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Carbon Emission IniTIativesUntil recently, the U.S. has been the top emitter of carbon dioxide emissions. However, according to recent estimates, China has become the largest emitting nation since 2006. Our Federal government has opted against Kyoto type policies. Various state, local and regional governments have attempted to implement Kyoto Protocol goals on a local basis. For example, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is a state-level emissions capping and trading program founded on January 18, 2007 by eight Northeastern US states.
The new carbon emission rules may increase reliance on natural gas, thereby making power generation vulnerable to supply interruptions. Carbon-reduction rules have been passed in more than half of the American states and 4 Canadian provinces and new ones will be enacted in both countries. These rules may force changes in the utility industry such as shutting down coal plants that are located near load centers and substituting power from wind turbines or solar plants in remote areas.
In a carbon constrained world, natural gas consumption may increase significantly. This increase is driven by the fact that natural gas is the best fuel alternative when other technologies are unavailable and there is limited availability of carbon offsets. Natural gas has a significantly lower CO2 level than other fossil fuesl and in general only one half that of other fossil fuels. Until alternative renewable energy sources and technologies and nuclear power become energy cornerstones, natural gas will be an essential part of the U.S. energy portfolio. Global climate laws need to recognize these facts and permit natural gas to play a substantial role.
One theoretical answer could be to put into place demand side solutions or agreements with customers to reduce consumption in periods of high-energy use. For instance, under these arrangements, certain retail customers would agree to have usage of certain equipment like central air-conditioners or swimming pool pumps controlled by utilities that would limit usage at peak loads. Large customers such as factories may voluntarily shut down on peak use days. Those customers agreeing to such voluntary use reductions would receive a discount or a form of compensation in exchange for having their power usage interruptible.
These demand side measures may reduce pressure on generating stations and transmission lines, however they would still necessitate reliable integration with the transmission system.
Certain experts have stated that the imposition of limits on carbon dioxide emissions may threaten the reliability of the power supply. For instance, in New York, under the Greenhouse Gas Initiative, utilities receive allowances for carbon emissions. However, under certain conditions such as a spike in demand because of severe weather or the lengthy shutdown of a nuclear plant, the only method of obtaining extra power would be to burn more coal, thereby increasing carbon emissions. These conflicts show that the road is not clear to resolve the various conflicts that arise in connection with a substantially increased role for alternative energy sources.
Long-term expansion of the nuclear power industry may be required to meet the climate change goals advanced by President-elect Obama, although the nuclear waste storage policy must be addressed.