What has mostly been understated or otherwise ignored is that we are not going to solve climate change simply by adding low/no carbon sources as power plants and cars get old – we are forcibly turning down existing power plants and removing gasoline-powered cars while we add a much larger amount of low/no carbon sources. We are not simply evolving towards a new equilibrium by slowly transitioning the energy fleet as it ages. Instead, we are replacing it while it is still running.
This is so different from how we usually think that we are often at odds over simple issues because we are starting from different sides of this question. For example, we are not “adding new electricity capacity with wind and solar,” as most engineers familiar with the power system might think. We are subtracting carbon electricity, and replacing it with low/no carbon electricity.
We want to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, preferably coal. We can replace coal with intermittent sources like wind and solar and still retain reliability for when the wind and solar are not available by keeping the coal plants for when they are needed. In utility terminology, we are retaining capacity (through coal plants) while reducing carbon (by turning them down and replacing the lost energy with solar and wind). (more…)