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  • Author: Edmund Downie
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: China’s Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) initiative presents a transformational vision for meeting the world’s growing power demand with a globally interconnected electricity grid. The concept involves ultra-high-voltage transmission lines strung across vast distances and smart grid technology tapping large-scale renewable power sources. Chinese President Xi Jinping first touted GEI’s goal to “facilitate efforts to meet the global power demand with clean and green alternatives” at the UN General Assembly in 2015. The ambition of the GEI vision is enormous, especially since there is very little cross-border trade in electricity around the world today. Regional electricity integration initiatives championed by development banks and multilateral organizations have largely struggled against the formidable political, economic and technical complications that accompany interstate electricity trade. China has seen these challenges firsthand in its participation in the Asian Development Bank’s Greater Mekong Subregion electricity trade endeavor, which has progressed fitfully since the 1990s amid regional infrastructure gaps and uneven political support from member states. This report, prepared as part of the Belt and Road Initiative series published by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, uses a case study of power trade in the Greater Mekong Subregion to assess the prospects for GEI in catalyzing energy integration around the world. It discusses why Greater Mekong Subregion integration has been slow, how GEI might help accelerate interconnection in the area, and what lessons the region offers for understanding the overall outlook for GEI. Based on this study, the author finds the following: Establishing a GEI-style global energy grid backbone by 2070 would require overcoming an extraordinary set of political challenges. The global grid outlined by GEI for the coming decades serves more as a demonstration of technical potential than a strict blueprint to be implemented. The limited scale attained thus far by the Greater Mekong Subregion project for grid integration and cross-border electricity trading demonstrates the headwinds such multinational efforts can face. Weak internal power sector development in recent decades has left some member states without the generation surpluses and robust power grids necessary to support meaningful levels of trade. In addition, power trade requires a strong degree of interstate political trust, motivated engagement by national utilities, and support from civil society players for the specific generation and transmission projects involved. Integration backers have historically struggled to build consensus across this diverse array of stakeholders. While enormous generation and transmission infrastructure projects are core components of the GEI vision and dovetail with the interests of China’s domestic proponents, considerable debate persists about their merits for fostering the renewables transition. Ultra-high-voltage transmission, a specialty of Chinese utilities, is a particular flashpoint. State interest in cross-border trade has been increasing across many regions in recent years, and more gradual gains in power trade around the world that can aid the renewable transition and bolster regional solidarity are possible. China can contribute greatly to this process: as an investor and contractor in grid projects abroad, as a member state of integration initiatives in Asia, and as an advocate of grid integration in international fora. GEI’s ultimate impact will depend in part on how advocates within China reconcile tensions between strengthening cross-border power trade and promoting domestic priorities, such as advancing the country’s own industrial policy objectives.
  • Topic: Climate Change, United Nations, Infrastructure, Green Technology, Electricity
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Jason Bordoff
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life, caused widespread sickness and fatalities, and sent the global economy careening toward a depression. Governments have responded by taking unprecedented steps to shut down entire cities, ban travel, and isolate nations—extreme measures that are giving hope to climate activists that similarly ambitious policies might be possible to address global warming, which many consider a similar existential threat. Yet that would be the wrong lesson to draw, as the very same barriers preventing an effective COVID-19 response continue to keep climate change action out of reach. Scientists warn that the impacts of COVID-19 will rise sharply over time, threatening the lives of vast numbers of people, particularly those most vulnerable. They warn that climate change, too, will severely harm many over time, albeit not with the same rapidity. If governments and companies can take extreme actions to cancel sports seasons, shut down workplaces, and restrict movement, surely they can take similarly drastic steps to change how we produce and consume energy?
  • Topic: Climate Change, Environment, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Noah Kaufman, Peter Marsters, Alexander R. Barron, Wojciech Krawczyk, Haewon McJeon
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The social cost of carbon (SCC) is commonly described and used as the optimal CO2 price. However, the wide range of SCC estimates provides limited practical assistance to policymakers setting specific CO2 prices. Here we describe an alternate near-term to net zero (NT2NZ) approach, estimating CO2 prices needed in the near term for consistency with a net-zero CO2 emissions target. This approach dovetails with the emissions-target-focused approach that frames climate policy discussions around the world, avoids uncertainties in estimates of climate damages and long-term decarbonization costs, offers transparency about sensitivities and enables the consideration of CO2 prices alongside a portfolio of policies. We estimate illustrative NT2NZ CO2 prices for the United States; for a 2050 net-zero CO2 emission target, prices are US$34 to US$64 per metric ton in 2025 and US$77 to US$124 in 2030. These results are most influenced by assumptions about complementary policies and oil prices.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Natural Resources, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Julio Friedmann, Alex Zapantis, Brad Page, Chris Consoli, Zhiyuan Fan, Ian Havercroft, Harry Liu, Emeka Richard Ochu, Nabeela Raji, Dominic Rassool, Hadia Sheerazi, Alex Townsend
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The case for rapid and profound decarbonization has never been more obvious or more urgent, and immediate action must match growing global ambition and need. An important new component of this discussion is the necessity of achieving net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions for any climate stabilization target. Until net-zero emissions are achieved, greenhouse gas will accumulate in the atmosphere and oceans, and concentrations will grow, even with deep and profound emissions reduction, mitigation, and adaptation measures. This places a severe constraint on human enterprise: any carbon removed from the earth must be returned to the earth.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Environment, Green Technology, Carbon Emissions, Decarbonization
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Jonathan Elkind, Erin Blanton, Robert Kleinberg, Anton Leemhuis
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: In August 2020, the Trump Administration finalized plans to roll back regulations on oil and gas industry emissions of methane from new and modified infrastructure. In the same month, the European Commission gathered stakeholder comments as part of its process to introduce the first EU-wide methane regulations. Though contradictory in direction, these regulatory processes on opposite sides of the Atlantic highlighted a critical climate protection challenge: How can the oil and gas industry—and the regulators who oversee it—best detect and address methane emissions to protect the environment and the climate in particular? The answer to this question will drive planning and operational approaches in the oil and gas industry. It could also significantly affect the future role of natural gas. Five years ago, many energy analysts expected natural gas to serve as a bridge fuel that would result in only half as much climate warming as coal, and fewer local air pollutants. Among other roles, gas was seen as a natural complement for variable wind or solar power—a way to provide firm, dispatchable, low-emissions power. Now that it is apparent that our understanding of methane emissions is poor, the climate implications of gas are far less clear. This poor grasp of methane emissions appears likely to become a thing of the past, however. In roughly the next five years, new satellite detection systems—used in concert with existing systems, aerial monitoring platforms, and ground-based monitors—can increase markedly the transparency surrounding methane leakage. The new wave of satellite monitoring capability has major implications for industry and governments. Our world is rapidly becoming a place in which methane emissions will have nowhere to hide. This commentary, co-authored by the Center on Global Energy Policy and TNO, focuses on detection and response to oil- and gas-related methane emissions, which have been the subject of increasing focus on the part of industry and the public policy community. It addresses the significance of methane emissions for the climate, and the challenges of detecting and accurately quantifying methane emissions. It then explores the evolving capabilities of satellite-based methane detection and monitoring systems, which are expected to advance rapidly in the coming years, and which can be especially powerful when used in concert with aerial and ground-based monitoring systems. It concludes with a discussion of the implications of the changing satellite detection landscape for the oil and gas industry, the finance and investment community, and the realm of public policy.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Gas, Finance, Methane
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: John Larsen
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Putting a price on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions can help governments reduce them rapidly and in a cost-effective manner. While 10 carbon tax bills have been proposed in the 116th US Congress, carbon prices alone are not enough to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury. Additional policies are needed to complement an economy-wide carbon tax and further cut CO2 from the US energy system. This study aims to provide a better understanding of such policy combinations. It projects the energy CO2 emissions impacts of two carbon taxes, starting in 2021, that span the rates in the carbon tax bills in Congress. The “low” tax scenario starts at $30 per ton in 2021 and rises at 5 percent plus inflation per year, reaching $44 by 2030, while the “high” carbon tax starts at $15 per ton and rises $15 per year, reaching $150 by 2030. The paper then describes the barriers inhibiting emissions reductions beyond those achieved by the carbon taxes alone for each major sector: electricity, transportation, buildings, and industry. Finally, it explores the energy system changes needed to overcome those barriers and the policy interventions that could deliver those changes. For certain key energy system changes, it provides quantitative estimates of emissions reductions incremental to the two carbon taxes. This paper is part of a joint effort by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) and Rhodium Group to help policy makers and other stakeholders understand the important decisions associated with the design of carbon pricing policies and the implications of these decisions. The paper finds the emissions impacts of the low and high carbon taxes alone lead to economy-wide energy CO2 emissions reductions by 2030 of 33 percent and 41 percent, respectively, below 2005 levels. A carbon tax combined with policy actions that support comprehensive, ambitious energy system changes could lead to emissions reductions in the range of 40 to 45 percent, arguably consistent with US midcentury deep decarbonization goals for the energy system. In the 2020s, the bulk of these emissions reductions are likely to occur in the power sector, even under a broad decarbonization strategy, due to the significant barriers to large near-term emissions reductions in the transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Carbon Tax, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Philippe Benoit, Alex Clark
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: On February 27, 2020, the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) convened a workshop at the university’s Faculty House in New York City. The workshop brought together a combination of practitioners, researchers, executives, and public sector officials to discuss the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in realizing collective climate action goals. Under the Chatham House Rule, the discussion focused around sectors (power generation, oil and gas) and relationships (government-SOE relations, and the role of public financial institutions), before concluding with a roundtable discussion drawing together the day’s proceedings and outlining the next steps. The following is a summary of that workshop.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Natural Resources, Governance
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Philippe Benoit
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Policy makers, academics, and others have devoted significant effort over the past three decades to considering how best to incentivize households and private companies to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There has been much less discussion about how best to incentivize state-owned enterprises (SOEs) -- companies that are either wholly or majority owned by a government -- to cut emissions. Yet when it comes to energy sector GHGs, these state companies are among the world’s leading emitters. They are major emitters at both the country and global levels, notably from electricity generation. In the aggregate, they emit over 6.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in energy sector GHGs, which is more than every country except China. Public sector companies are also major providers of low-carbon alternatives, such as renewables and nuclear power, and importantly, they often operate under incentives that are quite different from those facing their private sector counterparts. Given the emissions profile of SOEs, the nature of their corporate mandates, and their ownership structure, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy undertook research to examine how best to engage these companies in efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions as part of its ongoing work on climate change. The paper explores the role of these public sector companies in climate change, examines the effectiveness of market-oriented solutions such as carbon taxes in changing SOE behavior, and evaluates some other potential strategies for reducing their emissions. In short, the paper finds the following: The state-ownership structure of SOEs allows governments to exercise shareholder power to press for the implementation of their climate policy preferences. Providing public sector financing and making associated infrastructure improvements are other ways that a government can encourage its SOEs to invest in low-carbon alternatives. In contrast, many SOEs operate with nonfinancial mandates, market protections, and other conditions that limit their responsiveness to carbon pricing mechanisms that are effective in changing private sector behavior. There are other ways to alter public sector companies so that they embrace a greener pathway without being directed, especially if a firm’s management determines the pathway will serve its corporate interests. This can be especially important for state-owned companies that have the political weight to resist government climate policy pressures. In emerging economies with large SOE emissions and with governments willingly direct their SOEs, using these companies to reduce emissions is a policy tactic that can present implementation and other advantages because it requires the government to target a limited number of companies that the state already owns and controls. How much a government prioritizes climate change relative to other goals is the most critical factor that will determine the extent to which its SOEs prioritize low-carbon investments. Successfully merging climate goals into growth objectives, at both the broader economic and the SOE-company levels, increases the likelihood that a state company will engage in the low-carbon transition in a sustained manner.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Science and Technology, Green Technology
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Julio Friedman
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Recent studies indicate there is an urgent need to dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from heavy industrial applications (including cement, steel, petrochemicals, glass and ceramics, and refining). Heavy industry produces roughly 22 percent of global CO₂ emissions. Of these, roughly 40 percent (about 10 percent of total emissions) is the direct consequence of combustion to produce high-quality heat, almost entirely from the combustion of fossil fuels. This is chiefly because these fuels are relatively cheap, are widely available in large volumes, and produce high-temperature heat in great amounts. Many industrial processes require very large amounts of thermal energy at very high temperatures (more than 300°C and often more than 800°C). For example, conventional steel blast furnaces operate at about 1,100°C, and conventional cement kilns operate at about 1,400°C. In addition, many commercial industrial facilities require continuous operation or operation on demand. The nature of industrial markets creates challenges to the decarbonization of industrial heat. In some cases (e.g., steel, petrochemicals), global commodity markets govern product trade and price. Individual national action on the decarbonization of heavy industry can lead to trade disadvantage, which can be made acute for foundational domestic industries (in some cases, with national security implications). This can also lead to offshoring of production and assets, leading to carbon “leakage” as well as local job and revenue loss (with political consequences). In many cases, lack of options could lead to dramatic price increases for essential products (e.g., cement for concrete, an essential building material). Risk of carbon leakage, price escalation, and trade complexity limits the range of policy applications available to address this decarbonization need. To explore the topic of industrial heat decarbonization, the authors undertook an initial review of all options to supply high temperature, high flux, and high volume heat for a subset of major industrial applications: cement manufacturing, primary iron and steel production, methanol and ammonia synthesis, and glassmaking. From the initial comprehensive set of potential heat supply options, the authors selected a subset of high relevance and common consideration: Biomass and biofuel combustion Hydrogen combustion (including hydrogen produced from natural gas with 89 percent carbon capture (blue hydrogen) and hydrogen produced from electrolysis of water using renewable power (green hydrogen) Electrical heating (including electrical resistance heating and radiative heating (e.g., microwaves) Nuclear heat production (including conventional and advanced systems) The application of post-combustion carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) to industrial heat supply and to the entire facility, as a basis for comparison The authors focus on substitutions and retrofits to existing facilities and on four primary concerns: cost, availability, viability of retrofit/substitution, and life-cycle footprint. In short, the paper finds: All approaches have substantial limitations or challenges to commercial deployment. Some processes (e.g., steelmaking) will likely have difficulty accepting options for substitution. All options would substantially increase the production cost and wholesale price of industrial products. For many options (e.g., biomass or electrification), the life-cycle carbon footprint or efficiency of heat deposition are highly uncertain and cannot be resolved simply. This complicates crafting sound policy and assessing technical options and viability. Most substitute supply options for low-carbon heat appear more technically challenging and expensive than retrofits for CCUS. Even given the uncertainties around costs and documented complexities in applying CO₂ capture to industrial systems, it may prove simpler and cheaper to capture and store CO₂. CCUS would have the added benefit of capturing emissions from by-product industrial chemistry, which can represent 20–50 percent of facility emissions and would not be captured through heat substitution alone. Critically, CCUS is actionable today, providing additional GHG mitigation to industrial heat and process emissions as other options mature and become economically viable. Hydrogen combustion provided the readiest source of heat of all the options assessed, was the simplest to apply (including retrofit), and was the most tractable life-cycle basis. Today, hydrogen produced from reforming natural gas and decarbonized with CCUS (blue hydrogen) has the best cost profile for most applications and the most mature supply chain, and it would commonly add 10–50 percent to wholesale production costs. It also could provide a pathway to increase substitution with hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water from carbon-free electricity (green hydrogen), which today would increase costs 200–800 percent but would drop as low-carbon power supplies grow and electrolyzer costs drop. Hydrogen-based industrial heat provides an actionable pathway to start industrial decarbonization at once, particularly in the petrochemical, refining, and glass sectors, while over time reducing cost and contribution of fossil sources. However, substitution of hydrogen will prove more difficult or infeasible for steel and cement, which might require more comprehensive redesign and investment. Most of the other options appear to add substantially to final production costs—commonly twice that of blue hydrogen substitution or CCUS—and are more difficult to implement. However, all options show the potential for substantial cost reductions. An innovation agenda remains a central important undertaking and likely would yield near-term benefits in cost reduction, ease of implementation, and a lower life-cycle carbon footprint. Prior lack of focus on industrial heat supplies as a topic leave open many possibilities for improvement, and dedicated research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) programs could make substantial near-term progress. To avoid commercial and technical failure, government innovation programs should work closely with industry leaders at all levels of investigation. New policies specific to heavy industry heat and decarbonization are required to stimulate market adoption. Policies must address concerns about leakage and global commodity trade effects as well as the environmental consequences. These policies could include sets of incentives (e.g., government procurement mandates, tax credits, feed-in tariffs) large enough to overcome the trade and cost concerns. Alternatively, policies like border adjustment tariffs would help protect against leakage or trade impacts. Because all options suffer from multiple challenges or deficiencies, innovation policy (including programs that both create additional options and improve existing options) is essential to deliver rapid progress in industrial heat decarbonization and requires new programs and funding. As a complement to innovation policy and governance, more work is needed to gather and share fundamental technical and economic data around industrial heat sources, efficiency, use, and footprint.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Infrastructure, Green Technology
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: David B. Sandalow
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: In 2017, China was the world’s leading emitter of heat-trapping gases by a wide margin. Its policies for limiting emissions will have a significant impact on the global climate for decades to come. From a historical perspective, China’s status as the world’s leading emitter is relatively recent. During most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese emissions were modest. Then, in the early part of this century, as the Chinese economy boomed, Chinese emissions began to skyrocket, overtaking those from the United States around 2006. China’s cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution are less than half those from the United States or Europe. (Carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas, stays in the atmosphere for many years once emitted.)
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy
  • Political Geography: Global Focus