Friday, March 03, 2023

Biden's Climate Plan

Paul Krugman believes that Joe Biden's climate plan is a big deal -- for two reasons:

The first reason to believe that Biden’s policy may be a big deal is that it comes at a crucial technological juncture.

There was a time, not that long ago, when it seemed as if limiting greenhouse gas emissions would require hard choices — that it would have to be achieved largely through conservation and increased energy efficiency, which in turn would require putting a substantial price on carbon, either via carbon taxes or via a cap-and-trade system in which emitters would have to purchase permits. In fact, there would still be a good case for a carbon tax, if it were politically feasible.

But huge progress in renewable energy and related technologies, notably batteries, means that it now looks almost easy to achieve a low-emission economy. We can now easily envision a society in which people drive electric vehicles and cook on induction ranges, using power generated by solar panels and wind turbines, and experience no sense of sacrifice.

The role of policy then becomes to accelerate this transition — to push us over the tipping point into a sustainable economy. And this need not involve huge amounts of public money, just enough to act as a sort of catalyst for change.

A second, somewhat related reason to think that Biden’s climate policy is a big deal is that it doesn’t actually mandate $400 billion in spending. What it does, mainly, is set conditions under which consumers and businesses can receive tax credits for adopting green technology. That $400 billion is based on an estimate of how many people will actually take advantage of these tax credits — and given the spectacular rate of technological progress, that estimate may well turn out to be low.

A report from Credit Suisse suggests that the credits might “propel much higher activity levels” than the budget office projects — that in practice federal climate spending might be $800 billion or more. And there may also be a multiplier effect as private firms make investments complementary to those directly subsidized, so Credit Suisse suggests that the true size of the climate plan may be more like $1.7 trillion.

So Biden’s deal may be bigger than it looks. Which is a good thing, given the importance of the issue.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't problems with Biden's plan:

Now for my concern. America finally has a serious climate strategy. However, it depends not just on a rapid expansion of solar and wind power, but also on linking these new energy sources to the electrical grid. But the U.S. power grid doesn’t have enough capacity, and it is in general a mess.

Part of the reason is that there isn’t really a U.S. grid: Investment in electricity transmission is, as a Reuters report put it, “controlled by a Byzantine web of local, state and regional regulators who have strong political incentives to hold down spending.” And this regulatory system wasn’t designed to handle the sudden influx of new energy sources; as a result, simply getting permission to connect to the grid can take years.

As good as Biden's plan is, it could be sabotaged by the electricity grid.

Image: Dell


Toby said...

Is the grid necessary? The potential of renewables is local.

Owen Gray said...

There's always the problem of transporting energy, Toby.

Northern PoV said...

A nationalized grid is the only solution.

Both BC Hydro and especially Ontario Hydro were brilliant government nationalizations that provided reliable power with low environmental impact. In Ontario's case, the duel demons of nuclear power and 1980's market shenanigans turned it into a dog's breakfast.

Owen Gray said...

And Mike Harris made things worse, PoV.