A blueprint for saving civilization


With so much misinformation regarding renewable energy and clean energy policies out there, it is always a welcome experience to find islands of careful, precise research and analysis.

Designing Climate Solutions by Hal Harvey and Robbie Orvis of Energy Innovation is one such island. The book, which provides a highly structured exploration of the sources of power sector emissions and policies to reduce them, is systematic, thorough, and insightful.

And while Harvey and Orvis make many salient and important points, such as that there is no one “silver bullet” policy that can be relied on to entirely address energy emissions, this author is concerned that the fundamental top-down nature of the analysis in this book is itself a weakness.


The virtue of accuracy

As this is pv magazine USA, this review will focus mostly on the section on electricity sector policies.

In general, the book’s exquisite level of detail and accuracy cannot be overstated. Many of the insights on subtle matters are profound, such as the critique of liquidity issues as they apply to tax incentives in the United States.

The book also manages to capture the significance of the feed-in tariff in lowering risk for investors and stimulating emerging technologies, along with lowering prices. This key detail is often missed by those critical of this policy, and whose attempts at critique are often no more than market fundamentalist sloganeering. And as analyses of the evolution and role of the German feed-in tariff in English are rare, we would be remiss by picking at the details, which should suffice for non-German readers.

Designing Climate Solutions also provides a very capable explanation of how renewable energy credits work, if it does gloss over the significant market disruptions that have been caused by poorly designed policies, particularly those that did not have a price floor.

Finally, the book provides a fair and insightful description of the state of nuclear power as a component of clean energy mixes.


Structural biases

However, at times one is tempted to wonder if the broader conclusions drawn from the analysis of specific policies, such as the section on China’s capacity targets, are warranted. It is possible that the failure of specific policy is due to the very particular, often nation-specific, context that these policies are enacted in.

The most awkward moments seem to stem from the approach and format of the book. The authors’ need to classify every policy in relationship to all other policies leads to some strange conclusions, such as categorizing the U.S. federal Production Tax Credit for wind as a form of feed-in tariff, as it is a production-based incentive.

Additionally, the book puts a very large role to policies to price carbon; however unlike feed-in tariffs and renewable energy mandates there is not much of a record of success to back this up. As such while this section is no less detailed or careful than the power sector policies, it is precariously speculative, and this makes an odd contrast to other sections that are based on actual experience in reducing emissions.


Policy cartography

Overall, the message that can be gleaned from this book is that the details of policy matter. And this is a superb guide to the details of these policies.

But when dealing with a particularly detailed and careful chart, there can be the tendency to mistake the map for the territory. The two are never the same.

That being said, we would be hard pressed to recommend a better guide than this.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.