Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's hard to replace energy infrastructure

Energy infrastructure is not easily replaced or retired from service, notes a Baker Institute report entitled “Sustainable US Policy Options to Address Climate Change: Highlights of the Debate.” The Baker Institute released the report in June outlining conclusions from climate change conferences that it organized on its campus within Rice University in Houston.

The 15-page report contains a lot of detailed information, yet it’s the infrastructure sentence that caught my attention. Despite extensive discussions nationwide about emerging climate policy, I am waiting to hear more about how the logistics of energy infrastructure will fit within any new policy.

Can the fuels of the future be distributed and marketed using existing refineries, pipelines, and service stations? This is where science and technology development will prove to be key, and it’s where the involvement of oil companies will prove to be key.

Steve Koonin, chief scientist at BP PLC, participated in a Baker Institute conference on climate policy last year. He said the need for adoption of climate policy is urgent because energy infrastructure is not easily replaced or retired.

“Apart from universality, greenhouse gas policies must also be timely—one of the defining characteristics of the energy infrastructure is its longevity,” Koonin said. “Power plants last 50 years, automobiles last 20 years, and buildings in which half the world’s energy is used last about 100 years.”

He noted future GHG emissions are being locked in for decades by infrastructure built today. Hence, the largest international corporations must be involved in GHG reductions and in figuring out the logistics for the fuels of the future.

“Materiality means that large corporations must be actively involved in GHG reductions, since it is through them that societies get things done, at least in the developed world,” Koonin said.

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