Google has come out with a plan to “greatly reduce fossil fuel use by 2030.” It is one of the most ambitious such plans ever offered by a major US company and deserves a close look by everyone (details here, long CEO speech here). Compared to business-as-usual growth, the plan would reduce:
- Fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%
- Vehicle oil consumption by 38%
- Dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 33%
- Electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%
- Personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 38%
- US CO2 emissions overall by 48% (40% from today’s CO2 emission level)
The cost is high, $4.4 trillion, but savings are even higher, $5.4 trillion, “returning a net savings of $1.0 trillion over the 22-year life of the plan” — not counting the value of carbon credits, which, Google says, would boost the savings to over $2 trillion. And that’s assuming very optimistically that the price of CO2 in 2030 is only $40/ton, which is the European price today. In fact, we’ll probably need CO2 prices twice as large by 2030.
The two most interesting aspects to me are Google’s (inevitable) recognition that cutting oil demand in the medium term is much harder than cutting fossil power generation and, as a result, their call to speed up the retirement of existing vehicles (discussed below).
The Google plan is built around massive and rapid deployment of clean technology:
- Deploying aggressive end-use electrical energy efficiency measures to reduce demand 33%.
- Baseline EIA demand is projected to increase 25% by 2030. In addition, the increase in plug-in vehicles (see below) increases electricity demand another 8%. Thus, our efficiency reductions keep demand flat at the 2008 level.
- Replacing all coal and oil electricity generation, and about half of that from natural gas, with renewable electricity:
- 380 gigawatts (GW) wind: 300 GW onshore + 80 GW offshore
- 250 GW solar: 170 GW photovoltaic (PV) + 80 GW concentrating solar power (CSP)
- 80 GW geothermal: 15 GW conventional + 65 GW enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)
- Increasing plug-in vehicles (hybrids & pure electrics) to 90% of new car sales in 2030, reaching 42% of the total US fleet that year
- Increasing new conventional vehicle fuel efficiency from 31 to 45 mpg in 2030
- Accelerating the turnover of the vehicle fleet from 19 to 13 years (resulting in 25 million new vehicle sales per year in 2030, a 31% increase over the baseline)
My only quibble here is that the PV and CSP numbers should be reversed. We’re going to need all of the clean baseload or clean load-following power we can get, and that means solar baseload.
Needless to say, the key for such accelerated deployment is strong government-led action:
- Renewable electricity:
- A long-term national commitment to renewable electricity (e.g. national renewable portfolio standard, carbon price, long-term tax credits and incentives, etc.)
- Adequate transmission capacity (to support about 450 GW targeting mostly Great Plains and coasts for wind, and desert southwest for concentrating solar power)
- Adequate grid resources to manage large-scale intermittent generation
- Public and private renewable energy R&D and investment to achieve cost parity with fossil generation in next several years
- Energy efficiency
- Long-term commitment to energy efficiency by the federal government and states (e.g, national efficiency standard, aggressive appliance standards and building codes, “decoupling” of utility profits from sales, incentives for energy efficiency investments)
- Deployment of a “smart” electricity grid that empowers consumers and businesses to manage their electricity use more effectively
- Personal vehicles:
- Public policies supporting the accelerated deployment of fuel-efficient vehicles, e.g. higher fuel efficiency standards for conventional vehicles, financial incentives to remove older vehicles from the fleet and encourage efficient (especially plug-in) vehicle purchases, special electricity rates for “smart charging”, and greater R&D
- Investment in infrastructure necessary to support massive deployment of plug-ins including charging stations and development of new power management hardware and software
What are these financial incentives to remove older vehicles from the fleet and boost efficiency?
Finally, the average vehicle in the US operates for almost 20 years, meaning that many older, inefficient vehicles continue to consume large amounts of fuel with increasing maintenance cost. To accelerate both the adoption of plug-in vehicles as well as more efficient conventional vehicles, we propose a program to accelerate the retirement of older vehicles. There are a number of mechanisms that might be considered such as “feebates” and consumer and manufacturer incentives for efficient vehicles. As will be seen below, the higher up-front cost of a more efficient vehicle is quickly made up by much lower fuel costs. The impact of such a program would be an increase in new vehicle sales, rising to 6.2 million additional vehicles (31%) in 2030.
This is not just a good idea to boost reductions in oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, it may ultimately be crucial
bribe incentive to Detroit to get them to go along.
For those energy geeks out there:
Electricity generation technologies do not all generate the same amount of electricity over a year. The ratio of average output to maximum output is known as the “capacity factor,” and is around 20% for solar photovoltaics, 30% for concentrating solar, 35-40% for wind, 50% for hydroelectric, and 90% for geothermal, biomass, nuclear and coal. Natural gas, which is mostly used for “ramping” purposes (increasing or decreasing output quickly according to changing demand) can run up to 90% but is typically operated around 20%. Thus, 100 GW of geothermal (with 90% capacity factor) produces the same amount of electricity in a year as 300 GW of solar (with 30% capacity factor).
Just as significant as what is in the plan, is what is not, most especially cogeneration (recycled energy) and low-carbon biofuels for transportation, both of which could be major contributors by 2030. So deeper cuts in oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 may well be possible.
This certainly beats the Pickens plan, and it is much more comprehensive than the Gore plan. Kudos to Google. I hope they use some of their hard earned money to promote the plan nationally and here in the nation’s capital.