13 April 2010

Krugman Removes All Doubt

Last week I discussed Paul Krugman's views of climate policy (here and here). I argued that he deemphasized the need for technological innovation, which I argue must be at the core of any successful approach to decarbonization of the economy. A few commenters argued rather strenuously that I got things wrong -- Krugman in fact prioritizes technological innovation.

In a post on his blog Krugman pretty much removes all doubt when he writes (emphasis added):
First, power generation has to be “decarbonized”: solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal, and maybe some fossil fuels with carbon capture have to replace coal-fired plants. This is within the reach of current technologies.
Yes, you read that right. Krugman says that replacing coal-fired power is within the reach of current technologies. Krugman is absolutely correct in a mathematical sense. We could indeed replace all current coal fired generation in the United States with about 325 new nuclear power plants (1 GW) or about 300,000 new wind turbines (the big ones, 2.5 MW, setting aside minor issues like storage or grid integration). (Data from The Climate Fix) However, Krugman is completely wrong from anything resembling a practical sense.

Krugman then says:
Second, residential and commercial use — much of it for heating — also has to be largely decarbonized; if power generation is decarbonized, much of this can be done by switching to electricity.
OK, let's switch to electricity. That means more than a doubling the numbers above -- more than 650 new nuclear power plants or 600,000 new wind turbines. Let me interpret what these numbers mean -- Not within reach. Krugman then suggests electrification of the transportation sector as well -- but with numbers like these what are a few hundred more nuclear power plants or few hundred thousand more wind turbines?

Krugman concludes:
I won’t say that it’s easy; but given the right incentives, we can do this.
Now, I am not an economist. But I'd sure like to see the nature of incentives that lead to 750 new nuclear power plants being built, or any other deployment of "technology with reach" at this scale.

Oh yeah, a price on carbon should do the trick . . .