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A Carbon-Free NYC? New York's Prospects for Meeting Gore's Clean-Energy Challenge

A Carbon-Free NYC?
Reported by
Christine Van Lenten

Posted December 05, 2008


On July 17, 2008, former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore challenged Americans to produce all their electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. On October 9, 2008, the Academy hosted a panel to explore what it would take for New York City to achieve this goal.

Sanjoy Banerjee, director of CUNY's Energy Institute, examined how all of the city's energy needs might be met with clean energy and what advances in battery technology are needed to capitalize on it. Charles Komanoff, co-director of the Carbon Tax Center, reviewed policy tools and market-correcting mechanisms for reducing carbon emissions, with a focus on a carbon tax. Klaus Lackner, director of Columbia University's Lenfest Center, took big-picture approach, explaining why he believes that the only technologies that can be scaled up adequately are solar, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear, and he presented a searching and sobering appraisal of nuclear's prospects.

Web Sites

New York City

PlaNYC 2030
New York City's sustainability goals include reducing carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. At a 2008 National Clean Energy Summit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced steps toward developing renewable energy sources.

New York is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's 25 Solar America Cities, a program aimed at removing market barriers to adoption of solar energy technologies.

Bronx Community College Center for Sustainable Energy
See extensive information on solar energy, including a NYC Solar Summit 2008. "Solar and the City," in the September–October 2007 issue of Renewable Energy Focus looks at solar's prospects in New York City.

Port Authority of New York & New Jersey
See its October 23, 2008 announcement of a pioneering carbon credit program, part of its initiatives to achieve carbon neutral operations by 2010.

New York State

Department of Environmental Conservation
See its Renewable Energy page.

New York Power Authority
NYPA generates and sells low-cost electricity, promotes energy efficiency and development of clean energy technologies, and generally pursues sustainability.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority fosters innovative technologies. Its Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Protection program supports research into carbon capture and sequestration. (The Academy helped NYSERDA develop the research agenda for that program.)

Public Service Commission
The PSC administers the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Renewable Energy Task Force
Chaired by the lieutenant governor, in February 2008 the task force issued 16 recommendations for boosting renewable energy generation.


Carbon Tax Center
Cofounded in 2007 by Charles Komanoff, the center advocates a carbon tax. See its richly stocked "Links" page.

European Renewable Energy Council
With Greenpeace, EREC issued a 2008 study that details how—at a cost of trillions of dollars—the world could free itself of fossil fuels by 2090.

Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, Columbia University
Klaus Lackner directs this center, which works to develop technologies and institutions to ensure a sufficient supply of sustainable energy. It advances carbon capture and storage, nuclear, and solar energy.

We Can Solve It
Launched by Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, this project promotes 100% carbon-free electricity for the United States within 10 years. The site offers video and full transcript of Gore's speech announcing this energy challenge.

For more on Gore, see The (Annotated) Gore Energy Speech in Andrew Revkin's blog in The New York Times. See Gore's Call to Action by Paul Vitello in The Times' politics blog, reporting on Gore's news-making statement, "[I]t is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration." And see Gore's major op-ed piece on November 5, 2008: "The Climate for Change."


Barbaro M. 2008. Bloomberg offers windmill power plan. The New York Times (August 19).

Brown LB. 2008. The flawed economics of nuclear power. Earth Policy Institute podcast (October 28).

Congressional Budget Office. 2008. Nuclear Power's Role in Generating Electricity. This study assesses the commercial viability of using advanced nuclear technology to meet future demand for electricity.

Council on Foreign Relations. 2008. Crisis Guide: Climate Change. This visually stunning, interactive report says, "Fashioning an appropriate response to the Earth's changing climate may be the most difficult challenge facing world policymakers in the early twenty-first century."

Dorn JG. 2008. Solar thermal power coming to a boil. Earth Policy Institute (July 22). Gotham Gazette. This NYC publication's sustainability beat is a valuable source. See this article on bureaucratic hurdles encountered by a homeowner aiming to install solar panels on his roof, and this piece on smart meters.

Government Accountability Office. 2008. Climate Change: Federal Actions Will Greatly Affect the Viability of Carbon Capture and Storage As a Key Mitigation Option.

Patel T. 2008. Nuclear reactors may supply a fifth of power by 2050. (Oct. 16).

Quirk M. 2008. Blowback: Is wind the new ethanol? The Atlantic (October).

Romm J. 2008. Why we never need to build another polluting power plant. (July 28). A blog post at The New Republic comments on Romm's piece.

Tucker WG. 2008. Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America's Long Energy Odyssey. Bartleby Press.

Turner C. 2008-2009. The Solar Industry Gains Ground — And Goes Global. Fast Company (December-January).


Sanjoy Banerjee, PhD

CUNY Energy Institute
e-mail | web site

Sanjoy Banerjee is Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and director of CUNY's new Energy Institute, headquartered at City College. From 1980 to March 2008, he held joint appointments in the Mechanical Engineering Department and Bren School of Environmental Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Recent recognitions include AIChE Donald Q. Kern Award for energy conversion; ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award and ASME Melville Medal; ANS Technical Achievement Award; IChemE Danckwerts Lecturership; Mitsubishi Professor, Tokyo University; Burgers Professor, University of Delft; and Dow-Sharma Professor, University of Mumbai.

Banerjee's main area of research has been the behavior of systems far from equilibrium, including rapid phase transitions, turbulence, and, most recently, nonlinear phenomena such as dendrite formation in electrochemical energy storage systems.

Charles Komanoff

Komanoff Energy Associates
e-mail | web site

Charles Komanoff is a widely published energy policy analyst and environmental activist based in New York City. He directs the consulting firm Komanoff Energy Associates and is a founding trustee of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, director of the Bridge Tolls Advocacy Project, and coordinator of the pedestrian-rights organization Right Of Way. He "re-founded" the bike-advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and wrote or edited reports titled Subsidies for Traffic, The Bicycle Blueprint, and Killed By Automobile. His article Whither Wind: A Journey through the Heated Debate Over Wind Power appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Orion.

Author of the 1981 book Power Plant Cost Escalation, which analyzed the economics of nuclear power, Komanoff served as an expert witness on the subject for states and municipalities across the United States. In 2007, he cofounded the Carbon Tax Center. His current work focuses on the economic and environmental benefits of carbon taxing and road pricing. He graduated with honors from Harvard, where he studied applied math and economics.

Klaus S. Lackner, PhD

Columbia University
e-mail | web site

At Columbia University, Klaus Lackner is Ewing–Worzel Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at the Earth Institute, and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

His research centers on capturing carbon dioxide in power plants and directly from the atmosphere, and includes mineral sequestration, zero emission coal plants, carbon electrochemistry, and the study of large-scale energy infrastructures. He helped form the Zero Emission Coal Alliance, an industry-led group that defined the zero emission concept. He is affiliated with GRT, a company in Tucson, Arizona, that aims to develop a commercially viable technology for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Lackner received his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Heidelberg. He held postdoctoral positions at Caltech and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center before joining Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1983, where he investigated hydrodynamic problems. He has published on the behavior of high explosives, novel approaches to inertial confinement fusion, and numerical algorithms. In 1995 his work on self-replicating machine systems was recognized by Discover magazine as one of seven ideas that could change the world.

George R. Hendrey, PhD (moderator)

Queens College, City University of New York
e-mail | web site

George R. Hendrey is Distinguished Professor of Earth and Environmental Science at Queens College. With academic training in both engineering and ecology, he has worked to apply concepts from engineering to research on issues related to ecological change. After serving in the Peace Corps and working at Boeing as an engineer–chemist, Hendrey completed his PhD at the University of Washington. He then worked for the Norwegian Institute for Water Research in Oslo before moving to Brookhaven National Laboratory where he was a senior ecologist.

While at Brookhaven, Hendrey developed the free-air CO2 enrichment technology that has resulted in hundreds of publications by scientists on the effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on plants and ecosystems. His current research interests are in responses of photosynthesis to non-steady state environmental conditions, potential benefits and applications of green roofs, and methods for studying atmosphere–forest carbon exchange.