Breaking the technology breakthrough myth — Debunking Shellenberger & Nordhaus again

Do we need technology breakthroughs to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations below 450 parts per million and avert climate catastrophe?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not think so, as I explained here (although they certainly want to spend more money on R&D, as does everyone on the planet who cares about global warming except maybe Senator John McCain). I agree with the IPCC, as do most energy analysts I know.

People who don’t see global warming as an urgent matter, like President Bush, his Sience Advisor, his former Energy Secretary, Gingrich, Lomborg, and Michael Crichton, think we can’t possibly solve the problem without breakthroughs (see “The Debate of the Decade” for most of the quotes or links) — or at least that’s what they say.

Then we have the Breakthrough Institute (B.I.), which, as its name suggests, also thinks we need breakthroughs, but seems to be quite genuinely concerned about global warming. The Breakthrough Institute was founded by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of the famous “The Death of Environmentalism” essay and the recent book Breakthrough. Roger Pielke, Jr., among others, is a Fellow.

In this post, I’ll explain why the answer to the question posed is “no” and why that’s a good thing! The short answer is

  • Energy technology breakthroughs (defined below) hardly ever happen.
  • Even when they do happen, they rarely have a transformative impact on energy markets, even over a span of decades.


So what does the word ‘breakthrough’ mean? A classic definition might be “a strikingly important advance or discovery.” Merriam-Webster says it’s “a sudden advance especially in knowledge or technique.” Wikipedia, in its long entry on innovation, says

Breakthrough, disruptive or radical innovation … involves launching an entirely novel product or service rather than providing improved products & services along the same lines as currently…. Involves larger leaps of understanding… There is often considerable uncertainty about future outcomes. … Radical innovation involves considerable change in basic technologies and methods.

These seem reasonable to me. Slow, incremental improvement is not a breakthrough. The windpower industry has dropped its costs steadily by a factor of 10 over the past quarter century, while slowly improving performance. These are the steady gains we expect as a technology moves along the manufacturing learning curve and achieves economies of scale. Heck many technologies like wind even have a predictable link between product cost and installed capacity (see here) — that is a key reason deployment policies are much more important than spending huge sums looking for breakthroughs. [If there has been anything anybody in the wind industry would call a technology breakthrough as defined here, I’d be interested in hearing about it.]

Now B.I. recently accused me (here) of using “an extremely narrow definition of the word ‘breakthrough’ because it’s much easier for him to refute. But if he had read Breakthrough’s policy whitepaper, “Fast, Clean, Cheap,” [JR: I have. It’s not something I can recommend to anyone else.] he would know that we call for breakthroughs in performance, price, and brand-new technologies“:

Technological breakthroughs are needed to boost the performance of current clean energy technologies and to decrease the cost of deploying them. Without these breakthroughs, the costs of these technologies are too high, and their performance and return on investment too low, to justify private sector investment in their widespread deployment….

Finally, in order to be deployed at levels that might allow them to displace conventional energy sources on a large scale, clean energy alternatives like solar and wind will require significant improvement in the cost and performance of battery and other energy storage technologies.

Well, you can call a dog a cat, but it’s still a dog. You don’t need breakthroughs to do any of that. One way to see that is to look at the wind or PV industry over the past decade — lots of private sector investment and widespread deployment in states or countries where there are public policies to encourage deployment, not so much where there isn’t. Yet its the same technology around the country and the world. Hmmm. In any case, those sentences don’t define what the word means. They just assert some outcomes that B.I. claims breakthroughs are needed for. But, as we’ve seen, those outcomes don’t require breakthroughs. So this isn’t a definition.

I will be blogging at length about concentrated solar power in a couple of days, and none of the industry executives I spoke to believe they need breakthroughs or massive government R&D support of the kind B.I. wants — what they want is the solar investment tax credit renewed this year for eight years and a serious price for carbon dioxide as soon as possible. They also wouldn’t kick a national renewable portfolio standard out of bed for eating crackers.

Still, B.I. claims, “We need breakthroughs in all of these areas because, as the Nature piece showed, the technology gap is that big. Romm misinterprets what others say in very narrow terms to create conflict where there is none.” [So you see where the Nature piece fits in and why it must be wrong — since it shows something that isn’t true.]

We don’t need breakthroughs in any of those areas, as I’ll explain in a few days when I lay out the “solution” to global warming in a few days.

But I don’t think I misinterpreted anyone. The definition I used for breakthrough in my previous debunking of Shellenberger and Nordhaus on this matter comes from their September 24, 2007 article in The New Republic (see here, first page), which the magazine says was adapted from their book Breakthrough:

Over the last ten years, a consensus has emerged among energy policy experts–one no less important than the consensus among climate scientists that carbon emissions are warming the earth. What’s needed, they say, are disruptive clean-energy technologies that achieve nonincremental breakthroughs in both price and performance.

When I use the word breakthroughs I mean “disruptive clean-energy technologies that achieve nonincremental breakthroughs in both price and performance.” S&N seem to have the same definition here that pretty much everyone else uses, very similar to the Wikipedia definition above for “Breakthrough, disruptive or radical innovation.”

So I haven’t defined breakthroughs in “very narrow terms.” I used their own definition, which is close to the standard one. Using that definition, they are wrong. [As an aside, I know a great many of the energy policy experts in this country, certainly more of them than S&N do, and I can assure you no such consensus exists. I would call it a fringe view.]

The rest of the post explains why they (and the Nature article) are wrong — and why it’s a good thing they are wrong

[This is a reprint of my earlier debunking of S&N (here), so skip it if you’ve already read the post.]


  1. Such breakthroughs hardly ever happen.
  2. Even when they do happen, they rarely have a transformative impact on energy markets, even over a span of decades.

Consider that solar photovoltaic cells — a major breakthrough — were invented over 50 years ago, and still comprise only about 0.1% of U.S. electricity (and that amount thanks to major subsidies).

Consider that hydrogen fuel cells — a favorite technology of the breakthrough bunch — were invented more than 165 years ago, and deliver very little electricity (and what little they do deliver comes only because of major subsidies) and no consumer transportation. [If you want to see why we still don’t have commercial hydrogen fuel cell cars and won’t for a long time — because they require seveal genuine breakthroughs to be practical, read this 2004 analysis from the American Physical Society. It will also give you a good feel for what a real breakthrough is.]

Consider fusion — ’nuff said!

I know this seems counterintuitive, when we see such remarkable technology advances almost every month in telecommunications and computers. But it’s true — and I will explain why in this post.

Let me start with a question I often pose to audiences of energy and environmental exports: What technology breakthroughs in the past three decades have transformed how we use energy today? The answer may surprise you:

There really haven’t been any — certainly none has ever been suggested to me after years of giving talks.

We use energy today roughly the same way we did 30 years ago. Our cars still run on internal combustion engines that burn gasoline. Alternatives to gasoline like corn ethanol make up but a few percent of all U.S. transportation fuels–and corn ethanol is hardly a breakthrough fuel and required a massive subsidy and a mandate to achieve its recent growth. (In every country that has succeeded with alternative fuels — and there aren’t many — mandates have played a central role).

Fuel economy from the mid-1970s did double by the mid-1980s, as required by government regulations, but in the last quarter-century, the average fuel economy of American consumer vehicles has remained flat or even declined slightly.

The single biggest source of electricity generation, by far, is still coal power, just as it was 30 years ago. The vast majority of all power plants still generate heat to make steam turn a turbine-and the average efficiency of our electric power plants is about what it was 30 years ago. We did see the introduction of the highly efficient natural gas combined cycle turbine, but that was not based on a breakthrough from the past three decades and constrained natural gas supply in North America severely limited growth in gas-fired power, so the share of U.S. electricity generated by natural gas has grown only modestly in 30 years. Nuclear power was about 10 percent of total U.S. electric power 30 years ago and now it’s about 20 percent. But the nuclear energy “breakthrough” occurred long before the 1970s, and we haven’t built a new nuclear power plant in two decades, in large part because that power has been so expensive (and the growth in nuclear power required massive government regulatory support).

We do have a lot more home appliances, but they still haven’t fundamentally changed how we use energy. Interestingly, home energy use per square foot has not changed that much even with all those new electronic gadgets for two reasons. First, my old office at DOE developed major advances in key consumer technologies, including refrigeration and lighting. Second, efficiency standards for appliances have made the use of those efficient technologies widespread. From the mid-1970s until today, refrigerator electricity used has dropped a whopping three quarters. Perhaps that should be called a breakthrough, especially because some of the savings came from remarkable improvements in the guts of the refrigerator from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But we still use refrigerators pretty much as we did, so in that sense, these breakthroughs didn’t change how we use energy — and they still required mandates to deeply penetrate the market.

One of the most widely publicized energy technology breakthroughs occurred in 1986 when researchers in IBM’s Research Laboratories in Zurich, Switzerland discovered a material that conducted electricity with no resistance at considerably higher temperatures than previous conductors. Over the next few years a series of breakthroughs in these high-temperature superconductors were announced. This technology generated great excitement because it held the promise of super-efficient electric motors and loss-free long-distance electric transmission lines. My old office at DOE poured millions into applying the breakthrough. Yet all these years later, you may ask, where are all the high-temperature superconductors? They have had very little impact on either electric motors or power transmission.

“Typically it has taken 25 years after commercial introduction for a primary energy form to obtain a 1 percent share of the global market.”

So noted Royal Dutch/Shell, one of the world’s largest oil companies, in its 2001 scenarios for how energy use is likely to evolve over the next five decades. Note that this tiny toe-hold comes 25 years after commercial introduction. The first transition from scientific breakthrough to commercial introduction may itself take decades. We still haven’t seen commercial introduction of a hydrogen fuel cell car.

I tend to think that Shell’s statement is basically true, although I believe we could in some instances speed things up–but only with the kind of aggressive technology deployment programs and government standards that conservatives do not like and S&N think are not central. Given that we must dramatically reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends over the next 25 years, we must focus on technologies that are either commercial today or nearly commercial today. That’s why S&N’s whole analysis is wrong. They argue:

1. Setting a price on carbon dioxide … cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere close to what is needed….

2. Technically, there simply do not yet exist the low-cost, low-carbon technologies that could be quickly brought to scale to replace carbon intensive energy sources…..

3. Dramatic and rapid technological breakthroughs will not be primarily driven by the private sector.

4. … to deal with global warming, we will need an almost entirely new energy infrastructure.

1. Straw man. 2. Very wrong. 3. Quite irrelevant. 4. Precisely why we need regulations!

1. We need a price for carbon and a bunch of intelligent regulations to achieve the necessary emissions reductions. No one I know is only arguing for a carbon price.

2. This is the Bush Administration’s central argument. If the fate of the planet rests on non-existent technology, we are in big, big trouble — because the thing about nonexistent technology, like fusion, is that it tends to stay non-existent, or like hydrogen cars, just has too many technical and infrastructure barriers to overcome (a point I will return to in the next part) — even after you spend hundreds of millions of dollars pursuing the technology. Fortunately, the technology to combat warming does exist, as I argue in my book at length [see also this recent post, “The technologies that will save the planet“].

3. Again, we can’t rely on historically super-rare “dramatic and rapid technological breakthroughs” and don’t need to. So this whole argument is moot. We need to drive capital into the private sector to deploy existing technology far more than we need to ramp up public sector money to develop breakthroughs.

4. We will need a new energy infrastructure — primarily for vehicles and electricity. Such infrastructure changes historically have required government action — because the infrastructure barriers to entry in those two sectors are so enormous that new technology (and even smart old technology, like combined heat and power) can’t compete effectively. This is the central reason that technology breakthroughs don’t transform the energy market the way they seem to in other sectors, a point I will elaborate on in Part III.

The bottom line though is that if you want to transform the infrastructure for vehicles and electricity, if you want to solve the global warming problem, you need intelligent government regulations infinitely more than you need a massive effort to find breakthough technologies. Indeed, I can certainly solve the the global warming problem with smart regulations and no publically-funded breakthroughs, but I almost certainly cannot solve global warming with publically-funded breakthroughs but no smart regulations to get them into the marketplace quickly and at the necessary scale.

19 Responses to Breaking the technology breakthrough myth — Debunking Shellenberger & Nordhaus again

  1. Ted Nordhaus says:

    There goes another classic Romm technique: “Don’t read “Fast, Clean, and Cheap, trust my interpretation of it and dismiss it.” You can try to parse what the proper use of the word breakthrough is but the real argument of the paper is that carbon prices and regulatory policy will not be sufficient to drive the broad deployment of low carbon technologies. For that we will need immediate and exponential increases in direct public investment in the development and deployment of new technologies, new, nascent, and mature alike. So don’t take Joe’s word for it. Read Fast, Clean, Cheap for yourself. We welcome your agreement, dissent, and suggestions. You can download it at:

  2. paulm says:

    we need 350 not 450! Bring on the recession…

  3. Bud says:

    Michael – maybe I am reading something wrong, but your account of the Danish wind technology breakthrough is confusing. How do you deploy a new technology before it is developed? In any case, isn’t that an example of restructuring energy systems?

    paulm – how would a recession help attaining “350 not 450”. It would be a)temporary and b) not slow down emissions quickly anyway and c) cause misery out of proportion with any gains.

  4. In response to this debate I’ve formulated a list of 20 technologies that can mitigate 90% or more of GHGs within 3 decades:


    I also try to tackle the underlying policy issue(s) that seem to separate these folks.

  5. Ronald says:

    I’ve read Breakthrough Institute’s paper ‘Fast, Clean and Cheap: Cutting Global Warming’s Gordian Knot and I’ll give you my humble opinion.

    They’ve got a Table 1 that lists Coal at 4.84 Cents per kWh in 2010 and they use that as a standard cost for fossil energy. Then they list most renewable energy sources and give the costs (I’ve only listed some here) as Solar Photovoltaic 25.83, Wind 6.67, Solar Thermal 14.22, Biomass 5.88, and Geothermal 6.19 cents per kWh in 2010.

    The hypothesis is that if the spending on research and development on these was increased greatly, then their costs would come down. It might be true.

    But what do the Engineers say? What does a Project Engineer or Engineering Department head at specific companies say their problems are, like, say GE Wind and what is the reason they can’t get costs down? Is it because of a shortage of Test Engineers and Technicians that they can’t increase reliability on windturbines? Or they don’t have enough Engineers working on materials? Maybe they need some more work on the theory of the wind on the blades?

    But have these researchers and engineers missed 20 percent or more of their technology? Somehow I don’t think that these guys are going to say, if we just had a bigger Engineering and research budget we could get the 20 percent cost reduction/ performance improvement that these would need to get below the cost for coal.

    What Breakthrough Institute is working from is a hypothesis and philosophy that if you increase the research budget, these great finds will be made. But my guess is if you ask these Project Engineers and Engineering Department Heads they are going to tell you that they know most of what they need to know. They will be able to identify specific areas that they are working on in the Test labs of their companies on what they wish to make better on their machines. But if you ask them, I doubt they will tell you that they have missed 20 percent of the efficiency in their technology.

    The costs that need to come down are found in the financial side of things by putting up more windturbines per factory and driving the costs down by lower cost per unit, not the technology.

    BI likes to write about their hypothesis about more research always will reduce costs enough. Instead of talking to Nobel Laureates about spending money, they need to interview those actually researching, designing, building and installing these things to see if that is the place that costs can come down.

    What’s really going on is BI is trying to influence politics instead of writing a technical paper on the best use of our financial resources. We recognize that trying to influence politics has more leeway of what you can write and get away with. But the opinion on whether more funding for renewable energy will make a great difference in lowering the costs of renewable energy shouldn’t come from political activists, but from those actually doing the research. The opinions should come from technical papers, not from political writings.

    BI is trying to pass off political opinion as technical expertise.

  6. Joerg Haas says:

    Interesting debate. It is useful to have a passionate debate about the best way to tackle climate change. But we should not forget that while we struggle to find the right path, we must act. And we must act now and decisively.

    I think that S&N have a bit overstretched the “breakthrough” rhethoric. What they are mainly demanding is good old innovation. Incremental but extremely important. We need to speed up this innovation through a variety of instruments, including a price on carbon (and why shouldn’t it be 100$/ton ???) and agressive deployment strategies. I am from Germany and one of our most successful instruments to make Germany a leader in renewable energy technologies was a feed in tariff. It costs about 2$ per person per month on the electricity bill, something that we can really afford. And this little money made Germany a world leader in installed wind power capacity. For those who are interested in reading more:

    I understand that it is sometimes nice to highlight ones profile against others, but I think both sides in this controversy should recognize that there is value in both government investment, regulation, a price on carbon, and agressive deployment strategies.
    Let’s fight climate change and not each other!

  7. Teryn Norris says:

    Joe, did you delete Michael Shellenberger’s response? Are you trying to silence conflicting evidence? I hope you don’t mind if I post the link for the rest of your readers:

  8. Yes, Joe deleted my response. Here it is again:

    The Center for American Progress’s Joe Romm claims we don’t need technology breakthroughs — defined as disruptive or non-incremental improvements in technology performance and price — to stabilize emissions. Unfortunately for Romm, energy experts do not share his view.

    Here’s Jae Edmonds of the University of Maryland:

    Fundamental changes in the world’s expanding energy system are required to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Incremental improvements in technology will help, but will not by themselves lead to stabilization” (Edmonds et al. 2007: 11) (my emphasis)

    Not a lot of ambiguity there. Is Edmonds alone? He’s not. We reviewed over two dozen expert analyses in a white paper, “The Investment Consensus,”.

    Here’s a few other nuggets.

    Massive technology innovation is required for stabilization:

    Efforts to mitigate global climate change will require technological innovations deployed on a massive scale… [S]ubstantial reductions in U.S. CO2emissions would require that the United States replace or retrofit hundreds of electric power plants and tens of millions of vehicles. In addition, appliances, furnaces, building systems, and factory equipment numbering in the hundreds of millions might also need to be modified or replaced. Technological change on this scale cannot happen overnight. Many of the technologies needed do not yet exist commercially or are too costly (Alic et al.. 2003: 5)

    What is one of the main obstacles to innovation? Lack of public investment:

    Probably the most significant barrier to ETI [Energy Technology Innovation] is inadequacy of funds, especially for R&D, in relation to the challenges that are faced by energy system (Sims Gallagher et al. 2006: 221-222).

    Public investment is key to stimulating private sector investments:

    At present, we have insufficient economically competitive substitutes for high carbon emitting technologies. The development of low- to zero-emitting alternatives will require both a sustained commitment on the part of the public sector upstream in the R&D chain and incentives for the private sector to bring the necessary technologies to the marketplace (Richels et al.. 2007).

    Romm insists that major government investments weren’t required for past innovations. Energy experts disagree:

    Past investments in [Energy Technology Innovation], public and private, led to large improvements over the course of the twentieth century in the performance of specific energy technologies, energy sectors, and the whole energy systems of nations and the world, as measured in increased technical efficiency, increased reliability, and decreased cost and environmental impact per unit of energy output and per unit of economic product (Sims Gallagher et al. 2006: 227).

    The International Energy Agency says massive investment in R&D and deployment is needed, even for technologies close to commercialization:

    Many of the technologies needed are already available or close to commercialization. But it will require substantial effort and investment by both the public and private sectors for them to be adopted by the market. Pathways need to be opened up to enable these technologies to deliver their full potential. Urgent action is needed to stimulate R&D, to demonstrate and deploy promising technologies, and to provide clear and predictable incentives for low carbon options and diverse energy sources (Mandil/IEA 2006: 3)

    Romm points to wind as an example of why we don’t need technological breakthroughs. But, in fact, there was a major technological breakthrough in blade technology that resulted major improvements in performance and price.

    How did this wind blade breakthrough happen? The Danish government made large investments to deploy the new turbines off-shore. Same thing was true with Brazil’s biofuels program (whether or not you like its biofuels is beside the point – it took sustained federal investment to scale them up):

    Development of the Danish wind and Brazilian biofuels industries each required sustained government support over decades. The Danish subsidies totaled $1.3bn, and Danish wind companies now earn more than that each year (Carbon Trust, 2003). At current oil prices, Brazil may soon similarly recoup its investment in biofuel technology” (Grubb 2004: 26 – 27)

    It was only after reading dozens of expert analyses that we came to the view that non-incremental improvements in price and performance are needed to stabilize emissions. Does that mean we should only do R&D and wait for deployment and procurement? Of course not. Rather, we need to invest in deployment and procurement to achieve the innovations we want. We have always been clear about the importance of deployment for innovation. It’s Romm’s who has consistently mischaracterized our position as support for R&D alone.

    Romm claims that the solar thermal industry doesn’t need major investments. My view is that the solar industry will make plenty of money for itself without major public investments. But without massive investment, solar won’t constitute a Princeton emission “wedge,” which requires a 700-fold increase in solar.

    Romm wants his readers to believe that regulation, regulation, and regulation are more important than investment. Energy experts come to the opposite conclusion:

    Industry funded R&D focuses on the domain of existing expertise and on improvements that can be leveraged in the short term (Anderson and Bird, 1992). This suggests that public funding will be the main driver for longer-term developments in new technology and production processes for existing renewables, exploration of untried renewable technologies, energy system integration, superconductivity, and non-hydro storage technologies. The innovation process is not linear but entails various feedback loops between market experience and research activities. This suggests that cost and efficiency improvements in existing renewable technologies (Luther, 2004) require a parallel increase in strategic deployment efforts and public research funding (Neuhoff 2005: 22) (My emphasis).

    Can global warming be regulated away? A group of 14 climate and energy experts, including Hoffert, Caldeira, and Wigley, concluded that it cannot be:

    Combating global warming by radical restructuring of the global energy system could be the technology challenge of the century. We have identified a portfolio of promising technologies here–some radical departures from our present fossil fuel system. Many concepts will fail, and staying the course will require leadership. Stabilizing climate is not easy. At the very least, it requires political will, targeted research and development, and international cooperation. Most of all, it requires the recognition that, although regulation can play a role, the fossil fuel greenhouse effect is an energy problem that cannot be simply regulated away (Hoffert et al. 2002: 986)

  9. Michael,
    I know quite a bit about the solar thermal business and you just misstated what Joe says above.

    You say:
    “Romm claims that the solar thermal industry doesn’t need major investments.”

    Joe writes above:
    “…none of the industry executives I spoke to believe they need breakthroughs or massive government R&D support of the kind B.I. wants — what they want is the solar investment tax credit renewed this year for eight years and a serious price for carbon dioxide as soon as possible”

    There is a big difference between INVESTMENTS and R&D SUPPORT.

    You are conflating the two.

    You seem like a smart enough guy to get the difference. Its the difference between investment in early stage commercialization and research…they are two different stages of the product/technology development process.

  10. Michael, I was referring to public investments in both R&D and deployment. I wasn’t conflating the two, I simply think both are needed.

  11. Joe says:

    M.H. Thank you for actually reading what I wrote. You are 100% correct. They keep conflating the two!

    M.S. “Romm wants his readers to believe that regulation, regulation, and regulation are more important than investment.” Not true. I believe private investment is far more important than public investment. Stimulating it does require some regulations, but many other strategies, including some similar to deregulation are needed, too.

    I usually delete posts that make several gross misstatement of the facts or of positions I have very clear stated, such as the M.S. quote above or the one about CSP that the previous writer debunked.

    I have particularly been deleting this nonsense because you wrote: “Romm insists that major government investments weren’t required for past innovations.”

    That is the exact opposite of the truth. And believe me, I noticed your clever use of the word “innovations” and not “breakthroughs” — they are NOT the same thing, as I have explained to my readers. Please show me where I ever said “major government investments weren’t required for past innovations.”

    So that’s why I deleted the comment. I told my readers weeks ago I would do that. The TOU clearly allow it. It affects under 1% of all comments.

  12. Ted Nordhaus says:

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander


    It is a good thing that you only delete comments that make gross misstatement of the facts or the positions that YOU have taken. Were such a policy to extend to the positions of other people you would have to delete almost every post you have written about Michael and I (and Roger Pielke).

  13. paulm says:

    …how would a recession help attaining “350 not 450″…

    Bud, I don’t think a lot of people realize or want to face up to the fact that to reduce CO2 emissions our standard of living is going to have to take a BIG nose dive.

    In any case with peek oil and extreme weather already upon us we are heading for more like a depression, with much civil unrest.

    While these things will contribute to CO2 reduction, I think that we have probably past the West Antarctica Ice Sheet tipping point.

    We, however, have to try to curtail CO2 in any case as it will just keep on getting worse.

  14. Ronald says:

    I read ‘Fast, Clean and Cheap’ and a couple of examples that was used didn’t actually say what the authors wanted it to say.

    The authors use the quote from J. Edmond, 2007

    “Fundamental changes in the world’s expanding energy system are required to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Incremental improvements in technology will help, but will not by themselves lead to stabilization”

    (authors comment) Not a lot of ambiguity there. Is Edmonds alone? He’s not.”

    Yes, there is ambiguity.

    Now the author of ‘Fast, Clean and Cheap’ read the whole Edmond paper and I’m still looking for it. But writing what he wrote doesn’t mean Edmond thinks that breakthrough technology will occur if we spend more money on it. Edmond may think that breakthrough technology will have nothing to do with the ‘Fundamental change in the world’s expanding energy system.’ Edmond may think that we need carbon taxes to make the fundamental change in energy system, we don’t know, the quote is inadequate.

    The other example is when the author of ‘Fast, Clean and Cheap’ uses the example of public investment in wind energy of 1.3 billion in Denmark and now Danish companies get that money back every year. That’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean if they spent 13 billion they would be getting that back every year. The spending on research payback is incremental, the first billion does more than the last billion. Maybe it’s the last billion is where the breakthrough occurs and we should spend on research as much as possible to get to the last billion. I think we should spend 30 billion a year on renewable energy research, but it’s not enough to be our central plan on global warming.

    To me, ‘Fast, Clean and Cheap’ was not convincing. Every researcher says we need to spend more money on research.