. So they may have met their 2010 goal in 2001, but they could not maintain this in 2002-2004. FWIW, the website also ackowledges a decrease in efficiency in 2004 from 2002 and 2003 in terms of emissions per unit of production.

    While the BP CEO may have been truthful, I am one who finds it interesting that big oil CEO’s are suddenly taken at their word on this site without a little digging.

  22. 122
    Gar Lipow says:

    >Gar, I live (in the UK) in a modern semi with excellent insulation and an on-demand hot water system (no tank). All electric bulbs are CF, all appliances as highly eco-rated as possible, and I’ve even invested in switched multi-plugs so I don’t leave things on standby. My car (Pug 406 HDi) does around 50 miles to the gallon. And no, I’m not making this up – all of the above is done mainly to save cash.

    >The question is, then, how on earth am I meant to reduce my energy consumption to 40% of current (1/2.5) levels, as you would require, without really quite major financial and/or lifestyle sacrifices?

    OK – well to start with it sounds like you are well below the U.K. average which is in turn well below the U.S. average; so you don’t have nearly as far to go. But framing it as what you as an individual can do is misleading. Efficiency increases have to be done as a society. OK one example: Back in 1997 the Selectria sunrise demonstrated an electric car with a 210 mile practical range. If the electricity came from coal that particular car would have driven at the equivalent of a 90 mpg car; if from wind or solar or nuclear more like 200 mpg (because of the lack of thermal combustion conversion losses). The car would sold for around 25,000 dollars (around 12,500 pounds isn’t that?) and the batteries would have still provide a 105 mile range after 100,000 miles. Tell me that if that car had been on the market you would not have considered that instead of your 50 mpg car? Why wasn’t it on the market? Well to offer it at that price Selectria would have had to sell 40,000 units per year. They did not think the market was there. But that kind of chicken egg problem is something governments can solve. They could have offered a subsidy to Selectria, a tax on the competition, a purchasing program for the government fleet, a number of alternatives. Similarly there are super-efficient refrigeratos on the market today – the SunFrost for example. The problem is that demand is so low that they have to be hand built, not mass-produced, which keeps the price high, which keeps demand low, which keeps them from being mass produced, which …

    Well, you see the point. There are solutions. But the unassisted free market won’t deliver them. Maybe there is a thing or two you’ve overlooked, but I’m betting you have found all or most of what it would pay you as individual to do on the demand reduction side. But there are other things that it would pay society to subsidize. And the cost those subsidies would add to your tax bill would be paid for by energy saving – whereas buying those same savings as an individual would not pay for you. The difference is moving stuff from prototypes and hand building to mass production. “Never pay retail”.

    What form should those subsidies take? A lot of people think a carbon tax is a good idea; other favor feebates. I tend to favor regulation and public works for various reasons. But there are good arguments to be made around all of these policy alternatives. The one alternative that won’t work is leaving it to just what individuals can do, and not making public policy interventions.

  23. 123
    Ken Johnson says:

    Re #116, #34

    The Climate Action Team report states the following: “The 2010 and 2020 targets are based on an ambitious estimate of how much the state can reduce emissions with strong top-down leadership and a coordinated effort amongst various state agencies. … The 2050 target is based on emission reductions the science indicates will be necessary from all developed nations to ensure protection of the planet in the 100-year time frame.”

    Regarding the report’s assertion that “The Governorâ��s Targets Are Achievable”, I submitted a Public Records Act request to the California Environmental Protection Agency in April for “any available data, analysis, and information relating to the feasibility, costs, or prospects of achieving the Governor’s 2050 target (80% reduction from 1990 levels)”, and received the following response: “We have searched our records and have found no documents pertaining to your request.”

    (The 2050 target has been characterized as a “stretch goal” – apparently meaning it is only regarded as a â��politicalâ�� goal, which is not taken seriously and is basically ignored.)

  24. 124

    I came across an article today published in United Press International regarding extracting energy from the tides. (see:

    My understanding of a renewable resource is one in which its extraction has no impact on the supply. For example, the supply of solar energy in independent of whether we use it or not.

    Tidal energy however, is energy that is ultimately extracted from the rotational energy of the earth. Whether or not that energy loss is significantly more than the normal loss I will leave up to someone else to find out. However, I think it should be found out.

  25. 125
    Eachran says:

    Ken Johnson, I am not sure I can be more imaginative but try the following.

    The object of the exercise is to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to a ‘level’ : we are not quite sure which ‘level’ but a pre-industrial level has a nice feel to it before the climate scientists can tell us in 50 years time (if we are all here) how to tinker with our natural air conditioning to avoid glacials and inter-glacials.

    There are two approaches : individual or group. How large and effective the groups are will depend on the how well the groups cohere and what they cohere with (you need to speak to social scientists for more information on this but some groups do cohere better than others and seem to have more success in achieving their objectives – perhaps it is a question of size of group and binding ingredients but the answer to the question is very important if we are going to survive). Some groups are as large as China with 1,3 billion people. Some groups are the size of Sweden which seems to do relatively well on its approach to emmissions. Some groups are like Lynn who seems to be doing all the right things and good luck to her.

    Individual effort is always worthwhile for an individual because, for example, I would never want to die without having lived my life the way I have expressed it to others. I do not consume, I make do and mend, and I am very happy with my life – I would say I lead a millionaire’s life without being a millionaire. Incidentally and with reference to Mr Gore, he should include as lifestyle changes : talking to the neighbours (or moving house), learning to cook and cooking for them.

    But individual action is very limited given the timeframe we are all working under.

    Small group action is also very limited. In this respect I was interested to read Mr Monbiot in The Guardian (a UK daily journal) stating (no doubt truthfully) that if only the UK could have strengthened and policed better the implementation of the UK’s building regulations on conservation of energy then we would not be in the mess we are. All I can say is ‘quite so’, but, we are not dealing with the past and whilst policing better the building regulations will undoubtedly help in the future it takes too long to bring about the changes needed today….like now?

    I would like to know how many nations covering what percentage of the population of the planet have managed to reduce emmissions? I shall do the normal google searches if no-one responds. But I think you will find that most nations are “stuffed” (as we might say in UK english).

    So what to do and how to do it?

    The market is not, as a number think, a capitalist invention to steal from the poor and give to the rich : it is a mechanism for individuals to express themselves with their ideas with a view to improving their lot and also others. Yes it involves money, but that is the medium and it is not the message. For markets to function individuals need the freedom (relatively) to win and lose – and there is no disgrace in losing. In this respect the New Zealand attempt to introduce a carbon tax was doomed because the Government of NZ had set a price which the market could not understand, some sort of vague Kyoto related price, and had already decided what to do with the proceeds when in fact they should have left that decision to the market.

    We are going to go round in circles if we do not stick to something very simple : carbon tax and cap and trade are two sides of the same coin – in the former the Government guesses at a levy which reduces through the imposition of an extra cost the production of CO2 up to an acceptable level whilst in the latter the Government guesses which industries are best able to be penalised for producing CO2 up to a set level. For me it is obvious what to do : set a tax, monitor its effects and then regulate it until you achieve the level of CO2 you think you need. Let the market work around the problems of scarcity and abundance.

    To be effective you need large groups like the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific to be on board. I wouldnt worry too much about China and India because with a well constructed import levy reflecting the social costs of their production you could eventually encourage them to join and enlarge the group if they are not founding members. After all they dont want to die any more than we do.

    With the taxes and levies one naturally reduces other taxes like income tax. Perhaps we are on the way to the economist’s dream : an expenditure tax.

    Sorry I cant be more imaginative.

  26. 126
    Ken Johnson says:

    Eachran – Why is it that taxes, even with their advantage of cost control and no price volatility, cannot get past square one politically, while cap and trade has become the mainstay of US and global climate policy? (There are actually four policy options you could consider: In addition to conventional taxes and cap and trade, consider refunded taxes or cap and trade with auctioned allowances – see #34 and #88.)

  27. 127
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Compliance with Kyoto, a mere 5% reduction in carbon emissions, was forecast by Nordhaus [2001] to cost a few percent of GDP globally.

    The Nordhaus article is at

    Since that’s a ~5% reduction from a fixed point, it begins to be a large reduction from business-as-usual as growth continues in the future, hence the significant costs. When reductions are initially low, carbon prices are low too (see 2005 in Nordhaus’ Fig. 1 & Fig. 2) and presumably GDP is hardly affected.

    It’s worth noting that this high cost is partly a reflection of inefficiency of the Kyoto mechanism, not the inherent cost of emissions reductions. By contrast, the abatement cost function in Nordhaus’ original DICE model permits a totally carbon-free economy overnight for less than 7% of GDP (with some future amplification of the effect due to diminished investment and growth). More modest reductions along his optimal trajectory (emissions 10-15% below business-as-usual) have very low carbon tax equivalents ($5-20/ton).

    The low-hanging fruit in most models can be harvested for ~0 $/tonC, as that in most areas until recently has been the market price of carbon, so low prices need not be a sign of trouble for carbonfund et al.

    It certainly is prudent to question the reality and effectiveness of such offsets though. In spite of the certification process, there are many ways leakage could occur. Preserving one patch of forest may simply shift loggers to the next (until scarcity begins to drive up the price); it’s likely that some projects (e.g. PV systems) funded would have taken place anyway by other means, and thus should not be fully credited. On the other hand, carbonfund et al. are only claiming credit for carbon emissions reductions. They are likely providing other benefits – preserving habitat, reducing non-CO2 emissions, moving renewable technologies down learning curves, etc. – that offset the leakage effect.

  28. 128
    Hank Roberts says:

    It may not matter — for us — that CO2 causes global warming.

    Warming is slow, compared to the rate CO2 makes the ocean acidic.

    The American Meteorological Society is warning about this. Can the climatologists make this an issue of mutual concern?

    Visualize an ocean populated mostly by jellyfish — inedible jellyfish.

    Ocean acidification (ocean chemistry change) is a highly predictable consequence of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Surface ocean chemistry changes resulting from changes in atmospheric composition can be predicted with a high degree of confidence.

    Ocean acidification means that there would be concern over carbon dioxide emissions independently and apart from any possible effects of carbon dioxide on the climate system. Ocean acidification and climate change are both effects of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, but they are completely different; ocean acidification depends on the chemistry of carbon dioxide whereas climate change depends on the physics of carbon dioxide.

    If current trends in carbon dioxide emissions continue, the ocean will acidify to an extent and at rates that have not occurred for tens of millions of years…. we are producing highly unusual chemical conditions in the world’s oceans. Right now, ocean chemistry is changing at least 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in the 100,000 years preceding our industrial era.

  29. 129
    Gar Lipow says:

    >Eachran – Why is it that taxes, even with their advantage of cost control and no price volatility, cannot get past square one politically, while cap and trade has become the mainstay of US and global climate policy? (There are actually four policy options you could consider: In addition to conventional taxes and cap and trade, consider refunded taxes or cap and trade with auctioned allowances – see #34 and #88.)

    Very simple: Cap and trade without auctioned allowances is the only way to grandfather in existing polluters. In other words if you want to make sure the actual industries putting out the carbon pay as little as possible of the transition to a carbon free future, grandfathered cap and trade emissions is the way to do it.

    125) The objection to markets is not in this case that they are unfair but they are ineffective. Markets are not the only way for groups of people to effectively express their interests. And for collective goods, such as carbon reductions, markets are NOT the most effective way to express those desires. Offsets and cap and trade run into special problems, but even good old ordinary green taxes run into price inelasticity problems. Every economist who pays serious attention to energy demand soon notes the long term price response inelasticity. That inelasticity is no 100%; there is some response, but for various reasons it is high -most people now think about 60%. Note that is specifically efficiency and conservation. Supply substituiton is reasonably close to zero. The problem is that to get where we want we have to make pretty extensive use of efficiency improvements. All alternative sources, nuclear and renewable are expensive. You can all substitute them for fossil fuels and provide a reasonable economy if you use each expensive unit of renewable or nuclear energy more efficiently thanwe currently use fossil fuels.

    Does that make green taxes useless? Of course not. But if you want those green taxes not to be three times what would be required if elasticity was different, you need to supplement them with some combinations of regulation and public works.

    An example from my home state: Washington State. Regulations here require insulation of about R35. DOE says optimum insulation here is R50 – 4 year payback. Guess what insulation most new homes have – yup R35. A great many existing underinsulated homes have recently started insulating their attics. Guess what to? R35. One reason is that local contractors know they will be bidding jobs against other contractors who bid R35.

    So put on your green taxes. But add some efficiency regulations and some public works spending if you want them to be effective.

  30. 130
    Ken Johnson says:

    Re #129
    Gar – Your comment about cap-and-trade grandfathering is “right on the money”. Grandfathering makes cap and trade politically viable – even with its disadvantages of cost uncertainty and price volatility – because it reduces costs to the regulated industry. The tax analogue of grandfathering is tax refunding, which similarly reduces industry costs but does not reduce the tax-induced competitive advantage of low emission technologies. For a given tax rate, the cost differential between high- and low-emission products is not affected by the refund. But refunding can make it politically feasible to increase the tax rate by an order of magnitude (no exaggeration), increasing the economic competitiveness of low-emission technologies by an order of magnitude.

  31. 131
    Gar Lipow says:

    Re 130:
    >Grandfathering makes cap and trade politically viable – even with its disadvantages of cost uncertainty and price volatility – because it reduces costs to the regulated industry.

    But the cost in this case is that the volatility can reduce the incentive to innovate. You have all this low-hanging fruit and then all this paper fruit that is not real and people put investment there instead of innovating to produce actual emissions reduction. In spite of certain problems with carbon taxes, they are much harder to game than cap and trade – because you know before fuel goes into the pipeline about how much carbon you have. Thus a carbon tax is easy to calculate so much for a ton of coal, so much for a barrel of oil, so much per thousand therms of natural gas. Even the harder to calculate ones are at least harder to game; so much per tree cut down, so much for non-conservation tillage and so on. Even if you get the wrong price on these, you can make sure that at least that too-low price is paid.

    Also politically cap-and-trade is not really easier in the long run. It is not just an unfortunate coincidence that excessive numbers of permits were issued; industry lobbied over the numbers, and would not have accepted a lower one. The whole point of cap and trade (if the object is to lower emissions) is that the cap keeps getting tighter. But industry is going to fight every reduction in cap size – especially reductions to correct errors, but even the ones planned from the beginning.

    You could have achieved almost the same effect by starting with an extremely low carbon tax that eventually escalated. Same political fight.

    Ultimately to reduce emisisons you aer going to have to do stuff industry hates and will fight you on.

    I have mentioned economic reasons for incorporating regulation and public works – to overcome strong (though not 100%) demand inelasticty in response to price increases. Here is political one: in the end the major carbon producing and carbon using industries will fight anything that is actually effective against global warming. They may, like BP, talk a good game as long as costs to them are low, but once we start seriously reducing emissions – in a way they can’t simply buy their way out of with cheap offsets they will fight. But a regulatory, and especially a public work aspects can at least be made popular with the public. “We are raising the price of heat, but we will provide you with free insulation and a solar heaters so that your overall bill is the same”. That gives you the consumers getting the goodies as allies, and the people providing them as well. It is basic politics. You never get everyone on board; there are seldom pure win-win situations in real life. Put as many of the costs as possible on the people who will fight you anyway, and use the fact that you are doing so to win allies elsewhere.

  32. 132

    Re #65 and “Does ANYONE believe that people would give up driving, air conditioning, creature comforts, etc to do this? Its not going to happen.

    It doesn’t have to happen. We can run cars off ethanol with no net addition to atmospheric CO2. Brazil does so already. The choice between fossil fuels + comfort and no fossil fuels + barbarism is a false dilemna, the fallacy of the unnecessary either/or choice.

  33. 133
    Eachran says:

    Thanks Ken Johnson, Tom Fiddaman and Gar Lipow.

    Being a practical person, and after my last post, I decided to see what was available on the net for latest emissions. After looking at a few research places and being disappointed I decided to do what I always do and go to the original source : in this case the UN

    I also spent a number of hours reading and reflecting on the Kyoto stuff and the admin required to achieve results and I thought : this isnt going to work or if it does it will be far too late. I wouldnt wish having to read the website on my worst enemy.

    Then I looked at the country reports : if it carries on like this then there is no hope for any country meeting its target which in any event is set too low.

    I agree with Gar Lipow, I think it was, who said that the politics between cap and trade and taxes eventually lead you to the same trade-offs and he is correct. My concern is with immediate action and the only way to do that and to make some impact on the problem of emissions is to tax now. You can warn people in advance that it will be graduated over a period of 4 years or whatever but the point is that it has to bite in today’s not tomorrow’s mentality and force people to change their business plans and their behaviour. I dont much care whether the state or private individuals research alternative energy sources but they should be given the chance to compete against too cheap oil and coal.

    Going back to “cohesion”, the glue that binds the world is money – but in this case it is the message rather than the medium. You cannot exhort, threaten, bully, persuade, plead or whatever : what you have to do is hit people in their pockets. It really is as simple as that.

    I am not sure about elasticities : are these short or long run and if short how short.

  34. 134
    Ken Johnson says:

    Re #133
    Eachran – Regarding your comment that “… the politics between cap and trade and taxes lead you to the same trade-offs …”, there are two fundamental differences: (1) Taxes provide cost certainty and immunity from price volaitility; cap and trade does not. (2) Cap and trade is typically revenue-neutral within the regulated industry; taxes generally are not. Tax refunding eliminates the second difference, so there is no need to trade-off cost certainty for low regulatory costs.

  35. 135
    Gar Lipow says:

    >am not sure about elasticities : are these short or long run and if short how short.

    Long term. Short term is even worse.

    Dermot Gately and Hillard G. Huntington
    RR#: 2001-01:The Asymmetric Effects of Changes in Price and Income on Energy and Oil Demand
    Economic Research Reports; January 2001 p23. Tables 6 & 7.

    This study (unlike many on the subject) distinguishes between fuel substitution response to price increases, and efficiency improvements in response to those same improvements. People tend to look for new sources before they look for ways to reduce demand. That again is why price signals alone won’t do it.

  36. 136
    Ike Solem says:

    The solar input is 165,000 terawatts, compared to the 14 terawatts used by global society – that’s about 1/10,000 of the solar input. The notion that solar ‘won’t cut it’ (re#110) is simply not the case. The whole issue revolves around access to the technology, and production of the technology. Take California for example, where new construction electric demand is on the order of 500 megawatts/year – a crash program could be devised to meet that need, but there are economic barriers. At $1/Watt, that’s $500 million – but considering that about $8 billion went to Enron-style trading schemes during the ‘energy crisis’, it seems that solar is very doable. (By the way, that $8 billion could have built 80 solar panel production facilities at $100 million apiece). Honda just built an $90 million plant with an annual output of about 27 MW of solar panels – enough for ~8,000 homes. By this measure, a $10 billion investment would produce enough solar power for close to a million homes (a $10,000 system for each house)- and that’s about the amount of money this country spends every month in Iraq. How many homes are there in the US? Let’s guess 100 million homes – or about $1 trillion to install solar power. The estimated bill for the Iraq war is comparable to this amount. So – how does solar ‘not cut it’? Of course, biofuels and wind power would also have to be included to round out the energy picture.

  37. 137
    Damien says:

    Earth intercepts 1.6e17 (I thought 1.8e17) watts, yes, but not all of that is easily usable. Half bounces off the atmosphere, 1/3 of the surface is land, good conversion efficiency is about 33%, so terrestrial solar power could provide about 1e16 watts of electricty. A stable population of 10 billion people (1e10) at US power levels of 10 kilowatts per person (1e4) (total energy, not just electricity, I think) would use 1e14 watts — more than today, but we would like to see the world fully develop, yes? Buffering solar variability (night, winter, clouds) and conversion to liquid fuels would I’d guess impose another 1/3 factor. So, covering 3% of the land. Not bad! Of course use of solar heating, or putting panels on already-used surfaces such as roofs or even streets could reduce energy or land needs — which might be needed if we can’t quite reach that 33% in practice (72 W/square meter)

  38. 138
    Hank Roberts says:

    Where can you buy a 33% efficient solar panel? Which company and product?

    What is your reference — tell us where you got your information?

  39. 139
    Damien says:

    Solar panels aren’t the only way of using sunlight; solar thermal works as well. 30% prototype panels exist, but you can double or triple my land numbers for more currently available 15% or 10% panels.
    gives some of the absorption/reflection numbers, and also gives (with reference) 50 W/m2 for a high end of North American power at 15% efficiency, annual night and day average.
    give US energy use at about 10 kW/capita.

  40. 140
    Ike Solem says:

    One of the more informative sites on solar photovoltaics is the University of New South Wales School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering; they’ve produced up to 25% efficient cells using various strategies. The 33% is a theoretical limit generated from calculations based on the band gap of silicon. The notion that the theoretical limit can be increased to ~50% is based on using solar spectrum ‘up and down’ conversion – essentially using fluorescent materials that absorb parts of the solar spectrum and re-emit energy into the silicon absorption spectrum. The UNSW site has a lot of info on this.

    If you buy commercial multicrystalline silicon cells you are getting around 12% efficient cells, unless you buy the expensive ones built for satellite applications, which are 20%+ efficient. If you buy cheap amorphous silicon materials you are getting around 6% efficiency.

    To bring this back to the topic more, it’s good to have an estimate of the energy payback time for a solar system. Depending on your system, this is about 1-5 years, and the lifetime of the solar system is 30+ years. If you want references on how this is calculated, see Energy payback from photovoltaics systems Here is a brief quote from that article:

    “An average U.S. household uses 830 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. On average, producing 1000 kWh of electricity with solar power reduces emissions by nearly 8 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 5 pounds of nitrogen oxides, and more than 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide. During its projected 28 years of clean energy production, a rooftop system with 2-year payback and meeting half of a householdâ��s electricity use would avoid conventional electrical plant emissions of more than half a ton of sulfur dioxide, one-third a ton of nitrogen oxides, and 100 tons of carbon dioxide.”

    So, to relate this to the ‘cap and trade’ scenario – does a homeowner who purchases a solar system also receive 100 tons of ‘carbon emissions credits’ which then can be sold to the highest bidder? Somehow I don’t think that’s the deal here – but maybe it should be?

  41. 141
    Hank Roberts says:

    I thought that constructing the cells and solar installations itself consumed significant fossil fuel (from mining, transportation etc.) so like any other energy facility they start ‘below zero’ on net cost and carbon dioxide is one of those costs, albeit not yet internalized.

  42. 142
    Ike Solem says:


    Well, yes – any activity consumes energy – but how long does it take to recoup that energy? 1-5 years appears to be the value. There isn’t any hard number; this is a path-dependent issue, not a state-dependent issue (to use thermodynamic concepts) – there is no ‘hard number’ for say, ethanol production efficiency. Imagine you put a barrel of ethanol on a plane, fly it around the world, then burn it – well, then you have to include the energy cost of flying the plane around the globe. If you look at the above link on energy payback time and the references contained within, you’ll be able to work through the details. This is why the work of David Pimental on ethanol production being a ‘net energy loser’ is suspect – lack of analysis of the various different pathways to ethanol production.

  43. 143
    Eachran says:

    Thanks Ken Johnson and Gar Lipow : I shall read the article tomorrow in detail but my first thought was that it is 2001 and times have changed as to people’s perception of the problem. Anyway more later if I think I have anything to add.

    Thanks to Ike Solem: isnt the issue here that if the individual consumer were given a simple choice comparing solar with social cost priced fossil fuel then the choice would be easier to make. I was thinking of slapping a tax of 30USD a barrel for starters and then increasing it each year by 10USD and the same for coal equivalent until we achieved a response.

    In any event if any of you are following current emissions then we are in deep trouble if we continue to emit as we are for any length of time.

  44. 144
    Gar Lipow says:

    Demamd inelasticity is not simply a matter of percenption. It really is a bunch of classic market failures added together. Split incentives out the wazoo. For example look at all the ways we have split incentives in the U.S. on insulation:

    1) If you rent – spit incentive between yourself and your landlord. The operating benefits of insulation go to your while live there – none when you are gone. The landlord gets the capital gain of added value in her property but no operating benefits. Can she recover this in rent? Maybe, maybe not. The market sets rents – and the benefits of insulation may be overwhelmend by “noise” of other things such as location and accomodtions.

    2) If you are an owner occupier, the builder wanted to build the place as inexpensively as possible. Put in insulation aftewords?OK but as a homeowner your access to capital is limited. Putting it into insulation even if it is a good investment may limit momey when you need it for an emergency. (For those outside the U.S. – we pay a huge percent of our own healthcare. If you don’t have good health insurance (which is expensive) and money saved for co-payments (Health insurance does not cover everything) you can be in deep finanical trouble if you get sick. Most personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are related to health care – and many of those are people who had health insurance.)

  45. 145

    Photovoltaic cells are not the only way to get electricity from sunlight. There are the concentrated Solar powered technologies. One such system that I am aware of is based on a parabolic mirror focusing the sunlight onto a Stirling Engine. The overall energy efficiency achieved (including downtime) is around 18%. See:

  46. 146
    Gar Lipow says:

    Re 145: Here is an operating commericial example:

    The key here though is a mix. Wind generators (which done properly rest very lightly on the land can probably provide about 20% more of most continental grids. Low temperature solar energy (which with evacuated tube collectors can be done anyhwhere) can provide between a quarter and a third of energy demand. (Climate control, domestic water heating, refrigeration). Lighting tubes, skylights and properly place windows can also let sunlight replace a significant portion of daytime electric lighting. Sustainable biomass can provide significant amounts of liquid and gaseous fuel. (This is another area we have to careful. There are lots of unsustainable ways to do biomass. Existing hydroelectricity and new geothermal combined can probably provide about 5% of a reasonable world demand. The point of all these is that that leaves 15 terawatts perhaps less to be provided by solar electricity even given a 22 terawatt demand. Photovolatics on land already concreted over by humans – rooftoops, highway walls, roads if neccesary could probably provide much of that 15 terawatts. So land use over and above what we already occupy would really be tiny for solar electricity.

  47. 147
    John Davidson says:

    The Energy Journal has a new special issue on:
    Endogenous Technical Change and the Economics of Atmospheric Stabilization

    Looks like a pathbreaking issue to me.
    The entire issue is available free, on-line at:

    Innovation Modelling Comparison Project
    by Kai Lessmann

    The Innovation Modelling Comparison Project (IMCP) arose out of recognition that the temporal, geographic and interdisciplinary scales of the climate change problem demand a more sophisticated kind of economics, and a more structured and collegiate international approach to analysis, than hitherto developed. It aims to �open the black box� of endogenous innovation to scrutiny by comparing the results from different applied modeling approaches and then understanding the reasons for differences. The project marks an early systematic attempt to assess and compare the progress made through different modeling approaches, and to offer some first insights into what this may mean for the strategic economics of tackling the biggest long-term challenge in the energy sector, namely the goal of transforming energy systems in ways that could stabilize the atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

    The IMCP was founded by John Schellnhuber and Michael Grubb, scientific design and coordination was done by Ottmar Edenhofer and Kai Lessmann at PIK. The primary output of this project is the forthcoming Energy Journal special issue �Endogenous Technical Change and the Economics of Atmospheric Stabilization�, edited by Ottmar Edenhofer (PIK), Carlo Carraro (FEEM), Jonathan Kohler and Michael Grubb. The issue, and individual papers are available for download below. The project is funded by DEFRA, BMU, UN Foundation, BP and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research .

    Endogenous Technical Change and the Economics of Atmospheric Stabilization
    A Special Issue of the Energy Journal

    Technological Change for Atmospheric Stabilization: Introductory Overview to the Innovation Modeling Comparison Project
    Michael Grubb, Carlo Carraro and John Schellnhuber

    The Transition to Endogenous Technical Change in Climate-Economy Models: A Technical Overview to the Innovation Modeling Comparison Project
    Jonathan Köhler, Michael Grubb, David Popp and Ottmar Edenhofer

    Induced Technological Change: Exploring its Implications for the Economics of Atmospheric Stabilization: Synthesis Report from the Innovation Modeling Comparison Project
    Ottmar Edenhofer, Kai Lessmann, Claudia Kemfert, Michael Grubb and Jonathan Köhler

    Induced Technological Change in a Limited Foresight Optimization Model
    Fredrik Hedenus, Christian Azar and Kristian Lindgren

    Importance of Technological Change and Spillovers in Long-Term Climate Policy
    Shilpa Rao, Ilkka Keppo and Keywan Riahi

    Analysis of Technological Portfolios for CO2 Stabilizations and Effects of Technological Changes
    Fuminori Sano, Keigo Akimoto, Takashi Homma and Toshimasa Tomoda

    Comparison of Climate Policies in the ENTICE-BR Model
    David Popp

    Assessment of CO2 Reductions and Economic Impacts Considering Energy-Saving Investments
    Toshihiko Masui, Tatsuya Hanaoka, Saeko Hikita, and Mikiko Kainuma

    The Dynamics of Carbon and Energy Intensity in a Model of Endogenous Technical Change
    Valentina Bosetti, Carlo Carraro and Marzio Galeotti

    Mitigation Strategies and Costs of Climate Protection: The Effects of ETC in the Hybrid Model MIND
    Ottmar Edenhofer, Kai Lessmann and Nico Bauer

    ITC in a Global Growth-Climate Model with CCS, The Value of Induced Technical Change for Climate Stabilization
    Reyer Gerlagh

    Decarbonizing the Global Economy with Induced Technological Change: Scenarios to 2100 using E3MG
    Terry Barker, Haoran Pan, Jonathan Köhler, Rachel Warren and Sarah Winne

    Endogenous Structural Change and Climate Targets Modeling experiments with IMACLIM-R
    Renaud Crassous, Jean-Charles Hourcade, Olivier Sassi

  48. 148
    Hank Roberts says:

    A bunch of questions, hoping the representatives of some of these organizations are reading and able to comment in this thread.

    Here’s why I ask: I started in 1975 with 10 acres of hundred year old temperate rain forest, nothing special at the time. Now it has the biggest trees in that county, according to an experienced forester (who was surprised to see them, he thought there were none left). Everyone else cut theirs.

    Yes, I knew about warming in 1975. I picked the 400′ contour, well above sea level after the ice melted, quite intentionally at the time. Thought I might retir there. Thought I might live forever, too. Ah, youth.

    I don’t think trees per se are the main storage opportunity for carbon, I think we should be focusing on topsoil and woody duff layers. The piece I’ve been leaving alone is now standing a foot or two above the typical property from which the trees were all cut in the past 30 years — all the thick old soil also went away thereafter.

    I’m now working on a 40 acre parcel that had a foot of topsoil (per a Forest Service hydrologist) a century ago — before it was logged, burned, grazed by sheep in the late 1800s, abandoned, eroded, regrew naturally, logged and burned again in the 1940s and burned again in the 1980s.

    Now it has about 2/3 of an inch and I’m trying to turn that around so it adds instead of goes to gravel — as many areas of that mountain did. Everyone needs a hobby, this is mine now.

    You can tell how much topsoil there used to be by looking at rocks — lichen takes a century to reach full size. Measure down from the lowest full size patches of lichen to the soil (in this case often gravel) level. That’s how much was lost in a century. Your lichen may vary, of course.

    Is there a (pardon the hot button word) auditing procedure for these “pay for your carbon” sites? If so, I want to know how much I’ve currently banked.

    Here’s why — I and many other people I know are getting older, and own such little patches of wildland. None of the big conservation organizations want to protect little parcels — the kind kids can walk to and mess around in without destroying, like pre-machine-culture humans did growing up. Keep the bulldozers and chainsaws out, let the kids whack at things but not with serious hand tools, and nature keeps on being nature. And educates the kids.

    Maybe these “carbon bank” operations would be interested in acquiring title to or easements on small parcels of wildland.

    My current alternative is to find churches interested in longtime hermitage sites for their retirees who could also do ecological monitoring over the years.

    There aren’t many good options. There’s a hell of a lot of little parcels of still fairly wild land — with an amazing variety of wildlife and no doubt much we don’t yet know about — scattered around even fairly built up areas. I”m in touch with others facing the same question — who’ll care for this when I can’t?
    For the carbon bankers, leaving it alone is key to that. Maybe they’ll help?

    (“A man’s wealth is measured by what he can afford to leave alone.” — Thoreau)

    Anyone pursuing this? And how do the ‘carbon bank’ operations audit and calculate what they’re saving? And how do they tie up property so it doesn’t get a lot of credit then get taken by someone who’ll cut and scrape it?

    I need to make better plans before I get old and forget what I’m doing here.

  49. 149
    Gar Lipow says:

    148 – Hank: yes more carbon is stored in the soil than in the tree. The trouble is as it gets hotter that carbon is sometimes randomly released; worse we don’t know the exact circumstances. Bottom line: preserving trees is a great thing; but we don’t know exactly how great. We can’t get a reasonably secure estimate of how much preserved forest like your sequestors. We do know it is a whole lot better than letting it be clear cut. The only fund I know offhand how to contact it terrapass – But as far as I know , they only do clean energy and efficiency not offsets. Presumably someone else will help you.

  50. 150
    Gar Lipow says:

    Oh – I forgot the most important thing. The U.S. not having ratified the Kyoto treaty will really limit your choice of “carbon banks”. Bear in mind that any offset you provide will be used as an excuse for pollution elsewhere.

    Re 147 – for those of us interested in the economics, thanks. It is interesting stuff that also shows how much needs to be done.