Against Technology Tribalism

Why We Need Innovation to Make Energy Clean, Cheap and Reliable

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We need a broad innovation agenda that transcends technology tribalism, technology fads, and our boom and bust approach to policymaking. We should be pushing hard on all of our energy technologies to make them cheaper, cleaner, safer and more reliable. This is the opportunity for President Obama and Congress over the next four years, and the challenge to all of us over the next 40.

January 31, 2013 | Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

The following is a speech delivered at the Energy Innovation Conference in Washington, DC, on January 29, 2013.

About once a month we at the Breakthrough Institute get an email or, as often, a carefully hand-typed letter, from someone who politely if sternly informs us that they have invented the solution to all of the world's energy needs. This incredible technology, they explain, has none of the problems that plague other energy technologies. It's so cheap as to be almost free. It emits zero pollution. It's safe. And it's totally reliable.

Unfortunately, they explain, the investors they've shown their design to just don't get it. They are writing in the hopes that we might get it — seeing as we’re committed to paradigm shifts and all — and help them to secure modest up-front financing required to demonstrate this miracle for all of the world to see.

It's easy to laugh, but isn't there something wonderful about the zeal of the entrepreneur? Wasn't Steve Jobs every bit the zealot for Apple products — and wasn't that part of what made him such a revolutionary?

But in the world of public policy and politics, such technology dogmatism can be toxic. It's one thing to believe that your technology will triumph in the market. It's quite another to believe that only your technology merits public support.

And yet that's the attitude that has plagued energy policy for the last 40 years. Much of the Left says little to no innovation is required because existing solar and wind technologies can provide 100 percent of the world's electricity. Much of the Right says there's no justification for government support of innovation beyond basic science because fossil fuels and nuclear energy are just fine as they are.

The tell of the technology tribalist is his insistence that little to no innovation is needed for his technology to scale.

Many date technology tribalism back to when Reagan took Carter's solar panels off the White House. But the origins go back to 1976, when the anti-nuclear activist Amory Lovins wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in which he argued that even if all the meltdown and waste risks were solved, we should still oppose nuclear energy because it was centralized power generation. Decentralized solar, wind and energy efficiency were more than enough, renewables advocates would go on to argue for the next 35 years, to meet all of the world's energy needs.

By the late 1980s, environmentalists and progressives pointed to climate change as yet another reason to switch to renewables. The response from conservatives was mostly knee-jerk. "If the climate science says we have to power civilization on rickety and expensive renewables," they effectively said, "then I'm not buying your climate science!"

But as climate scientists and energy analysts did the math, the case for a renewables-only path to dealing with climate change became increasingly untenable. Energy consumption will double by mid-century and quadruple by the end of the century, as the global poor become rich and the human population rises to nine billion. The idea that all that new energy could come from renewables alone increasingly became viewed as ridiculous.

And so over the last few years, a growing number of green voices have emerged calling for more nuclear, including James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, Whole Earth Catalogue founder Stewart Brand, and the left-wing newspaper columnist George Monbiot.

And while polarization has unquestionably shrunk the moderate middle, there remains a broad majority of Americans who reject the technology tribalism of Right and Left and have come instead to embrace the innovation of all energy sources. If you cut past particular technologies and instead go to values, you find a large percentage of Americans — and, we would venture to say, of all humans as well — who want energy that is increasingly cheap, clean, reliable, and safe.

This is an embrace not of a particular thing — solar panels, nuclear reactors, fracking, wind farms — but rather of a process of human development. It's an embrace of technological innovation, not of particular technologies as they exist today.

This posture is consonant with the development of our species. Our history is the history of having moved from scarce, dirty, unreliable and dangerous energy sources to increasingly abundant, cleaner, safer and more reliable ones. Wood and charcoal fires were first replaced by coal-fired steam power and then by coal and oil-fired electricity. This transition saved millions of lives that would have been lost to respiratory diseases, and allowed depleted forests to grow back. Fossil fuels allowed agriculture to become more efficient, sparing huge amounts of land. Instead of animals providing organic fertilizer, people used fertilizer derived from natural gas and tractors powered by fossil energy. 

Switching from steam to electricity to power factories saved even more lives, and coal electricity has became vastly cheaper, safer and more efficient.

At the same time, societies started moving to electricity from hydro-electric dams, natural gas, and nuclear energy — all vastly cleaner than coal. Their environmental impacts can be significant, but all pale to the health and environmental impacts of coal mining and burning.

Energy transitions depend to a large extent on a country's natural resources and political culture. But what's universal is that the publics in growing economies keep demanding cheaper, cleaner, more reliable, and safer technologies.

We need a broad innovation agenda that transcends technology tribalism, technology fads, and our boom and bust approach to policymaking. We should be pushing hard on all of our energy technologies to make them cheaper, cleaner, safer and more reliable. This is the opportunity for President Obama and Congress over the next four years, and the challenge to all of us over the next 40.

Now the question turns to how we do should this innovation — the question that will be addressed by panelists today. Is it by giving entrepreneurs grants as though the government were the Ford Foundation? Is it by only funding basic science out of a belief that innovation proceeds in a linear way from basic science to demonstration to commercialization? Should we copy the successes of the DoD, which acts as a demanding customer of advanced technologies?

We would suggest that the first step is to take a cold hard look at the facts.

In an effort as large as the one of quadrupling global energy consumption by 2100, and getting most or all of that energy from low and zero carbon energy sources, there is no room here for dogmatism. The technology tribalists have created a negative-sum game. They have weakened the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together. Innovation advocates must appeal to reasonable conservatives and liberals with an all of the above agenda that is focused on making all energy technologies cheaper, cleaner, more reliable and safer.

Focus on solving problems. Innovation is always about solving problems in the real world, not about proceeding in a linear way from basic science to commercialization. Where the technology tribalist waves away the problems with his preferred energy source and exaggerates the problems of other technologies, the energy innovationist must take a cold hard look at the challenges each technology faces so that appropriate policy measures can be implemented. This requires acknowledging all energy technologies are subsidized in one way or another, often with the aim of increasing their production, not accelerating innovation. We should ask whether there would be a way to rearrange these subsidies to support innovation — aka, problem solving — rather than production.

Embrace a wider set of solutions. Where the Right is focused on basic research, the Left is focused on deployment of renewables. Both are wrong in applying a one-size fits all approach to technologies that are in wildly varying stages of development, each with unique problems. No serious innovation scholar believes we got microchips through the government providing only support for basic science, nor do fracking pioneers believe the shale gas production tax credit was the most important policy support available to them. Microchips required aggressive government contracting over multiple generations and iterations, and 20 years separated the first massive hydraulic shale fracture from Mitchell Energy’s commercial breakthrough in West Texas.

Accelerate the failure rate. All technology successes stories are preceded by decades of failure. The key is to have a high rate of trial and error. This may require changing subsidies. Did we really need to pay for Solyndra to build a whole factory? Could we instead have used the money to pay private firms to demonstrate smaller batches advanced solar panels, used them, and then repeated this cycle? This procurement model is how we got advanced jet turbines and microchips. There is a direct relationship between producer and user, and the speed of innovation quickens at lower costs. When it comes to energy, the relationship between producers and users is mediated by a thicket of regulations and subsidies. The billions spent in the stimulus had the goal of creating jobs in the short-term, not driving innovation over the long-term. If we are going to embrace failure as the key to success, we can acknowledge that not all failures are created equal.

Increase knowledge spillover. Shales were just one of the unconventional gas resources supported by federal policy, and the public-private research collaboration was evaluated and updated annually by FERC to respect dynamic industry priorities. Mitchell's top geologist told us that the real progress came after Mitchell invited in DOE and GRI, shared its research, and invited in other explorers. Mitchell helped organize a day of presentations on shale fracking at a local library. DOE and sent over advanced underground mapping technologies from Sandia National Labs, and a team of crack programmers, many of whom now work for private companies in the area including Haliburton. We should seek to increase, not decrease, knowledge spill-over when it comes to promising clean energy innovations that are still a long way off from being ready to scale up to displace fossil fuels.

Reform energy subsidies. We need to subsidize innovation, not production. Innovation policy should look more like DoD procurement than agricultural subsidies. The American Wind Energy Association should be applauded for proposing a phase down of wind’s production tax credit. This is an unusually mature response from an industry association. Now it's incumbent on all of us to consider how to continue innovation of wind technologies even as production subsidies are phased out. Similarly, we should consider direct procurement of advanced technologies, not just demonstration, since as I noted before, it is this procurement process that increases trial and error and has allowed for the development of such things as cheap microchips and jet turbines.

We should pursue all of this while recognizing that we live in a pluralistic society where people have different values and visions of the good society. That means we won't get everything we want, and will have to compromise. In the world of energy, our values come into conflict — or appear to come into conflict, since whether a technology is safe and clean is highly subjective.

We may like to imagine a 100% renewable or 100% nuclear future, but pinning technologies against each other undercuts innovation across the board. The question at hand is not which technologies need innovation — they all do. The question is how to attack each technology’s idiosyncratic innovation needs. That’s what we’re here to discuss today.

 

 

Photo credits: AP Images and Flickr user Takver


Comments

  • A moment of sanity

    By Mark Walker on 2013 02 03

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  • This ignores the real possibility that climate change, combined with the pressures of rapid population growth, may be taking civilization and the planet’s ecology over a tipping point cliff that we won’t be able to recover from. I would argue that we must act now and in huge ways, long before new innovation can catch up with the problem. That means energy sources like wind and solar, supplemented by government so they can compete. If we wait for innovation to catch up it will be too late. I predict that Climate change is going to have a much bigger impact than anyone is acknowledging - war, starvation, lack of water supplies, and mass migrations on a world wide basis.
    We have so little understanding of our dependence on world ecology. One example: If we poison the oceans enough to kill off the organisms responsible for 50% of the oxygen in the atmosphere, living at sea level will become the equivalent of living at 19,000 feet.

    By Tom Snell on 2013 02 04

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  • The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

    By Mark Walker on 2013 02 05

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  • Strawpeople certainly are convenient, aren’t they?

    I wish I knew any technology tribalists who insist that “little to no innovation is needed for his technology to scale,” so that I could argue with them. But those, including myself, who have been debating these issues with the BTI don’t argue that little innovation is needed. Rather, we argue that a) incremental or evolutionary innovation is needed (as opposed to technology breakthroughs, which would be helpful but are not needed); and that b) incentivizing production, or deployment, rather than being in opposition to innovation, is actually the most important route to achieving incremental innovation, as well as the fastest way of reducing harmful emissions.

    Nordhaus and Shellenberger make a broad, unsupported claim that “as climate scientists and energy analysts did the math, the case for a renewables-only path to dealing with climate change became increasingly untenable.”

    At some point, it would be helpful if N&S,or their staff, would actually address the growing literature that finds that with incremental or evolutionary innovation, current technology could scale to supply 80-90% or more of US electricity with renewable energy.  That was the conclusion, for example, of the the Renewable Electricity Futures study last year, after an unprecedented collaboration of more than 100 individuals from 35 institutions, representing academics, government labs, utilities, grid operators, renewable energy companies, investors and every other energy stakeholder group. http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/re_futures/

    More recently, a University of Delaware group found that the mid-Atlantic region (not the most renewable energy rich region of the US), could be powered by as much as 99.9% renewable electricity for less than we pay for the direct and environmental costs of today’s electricity system.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378775312014759
    They too, looked at incremental improvement to today’s technology, not radical breakthroughs or new technologies.

    And while I am less familiar with them, recent studies have reached a similar conclusion on the global level. E.g.,  http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/Our-plan-to-stop-the-oil-95-renewables-by-2050/?accept=662a83340bb0608359fb06be6bcb44ad

    None of these studies provide the final word, of course, or prove that a primarily renewable energy future is the optimal future, either environmentally or economically.  But it would be so much more helpful if the BTI actually critiqued such studies rather than simply ridicule the concept.

    (Part 1 of 2)

    By Alan Nogee on 2013 02 05

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  • (Part 2 of 2)

    With respect to promoting technology innovation, I don’t know any clean energy advocates who do not also support at least doubling our federal R&D budget, and implementing other policies to help drive innovation throughout the clean energy supply chain. But the most important tool for promoting clean energy technology innovation is the actual deployment of the technology that we have already researched and developed. 

    First, and this should seem obvious, but if we cannot fully deploy today’s cost-effective clean energy technologies because of a host of market barriers and failures, why would we think that tomorrow’s cost-effective technologies would automatically be deployed? In addition to a host of cost-effective energy efficiency technologies, today’s wind and solar technologies are greatly under-deployed in markets where they are cost-effective or very close to it. 

    And the primary reason we have cost-effective wind and solar technologies today: the policies that incentivized or required deployment of these technologies yesterday.  An article by a former BTI analyst, for example, cites a paper that purports to show that reductions in solar photovoltaic (PV) costs were driven by “equal parts” R&D and economies of scale. http://theenergycollective.com/jessejenkins/75128/future-global-climate-policy-clean-energy-innovation-imperative-part-3

    If one reads the cited paper, however, one finds that, while R&D has been important, accounting for about ¼ – 1/3 of the reduction, More than half the decline is directly attributed to factors related to growth in the market for PV cells, especially larger manufacturing plant sizes (43%), but also learning by doing, standardization, market predictability, competition, etc. These are all factors that production and deployment policies, such as production tax credits and renewable standards and incentives, aim to effect.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421505001795

    Moreover, that 2006 paper could not, of course, include the subsequent enormous reductions in PV prices that have been driven primarily by the increasing scale of Chinese solar manufacturing facilities.

    Expanding production and markets have also played a critical role in reducing the cost of wind energy to where it is now frequently less expensive than generation from new coal plants and competitive at the best sites with new natural gas plants.

    Many of Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s recommendations make a lot of sense. We should be increasing R&D and always retooling our policies to promote additional innovation.  And while I personally hope for a largely renewable energy future, I agree that we should continue to promote innovation in new nuclear and advanced fossil technologies as well. But N&S do not advance clean energy policy when they promote false dichotomies between innovation supporters and “technology tribalists” or zero-sum recommendatons that support innovation “rather than production.” And while breakthroughs would be terrific, it is past time the BTI actually address the literature that incremental and evolutionary progress with existing technology can take us a very long way toward our climate and energy goals.

    Alan Nogee
    Clean Energy Consulting
    former Clean Energy Program Director, Union of Concerned Scientists

    By Alan Nogee on 2013 02 05

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  • The two tribes have lost their intended audience by screaming at each other and ignoring technology assessment.  Climate change, until it was resuscitated in the second inaugural address, had been dropping in the list of voter concerns.  Nobody seriously believes that our ancient and dirty power generation technology is as good as it can possibly get, but neither do they believe the delusional cant about wind and solar baseload and “all the technologies we need” being already available and ready for deployment.  “Ask the expert”—the policy of lazy liberal arts majors who find themselves in a position of responsibility—should be replaced by a policy of finding things out for yourself.  Technology assessment is not being done by DOE nor by BTI, so there is no way for the public to make up their own minds.

    By Wilmot McCutchen on 2013 02 05

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  • Wilmot,

    You make a good point. On the other hand, one reason the public doesn’t understand the potential for the renewable energy technologies that have already come down by 80-90% over the last decades is that analyses like the Renewable Electricity Futures study, which includes substantial technology assessment, get little play.  I hope that you do look carefully at it yourself before buying into the conventional wisdom about the limits of our current renewable energy technologies. Thanks.

    By Alan Nogee on 2013 02 05

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  • So Alan, if you say that the key to innovation is deployment and that you support innovation in new nuclear and advanced fossil technologies, then may we safely conclude that you are supportive of expanded efforts to deploy new nuclear and fossil energy technologies? The first new Gen III nuclear plants featuring significant passive safety features are now under construction in Georgia. May we assume that you support the loan guarantees, production tax credits, and other measures that have been established to incentivize their deployment? There are now efforts underway to demonstrate a range of new Gen IV designs, from Integral Fast Reactors to Thorium to gas cooled reactors. May we assume that you support public investments to demonstrate those technologies at commercial scale? Given how important economies of scale and learning by doing are to innovation and cost-declines, we can only assume then that you not only support the demonstration of these technologies but also significant public subsidies for their continuing deployment, such that we might build them in sufficient numbers that new nuclear technologies might also benefit from the cost declines and performance improvements that come from deploying at scale, just like renewables. Have we got you right there too Alan? Because the thing about not being a technology tribalist is, well, you have to not be a technology tribalist.

    By Ted Nordhaus on 2013 02 05

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  • Fair questions. I see small modular reactors (SMRs) as having the most potential to scale economically, because there is the same dynamic for economies of manufacturing and for learning by doing as reneweables. I would therefore support publicly funded R&D and demonstration.  If those are successful, I would support deployment incentives.

    I support R&D for other new nuclear techs, but it is not clear to me yet that they can overcome the dependence on the construction industry that has plagued conventional reactors to date.  So no opinion on further steps.

    As for Gen III+ units, they are not very different from existing units, and have been plagued by the exact same comstruction cost problems that sunk the last generation of proposed plants.  Unlike renewables or other modular manufactured technologies, they have demonstrated no reductions in cost through learning by doing and are, in my opinion, a dead end.  (It appears that even nuclear enthusiast George Mobiot concluded that today as well).  So I wouldn’t support any additional public funding for them.

    By Alan Nogee on 2013 02 05

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  • Alan,

    The new passive safety features of the Gen III+ units would seem to fit well within your definition of incremental innovation. They are also using a range of modular construction techniques, with major elements constructed modularly off-site. Both these represent pretty substantial incremental improvements to the old Gen III designs. Moreover, we’ve only just begun construction on a handful of these new plants. So given the importance of learning by doing and economies of scale, isn’t it a little soon to conclude that there will be no cost reductions from these designs?

    All of the studies you cite to support your contention that renewables can scale to meet the climate challenge assume enormous continuing cost reductions from enormous continuing deployment of renewables, underwritten by enormous continuing public subsidies for those technologies. Yet we get a couple of new nuclear designs in the ground that are above cost and you are ready to cut off all public support. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander Alan. Why should new nuclear technologies need to be “substantially different” from current Gen III technologies while you seem willing to blithely go ahead heavily subsidizing renewables technologies that, for the most part, are less differentiated from the last generation than Gen III+ reactors are from Gen III reactors. You can’t have it both ways.

    By Ted Nordhaus on 2013 02 05

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  • Hi Ted,

    The modularity of Gen III+ units is still very limited. They still amount to among the most enormous and complex construction projects, with highly specialized materials requirements, that exist today.  The track record in the US with all kinds of large construction projects, including subways, bridges, etc., is one of delays and cost overruns, and nuclear construction projects are just the epitome. 

    And the sad fact is that the only evidence of learning by doing in the nuclear industry has been in other countries where the same company has built the same design over and over again, particularly when at the same site with the same crews.  If the industry had been able to restructure itself to replicate that, MAYBE it would have worked. But it’s not a very realistic expectation for the US. 

    Industry cost projections for the units under construction here and in the EU already accounted, of course, for their first of a kind status.  They had claimed that they had already learned lessons from Asian reactors in the standardization and modularization that can be achieved with current designs.

    The 2003 MIT study found that nuclear plants would have to reduce projected capital costs by 25% compared to other technologies. Since then, they have skyrocketed relative to other techs. And then gas prices.
    http://www.ihs.com/info/cera/ihsindexes/index.aspx

    In contrast with the failure of enormous subsidies to reduce nuclear construction costs, renewables subsidies have been extremely successful.  The US studies I cited actually assume less cost reduction than achieved historically, and falling well short of DOE goals for achieving cost parity. 

    One can make abstract goose and gander comparisons, but in the end, track records count. And the dynamics of manufacturing economies of small things vs. large construction projects count.  So go ahead and bet on Gen III nukes if you want. So far, everyone else doing so is losing their shirts. 

    I should have added in response to the previous question, though, that I’m fine with nuclear and advanced fossil competing with renewables under a Clean Energy Standard.  I’d prefer a tier to ensure continued renewable energy cost reductions and ensure that gas doesn’t take all, but that is secondary.

    By Alan Nogee on 2013 02 05

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  • Who exactly is losing their shirts Alan? The Chinese and South Koreans? France which has the cheapest electricity in Europe. Or Germany, which has the most expensive. Wind and solar have come down in price substantially thanks to heavy, direct public subsidies and deployment standards yet remain substantially more expensive than fossil even before you factor in all the hidden costs that show up in the balance of system costs and higher rates. You can cherry pick studies produced by renewables advocates all you want but the cherry picking is the dead give away of the tribalist. And if track records count then you might want to give a little credit to what nuclear has actually accomplished on the ground in comparison to renewables. The only two countries in the world to have achieved sustained decarbonization at rates consistent with having any impact on climate change are France and Sweden, and both did so largely through direct public deployment of nuclear energy. By contrast, places like Germany and Denmark have thrown immense subsidies at wind and solar and have much less in terms of emissions to show for it.

    To be clear, I commend the cost declines and support continuing innovation in renewables. We said as much in our speech but you seem to have missed it. Deployment is really important but when we indiscriminately throw money at any technology, be it nuclear or renewables on the assumption that simply deploying will solve the problem we do the effort to develop truly scalable solutions a disservice. Current generation renewables, even with heroic levels of continuing public deployment and incremental innovation are not going to power a world of 9 billion people who are going to use vastly more energy. Neither, frankly, are current generation nuclear technologies. A serious commitment to innovation would support both targeted deployment strategies for all low carbon techologies and a lot more RD&D to accelerate the pace of technical innovation. But that requires us to get beyond both the environmental movement’s ideological opposition to nuclear energy (and CCS) and the zero-sum assumption that investments in any technology other than ones preferred solution comes at its expense, a problem that has plagued low carbon technology advocates of all stripes.

    By Ted Nordhaus on 2013 02 05

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  • Thanks, Alan and Ted, for this informative and courteous discussion about scalability of nuclear, wind and solar to meet the power demand of 9B consumers who aspire to American lifestyles.  Notwithstanding the impressive citations supporting Alan’s view, I agree with Ted that incremental, evolutionary progress won’t be enough.  Scaling up and improving horse-and-buggy technology didn’t produce the car, or the airplane.  That’s the size of the transformation we need: revolutionary, not evolutionary. Nonlinear technology development (Black Swans), not linear progress.  But neither tribe likes the prospect of that big a change.  The clearest thinker I know of on this vital issue is prominent Silicon Valley VC Vinod Khosla: http://www.khoslaventures.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Black_Swan_8_28_11.pdf

    By Wilmot McCutchen on 2013 02 06

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  • Mark Walker said: “Nordhaus and Shellenberger make a broad, unsupported claim that as climate scientists and energy analysts did the math, the case for a renewables-only path to dealing with climate change became increasingly untenable.”
    Every study that laid out the path to relying on renewable energy only assumed that the global energy demand would go down from its current 16TW. This assumption either leaves 2-3 billion people in the dark (as Roger Pielke Jr. expressed many times) or would require to reduce our per capita energy use in the developed world ranging from 8-12kW/person to 1-2kW (which is around the current level of China or Chile). This level of per capita energy use would practically mean no air travel for anyone since a round trip flight from New York to San Francisco is the equivalent of 500W/capita energy use for the whole year.

    Once, we accept that the global energy use has to tripple or quadrapule by the end of the Century, relying on renewables only becomes less attractive. For instance, Jacobson and Delucchi (2011) envisioned the following energy mix to provide 11TW energy globally:

    50% (5.75TW) 3.8 million (5MW) wind turbine,
    20% (2.3TW) by 49,000 (300MW) concentrated solar power plants,
    14% (1.6TW) by 40,000 (300MW) photovoltaic solar panel farm,
    6% (0.7TW) by 1.7 billion (3kW) rooftop solar panel

    These numbers are staggering on their own. I did not find how big is a 5MW wind turbine but I came accross data for 1.5MW, which turned out to be 1500t (which is about the weight of 100 passenger car), so the construction of 3.8 million wind turbine would be the equivalent of 380 million passenger cars, which is about two thirds or half the the cars currently on the roads. While trippling or quadrapuling the Jacobson and Delucchi numbers to more realistic future energy demand my still be feasilbe but 12 million wind turbines are certainly not pretty.

    Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s broad claim is easily supported by simple back of the envelop calculations and it is rather surprising that the “renewable only” path attracted soo many believers.

    The only thing, I would question about the Nordhaus and Shellenberg (and the Breakthrough Institute) enthusiasm about innovation is the realization that the energy industry is fairly mature that do not leave much room for innovations. The “shale revolution” is far from being breakthrough rather a sign of desparation to squize out more oil and gas at the price of injecting more energy into the process. Unlike a Century ago, when new discoveries in fundemental physics led to innovations beyond imaginations, it seems to be unlikely to find new physical laws that would enable us to fundamentally change the energy mix that will be available in the future.


    2011 Jacobson, M. Z., and M. A. Delucchi (2011), Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials, Energy Policy, 39(3), 1154–1169, doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.040.

    By Balazs Fekete on 2013 02 08

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  • Gentlemen, you are wasting your time.  We do not yet need a “broad innovation agenda”.  We are not yet at that point now, almost forty years after we recognised that there would certainly be a problem. We do not yet have agreement on exactly what problem needs to be solved, or even IF we have a problem to be solved. Until we have a clearly defined and generally agreed upon problem there is nothing else that should be done. To do otherwise results in a solution that does not please anyone, because it is the wrong solution. What that means is we will not be allowed a second chance, even if we learned what was necessary for success from our failure. 

    Don’t get the cart before the horse.  Focus your efforts on the final experience that must be created, how current processes work to fulfill that experience, and any shortfall of those processes to create that experience. If there are shortfalls, then filling those shortfalls are “The Problem”. Until the agreed upon problem can be explained clearly, there can be no satisfactory solution.  Keep in mind that it is not possible to waste time in our work. Time always continues. What we waste in ineffective work is our life.

    By Bruce Wedeking on 2013 02 08

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  • Nuclear scaled a long time ago, in the 1960s.  Wind and solar never will per

    http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/energy-and-climate/germanys-energiewende-shows-why-we-need-nuclear/

    and

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/07/16/new-critique-aemo-100pc-renew/

    and many others.  The above 2 are only the latest.  Nuclear is the cleanest, cheapest and safest source of power there is.  Spent nuclear fuel should be recycled as we did in the 1960s and as France, Japan and Russia do now, but in Government Owned Government Operated [GOGO] plants.  Free enterprise will sell spent fuel illegally.  People who are against nuclear are either very foolish or working for the fossil fuel industry, wittingly or not.

    Everybody should see “Pandora’s Promise.”  Everybody should be educated enough in science to understand that a nuclear power plant cannot become a nuclear bomb.  Everybody should be educated enough in science to understand that there has always been natural background radiation and that cancer is mostly caused by organic chemicals, not radiation.

    By Asteroid Miner on 2013 07 16

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About Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, climate, security, human development, and politics. They are founders of the Breakthrough Institute and executive editors of Breakthrough Journal.

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