Our High-Energy Planet

A Climate Pragmatism Project

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More than one billion people globally lack access to electricity, and billions more still burn wood and dung for their basic energy needs. Our High-Energy Planet, a new report from an international group of energy and environment scholars, outlines a radically new framework for meeting the energy needs of the global poor. 

According to the authors, the massive expansion of energy systems, mainly carried out in the rapidly urbanizing global South, is the only robust, coherent, and ethical response to the global challenges we face, climate change among them. The time has come to embrace a high-energy planet, they say.

Read the full report here.

“Climate change can’t be solved on the backs of the world’s poorest people,” said Daniel Sarewitz, coauthor and director of ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes. “The key to solving for both climate and poverty is helping nations build innovative energy systems that can deliver cheap, clean, and reliable power.”

With increasing bipartisan support for the Electrify Africa Act, alongside Obama’s Power Africa initiative to double energy access in sub-Saharan Africa, calls for more equitable definitions of energy access are gaining traction. This includes support for energy technologies beyond solar lamps and cleaner cook stoves.  

A recent analysis from the Center for Global Development, for instance, estimates that if $10 billion were invested in renewable energy technology in sub-Saharan Africa, then 30 million would gain access to electricity. If the same amount of money was given to gas-fired generation, it would supply around 90 million – or three times as many people.

Commitment to a high-energy planet, the authors argue, “empowers growth and development using the broadest array of energy services, technologies, and policies that can meet the manifold needs of developing societies.”
 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Today, over one billion people around the world—five hundred million of them in sub-Saharan Africa alone—lack access to electricity. Nearly three billion people cook over open fires fueled by wood, dung, coal, or charcoal. This energy poverty presents a significant hurdle to achieving development goals of health, prosperity, and a livable environment.

The relationship between access to modern energy services and quality of life is well established. Affordable and reliable grid electricity allows factory owners to increase output and hire more workers. Electricity allows hospitals to refrigerate lifesaving vaccines and power medical equipment. It liberates children and women from manual labor. Societies that are able to meet their energy needs become wealthier, more resilient, and better able to navigate social and environmental hazards like climate change and natural disasters.

Faced with a perceived conflict between expanding global energy access and rapidly reducing greenhouse emissions to prevent climate change, many environmental groups and donor institutions have come to rely on small-scale, decentralized, renewable energy technologies that cannot meet the energy demands of rapidly growing emerging economies and people struggling to escape extreme poverty. The UN’s flagship energy access program, for example, claims that “basic human needs” can be met with enough electricity to power a fan, a couple of light bulbs, and a radio for five hours a day.

A reconsideration of what equitable energy access means for human development and the environment is needed. As this paper demonstrates, a massive expansion of energy systems, primarily carried out in the rapidly urbanizing global South, in combination with the rapid acceleration of clean energy innovation, is a more pragmatic, just, and morally acceptable framework for thinking about energy access. The time has come to embrace a high-energy planet.

This paper looks to history for guidance in achieving a high-energy world. Historically, energy modernization has been driven by a strong public commitment to expand modern energy services, ensure equitable energy access, and achieve broader economic development goals. Smart public policies will promote increasingly productive uses of energy, engage the private sector to ensure reliable and cost-effective services, support energy innovation activities, and proceed in concert with long-term development goals.

A commitment to a high-energy planet empowers growth and development using the broadest array of energy services, technologies, and policies that can meet the manifold needs of developing societies. The way we produce and use energy will become increasingly clean not by limiting its consumption, but by using expanded access to energy to unleash human ingenuity in support of innovating toward an equitable, low-carbon global energy system.

 

Download a pdf of the report here.


Comments

  • What is presented here as “climate pragmatism” should be applauded for the political correctness and economic expedience of the perspective.  Such logically contrived discussions that acknowledge accelerating climate destabilization are nothing more than a deceitful attempt to deny blindingly obvious scientific evidence of looming ecological dangers that are being recklessly precipitated by relentless overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities by the human species on our watch?

    By Steven Earl Salmony on 2014 04 08

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    • How about the “blindingly obvious scientific evidence” for 17 years of surface temperature pause? No statistical warming in 17 years and 8 months—RSS and UAH data sets. The computer generated climate models simply didn’t predict this pause—the same models you cite as “blindingly obvious”.

      By MC62 on 2014 04 16

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      • The additional energy has gone into phase change.  Look at the ten hottest years on record.  Like your Winter this year?  While you were freezing it was 120 degrees in Brazil and folk were dying of the heat in Australia.

        But some of was sensible heat, and it went into the mid oceans, where it has almost reached saturation.

        I suggest you tell us about the acidification of the oceans, the loss of copepod shells and the fate of the food chain.

        By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 16

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      • That a cherry-picked region of the globe (land exclusive of the poles) shows little change over a cherry-picked time interval (since 1997-1998, strongest El Nino event of 20th century) does not, in fact, mean the planet is not merrily continuing to absorb heat. Please see the discussion and short video at What has global warming done since 1998?.

        There is of course ongoing investigation as to why current climate models predict a lower ghg sensitivity (global temperature rise for given CO2 increase) than that actually observed in the paleontology record: see e.g.  Constraining the Transient Climate Response, but as the aforementioned video illustrates, models do not substitute for actual observation.

        By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 16

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  • The developing world is on a path to a high energy fossil future regardless of a “commitment” to the notion that it is a good idea to help it along. It is simply the affordable path and as such the only viable path out of poverty.

    The developed world is already high energy and despite much weeping and gnashing of teeth, is projected to continue burning more fossil fuels at current rates into the foreseeable future. This highlights the patently obvious but constantly ignored nature of the problem.

    To paraphrase James Carville “Its the economics, stupid.”

    No matter if the problem is seen as climate change, energy security, resource depletion or poverty, the real problem is the economics. Energy is just too big a part of the world economy to triple its cost.

    The only viable solution is clean sustainable energy at lower cost than fossil fuel energy.

    The policy consensus is no such present or near future low cost technology exists. In its “Beyond Boom and Bust” report, this institute advocated better R&D focused energy policy to develop such technologies. Subsequently, no attempt has been made to advocate for any energy other than nuclear. This is inconsistent and brings motives into question. High minded concerns for the developing world prompt similar concerns.

    The consensus that there is no possible low cost energy alternative is a self fulfilling prophecy if it leads to no attempt to search for such a solution.

    By Edmund Kelly on 2014 04 09

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  • It isn’t obviously a fair assessment. Two things BTI does understand are the magnitude of the AGW problem, and its immediacy. Please see Peak Coal in China, or Long, High Plateau?for one recent (and chilling) example. Googling “Breakthrough Institute CCS” reveals myriad others. R&D support recently discussed In Defense of Picking Winners.

    A few related CCS links: Renewables Aren’t Enough. Clean Coal Is the Future and
    Energy Department Review Recommends Moving Forward With FutureGen CCS Project.

    Focus on coal because ghg emissions from coal are the enemy. And they are overwhelmingly and immediately huge. Two obvious countermeasures: (1) Stop building new coal plants—globally. (2) Capture and sequester carbon emissions from existing coal plants—globally.

    (1) Stop building new coal plants is simply not possible without reliable low-carbon replacements at comparable cost. Globally, there appear to be but two: nuclear and gas. Both technologies are mature today and BTI advocates rapid deployment of both. But not for their own sake: the one overriding purpose is to reduce global ghg emissions sufficiently deeply and quickly to save the planet. Nothing else really matters, and gas alone cannot go the required distance without CCS—if that—but its cheap and readily available.  I’m all in favor of research and development of “new technologies”, but waiting for Godot isn’t going to save our bacon. We really do need to get moving on a massive scale, and with national and global energy plans that add up.

    By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 11

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  • We cannot find our way forward until we acknowledge the nature of the challenge.  The central threat isn’t annual emissions of CO2 - it’s the rising stock of atmospheric CO2, and its carbonic acid counterpart in the ocean.  The higher the stock of CO2, the warmer the planet.  The warmer the planet, the more climate change we experience.  Warming itself operates by laws of proportionality, but climate change is often a tipping point phenomenon, in which small temperature changes have large climate consequences.
    That being the case, capping atmospheric CO2 is essential.  And we cannot cap atmospheric CO2 till we replace all technologies that require fossil fuels with technologies that don’t.  The proper analogy is the Montreal Protocol.  No new CFC equipment would be produced; all current equipment would be replaced with safe equipment as its useful lives expired. 
    From what I see, BTI is no better than anyone else at clarifying the core problem, or the essentials of the necessary solution.  We are not on an “emission reduction” journey, as so many environmentalists claim; we are on a technology replacement journey.  Our entire portfolio of fossil fuel technologies has to be replaced with effective alternatives - steadily and persistently - till we humans can show that we have permanently capped the total stock of atmospheric CO2 at the lowest and safest level.
    BTI would be a much more relevant organization if its problem statement were more carefully thought through, and its solution statement were correspondingly more apt.  For now, it thrashes around in debates of secondary significance.  Let’s do better.

    By Steven Howard Johnson on 2014 04 11

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    • I think these guys are shills for nukes.

      Before becoming Senior Engineer in Technical Services for PG&E, I helped to test the safety systems of GE Mark I & II BWR’s.

      Fukushima confirmed my beliefs in that technology, which is much too deep and powerful for Human engineers to handle.

      By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 13

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      • Hi George,

        Breakthrough Institute is dedicated to the public interest, and therefore does NOT accept donations from individuals and groups with a financial interest in our work. For a full list of our funders, click here: http://thebreakthrough.org/about/funders/

        -Breakthrough Staff

        By Breakthrough Admin on 2014 04 22

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        • Thank you for the forum and the service.

          By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 22

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        • Why are all of you antialternatuive energy?

          ALL of you have the same agenda, to promote carbon fuels and nuclear power, against our advance into renewables.

          Level with us. 

          But being on the wrong side of technical development will not help you in the future.

          http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/22/opinion/hayes-denman-solar-power/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

          But thanks again for the forum, to help us work these things out, however they develop.

          By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 23

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          • Why are all of you antialternatuive energy?

            ALL of you have the same agenda, to promote carbon fuels and nuclear power, against our advance into renewables.

            Level with us.  

            But being on the wrong side of technical development will not help you in the future.

            http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/22/opinion/hayes-denman-solar-power/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

            But thanks again for the forum, to help us work these things out, however they develop.

            George:
            It appears to me many comments in this thread are very strongly directed against global anthropogenic ghg emissions. Ultimately, they are what matter. And since the problem is global, the cost of reduction does matters A lot.

            Given the magnitude of the coal problem, I’ve argued for continued and expeditious R&D into CCS, both for coal and for gas. Also for fugitive methane capture. Is this pro-fossil? Only to an extent. But that extent is also the extent my position is also pro-renewables, a point that appears to be lost.

            Firstly, it is difficult to imagine how the cost of a coal or natural gas plant with CCS can ever be short-sighted cheaper (external costs externalized) than a similar plant without CCS. By far the most effective CCS strategy is to simply leave fossil fuels in the ground and don’t burn them. But that isn’t where we are today, and we need to map strategies to get from here to there.

            I am not anti wind&solar;: they do have their place and will increasingly continue to do so. I do have reservations about the attitude (apparently) taken e.g. by Hayes and Denman in your linked opinion piece that the war on global warming is useful primarily as an extension of the old-line war on nuclear power.

            Not the only use, mind. Merely the primary. Is that too harsh?

            My regrets. But consider: Messrs Hayes and Denman start their opinion piece was a false and misleading comparison of wind and solar generation with dispatchable thermal generation, whether the thermal be sourced from fossils or from uranium. Specifically

            New solar installations in 2013 reached a record 4.2 gigawatts, bringing the total to 10. On average, one gigawatt of solar photovoltaics powers 164,000 U.S. homes. That means power for 1.6 million homes.

            and

            According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013, in the preceding year, 45 gigawatts of wind and 32 gigawatts of solar power were installed worldwide, compared with a net addition of just 1.2 gigawatts of nuclear.

            Emphasis added. What do either of these statistics have to do with massive, sustained long-term reduction of ghg emissions? What do either statistic actually mean?

            What “means power for 1.6 million homes”? How much power for each home? How many fossils must be burnt when that power is not available? To some environmentalists, the amount of renewable generation is not as important as the amount of ghg emission.

            As to the second, renewables-only advocates are found of comparing intermittent capacity with dispatchable capacity, and allowing their audience to conclude the comparison has some kind—any kind—of meaning. Do you really believe that?

            That a commercial building in Seattle is able to generate more electricity from solar than it consumes is commendable. But please keep in mind that Seattle is one of the few major U.S. cities with enough hydro capacity for it to matter. Hydro is great where you can get it, and the Pacific Northwest’s got it. Elsewhere, one still requires thermal generation to keep that building’s lights on. If the thermal is generated by fossils, solar and wind generation can reduce the amount of fossil fuel consumed. But they cannot eliminate fossil consumption entirely. The questions are by how much, at what cost, and over what range of total ghg reduction.   

            One cannot fault Warren Buffet. He is an investor. He invests where the money is. In the U.S. today, that is wind and solar. Doesn’t mean he was about nuclear, only that in the U.S. today nuclear is rarely profitable. Given the magnitude of the looming climate catastrophe, there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

            By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 23

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    • The only effective alternative at this point is nuclear. Anyone that advocates intermittent renewables as an effective alternative to fossil fuel is not credible.

      By Mike Foster on 2014 04 13

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  • I think this guy’s a shill for fossils.

    Seriously George, what else have we in common? With all due respect to your efforts and experience, no one is suggesting new 50-year old reactor builds. With your expertise you could make constructive comment upon Gen III+ designs e.g. EPR, AP1000, CAP1400, APR-1400, and ESBWR on the large end, and NuScale and mPower on the small. The first three have units under construction. They are what is happening today. Gen IV is a bit further off, but S-PRISM is available pending design approval. Russia is now fueling the first BN-800. China has poured concrete for commercial demonstration of HTR-PM (a HTGR pebble-bed SMR design). Terrapower’s travelling wave design.

    Different engineers assess Fukushima differently. A more relevant question might be whether or not Anthropogenic Global Warming is a problem too deep and complex for Human engineers to handle. What is your take? What are your solutions?

    By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 13

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    • Sorry, missed a quote, should read.
      Trans Atomic Power (TAP) has a fascinating molten-salt design being worked over by B&W, who is providing similar service for Terrapower’s travelling wave design.”

      By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 13

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    • Ed,
      Thank you for a cogent and intelligent response. I think the idea of boiling water with three million degree Neutrons is nonsense.  Most of a nuclear facility is to keep it from killing us.

      My solution is to ditch nuclear power immediately, and do a REAL job of finding out how to handle the terrible wastes we made in this Faustian Bargain.  I feel it is pure folly to produce this nasty stuff we cannot even contain.  Why are we leaving this disgusting and deadly waste for other Humans to deal with, . . essentially forever in Human terms?

      When I was with the utility in the 1980’s, we got our power from an integrated system of hydro, wind, supercritical gas boilers, photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, pumped storage, fuel cells, nuclear units, landfill gas, anaerobic digestion, and even the emergency generators of the customers dispatched directly by the utility.

      That gave us a system of diversified and varied inputs to allow optimum flexibility in cost, responsiveness, reliability, and security.  Why would anybody use nukes, or make a grid fed from a few massive plants with transmission losses, a technology which mandates we have a Police State to guard it and its operations?

      We will ALL diversify our inputs, like our outputs, our sources and our sinks, our generators and the customers, . . . all will have multiple roles.

      Got wind at home?  You can be a seller as well as a buyer.  Got a place for PV?  The new grid will let you be a player, too. It is the ultimate integration of freedom and socialism, where everybody wins.

      By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 14

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      • Thanks George. I agree with much of what you predict, as do most nuclear proponents. However, time is of the essence and the enemy is not uranium; the enemy is coal. There are two very urgent issues. The first is to figure out how to economically capture and store emissions from current modern (supercritical, IGCC) coal plants. The second is to replace older coal plant and displace new coal builds with something much cleaner. As you are aware, coal is mostly used for baseload, for which nuclear is (largely) a drop-in replacement. The challenge is to get the front-end capital cost of nuclear—or anything else—competitive with non-ccs coal on a global basis.

        Certainly, a global carbon tax-and-dividend scheme could do that, but it would have to be global and current estimates run in the $50 - $100/ton CO2 range in order for CCS to be economically worthwhile. More experience will drive that down, but its hard to see how coal+ccs can ever be cheaper (emissions cost externalized) than coal without.

        Neither am I optimistic about the non-nuclear green grid you describe. I’‘ve run some of the numbers from NREL’s Renewable Energy Futures 2012 study, which proposes something similar to yours, and they are not encouraging. Basically, REF makes no pretense of being either a cost-benefit analysis or providing an economically optimal solution, even if the proposed grid could be built in a reliable and timely fashion. As with other such studies, the cost of their proposed solution runs at least 27% higher than a simple drop-out coal and drop-in nuclear from the baseline, and emits more CO2 in the process: 80% reduction for “renewables+coal” vs. 85% for “nuclear+gas”. CCS was not considered in REF, as it’s hardly mature. But CCS will sure make the climate problem more tractable if we can do it.

        Neither will the 85% electric-sector CO2 reduction afforded just by nuclear+gas suffice: 85% is what we should be shooting for overall, meaning electric-sector emissions must become essentially zero. Nuclear+gas+ccs could do it, but as the gas is for variable load, so could (I think) nuclear+gas+wind+solar (I’ve already included hydro). Biomass co-fired with coal + ccs could be very useful emissions wise, and nuclear can take the strain off the amount of biomass required just to make load. Save some for the forests and prairie.

        Nuclear waste is a serious issue only because we’ve chosen to make it one. Otherwise we wouldn’t be facing the fossil waste calamity we are today. Not that nuclear waste isn’t an important issue, only that is pales to insignificance compared to CO2. But as Rod has stressed, we aren’t going to make progress on nuclear power (and by extension ghg emission) without a national commitment to nuclear waste management. Senator Ron Wyden (D,OR) has sponsored S1240, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013, which implements key recommendations of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Or would implement them if the bill were ever moved out of committee, passed, and signed into law. Co-sponsors are Lamar Alexander (R, TN), Lisa Murkowski (R, AK), Dianne Feinstein (D, CA), and Angus King (I, ME). Please take a look.

        Not unrelated, Senator Micheal Bennett has proposed creating a comprehensive National Energy Plan. Being a Colorado Democrat, Sen. Bennett prominently mentions his state’s wind and solar resources. But “comprehensive” is his term, and to me “comprehensive” means serious consideration of all energy technologies that can contribute to solving the global climate problem. Drastic reductions in U.S. emissions alone will be for naught if we can’t lead the rest of the world to something similar.

        Thanks!

        By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 14

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        • ED,

          Thanks once again for a complete response.

          Yup, it will not be cheap initially, but will not be equal to the costs of not doing it. I will read the complete post and respond later.

          Thanks again.

          By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 14

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        • ED,
          You are correct, coal is the is the energy enemy.  And there is no such thing as “clean coal”, since if the carbon is removed, there is little left but radiocuclides, Sulfur and Mercury.

          But I am not looking for"drop-in” technologies, I am looking at “build-up” systems of more diversification and distributed generation. 

          I am conscious of the tough problems with such an integrated grid, but it is feasible, and in process of improvement now.

          The days of Big Power are waning.

          By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 14

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  • The folk in the nuclear industry are those who took the hard classes, studied while others partied, persevered in the toughest environments, so we could have clean energy.  Their dream turned into a nightmare, and now we realize it was all a terrible error to boil water with deadly processes. 

    We are leaving toxic wastes behind for others to deal with, essentially forever in Human terms.  Our transition to renewables will be marked geologically like the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary, with the layer of pollution from our 20th Century judgement.

    It is the necessary course of history, repeated in every generation, every century, every society.  Finding the “right” road means trying them all.

    I admire those who tried the hard things.  Many times we win wisdom instead of temporary “success”. I remember volunteering for the Vietnam War.

    (sigh, . . )

    By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 14

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    • Well, the renewables-only proponents have yet to propose an overall energy solution that does not involve reliably boiling massive amounts of water with something. And all the reliable somethings tend to be deadly. On an injuries and deaths per TWh basis, neutrons have proven the least deadly of them all, by factors of at least 40.

      (You yourself contributed to that low statistic. No good deed ever goes unpunished. Whazzat about Vietnam? Yeah, that too, and thanks!)

      By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 14

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  • These are my thoughts only, not to be confused with Absolute Truth. 

    All the problems you foresee for renewables are hurdles to overcome.  Many have been already.

    I think the encroachment of alternative energy into standard power systems will be relatively quick, as far as generational, paradigm-changing upheavals.  It began with wind, then PV here substantially, and when the microgrids of developing nations join into regional grids, supported in part by participant-customers, who can buy and sell as their needs and resources permit, the shift will be apparent.

    Boil massive amounts of water? Perhaps not.  PV needs none, and Solar Thermal can use air cooling.  Wind needs no water cooling, no hyperbolic stacks, no thermal waste into waterways.  All that will be important in the water-scarce future.  (Nuclear plants are the most thermally-inefficient systems we have, and require massive amounts of water for cooling.)

    In developing nations technologies will use anaerobic digestion for gas (and nutrient conditioning), PV, wind, whatever is abundant locally. We know enough now to design houses to take advantage of their surroundings for their comfort and safety.  We have the technologies for the direction of natural light, heat, natural cooling, and the other ways we have actually cut household energy use the past year.

    Nothing is absolute, there will be baseload power stations, but they will not be as important nor as inefficient. (I always thought a natural gas-fueled, water-cooled solid oxide fuel cell replacing a transformer in a neighborhood could offer district heating as well as power as needed, with a minimum of transmission and distribution.) 

    Electric cooperatives are already thinking in the way of alternative generation and two-way power - since their customers are their owners, they think they should allow themselves to buy and sell for the common as well as individual good.

    Politics aside, it all depends on economics.

    Thank you for the debate and your good cheer in face of my onslaught.  I could have chosen my words better.  This is not a matter of wrong and right, it is a matter of choice by members of society and those who represent them.

    And if you were one of those guys who took the hard classes and thermo and calc and worried about Neutron embrittlement, you have my genuine respect.

    By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 14

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    • Your words are fine, George, and its been a pleasure communicating.

      “Politics aside, it all depends on economics.”

      Some opine it depends ghg emissions as well, but I think that is part of your “all”. The reason for the “boiling water” riposte was simply that reliable electricity is what our society relies on. Reliable electricity is generated by just a few sources: hydro, thermal, and geothermal. Though ideal where you can get it, for most of the world (U.S. included) hydro is very limited, Geothermal has large potential, but at this point (outside Iceland) that’s all it has. Thus in the near term most of the world must rely upon thermal generation to keep the lights on.

      Doesn’t mean wind+solar don’t have their place: they can reduce fossil and biofuel fuel utilization, but they can do little to reduce the required fossil capacity. Hydro and storage can, and such is how they are presently used. Wind+solar+storage can reduce the required thermal generation capacity, but cannot economically eliminate it. Size of the grid has some influence, but not as much as one might hope. By restriction to just variable demand balancing, a given storage capacity can go further to reduce required thermal generation capacity than it can to balance variable demand + variable generation from wind+solar. Of course, unlimited low-cost storage would be ideal, but that’s not where we’re at.

      I (and others) base this assessment upon Appendix A Vol 1. of NREL’s 2012 Renewable Electricity Futures Study. Some relevant figures are reproduced (with brief discussion) here, which in NREL’s analysis of an “optimal” no-new-nukes 2050 energy mix suggest thermal generation still contributes 27% of demand at 80% ghg reduction, of which 15% is biomass, 3% gas, and 9% coal. At “only” 70% ghg reduction coal contributes a whopping 15% on its own. At higher ghg reductions coal is still necessary to co-fire biomass. In the absence of CCS, RE has clear limits that are not compatible with the requirement that emissions from the electricity sector be essentially zero by the end of the century.

      We agree upon economics. Its by no means one-size-fits-all, but if there are not solutions that economically effect drastic ghg reductions worldwide, the agw problem will not be solved.

      Thanks again!

      By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 15

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  • If you take the original BTI premise of a “high energy” world and mate it with about 8 billion people, that’s a lot of energy. At a conservative 4kW/person (US is currently13kW/p), that’s 32 TW. The current world electricity system operates at an average capacity factor of about 50%, so that means about 64TW of generation. A shorter term goal that matches EIA energy demand projections to 2050 might optimistically only need 15TW by 2050.

    Current wind, solar and nuclear cost significantly more than fossil fuels, cannot reduce sufficiently in cost at current rates of improvement and all have significant sustainability issues if scaled to these levels. Economics alone is already dooming the path of relying on these technologies to demonstrable failure in reducing CO2 emissions.

    If current technologies cannot solve the problem within the economic, political and sustainability constraints, than new technologies need to be developed quickly.

    There are many technologies already under development that are speculative and high risk, but if successful might actually solve the problem. All lack sufficient investment. There are at least six fusion energy companies, and several sustainable fission companies focused on thorium and fast uranium. There are also advanced wind and solar companies. Energy is a $6T sector, 8% of GDP and spends almost nothing on R&D. If overall world government could find a way to spend about $10B/y on helping to fund these companies and other new entrants to get their products to market, perhaps one will succeed. Say the average commitment were $100M/y. That would be hundreds of new paths to a possible sustainable energy solution. A focus on payment for results should speed things along.

    The current “deer in the headlights” perception that only immediate action using current technologies can forestall the looming disaster is dooming us to the fate of the deer.

    By Edmund Kelly on 2014 04 15

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  • It is time to look beyond the Big Power paradigm, and let diversification take place faster than it is doing now.  Want to know how it will happen?  You can see it already.  In the 1970’s we could not build more power systems because of air pollution laws, and needed growth in capacity from somewhere.  We got it from new technologies: My team went into colleges and universities and showed them how to reduce their bills by an average of 20% with little or no investment for them.  That reduced the immediate need, while we decided what to do for the rest.  Since our biggest worry was carrying the air conditioning load in the afternoons in the Bay Area, we used wind turbines, which became active just as we needed their energy, and needed NO FUEL.  No waste heat, no pollutants, no transmission losses from Big Power plants elsewhere.

    PV is taking over my neighborhood.  How about yours?

    We have The Geysers in California, if you think all that is just “potential”. and not realizable.  Solar Thermal uses no water, and can store sufficient energy to generate power at night.

    Got farms? Every seven cows produces sufficient manure to power an entire household.  Got breezes?  You can sell to the grid, too, and be part of the best of all of it.

    By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 15

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  • Yes, we face two parallel challenges.  Put a ceiling on total CO2 in the atmosphere.  And replace all technologies that require fossil fuels with technologies that don’t. 

    By what strategy can we give ourselves the strongest possible chance for success? 

    Here’s my nomination:  Phase-Out Mandates With Deadlines.

    What is it that we want to phase out? 
    In Buildings:  All uses of natural gas and heating oil.
    In Vehicles:  All uses of gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.
    In Industry:  All uses of coal, natural gas, and petroleum.
    In Electricity Generation:  All use of coal and natural gas.
    In Liquid Fuel Production:  All use of petroleum.
    In Direct Heat:  All use of coal, natural gas, petroleum.

    And there’s a seventh theme, a unifying theme: Efficiency.  For every dollar spent today on Efficiency, at least three dollars are saved tomorrow. 

    All these will go faster if driven by phase-out mandates, a la the Montreal Protocol and CFC phase-outs. 

    Why would we want to spell out mandates?  Because it’s how we’ll focus maximum attention on each crucial arena.  When we talk in generalities, half the things that matter disappear from our debate.  To put them back in the table, we need Mandates.  They’re the bullet points that keep us working on The Whole Solution.  By establishing distinct mandates - for Buildings, for Vehicles, for Industry, for Electric Power, for Liquid Fuels, for Direct Heat, and for Efficiency, we draw attention to all the parallel tracks that have to be addressed.

    In this strategy, how shall we measure progress?  Will we be satisfied with tabulating emissions avoided, reduced, or eliminated?  We shouldn’t be.

    Let’s measure progress by tracking the percentages that no longer use fossil fuels.  Percentage of cars.  Of buildings.  Of ocean freighters.  And so on.  People like success.  Let’s use success metrics to celebrate progress and spur further effort.  Let’s establish Races to a Hundred Percent.  First car company to a Hundred Percent Cars that don’t need gasoline.  And so on. 

    By breaking the challenge into all its parts, and measuring progress with tangible success metrics, instead of intangible failure avoidance metrics, we make the journey ahead more meaningful, more interesting, more fun, and more promising.

    By Steven Howard Johnson on 2014 04 16

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    • That’s a tall order. It also makes us susceptible to errors in judgment with forces and draconian standards.  The evolution is already occurring, even if it could use the help gotten by oil, gas and subsidized nuclear technologies.

      The grid is not the utility’s system any more, it is becoming OUR system. 

      Power to the People is not just a trite phrase any more.

      By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 23

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      • How trite smile Nuclear subsidy is detailed in WNA’s US Nuclear Power Policy. Unlike wind’s 2.3c/kWh production tax credit or solar 30% investment tax credit + net-metering, nuclear is not subsidized directly for construction or production, rather nuclear’s subsidies come largely in the form of R&D (significant) and liability caps. (They almost certainly won’t need them, but if they ever do, they’ll need them bad. Such is insurance: nuclear power carries liability insurance just like everyone else, and just like everyone else, its policies are capped.)  Fossils have depletion subsidies of their own. The issue is not so much subsidies per se, as it is how to best to use those subsidies to maximize ghg reduction at least cost. Without clean energy subsidies, king coal reigns supreme. Such is economics.

        By Ed Leaver on 2014 04 23

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        • We do not need subsidies any more for alternative energy, we need the other technologies to fully pay for the “externalities” of their operations, such as damaged kids, shortened lives, remediation of their damages, safe and permanent handling of their wastes, (such as coal ash and high level nuclear waste), and the like.

          If long-term, lifetime costs of power systems were made public, externalities identified and qualified, there would be no brute-force power systems, . . . which means fusion power may not be possible until it is no longer needed or desired.

          By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 23

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  • Changing our ideas is the hardest part.  I went through the paradigm shift at Cummins that began in 1984, when we made the twin shift from Just In Case to Just in Time, from Corrective Quality to Preventive Quality.  Once we’d redefined our journey, we were on our way.  Twenty years later the plant where I’d worked had become incredibly competent and successful.
    Now with fossil fuels it’s up to us to make a similar paradigm shift.  There’s only one atmosphere, only one global climate.  If we humans aim for a post-fossil fuel world, we’ll have a chance of achieving it and halting climate change before it goes too far. 
    On the other hand, if we aren’t foresighted enough to aim for a world that no longer needs fossil fuels, then we’re certain to fail. 
    Let’s take things up in the proper order.  First we get the front-end decision right.  Then we tackle the details.

    By Steven Howard Johnson on 2014 04 23

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    • Shifting them digms is tough.

      Mine came in early 1968, when I had to realize the war for which I had volunteered was not a disaster, but a crime.  Standing up on a chair and screaming we were all Nazis was unappreciated at the time.

      By George Kamburoff on 2014 04 24

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