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Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion

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"Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion"

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This post will explain why some sort of massive government Apollo program or Manhattan project to develop new breakthrough technologies is not a priority component of the effort to stabilize at 450 ppm.

Put more quantitatively, the question is — What are the chances that multiple (4 to 8+) carbon-free technologies that do not exist today can each deliver the equivalent of 350 Gigawatts baseload power (~2.8 billion Megawatt-hours a year) and/or 160 billion gallons of gasoline cost-effectively by 2050? [Note -- that is about half of a stabilization wedge.] For the record, the U.S. consumed about 3.7 billion MW-hrs in 2005 and about 140 billion gallons of motor gasoline.

Put that way, the answer to the question is painfully obvious: “two chances — slim and none.” Indeed, I have repeatedly challenged readers and listeners over the years to name even a single technology breakthrough with such an impact in the past three decades, after the huge surge in energy funding that followed the energy shocks of the 1970s. Nobody has ever named a single one that has even come close.

Yet somehow the government is not just going to invent one TILT (Terrific Imaginary Low-carbon Technology) in the next few years, we are going to invent several TILTs. Seriously. Hot fusion? No. Cold fusion? As if. Space solar power? Come on, how could that ever compete with CSP? Hydrogen? It ain’t even an energy source, and after billions of dollars of public and private research in the past 15 years — including several years running of being the single biggest focus of the DOE office on climate solutions I once ran — it still has actually no chance whatsoever of delivering a major cost-effective climate solution by midcentury (see “This just in: Hydrogen fuel cell cars are still dead“).

I don’t know why the breakthrough crowd can’t see the obvious — so I will elaborate here. I will also dicusss a major study that explains why deployment programs are so much more important than R&D at this point. Let’s keep this simple:

  • To stabilize at 450 ppm, we need to deploy by 2050 at least 14 stabilization wedges (each delivering 1 billion tons of avoided carbon) covering both efficient energy use and carbon-free supply (see Part 1).
  • Myriad energy-efficient technologies are already cost-effective today — breaking down the barriers to their deployment now is much, much more important than developing new “breakthrough” efficient TILTs, since those would simply fail in the marketplace because of the same barriers. Cogeneration is perhaps the clearest example of this.
  • On the supply side, deployment programs (coupled with a price for carbon) will always be much, much more important than R&D programs because new technologies take an incredibly long time to achieve mass-market commercial success. New supply TILTs would not simply emerge at a low cost. They need volume, volume, volume — steady and large increases in demand over time to bring the cost down, as I discuss at length below.
  • No existing or breakthrough technology is going to beat the price of power from a coal plant that has already been built — the only way to deal with those plants is a high price for carbon or a mandate to shut them down. Indeed, that’s why we must act immediately not to build those plants in the first place.
  • If a new supply technology can’t deliver half a wedge, it won’t be a big player in achieving 450 ppm.

For better or worse, we are stuck through 2050 with the technologies that are commercial today (like solar thermal electric) or that are very nearly commercial (like plug-in hybrids).

I have discussed most of this at length in previous posts (listed below), so I won’t repeat all the arguments here. Let me just focus on a few key points. A critical historical fact was explained by Royal Dutch/Shell, in their 2001 scenarios for how energy use is likely to evolve over the next five decades (even with a carbon constraint):

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

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 and have barely seen any commercial fuel cells — over 160 years after they were first invented.

This tells you two important things. First, new breakthrough energy technologies simply don’t enter the market fast enough to have a big impact in the time frame we care about. We are trying to get 5% to 10% shares — or more — of the global market for energy, which means massive deployment by 2050 (if not sooner).

Second, if you are in the kind of hurry we are all in, then you are going to have to take unusual measures to deploy technologies far more aggressively than has ever occurred historically. That is, speeding up the deployment side is much more important than generating new technologies. Why? Virtually every supply technology in history has a steadily declining cost curve, whereby greater volume leads to lower cost in a predictable fashion because of economies of scale and the manufacturing learning curve.

WHY DEPLOYMENT NOW COMPLETELY TRUMPS RESEARCH

A major 2000 report by the International Energy Agency, Experience Curves for Energy Technology Policy has a whole bunch of experience curves for various energy technologies. Let me quote some key passages:

Wind power is an example of a technology which relies on technical components that have reached maturity in other technological fields…. Experience curves for the total process of producing electricity from wind are considerably steeper than for wind turbines. Such experience curves reflect the learning in choosing sites for wind power, tailoring the turbines to the site, maintenance, power management, etc, which all are new activities.

Or consider PV:

Existing data show that experience curves provide a rational and systematic methodology to describe the historical development and performance of technologies….

The experience curve shows the investment necessary to make a technology, such as PV, competitive, but it does not forecast when the technology will break-even. The time of break-even depends on deployment rates, which the decision-maker can influence through policy. With historical annual growth rates of 15%, photovoltaic modules will reach break-even point around the year 2025. Doubling the rate of growth will move the break-even point 10 years ahead to 2015.

Investments will be needed for the ride down the experience curve, that is for the learning efforts which will bring prices to the break-even point. An indicator for the resources required for learning is the difference between actual price and break-even price, i.e., the additional costs for the technology compared with the cost of the same service from technologies which the market presently considers cost-efficient. We will refer to these additional costs as learning investments, which means that they are investments in learning to make the technology cost-efficient, after which they will be recovered as the technology continues to improve.

Here is a key conclusion:

for major technologies such as photovoltaics, wind power, biomass, or heat pumps, resources provided through the market dominate the learning investments. Government deployment programmes may still be needed to stimulate these investments. The government expenditures for these programmes will be included in the learning investments.

Obviously government R&D, and especially first-of-a-kind demonstration programs, are critical before the technology can be introduced to the marketplace on a large scale. But, we “expect learning investments to become the dominant resource for later stages in technology development, where the objectives are to overcome cost barriers and make the technology commercial.”

We are really in a race to get technologies into the learning curve phase: “The experience effect leads to a competition between technologies to take advantage of opportunities for learning provided by the market. To exploit the opportunity, the emerging and still too expensive technology also has to compete for learning investments.”

In short, you need to get from first demonstration to commercial introduction as quickly as possible to be able to then take advantage of the learning curve before your competition does. Again, that’s why if you want mass deployment of the technology by 2050, we are mostly stuck with what we have today or very soon will have. Some breakthrough TILT in the year 2025 will find it exceedingly difficult to compete with technologies like CSP or wind that have had decades of such learning.

And that is why the analogy of a massive government Apollo program or Manhattan project is so flawed. Those programs were to create unique non-commercial products for a specialized customer with an unlimited budget. Throwing money at the problem was an obvious approach. To save a livable climate we need to create mass-market commercial products for lots of different customers who have limited budgets. That requires a completely different strategy.

Finally, it should be obvious (here), but it apparently isn’t, so I’ll repeat:

The risk of climate change, however, poses an externality which might be very substantial and costly to internalise through price alone. Intervening in the market to support a climate-friendly technology that may otherwise risk lock-out may be a legitimate way for the policymaker to manage the externality; the experience effect thus expands his policy options. For example, carbon taxes in different sectors of the economy can activate the learning for climate-friendly technologies by raising the break-even price.

So, yes, a price for carbon is exceedingly important — more important, as I have argued, than funding the search for TILTs.

THE BREAKTHROUGH BUNCH

Michael Shellenberger says that he (and, separately, NYT‘s Revkin, here) interviewed a whole bunch of people who think we need “massive public investments” and breakthroughs. Revkin writes: “Most of these experts also say existing energy alternatives and improvements in energy efficiency are simply not enough.”

The devil is always in the details of the quotes — especially since everybody I know wants more federal investments on low carbon technologies. And, of course, some of the folks Revkin quotes are long time delayers, like W. David Montgomery of Charles River Associates — who has testified many times that taking strong action on climate change would harm the economy. He says stabilizing temperatures by the end of the century “will be an economic impossibility without a major R.& D. investment.” Well, of course he would. In any case, we don’t have until the end of the century — yes, it would certainly be useful to have new technologies in the second half of this century, but the next couple of decades are really going to determine our fate.

Both quote my friend Jae Edmonds. Revkin quotes him as saying we need to find “energy technologies that don’t have a name yet.” Shellenberger quotes him saying.

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

Jae and I have long disagreed on this, and he is wrong. His economic models have tended to assume a few major breakthroughs in a few decades and that’s how he solves the climate problem. Again, I see no evidence that that is a plausible solution nor that we have the time to wait and see.

I would estimate that the actual federal budget today that goes toward R&D breakthroughs that could plausibly deliver a half wedge or more by 2050 (i.e. not fusion, not hydrogen) is probably a few hundred million dollars at most. I wouldn’t mind raising that to a billion dollars a year. But I wouldn’t spend more, especially as long as the money was controlled by a Congress with its counterproductive earmarks. I could probably usefully spend 10 times that on deployment (not counting tax policy), again as long as the money was not controlled by Congress. Since that may be difficult if not impossible to arrange, we have to think hard about what the size of a new federal program might be. I’ll discuss that further in the Part 6 discussion on policy.

Roger Pielke, Jr., has said (here) that my proposed 14 wedges requires betting the future on “some fantastically delusional expectations of the possibilities of policy implementation” and that my allegedly “fuzzy math explains exactly why innovation must be at the core of any approach to mitigation that has a chance of succeeding.” Well, we’ve seen my math wasn’t fuzzy (here).

But you tell me, what is more delusional — 1) that we take a bunch of commercial or very near commercial technologies and rapidly accelerate their deployment to wedge-scale over the next four decades or 2) that in the same exact time frame, we invent a bunch of completely new technologies “that don’t have a name yet,” commercialize them, and then rapidly accelerate them into the marketplace so they achieve wedge scale?

And so I assert again, the vast majority — if not all — of the wedge-sized solutions for 2050 will come from technologies that are now commercial or very soon will be. And federal policy must be designed with that understanding in mind. So it seems appropriate to end this post with excerpt from the Conclusion of the IEA report:

A general message to policy makers comes from the basic philosophy of the experience curve. Learning requires continuous action, and future opportunities are therefore strongly coupled to present activities. If we want cost-efficient, CO2-mitigation technologies available during the first decades of the new century, these technologies must be given the opportunity to learn in the current marketplace. Deferring decisions on deployment will risk lock-out of these technologies, i.e., lack of opportunities to learn will foreclose these options making them unavailable to the energy system.

… the low-cost path to CO2-stabilisation requires large investments in technology learning over the next decades. The learning investments are provided through market deployment of technologies not yet commercial, in order to reduce the cost of these technologies and make them competitive with conventional fossil-fuel technologies. Governments can use several policy instruments to ensure that market actors make the large-scale learning investments in environment-friendly technologies. Measures to encourage niche markets for new technologies are one of the most efficient ways for governments to provide learning opportunities. The learning investments are recovered as the new technologies mature, illustrating the long-range financing component of cost-efficient policies to reduce CO2 emissions. The time horizon for learning stretches over several decades, which require long-term, stable policies for energy technology.

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69 Responses to Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion

  1. Robert says:

    “if you are in the kind of hurry we are all in,” … except that “we” clearly aren’t, otherwise “we” would be doing something already. Sweden has made a huge effort in the last 2 decades:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/apr/29/climatechange.carbonemissions

    Why do US emissions keep rising while Sweden’s are half what they were 20 years ago? I would suggest the real difference is nothing to do with technology and everything to do with having an educated and politically responsible population, who don’t put making a fast buck at the top of their priority list.

    http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/trends/emis/swe.htm

  2. I’m not looking for 4-8 solutions–I’ll give you one. And it will do the whole job: thorium.

    And it’s not a breakthrough–the technology exists and we just need to decide to do it.

  3. Robert says:

    Thorium has some advantages over Uranium, but the fuel is still finite and the technology is not yet commercialized. It would be a good thing to invest in though because reserves are much larger than Uranium.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium#Thorium_as_a_nuclear_fuel

  4. Robert, check out the analysis done by Klaus A on this thread and you will see that for all intents and purposes thorium is an infinite resource if used in a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor.

    http://climateprogress.org/2008/04/17/leaving-no-small-stone-unturned/#comments

    When you can mine the average continental crust at 12 ppm of thorium and come out with a significant advantage on energy-returned-on-energy-invested (EROEI), then I think it’s safe to go ahead and say that this is an unlimited resource.

  5. The argument that we will be stuck in 2050 with the technology we have today, is downright silly, and illustrates the intellectual wackiness of this blog.

    The first auto with an internal combustion engine was manufactured in 1888. Only 20 years later Henry Ford introduced assembly line production of the Model T Ford. Model T sales steadily skyrocketed, from 69,762 in 1911, 170,211 in 1912, 202,667 in 1913, 308,162 in 1914, and 501,462 in 1915. By 1928 my 16 year old father, who lived in the mountain village of Jellico, Tennessee had been driving a car for 2 years.

    In 1941 the first attempt to build a reactor failed. The next year a successful reactor was built in Chicago. In 1943 a second reactor was built. By 1945 three more reactors had been built at Hanford, Washington, and were producing plutonium for the first atomic bomb. In addition by the end of 1945 reactors of radically different design had been constructed at Los Alamos and at Chalk RIver in Canada. By 1950 dozens of reactors had been built world wide. In 1954, the twelve years after the first successful reactor was built, a reactor was powering a submarine. Serial production of naval reactor power plants began almost immediately, and by 1962, twenty years after the first successful reactor, most submarines built by the navy were reactor powered.

    In 1901 Marconi demonstrated that long range radio transmission was possible. Within 5 years radio broadcast featuring singing had been made. In 1910 a performance of the Metropolitan Oper was broadcast in New York City. By 1915 weather and crop information were being broadcast in many parts of the United States. In 1919 the Radio Corporation of America is formed, and quickly became a fixture on the American scene.

    In 1922 hundreds of radio stations were licensed. By the mid 1920′s my teenage father was building his own crystal radio set to listen to radio broadcast that could be heard in the mountain village of Jellico, Tennessee. In the history of radio, we have a 20 rather than a 40 year timeframe between the first practical demonstration of long range broadcast technology, and the general

    The history of the airplane demonstrates an even quicker penetration by a new technology. The first powered flight occurred in 1903. During World War I (1914-1918), tens of thousands of aircraft were built. My father had already seen an airplane land in Jellico before that war began.

    Clearly then the notion that no new technology can be implemented in under 42 years is absurd, and would if accepted straddle us with technological backwardness.

  6. paulm says:

    I don’t think it going to be possible…heres a feedback that should be considered…
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/impacts/200804/18575227.html

  7. Abgrund says:

    Either thorium or uranium represents an effectively unlimited energy resource, if used properly. The technology to do so already exists in several forms, some of which are under commercial development in countries (like India) that are more serious about finding solutions to problems than we are.

    Even current reactor technology, which extracts only about 1% of the available energy, could supply all the world’s electricity for centuries using uranium from seawater – that’s how powerful fission is.

    The two biggest sources of greenhouse gasses are electricity production and vehicles. We can eliminate the first one entirely with nuclear power – how many wedges would that be?

    Wind power won’t get us very far – it’s only practical as an auxiliary to a larger, reliable source of power that can back it up. Solar power is not going to supply any significant grid power for the forseeable future. “Biofuels” (they should really be called Thanatofuels) actually increase greenhouse gasses more than fossil fuels do.

    A better use for solar or wind power might be to displace the large energy consumption that is going to come in the future from desalination. Nuclear power can do that, too, of course, but it should be first dedicated to replacing electrical power (which has to be steady).

    Things like clean water and fuel synthesis don’t require an energy source that is minute-to-minute stable, and they don’t necessarily involve the large energy losses involved in producing and distributing electricity. Such technologies would also be more attractive to poorer nations which desperately need both grid electricity and water – they can’t build nuclear reactors fast enough to both.

    Why aren’t we developing solar and wind technology for the purposes to which it is suited? A square mile solar thermal installation could supply roughly 100,000 people with water at American usage rates. In India, with better insolation and less lawn-watering, it would be much higher, maybe enough to be economical with a little help. Windmills could pump desalinated seawater inland for irrigation instead of providing unstable and expensive electricity, or they could power reverse osmosis pumps. Solar or wind power could potentially be used to produce chemical fuels as well, and undoubtedly there are many other uses that don’t require constant power.

    Personally I doubt that 450 ppm CO2 is achievable, but no one really knows what we need to achieve. Maybe the point of no return has already been passed, and feedback from the release of oceanic and soil carbon will doom us all. Maybe global warming is a hoax (I wish) and all we’ll get for our efforts will be cleaner air. The only thing we can do is try our best and hope, and our best means using every resource we have to the greatest extent possible, in the most efficient way.

    Nuclear power can do anything that wind or solar can do, but for now it should be dedicated primarily to where it will help the most – displacing coal- and gas-fired electricity. It will be a long time before that’s accomplished, and in the meantime there’s more than enough for solar and wind to do without turning them to ill-suited purposes.

  8. Eli Rabett says:

    Charles, the argument is NOT that we will be stuck in 2050 with the same technology we have today, but that if we wait for 2050 to start decreasing emissions it won’t matter what technology we have then, because the need will have moved from 14 wedges to multiples of 14 wedges because the greenhouse gases will have accumulated at an accelerating rate.

  9. hapa says:

    completely agree with the post. would add building a distributed generation grid allowing one turbine in one tulsan’s backyard to help power a toaster in vancouver, if the weather’s like that, that day.

    or to put the post idea another way, as jaime lerner said in the keynote of this-just-past’s ecocity world summit,

    sometimes i have been asked, over many discussions about “innovation,” and for me, it’s very simple.

    innovation… is starting.

    because, you know, it’s hard to have all the answers, before.

  10. Abgrund says:

    I think Charles’ point was that there are technologies we can deploy well before 2050 that will have an impact by then. Solar thermal power, for instance, is definitely not ready yet, but it’s reasonable to think that it could be within a few years. Likewise, there are several improved fission technologies already under development that could be completed in perhaps five years, with commercial models coming into service in as little as ten years and large numbers of units in service by 2030. This would definitely have an impact by 2050.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Joe — Well stated. Clear.

    Robert — Excellent point.

  12. hapa says:

    @paulm: electricity usage itself isn’t the issue. the source of the electricity is the issue. same with air conditioning: there are many possibilities in the pipeline to use more planet-friendly refrigerants and of course good building design starts with strict rules over both construction and renovation, keeping cool air in and warm air out.

    another reason los angelenos use A/C is their air is unbreathable when the wind dies down so the heat sits. come summer, they have to keep their windows closed, now, but that air quality will improve drastically as fossil emissions go down.

    nothing is hard about this, except the absence of foresight amongst the lawyers and engineers now in office.

  13. Joe, you make an excellent point that rapid scalability of any energy
    technology, existing or not yet invented, will be an essential
    characteristic of any technology that will play a meaningful role in
    our energy transition. If it can’t scale, it’s not a real solution.

    However, saying that “Typically it has taken 25 years after commercial
    introduction for a primary energy form to obtain a 1 percent share of
    the global market” at this point in time is a little like saying
    “Typically it takes 25 years before nuclear arms reach 1% of worldwide
    missile stockpiles” five years before launching the Manhattan Project,
    or saying “Typically it takes 25 years to produce a manned lunar
    lander” 5 years before launching the Apollo Project. Isn’t the whole
    point of a New Apollo Project
    for energy
    that we’re going to do away with “business as usual”
    and “typical” approaches to energy R&D? Why should we assume that the
    typical pace of commercialization and scalability for energy
    technologies – an industry with historically very poor investment in
    R&D – would continue if energy R&D became an international priority?

    Charles Barton makes a pretty good case in his comment above that even
    absent a concerted R&D push, we shouldn’t discount the rapidly
    scalable potential of disruptive new technologies. I most heartily
    agree that there’s no reason to wait on new technology developments
    before rapidly deploying currently available technologies, but that
    brings me to my next point…

    You are consistently setting up a false dichotomy between R&D and
    deployment. President Bush may promote that same dichotomy himself,
    but the Breakthrough Institute does not.

    Breakthrough’s policy paper, Fast Clean Cheap argues for at least a $30 billion/year
    public investment in research, development and deployment, and
    I think we’d agree that deployment deserves the largest share of that
    funds.

    I know you don’t like the way we use the word “breakthrough,” but when
    we’re talking about it, we’re not just talking about creating entirely
    new technologies, we’re also talking about driving technologies down
    that price curve through deployment, and trying to accelerate
    “dramatic price and performance improvements” or “breakthroughs”, as
    Fast, Clean, Cheap calls for, as well as public investments in
    enabling infrastructure and other efforts to directly “break through”
    deployment barriers (for example, investment in a new national
    transmission “superhighway” for long-distance electricity transmission
    to enable large-scale development of Great Plains wind or Southwest
    solar resources (including the CSP you appropriately tout as a major
    player in the push to get to/below 450 ppm).

    Given the scale of the challenge, (14-16+ “stabilization wedges” at
    least, right?), why would we not want to invest in both R&D
    (making many relatively small, high-risk, high-reward bets on new and
    emerging technologies) and directly invest tens of billions to
    accelerate the commercialization and deployment of existing
    technologies, driving them down the price curve? In short, why does
    deployment have to “completely trump R&D?” I didn’t know we were
    playing a game of Hearts here and that one or the other had to win out
    entirely. I don’t think anyone at Breakthrough is saying forget
    deployment and focus on R&D alone, in fact we’re saying quite the
    opposite: both-and please!

    What Breakthrough is trying to point out is that relying on carbon
    price signals and private investment alone is unlikely to
    result in the rapid development and deployment of the clean energy
    technologies necessary to get to/below 450 ppm. There are far too
    many other hurdles to deployment beyond just pricing to “break
    through”, and even if pricing was the only concern, large public
    investment would clearly accelerate private investment and the
    deployment of these clean energy solutions. That’s something you don’t
    seem to disagree with either, arguing above for a $10+ billion/year
    dollar push for direct investment in deployment efforts. You say that
    $10 billion/year doesn’t include tax incentives, so what would it look
    like in your view?

    Breakthrough advocates government procurement programs like the ones
    that helped commercialize microchips and pave the way for the
    internet, infrastructure investments like the ones that helped pave
    the way for the automobile’s ascendence in America, direct public-
    private demonstration and deployment investments and more. And yes,
    we argue for a substantial increase in US (and international) energy
    R&D efforts. Putting aside questions about how many “wedges” we need,
    why wouldn’t we want a few more low carbon “tools” in our tool box, or
    clean energy arrows in our quiver? At worst, these investments are a
    great insurance policy. At best, they help accelerate the transition
    to a clean energy future.

    (We also point out that a policy agenda framed around accelerating the
    transition to clean energy technologies is much more political
    appealing than one centered around reducing pollution – even if the
    policy mechanisms look similar – but that’s more a point of strategy,
    not technology…)

    If the problem is as big as we seem to agree it is, what’s wrong with
    throwing the kitchen sink at it? RDandD please!

    Cheers,

    Jesse Jenkins – Associate Fellowship Director, Breakthrough
    Institute

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Somewhat off-topic, but perhaps relevant:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7371645.stm

    entitled “Nuclear’s CO2 cost ‘will climb’”

    My naive take on this is “much ado about very little”.

  15. This is based on uranium mining and enrichment.

    Going to thorium and the LFTR will make these calculations obsolete:

    http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com/2006/10/co2-emissions-of-liquid-fluoride.html

  16. David B. Benson says:

    Kirk Sorensen — As I understand it, Joe advocates deploying those tecnologies we have now, with essentially no delay for development. I fear that leaves out LFTR, at least to start with?

  17. Michael says:

    Thanks for the posts Joeseph I’ve been enjoying reading them.

    For those interested in a “Wedges” style approach to reducing emissions you might like to look at the “Wedges” report done by the Victorian Government (Australia) using current or soon to be current technologies/approaches.

    http://www.climatechange.vic.gov.au/summit/Resources.html

    It is specifically aimed at the Victorian context where brown coal (ignite) power accounts for close to 90% of generation and hence the push for CCS.

    I also tend to agree with Joe that we need to act now with the tech we’ve got rather than hoping for some solution to come down from on high in the future. If we *do* find something – all the better…

  18. LFTR is a technology we have now. Here’s 4 GB of evidence:

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/

  19. Eli Rabett says:

    Abgrund, be that as it may we have to start now with what we have and filter new methods in as they come on line. The technological rabbit may not pop out of the hat and waiting for the bunny can be singularly dangerous

  20. John Mashey says:

    David: Joe can speak for himself, but from his book and his posts here, I think you’ve inadvertently mis-spoken, in that I’d say Joe advocates:

    normal good R&D portfolio management, as practiced by companies and governments capable of long-term thinking, and who understand technology diffusion and inertia of huge installed bases.

    One classification (different people use different labels, and in some places, combine R2+D1, or D1+D2, or R1+D1+D2; I’ve never managed R1, have done the rest.]
    Pure Research (R1)
    Applied Research (R2)
    Exploratory Development (D1)
    Advanced Development (D2)
    Development (D3)
    Deployment & scaleup, cost reductions, etc. (D4)

    Joe seems to advocate reasonable policies:

    a) Spending a big chunk of $$ on deployment of what works already, knowing that volume & experience will help costs come down, and of course, in this case, there are plenty of efficiencies around that are zero-cost, although they may require upfront capital.

    b) Meanwhile, spend some money on lots of little Research projects, select ones that have promise and take them further. This is usually called “progressive commitment”, i.e., you normally have lots of little R projects, and fewer, but bigger D projects, and then most of the money gets spent in deployment. VC’s love to fund things that are ready to Deploy, and they’re OK with things that take some Development. They don’t fund R, at l ast not on purpose.

    Between 1973 and 1983, I worked for Bell labs, an organization whose record for breakthroughs was pretty good, and which employed 25,000 people, mostly R&D, of which real R was only about 7%. Of course, that was very small compared to the 100s of thousands of people involved in manufacturing, deployment, and support. [The Bell System had more than 1M employees at one point, and really did think in terms of decades, which many businesses do not. The telephone network had some similarities with the power grid. Tiny efficiencies mattered. I recall a guy getting an award for saving a tiny fraction of the amount of gold needed for electrical contacts ... but that was $Ms/year savings.]

    But we always said:
    “never schedule breakthoughs”.

    Given the scale (in the old Bell System days), we had to install things that worked, not counting on what our R folks might invent. We knew they’d invent interesting things, but we also knew it might be 20 years before we could really use them, and some things (like bubble memories) worked, but never well enough to win. Some things were deemed interesting, but really niche, when first done … like lasers, or solar cells. I know of two $B projects where they charged into fullscale Development too early, and wasted most of that money.

    I’ll happily listen to people advocating massive R&D for energy, IF:
    1) They explain the starting portfolio, including what stage each of the proposed projects is at, any known barriers, scaleup issues, costs, etc. [Obviously more is known on some project that's further along.]
    2) They explain the R&D portfolio management strategy and who’s going to run it.
    3) And they do this convincingly.

    This energy stuff is *harder* than what we did at BTL, since
    Laws of Thermodynamics != Moore’s Law.

  21. Joe,
    If I hadn’t heard you protest to the contrary, I would think that you would be a supporter of feed in tariffs. FITs are designed to create a performance-based incentive in commercializing existing and emerging technologies. I believe they would be a more effective use of people’s money to commercialize existing technologies that a direct subsidy program.

    I believe we should in particular create feed in tariffs for renewables that can function as fossil generation replacements, like CSP with storage, geothermal, sustainable biomass, small and medium hydro. Kind of like a bounty for private companies and utilities to get busy on climate solutions. In the US more than anywhere else, we can lead the way in this category because of our natural resources and (still) relative wealth.

  22. mauri pelto says:

    Joe: Great review of the situation exploit existing versus dream of new.

    Mike: Can you give a specific example of a feed in tariff at work? I do not fully grasp the concept.

  23. Mauri,
    In Germany, feed in tariffs have accelerated the penetration of renewable electricity on the grid from 7% in the year 2000 to 14% in 2007. Additionally the Spanish feed in tariff has made Spain one of the 3 leading producers of electricity from wind and also made the Spanish CSP industry the worldwide industry leader.

    A well-structured feed in tariff (there have been poorly designed ones as well), is a set of premium wholesale electric rates for each class of renewable generator which are guaranteed for 10 or 20 years to enable the plant builders to recover their investment plus a reasonable profit. The guaranteed nature of the tariff reduces the finance costs for building the plant. The German tariff and the Spanish tariff laws are structured slightly differently but I think the Spanish one might be more applicable here in the US. Another way to think of a feed in tariff is it is an open power purchase agreement guaranteed by law for qualifying generators. The qualifications should be written to meet the needs of grid reliability but also to accelerate the penetration of renewables on the grid, which is the whole purpose of the law.

    For instance for CSP baseload, I believe that the first generation of generators would require a guarantee of a per/kWh price of somewhere in the mid-teens (per some informal conversations) for a period of 20 years to be built (if these generators were in the sunnier areas of the US Southwest). These might go into the ground in 2011. The next generation of generators, perhaps in 2014, would start at a lower rate, maybe $0.12/kWh. The ratepayers would only see fractional increases in their bills, as these wholesale rates are mixed in with the entire rate pool.

    Jay Inslee has proposed a national mechanism for feed in tariffs which he calls “Clean Energy Buyback”. If we in the US had a national law, the premiums paid by ratepayers for renewables would be mixed in with all electric rates.

    Feed in tariffs are an efficient mechanism to achieve the deployment of clean technologies because they are performance based…no one gets paid unless they generate electricity. On the other hand, they made it easier for individuals, cooperatives and companies to get financing to install or build renewable generators.

  24. John Mashey says:

    Mauri (my answer, Michael may have more)
    Feed-in-tariffs are designed to help specific renewable technologies get down the cost curve by requiring utilities to pay
    (a) (at least, and often above)-market rates for electricity generated by renewable sources, and not just for solar panels on home roofs.
    (b) and do so for a period long enough to incent the capital investments required

    This has been done for years in Germany and some other European countries.

    This is akin to *net metering*, in which a system gets credit for electricity it generates, but cannot get a check for the excess over what it uses. That is useful, but of course, incents people to try to put in only “just enough” even if they have room for more.

    Time-of-use meters allows time-of-day and seasonal charing differences.

    Renewable Portfolio Standards require uilities to supply some fraction of their electricity vai renewable sources.

    As usual, the rules vary all over the place among states, and I know the ones in California the best.

    CA has R.P.S., has done net metering for a while, and just passed its first attempt at F.I.T.s in January, although the program is more geared for larger installations – I think, so far, homeowners are more likely to stick with existing net metering.

    For more detail, see EERE article and article in cleantech.

    However, at least as important is the CA PUC’s use of financial incentives to utilities for efficiency, not just producing more megawatts. This leads utilities to act very differently, once they get over their old mindset as can be see in you look at PGE, big utility in NorCal. Rummage through the PG&E website a bit and see – for instance, they run giveaway/rebate programs on CFLs.

    I’ve heard their CEO Peter Darbee talk, as well as Janice Berman, their Sr. Director for Customer Energy Efficiency. (Both struck me as very sharp and articulate executives.)

    They are serious -this is not webpage fluff – but he notes that utility mindsets don’t change unless the rules change. In PG&E’s case, he said that replacing 28 of 35 senior executives helped.

    PG&E sends a team out to do energy audits, give rebates on CFLs, etc, etc… but for some reason,
    they don’t seem to sit around hoping that some massive R&D program will solve all the problems in a few decades.

  25. John Mashey says:

    Oops, sorry, screwed up HTML on that last post.

  26. hapa says:

    speaking of deployment, the europish people are really thinking hard. has anybody recently done a map like this one for europe/n-africa/mideast, for north america? it’d be really helpful.

  27. David B. Benson says:

    Kirk Sorensen — Thanks for the link. However Ffom IAEA-TECDOC-1450: 2005-05:
    “Two international projects, namely
    the IAEA-initiated INPRO and the US-led GIF and a European Union project MICANET are
    underway to expand and extend the benefits of clean, safe and cost effective nuclear energy
    for generation of electricity, desalination of sea-water and production of hydrogen, as a non-
    carbon based energy source, for the transportation sector. Both INPRO and GIF programmes
    aim at judicious utilization of natural uranium and thorium resources and the stockpiled
    military and civilian plutonium fissile material in inherently safe reactors and fuel cycle
    facilities, with adequate short and long term strategies for management, interim storage and
    safe disposal of nuclear waste and augmentation of proliferation-resistance and physical
    protection of nuclear materials to avoid their diversion or misuse for non-peaceful purpose.”

    etc., etc., page 88 ff, it does not appear that there is an agreed-upon design, much less a fully operating demonstartion plant yet.

  28. Eli Rabett says:

    FWIW with advanced nuclear, has anyone ever made a pebble that met specs for a pebble bed reactor?

  29. Earl Killian says:

    Jesse Jenkins, I believe part of the problem is the opaqueness of BI’s stance. Your webpages make it sound as if you think an R&D program is sufficient. I posted some questions here in response to a post by Michael Shellenberger. He responded but without actually answering, which left me wondering just how clear things are in his mind. Is BI unable to answer fairly simply questions about its position? Perhaps you would like to take a shot at providing real answers? Here they are again.

    In case it helps, my questions come from your webpage only and the only purpose is clarification of your position (which in my mind is unclear based upon what I’ve read). They are unrelated to the discussion in these pages or outside sources.

    Your stated goal, both on your webpage and Michael’s response is to “Bring the real price of clean energy down as quickly as possible.” Does “down” mean below the cost of dirty energy?

    I believe you believe that this policy is necessary, but I would like you to answer whether you believe this policy is sufficient? If it is not sufficient, what other policies are necessary? Your last paragraph in your response above seems to suggest that R&D investment in cheap energy is sufficient, but I would like to be more sure that this is what you intend (much confusion has resulting from reading too much into tea leaves in this discussion). Let’s remove the uncertainty if possible.

    How many years do you think the investment program on your webpage will take to make new clean energy cheaper than new dirty energy? (Not a firm number, just an educated estimate.)

    What do you think the world should do about GHG between now and then? What level of GHG do you think Earth will experience in this timeframe?

    Is the investment program on your webpage also targeted at reducing the cost of new clean energy to less than cost of old (paid-off) dirty energy? If so, how long is this likely to take? If not, does BI have a proposal to shut down existing dirty energy plants, since you suggest carbon pricing is unlikely? If we don’t shut down existing dirty energy plants, how do we prevent reaching disastrous GHG levels in the atmosphere?

    When you suggest above investing 50 to 80 billion per year “to scale up the new energy technologies”, do you mean having the Federal government fund deployment of these technologies, or do you mean research and development? If a mixture, how much for deployment do you think is appropriate, and how much for R&D?

  30. John Mashey says:

    Jesse Jenkins:

    Earl got there first, but can you also read my April 30, 10:42pm post and:

    a) Is there someplace else in BI to look to answer the sorts of questions I was asking?

    b) Do my questions make sense? Are you the right BI person to ask, or is someone else more appropriate? I’m happy to try to understand what you’re really pushing for, and how.

    c) When *you* say R&D, what do you mean? [I described what I meant, but people sometimes mean different things when they say it.]

    ‘ve looked at Fast, Clean and Cheap (a trio of which I’m fond), but I’m still unclear on what BI really means. I found it, but the link you posted was wrong – You might want to repost.

    d) Personally, I would be quite happy to increase funding for the various categories of R&D that I described, but it is *impossible* to assess whether or not a specific big-spending proposal makes sense without seeing a lot more detail on where the money goes and how the effort is structured.

  31. The problem with Breakthrough’s position is that it demonstrates a deep fear of what I have called the Cheap Energy Contract, the notion that it is political suicide to suggest that Americans pay more for energy in order that it have new and better characteristics.

    The whole purpose of the Breakthrough Institute’s position and its inconsistencies, are a function of the political fear that you cannot ask people to pay more for cleaner energy for a decade or two, so that we will have more choices in the future. We must invent our way out of the current bind not deploy our way out of it with what I would call mid-priced energy solutions(though they cover there butts here by adding the “D” to the end). Advanced Renewable Tariffs (the second or third generation of the feed in tariff) or “Clean Energy Buyback” as Jay Inslee calls them are one of the methods of putting the money exactly at the point of deployment and doing so in a way that is very efficient and performance based. The money is not spent on glamorous research projects but on deploying existing and emerging technologies that will generate power this year, next year, or the year after.

    Breakthrough is not alone in not confronting the consequences of the Cheap Energy Contract. Many advocates of renewable energy or other alternatives rush very quickly to claim how cheap their solution is. My point is that it will not be cheap for a while but it is worthwhile to start on the road as soon as possible. Starting on the road of deploying current and emerging technologies will make it cheaper down the line.

  32. John Mashey says:

    Jesse Jenkins:

    In rummaging around, I did find some more concrete proposals, from BI Senior Fellow Marin Hoffert, in a talk called:
    “Energy from Space: The Case for R&D”

    http://www.marshall.org/experts.php?id=178

    Is this the general thrust of the R&D that you want?

    Certainly, magnetically-levitated catapults, beam-powered rockets and (within 40-50 years) a space elevator, to put up PV satellites, are interesting, as is the last slide on history of US Federal R&D funding.

    I’m familiar with the George C. Marshall Institute’s efforts on climate change. Can I assume you are, as well?

  33. Earl Killian says:

    Michael Hoexter makes an interesting point. I just want to add that one needs to distinguish rates and bills, since they are different because of efficiency. Consider the per capita electricity usage by state and the average electricity rate by state. Mind you, these are for 2005 and 2006, so different years, but I doubt that matters much.

    Multiplying, for California the average annual bill was $1017, and nationally it was $1215. Thus one can have higher rates and still have lower bills if you’ve got efficiency as part of your program.

    Efficiency is the most overlooked solution.

  34. Earl and John, thanks for your questions of clarification. I’m preparing a longer response now. For now though, here’s a reposted link to Fast, Clean, Cheap on our “Ideas” page of the website. I apologize if the link was broken.

    Earl, you make a great point about efficiency! It is a huge lever here that can help insulate us from the higher upfront per-unit costs of what Michael calls “mid-priced energy solutions.” We need to explore effective policies to drive as much efficiency as possible.

    Michael, it may be possible to break the “Cheap Energy Contract” to some degree here in the developed world. But how do you propose we ensure China, India and other developing nations forgo the “Cheap Energy Contract” that ensure American industrialization and prosperity for the past two centuries?

    OK, longer answers to come…

  35. Abgrund says:

    Re David Benson’s above post: “etc., etc., page 88 ff, it does not appear that there is an agreed-upon design, much less a fully operating demonstartion plant yet.”

    The Liquid Fluoride Thorium design is further along (and, IMO, more promising) than other Gen IV technologies. There are four key components to the design:

    The most unconventional part of the reactor (a liquid-fueled core using U233) has in fact been demonstrated successfully, and proven to be operable and stable.

    The generation of fissile U233 from Thorium has also been successfully demonstrated.

    Power extraction can easily use existing technology if more advanced methods (direct contact heat exchangers) are not developed.

    On-line processing of fuel does not require any new techniques – it’s just a series of well-understood chemical separations.

    The LFTR is ready for advanced development, and probably no further from deployability than solar thermal – but without the disadvantages of solar.

    A lack of /agreement/ among proponents of different nuclear systems does not necessarily show that none of those systems are ready for advanced development, anymore than the existence of different kinds of solar cells proves that none of them are worth developing.

  36. HumansFirst EarthSecond says:

    Despite what the IPCC tells you, there was accurate chemical analyses of atmospheric CO2 being performed prior to 1957.

    A multitude of independent tests indicated that the early 1940′s had CO2 concentrations above 410 ppm. Since this is in direct conflict with the IPCC report, this pre-1957 scientific data has been ignored. How convenient.

  37. Earl,
    Efficiency is, in my mind, a categorical imperative, and must be pursued aggressively. California’s 30 year efficiency drive has paid off in leveling off per capita consumption over the past decades.

    That being said, a simultaneous campaign of both aggressive efficiency and aggressive decarbonization of the grid is going to yield over a period of a couple decades a net increase in the percentage of our GDP being devoted to either payments for energy or payments for new capital goods. These capital goods/energy conversion devices will cost money.

    So, yes, efficiency is going to make decarbonization cheaper but I don’t want to promise people that it won’t cost more to build a lot of new infrastructure both at the point of use and at the point of generation. Also for some energy users and economic sectors, efficiency gains are going to be easier than for others, so those sectors will feel differentially the impact of higher energy costs, either from rising fossil fuel prices or from the implementation of new decarbonized and hopefully sustainable technologies.

    What I object to, fundamentally, is the promise made to the energy consuming public, implicitly or explicitly, that it is going to be all uniformly easy on the wallet to face what appears to be humanity’s biggest challenge to date. Breakthrough Institute seems to have premised their program on just that promise, thereby hanging their hats on low probability solutions like technological breakthroughs rather than higher probability deployment at middle to high prices and then generate efficiencies of scale and the occasional breakthrough through learning in the field.

    I’m not against breakthroughs, but I think they just don’t happen that often nor do they necessarily have the targeted effect on energy pricing and “clean-ness” that we are looking for. A breakthrough is therefore a low probability strategy.

  38. Jesse,
    Finding a solution to all the world’s energy problems all at once is a noble goal but also is not a high-probability strategy.

    Why not take on the problem in stages? First produce products for the developed world and then they will become cheap enough to deploy in other places. It happened that way with mobile phones. Why not with clean energy?

    This is maybe not the ideal solution but it is a practical one and we can start on this path right now. So, two cheers for mid-priced energy!!

  39. Abgrund says:

    Got a source for that, HFES?

  40. I want to add that after a period of increase in the proportion of GDP devoted to energy, that proportion will decline once technologies get cheaper and we can start to enjoy the fruits of “sunk costs” of a clean energy infrastructure. However to get there via the most likely path, we will need to invest in that clean energy future.

  41. An interesting case in point in breakthroughs could be found in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday: the memristor has been discovered!

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/01/BUUC10EHQM.DTL&hw=memristor&sn=001&sc=1000

    Note that in the article that
    a) the potential deployment timeline is uncertain and most likely more than a decade
    b) the usefulness of products with memristors is uncertain (versus competing products)

    Furthermore we have a huge commercial and academic research apparatus already built for nanotechnology and microelectronics, so the memristor enters the R&D pipeline at a highly favorable place. No one, as far as I know, is “against” the memristor.

    By contrast, there are a number of fundamental competing ideas about which energy conversion devices are most valuable or important that will divide research and development efforts.

    Letting the future of a favorable climate hang on technological breakthroughs is therefore not particularly wise.

  42. Earl, thanks for asking these clarifying questions. I hope these responses help.

    You write:

    Your stated goal, both on your webpage and Michael’s response is to “Bring the real price of clean energy down as quickly as possible.” Does “down” mean below the cost of dirty energy?

    Yes, that means bring real, installed costs of clean energy down below the cost of dirty energy. We believe this is the only way we can ensure developing countries adopting a low-carbon development path. If the alternative is slow or no development, you’ll have a hard time convincing China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and the rest of the developing world not to turn to coal and other fossil fuels to power their development. The United States and Western Europe may be willing to accept “artificially” high energy prices – i.e. prices raised by internalizing carbon costs through tax/regulatory codes – but I’m not confident China, India or any other developing country will be. Short answer: yes, our ultimate goal, if we want to leave as much coal in the ground as possible, is to make coal irrelevant. The only way to do that is to ultimately develop cheaper, scalable alternatives.

    I believe you believe that this policy is necessary, but I would like you to answer whether you believe this policy is sufficient? If it is not sufficient, what other policies are necessary?

    Making clean energy cheaper than dirty energy isn’t a policy. It’s a policy goal. Really, the policy goal is creating and spurring the deployment of scalable, affordable energy sources that can power development across the planet while reducing global greenhouse gas emissions rapidly towards zero. That’s the objective. You’ll note that I’m not sure that’s an explicit objective of most US cap-and-trade policies.

    Global warming is a global challenge that will require an international perspective when developing policy solutions. It’s not enough for the United States to simply say “if we lead, others will follow,” or “we’ll do our part, it’s up to others to do theirs.” We have the resources, we have the ingenuity, and we have the technology base to not just develop policy and technology solutions for the United States, but for the world. If we want to solve this global challenge, it requires us to focus not just on raising dirty energy prices here in the United States so that they are more expensive than clean alternatives. We ultimately need to make those alternatives the FIRST choice in the developing world. If you make that an explicit design objective of American climate policy, I think a few things change (these are preliminary thoughts; Breakthrough is working to develop a more concrete policy agenda this summer):

    -Yes, you want to price carbon. This is necessary to send the right price signals to private capital, correct market failures, and most importantly, raise the tens to hundreds of billions annually necessary to fuel a clean energy revolution. Use whatever policy works (carbon taxes, cap-and-auction, I’m agnostic) to get the highest price on carbon that is politically possible and sustainable over the long term.
    -Re-invest most of the revenue generated by this carbon price into clean energy RD&D (with greater monetary emphasis down that chain, R

    Your last paragraph in your response above seems to suggest that R&D investment in cheap energy is sufficient, but I would like to be more sure that this is what you intend (much confusion has resulting from reading too much into tea leaves in this discussion). Let’s remove the uncertainty if possible.

    I’m not sure where you got that from. My last line was “what’s wrong with throwing the kitchen sink at it [global warming]? RD&D please!” The whole comment advocated a variety of policies designed to achieve a policy objective of driving down the costs and accelerating the deployment of scalable clean energy technologies. No, R&D is not sufficient, and I don’t think we’ve ever said it was.

    How many years do you think the investment program on your webpage will take to make new clean energy cheaper than new dirty energy? (Not a firm number, just an educated estimate.)

    It will depend on the technology. And on what happens to the costs of dirty energy sources (coal even is on the rise, as are clearly natural gas and oil). I’m not sure I can answer that question too precisely without doing a bit more research, but it’d better be by 2050, or we’re pretty well hosed as a global society. The point is that without achieving this policy objective, cap and trade will be at best, politically challenging to sustain in the United States, as deeper reduction targets drive up energy costs further, and internationally useless, as developing nations forego increased energy prices through carbon pricing in order to sustain economic development and pull billions more out of poverty (a goal we can hardly begrudge them). That argues that we should specifically design our policies to achieve this goal, as quickly as possible. Current policy proposals don’t seem to be oriented towards that objective. That worries me, and I think it should worry you

    What do you think the world should do about GHG between now and then? What level of GHG do you think Earth will experience in this timeframe?

    The United States and the developing world should do what I outlined above, in short: 1) price carbon and raise revenue, 2) invest revenue in driving down costs and rapidly deploying clean energy solutions. 3) engage the international community with an eye towards rapid technology transfer and diffusion as a base of an international climate agreement (ideally in “exchange” for emissions limits in developing countries).

    We’re not saying don’t do anything until clean energy prices are cheaper than coal! That’s President Bush’s line! We’re saying that making clean energy cheaper than coal must be the explicit policy objective of a successful US climate policy, and it’s currently not. We’ve got to get started today in achieving that objective (yesterday really!) and that will mean deploying everything we’ve got at our disposal today while striving to bring down the costs of mature and emerging technologies, and invest in a broad R&D strategy to develop as many more tools in our toolbox as we can get.

    Is the investment program on your webpage also targeted at reducing the cost of new clean energy to less than cost of old (paid-off) dirty energy? If so, how long is this likely to take? If not, does BI have a proposal to shut down existing dirty energy plants, since you suggest carbon pricing is unlikely? If we don’t shut down existing dirty energy plants, how do we prevent reaching disastrous GHG levels in the atmosphere?

    We strongly favor replacing dirty energy in the U.S. and other developed economies with clean energy sources, efficiency, or CCS. But we emphatically don’t think that effort to simply shut down coal plants without a well-thought out alternative will work because there is too high of a risk of energy price spikes that generate public animosity and make the kind of sustained effort to reduce emissions over the course of the next few decades politically challenging, if not impossible. In other words, “shutting down coal plants” is a tactic not a strategy, and we will imperil the long-term strategy if we don’t focus centrally on replacing dirty paid off energy plants with clean energy sources that create good jobs, increase America’s energy security, advance our economic competitiveness, and bring down the price of clean energy. Of course we need to shut down existing coal plants. The question is how we go about doing it, and what will replace them. What’s your answer? What’s your answer in China?

    When you suggest above investing 50 to 80 billion per year “to scale up the new energy technologies”, do you mean having the Federal government fund deployment of these technologies, or do you mean research and development? If a mixture, how much for deployment do you think is appropriate, and how much for R&D?

    As I said in the initial comment, both-and! RD&D. And infrastructure investment. And direct subsidies (although that’s really a deployment policy). The exact mixture is something we are still researching and exploring. As I said above, the general formula is that R

    Hope that helps clarify things. We’ll be continuing to refine and communicate these policy proposals over the rest of the year. Cheers,

    Jesse Jenkins

    p.s. Michael: We’re not “letting the future of a favorable climate hang on technological breakthroughs.” We need to get started yesterday in deploying every available tool as quickly as is politically possible (while working to advance what is politically possible!). We’re simply concerned that the scale of the challenge and the corresponding “technology gap” makes technological breakthroughs (in price and performance of existing, emerging and new technologies) essential. If the climate challenge demands we make that bet, we’d better place our chips down now, on as many of those roulette squares as possible.

  43. Whoops. Some html formatting errors in my last comment (Joe, wish you had a preview option on comments here!).

    My policy suggestions got cut off. Here they are:

    If you make that an explicit design objective of American climate policy, I think a few things change (these are preliminary thoughts; Breakthrough is working to develop a more concrete policy agenda this summer):

    -Yes, you want to price carbon. This is necessary to send the right price signals to private capital, correct market failures, and most importantly, raise the tens to hundreds of billions annually necessary to fuel a clean energy revolution. Use whatever policy works (carbon taxes, cap-and-auction, I’m agnostic) to get the highest price on carbon that is politically possible and sustainable over the long term.

    -Re-invest most of the revenue generated by this carbon price into clean energy RD&D (with greater monetary emphasis down that chain, R is less than Dev is less than Depl), public investments in enabling infrastructure (smart grid, high-capacity, long distance “electron superhighway” grid upgrades, electric vehicle charging stations, high-speed electric rail lines, etc.), and direct subsidies (feed in tariffs perhaps, production tax incentives, etc.). The whole idea here being to kick-start as many clean energy technologies as possible on as steep a path as possible down that cost curve towards unsubsidized competitiveness.

    -Implement strong efficiency standards and building codes. This is a very appropriate role for regulation.

    -Engage in an international effort to transfer technologies at as low a cost as we can afford to developing nations. At first, this may require direct transfers of wealth in the form of subsidized technology costs. This may be a tough political sell in the US! If our policies are successful though, clean energy will be increasingly competitive in unsubsidized terms with coal in the developing world. We’ll then be exporting clean tech at an economic benefit to the US.

    It’s not inconceivable that countries like China and India will one day set a price for carbon. We believe that day will arrive sooner rather than later if we create a new global agreement where the U.S., Europe, and Japan agree to invest $100 billion per year in their countries and in China and India and other developing nations. From this investment we believe China and India would be more likely to consider putting a price on carbon.

  44. BTW, we’ve adapted some of the questions from Earl here into a Q&A at the Breakthrough Blog, if people are interested in carrying on the conversation over there.

  45. David B. Benson says:

    HumansFirst EarthSecond wrote “A multitude of independent tests indicated that the early 1940’s had CO2 concentrations above 410 ppm.” Maybe around the Arc d’Triomphe:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arc_de_Triomphe

    emmense auto emissions there. But Mauna Loa, with well-mixed air. Nope.

  46. David B. Benson says:

    Abgrund — Thanks for the update. Assuming Congress funded DoE to build a demonstration LFTR, how long to finish the design and construct one generating power at Hanford or some other DoE site?

    While I’d like to have it running a Sterling cycle driven linear generator, I’ll settle for more established technologies to run steam turbines…

  47. Yes, Jesse but your Institute’s emphasis on breakthroughs in most of its public pronouncements devalues in fact and in rhetoric the value of current technologies. Pielke’s pieces have gained their PR “frisson” by dissing current technologies and the positions of the IPCC. Exaggeration of the deficits of what we have now or will have soon is now pretty standard BI fare.

    Here in comments sections of this blog, because you and Ted are getting some serious flak, you say you are for all good things. But a visit to the Breakthrough Institute’s homepage today, yields a whole series of articles that decry “fear-based” politics. I don’t get what this has to do with getting people to take climate change seriously or pay more money for deployment or even research into climate change solutions. To deny fear and its motivating capacity is just as foolish as to dwell on fears exclusively.

    In any case, an affirmation of the value of current and emerging technologies and ways to deploy them soon are not the focus of Breakthrough. Whether you use fear or pictures of attractive people to do so….it doesn’t matter for this discussion.

    On my blog, I’ve outlined 24 existing technologies that could mitigate about 93% of GHGs within a period of about 3 decades. I don’t hear Pielke or any of the other people in your crew, taking each existing or emerging technology and finding its deficits…i.e. whether these or other assumptions are in fact “dangerous”. (isn’t THAT fearmongering?….wink, wink)

  48. Michael,

    I’ve read over your post at your blog previously and thought it was very interesting. I’ll be taking a closer look when I start my work at Breakthrough in earnest in June. I’m curious what you think the policies that would drive those 24 technologies into the global market look like?

    The Breakthrough Generation fellowship program, which I am co-directing, will take a close look at precisely the kind of questions you are looking for: where are current technologies at? what barriers do we need to “break through” to drive down their price and up their performance and spur their deployment? how big of a “technology gap” does that leave us with? what kind of R&D programs make sense given that gap? what kind of infrastructure investment programs make sense to support emerging technologies and help them overcome the fact that fossil fuels enjoy huge existing infrastructure investments? what kind of policies can make all that happen? how do we pitch all this to the American public to make it work?

    Plenty of questions, and we’re not pretending we’ve got the answers yet. But we’re largely motivated by the fact that we have yet to see compelling answers to those questions and can’t wait for someone else to figure it out. We’ll see where we get by the end of this summer, but we’ve got 15 talented fellows that’ll be spending their summer taking an unflinching look at these questions and the challenge of our generation, and see what “breakthroughs” we can come up with.

    Cheers,

    Jesse

    p.s. taking a close look at political psychology and the merits or (many) problems of a “fear-based” politics is quite relevant, given that the basic tactic for the environmental movement over the past three decades has been to just convince the American people that global warming is scary enough we need to avoid it. That’s certainly helpful to motivate a certain level of urgency. But people are unlikely to react proactively to a problem when they can’t see a solution, or when the solution looks potentially worse than the problem. In short, we want a politics that doesn’t make people respond to the climate crisis because they have to. We want to to respond because they want to, because tackling the climate crisis isn’t just our greatest challenge, it’s our greatest opportunity. What’s the role of a fear-based politics in that?

  49. Abgrund says:

    David: I’m not the expert on the subject, but at a wild guess, loosely based on what I know of the timescale of other nuclear nuclear projects it would take about five years to build a demonstration plant that would include the key functions (core, fissile generation, online fuel processing, and power generation) in one package, and another five years of operating it to work a practical commercial design. Maybe things could be done faster with enough effort, but I don’t think too much haste is a good idea when developing a nuclear reactor. I’d like to see a commercial pilot plant in operation by 2020 and large scale production underway by 2030.

    As I understand it, the main limitation of Stirling cycle engines (other than PW ratio) is their ability to withstand high temperatures. Nuclear reactors are theoretically capable of operating at whatever temperature the materials can withstand, and thus achieving higher thermal conversion efficiencies; unless there’s some way of protecting the seals of the Stirling engine pistons from this heat, that advantage is lost. It occurred to me though, when I was running the numbers for solar desalination, that a Stirling engine might be peculiarly suited to exploit solar thermal power (such as the pumps at a multi-stage low-pressure desalination plant). Solar thermal can also achieve arbitrarily high temperatures, but there’s an escalating cost involved in achieving high temperature and high heat flux simultaneously. The Stirling engine scales quite well to exploit low heat fluxes and to get the best out of small temperature differentials.

  50. Earl Killian says:

    Jesse, thank you for your response. I wanted to clarify something. You wrote, “I’m not sure where you got that from. My last line was …” in response to my “Your last paragraph …” When I was writing that, I was referring to Michael Shellenberger last paragraph (remember I was cutting and pasting my questions from a different article to this one). The last paragraph I referred to was, “We’ve been reluctant to make lists of wedges and policies or prices and suggest that the latter will necessarily lead to the former. And I don’t think we need to. What we need is a politics that mobilizes the public to support a large investment — larger, perhaps, than we suggested in our book — something on the order of $50 – $80 billion per year, starting immediately and continuing into the future, to scale up the new energy technologies and bring down their price as quickly as possible, not just here but also in other G-8 countries, in China and India, and eventually throughout the developing world.” Sorry for the confusion.

  51. (since you posted this same article to multiple blogs – so far, I’ve run across it here and in Grist – I’ll post my reply in both places too…)

    Joseph,

    Some parts of your statements are spot on, some are way off.

    First, your dismissal of hydrogen, “It ain’t even an energy source” implies that electricy and batteries should be dismissed too, since they “ain’t” energy sources either. We all know you don’t support hydrogen, but your rationale is wrong, as this flippant remark demonstrates.

    But, lets talk about what you’re right about. You’re absolutely right that the country lacks political will because the near term direct economic impacts are more concrete and easy to calculate than the far more significant but more abstract and indirect long term economic impacts. How do we change this? Well first, we can’t just give up. Set a price for carbon? Agreed! And make it fluctuate based on the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere.

    You’re also right about the need to invest heavily in technologies are available today, and all the technologies you specify are right on. There are a few more that you missed, however. Here is just one: we already have the technologies to create hydrogen off an alternator and inject it into the combustion chamber of an internal combustion engine. Doing so improves the combustion of the fuel (particularly with diesel), resulting in more power, better gas mileage, and lower emmissions. The primary delays to those technologies have been patent squabbles and the vehicle manufacturers’ failure to license the technologies. (Perhaps due to the patent squabbles? Perhaps due to the patent owners’ terms?) Without the manufacturers supplying these technologies as OEM equipment, they won’t catch on. Who wants to risk impacting the warranty with a third party add on?

    The real beauty of hydrogen that you miss is that it allows for a smooth transition, rather than an abrupt change. The hydrogen injection above is an obvious first step. A somewhat similar blended approach that is already available is hythane to provide cleaner fuel than straight natural gas. Dual-fuel internal combustion vehicles and fuel cells for fleet vehicles and niche markets fill the gap as the infrastructure is built out. Hydrogen generated from natural gas fills the gap as methane digesters, direct solar-to-hydrogen, and electrolysis from wind, solar, and hydro, and other sustainable sources mature. You flippantly say the fuel cell car is dead. So what? More and more applications are emerging where it *already* is cost effective to implement fuel cells, such as forklifts in large distribution centers. Don’t forget the stationary applictions, with combined heat and power. Does the electrolyzer in the consumer’s garage make sense? Certainly not right now, but a molten carbonate fuel cell in a large switching station or hotel already does. Will the fuel cell car be reborn? Maybe. After all, it looks like the electric car will, only because of a TILT called the lithium-ion battery. Welcome to the world of transition.

    None of these compete with the approaches you suggest. They can coexist – in fact, they must coexist. As the wedges demonstrate, we have to get away from a silver bullet mentality, and accept the shotgun reality. We need many solutions. Each will have pros and cons. Some may be interim, some may be long term. It is much like a balanced investment portfolio. And like that portfolio, you need to have some high-potential assets, that may take longer to mature, and carry more uncertainty. When you dismiss hydrogen, you fail to create a balanced portfolio. As a hydrogen advocate, I also point out that investing solely in hydrogen is as big a mistake. It’s all about balance, and mitigating one set of risks with other, different risks. Your strategy is all about investing in low-yield bonds (exemplified by the statement “If a new supply technology can’t deliver half a wedge, it won’t be a big player…”). I recommend a more strategic porfolio.

    Paul Faulstich
    President, Hydrogen Energy Center

  52. HumansFirst EarthSecond says:

    David B.

    I’m not doing your homework for you. It’s fine if you want to stick your head in the sand. AGW has become a cult. You need serious deprogramming.

  53. Paul,
    You omit to say in your paean to hydrogen that the efficiency of the hydrogen fuel cycle is 35% or less, meaning that we are sacrificing 65% of the clean energy we generate for the sake of having hydrogen while we would use approximately 85% of that energy using batteries or ultracaps. So a 2.5 to 3 fold improvement in efficiency if we use ordinary electrical energy storage devices.

    As you are a hydrogen advocate I can understand why you omit this consideration, which means that hydrogen would be a luxury. In a world where we are trying as hard as we can to boost the proportion of clean energy in our energy mix, it would mean needing to build 2.5 to 3 times as much renewable generation to make the hydrogen rather than run battery electric or directly electrified vehicles.

  54. Jesse,
    You are still beholden to the break-through metaphor…it may be more of a progression. There is a different psychology to a progression rather than a break through…one takes more patience than the other.

    One needs to address psychology (I have a Ph.D. in it) but proscribing fear is a mistake. Fear is one of the big motivators…not the only one but a big one. At BI, at times it appears as though you guys are trying to be “cool cats” in the face of oncoming destruction and stupidity. It helps to keep a cool head at times, but it seems to me as though BI is trying simply to be “cool”…post high school.

  55. Fear is certainly a strong motivator, but of what, Michael? Does fear effectively motivate collective action, generosity, long-term thinking, sustained effort? Or does it motivate “me-first” thinking, desperation, short-term focus, sometimes even denial? Is it well suited to motivating a strong and sustained societal response to the climate crisis? I’m curious what role you see fear playing in motivating action to tackle climate change?

  56. David B. Benson says:

    Abgrund — Thank you for the informative reply!

    HumansFirst EarthSecond wrote “I’m not doing your homework for you. … AGW has become a cult. …” I’ve done my homework, thank you. I am now one of the better amateurs at understanding climatology. I don’t know much about cults, but AGW is an observable, physical phenomenon, so I doubt it is a cult. I’ll hazard the guess that those who refuse to belive the evidence might demonstrate cultish tendencies.

  57. John Mashey says:

    David: DON’T FEED THE TROLLS :-)
    ClimateProgress is one of the few blogs in which some threads offer rational discussion and debates about technology and policy.
    =====
    Climate science can be debated at many other places, and derailing a good policy thread is exactly something trolls love.

    In this case, HFES seems a Dunning-Kruger Effected individual who ascribes believability to the incompetent writings about CO2 of German school teacher E. G. Beck, probably because they are featured in certain blogs. If for some bizarre reason, one wants to know about Beck, see:

    Real Climate on silly Beck CO2 graphs and for further evidence of incompetence.

    Also, consider IUOUI: Ignore Unsupported Opinions of Unidentifiable Individuals, as a good motto whenever someone interjects off-topic posts into a useful discussion.

    Back to policy, please.

  58. John Mashey says:

    Jesse: thanks for the discussion and comments on Earl Killian’s questions.

    I’ve done a quick pass through Fast, Cool, Cheap … and hope to do a more thorough pass in a week or two, when I get some time.

    Along with the questions from my earlier posts (May 2 2:22 am and 10:19 am), I have a few quick things from F, C, C that caught my eye:

    A)
    “The efficacy of this kind of public investment is well-documented. For
    instance, in the roughly five years that the federal government guaranteed
    the market for microchips in the 1960s, the price of a microchip came down
    from $1000 per chip to between $20 and $30 per chip.”

    “The U.S. government
    invested directly in computer science scholarships and fellowships,
    prizes, research and development, and microchips. The private sector did not
    create, and could not have created, these high-tech markets.
    Many successful new technologies cannot become commercially viable
    without public investment in the form of government procurement. The Defense
    Department’s procurement of microchips facilitated the technology’s
    market penetration and helped decrease its cost. It is not just microchip companies
    like Intel that benefited from these public investments. All high tech
    firms that depend on microchips, the Internet, and computer science exist
    thanks to these “tech-push” strategies.”

    and B)
    “Solar panels,
    like microchips, have their own kind of “Moore’s Law”: the price of solar
    comes down roughly 20% every time production capacity is doubled.”

    In the context in which they are presented, do you regard these as good characterizations and comparisons?

  59. Jesse,
    Your rhetoric is outpacing the actual substance of what you saying. You are presenting us with a false dichotomy between a “fear-based” psychology and some hypothetical “non-fear” based psychology. Because of the rhetorical games you are playing, I am not particularly happy about trying to explain this to you. However for the sake of the readers of this blog I will unspring the trap you’ve set.

    Generally in human psychology, fear has a very important role to play. Without fear you are soon in very big trouble. For instance, if you are not afraid of dying, you will soon get into a situation where you will be killed or badly hurt(or you live an extremely sequestered life).

    More specifically, fear is integral to most people realizing that climate change is worth doing something about. Climate change is by most people’s accounts a “future negative event”. One of the most common and adaptive responses to a future negative event is to…help me folks… fear it. Without somewhere in there a fear of the consequences of climate change, people would instead decide to go to the beach or choose not to do much about it.

    Furthermore, fear is one component of the motivation for a lot of the altruistic and future looking behavior that you want to promote. Besides the painfully obvious fear of the consequences of GHG emitting behavior, there are also fear of loss of love and respect by peers, family, children and grandchildren, fear of loss of property and familiar landscapes. The list goes on. Without fear we are not particularly ethical or future-looking creatures. Fear is not the only motivation but as I said in my previous comment to PROSCRIBE fear is foolish. Mature human behavior is motivated by a complex mixture of emotions but fear is important.

    I see that over at BI, you folks are trying to take on human psychology but if you read Shellenberger’s latest post over there, even he says that fear has a role. I believe you guys are trying to draw a distinction between the conservative politics of manufacturing fears to inspire avoidance of important issues. It appears as though you are mixing up the emotion of fear and responses to that fear, which vary widely.

  60. David B. Benson says:

    John Mashey — Yes, SIr! :-)

  61. Abgrund says:

    Ah, I tracked down Beck’s excellent work. It’s hard to see how he can be wrong, since he makes only two (unstated) assumptions: that every direct measurement of atmospheric CO2 ever made is correct (how much more unbiased can you get?) and that the atmospheric CO2 content at any one moment is exactly the same at all points in space, which totally makes sense since the atmosphere is a gas and all mixed up and stuff. So what we have here is incontrovertible proof that atmospheric CO2 varies wildly and randomly from year to year, so there’s really no point in any of this silly measuring anyway. Any data from ice cores are clearly nonsensical, since they show a smooth curve that doesn’t look at all like the Dow Jones on Election Day. I think Beck should get the Nobel prize and all those silly so-called scientists should be forced to write on the blackboard forty times “I will not take measurements. I will not take measurements. I will not…”

  62. Eli Rabett says:

    Abgrund, actually titrations are indirect.

  63. Earl Killian says:

    Jesse, I have tried to separate this into an overall set of comments, and some detailed responses. The main points are first and others might find them useful. The detailed responses are later, and I suspect only you would find them worth reading.

    I think there are two issues with what I hear from BI (webpage, Michael’s comments, and your comments). The first is a major policy disagreement. You claim yours is the only way, and I don’t even consider it adequate. That’s a difference of opinion that may benefit from further debate, so I may lay out my reasoning on this in more detail in the future. The second issue is that I see BI as being unclear about their real position. Both of these issues generate rancor between BI and others who care about solving global warming. Much of my subsequent comments are to target the second issue, in the hopes that we can reduce the level of rancor by clarification.

    On the lack of clarity you say, for example, you support putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, but that you’re not confident about developing nations doing so. Later you say that it is not inconceivable that they will. Your statements are not inconsistent, but they don’t paint a clear picture. This issue is central, because a price on greenhouse gas emissions can quickly give a market price advantage to clean energy. The question is which leads to a solution faster: greenhouse gas emission prices or technology development. Since I consider your proposal actually less politically acceptable in the US than the alternatives, I suspect your approach would be slower. Indeed, I doubt your approach can work at all (since I doubt it can address sunk-cost dirty energy and it is necessary to do so), and if you think otherwise, you need to explain that.

    As another example, you suggest that portions of your approach will be politically challenging in the US (I strongly concur with this assessment). But later you suggest that your policies are meant to make cap-and-trade more politically acceptable. I don’t buy the latter, but the real point is that you seem to be saying it is politically challenging either way. I don’t find your approach more politically compelling. My feeling is that the world is already pushing for a world cap on emissions, and if the US would only lead in making that happen, we would be making progress rapidly.

    I include point-by-point comments on your response below only for completeness, so that you may see how BI’s statements still seem a bit unclear. I suspect only you would be interested in the rest of this message. Following your lead, I have made my text in regular type and left yours in italic.

    JJ> Earl, thanks for asking these clarifying questions. I hope these responses help.

    EK> Your stated goal, both on your webpage and Michael’s response is to “Bring the real price of clean energy down as quickly as possible.” Does “down” mean below the cost of dirty energy?

    JJ> Yes, that means bring real, installed costs of clean energy down below the cost of dirty energy. We believe this is the only way we can ensure developing countries adopting a low-carbon development path. If the alternative is slow or no development, you’ll have a hard time convincing China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and the rest of the developing world not to turn to coal and other fossil fuels to power their development. The United States and Western Europe may be willing to accept “artificially” high energy prices – i.e. prices raised by internalizing carbon costs through tax/regulatory codes – but I’m not confident China, India or any other developing country will be. Short answer: yes, our ultimate goal, if we want to leave as much coal in the ground as possible, is to make coal irrelevant. The only way to do that is to ultimately develop cheaper, scalable alternatives.

    There appear to be a bundle of assumptions in the above. The biggest problem is the last sentence, but we’ll get to that in later question and response. It is certainly not the only way.

    You say “We believe this is the only way we can ensure developing countries adopting a low-carbon development path.” I don’t believe this. I believe the implementation of a strong program in the US can be used to bring the developing countries into an emissions control program. A politically acceptable US program will likely include provisions to level the playing field against imports that benefit from production in uncapped countries, with the uncapped country probably being taxed by more than their advantage. As the world’s largest importer, I suggest that this will create a tremendous incentive for other countries to join a cap. I don’t expect things to go to the point of serious tariffs, as I expect the developing countries will sign on to a diplomatic solution before that point.

    You say “If the alternative is slow or no development,” but that is a false dichotomy. It is clear than developing countries can develop with existing alternative energy (indeed they are in some ways better poised to take advantage of it). Competitiveness with the uncapped countries currently pressures developing countries to use the cheapest possible energy, regardless of emissions, but in a worldwide framework with a level playing field, that would not be an issue.

    There are many other steps that the US can take to make the building of coal power plants in the developing world less attractive. Banning the export of coal (and getting Australia to do the same) could drive up the world price of coal, for example.

    EK> I believe you believe that this policy is necessary, but I would like you to answer whether you believe this policy is sufficient? If it is not sufficient, what other policies are necessary?

    JJ> Making clean energy cheaper than dirty energy isn’t a policy. It’s a policy goal. Really, the policy goal is creating and spurring the deployment of scalable, affordable energy sources that can power development across the planet while reducing global greenhouse gas emissions rapidly towards zero. That’s the objective. You’ll note that I’m not sure that’s an explicit objective of most US cap-and-trade policies.

    Quibbling with policy vs. policy goal is OK, but you haven’t really answered the question. If you substitute “investing 50 to 80 billion per year to scale up the new energy technologies”, then it becomes a policy (or part of a policy), not a policy goal, no? So I would ask again whether you think this is sufficient, except that I believe you made it clear that this is not sufficient. Unless you object, I’ll go with that.

    I see us as already having the technology for scalable, affordable energy sources that can power development across the planet while reducing greenhouse gas emissions rapidly towards zero. Better technology is always welcome, of course.

    I disagree with the comment about the objective of US cap-and-trade policies. I believe proponents of such policies believe they are a prerequisite to addressing developing country emissions.

    JJ> Global warming is a global challenge that will require an international perspective when developing policy solutions.

    Sure. That is for example why the world met in Bali. It certainly seemed as if the US was the major impediment to progress there. If the US had gone to Bali with moral leadership from the White House, you must believe that China and India would have prevented progress. I don’t see it that way. I am very sure they would have wanted something, and very clearly we are going to have to address the equity issue in such negotiations, but I don’t see them as fundamentally opposing an emissions control framework.

    JJ> It’s not enough for the United States to simply say “if we lead, others will follow,” or “we’ll do our part, it’s up to others to do theirs.”

    The above and cheap clean energy are not the only choices. We can lead, and also make it to others’ advantage to follow.

    JJ> We have the resources, we have the ingenuity, and we have the technology base to not just develop policy and technology solutions for the United States, but for the world. If we want to solve this global challenge, it requires us to focus not just on raising dirty energy prices here in the United States so that they are more expensive than clean alternatives. We ultimately need to make those alternatives the FIRST choice in the developing world.

    The urgency of the problem suggests that we do not have the time to do this via technology development alone. I believe a diplomatic effort to extend greenhouse gas emission pricing to the developing world is called for. We will get to timing in a separate question and response below. It is also possible for the US to raise dirty energy prices elsewhere with coal export bans. Moreover, greenhouse gas emission pricing can make clean energy the FIRST choice in the developing world.

    JJ> My policy suggestions got cut off. Here they are:

    I’ve tried to re-integrate them. With luck I haven’t messed up.

    JJ> If you make that an explicit design objective of American climate policy, I think a few things change (these are preliminary thoughts; Breakthrough is working to develop a more concrete policy agenda this summer):

    JJ> • Yes, you want to price carbon. This is necessary to send the right price signals to private capital, correct market failures, and most importantly, raise the tens to hundreds of billions annually necessary to fuel a clean energy revolution. Use whatever policy works (carbon taxes, cap-and-auction, I’m agnostic) to get the highest price on carbon that is politically possible and sustainable over the long term.

    We agree that a price on greenhouse gas emissions is an important component. Right now I think US policy makers are leaning to cap-grandfather rather than tax or cap-auction, and the former does not raise revenue. Not generating revenue seems to be important to some politicians, unfortunately. I would not want revenue to be a prerequisite to having a cap.

    JJ> • Re-invest most of the revenue generated by this carbon price into clean energy RD&D (with greater monetary emphasis down that chain, R is less than Dev is less than Depl), public investments in enabling infrastructure (smart grid, high-capacity, long distance “electron superhighway” grid upgrades, electric vehicle charging stations, high-speed electric rail lines, etc.), and direct subsidies (feed in tariffs perhaps, production tax incentives, etc.). The whole idea here being to kick-start as many clean energy technologies as possible on as steep a path as possible down that cost curve towards unsubsidized competitiveness.

    Yes, that’s a start. I would say Joe’s proposals are more detailed (though still really an outline), and a possible starting point for your consideration. Given the feuding so far, that may not be in the cards.

    JJ> • Implement strong efficiency standards and building codes. This is a very appropriate role for regulation.

    Yes. Efficiency seems like the highest priority and leverage item, since it reduces the requirements and costs on all other items. It multiplies the effectiveness of every other initiative. As an example of how much there is to gain, see U.S. Energy Flow 2002. In addition, efficiency is the most important thing we can do to navigate economic trouble brewing from oil and natural gas production.

    JJ> • Engage in an international effort to transfer technologies at as low a cost as we can afford to developing nations. At first, this may require direct transfers of wealth in the form of subsidized technology costs. This may be a tough political sell in the US! If our policies are successful though, clean energy will be increasingly competitive in unsubsidized terms with coal in the developing world. We’ll then be exporting clean tech at an economic benefit to the US.

    In my opinion, this is setting yourself up for failure; it is too hard a sell in the US. I also think most technology will transfer regardless of an explicit goal. If it were me, I would not burden a program with this, even if it were a good idea.

    I think you want to replace the above with diplomatic efforts and tariffs that give teeth to the diplomacy.

    JJ> It’s not inconceivable that countries like China and India will one day set a price for carbon. We believe that day will arrive sooner rather than later if we create a new global agreement where the U.S., Europe, and Japan agree to invest $100 billion per year in their countries and in China and India and other developing nations. From this investment we believe China and India would be more likely to consider putting a price on carbon.

    Right now we are discouraging them. Your suggestion for encouragement is not the only way. Your suggestion that we invest such a large sum is likely to kill it in Congress. Concentrate on a level playing field. The fast developing countries already know how to exploit that. It is the laggards that are don’t know how to exploit a level playing field, but right now they don’t generate significant greenhouse gases, and that is a development issue, not a climate issue. (I have opinions on that, but this isn’t the forum.)

    EK> How many years do you think the investment program on your webpage will take to make new clean energy cheaper than new dirty energy? (Not a firm number, just an educated estimate.)

    JJ> It will depend on the technology. And on what happens to the costs of dirty energy sources (coal even is on the rise, as are clearly natural gas and oil). I’m not sure I can answer that question too precisely without doing a bit more research, but it’d better be by 2050, or we’re pretty well hosed as a global society.

    Time is the biggest issue with the BI approach. I suggest that 2050 is much much too late. GHGs need to reverse direction (head down instead of up) in something like five to seven years. I believe this is the point on which BI generates so much rancor. My advice to you is to be explicit in two things: immediate deployment of currently available technology and staying under 450 ppm.

    JJ> The point is that without achieving this policy objective, cap and trade will be at best, politically challenging to sustain in the United States, as deeper reduction targets drive up energy costs further, and internationally useless, as developing nations forego increased energy prices through carbon pricing in order to sustain economic development and pull billions more out of poverty (a goal we can hardly begrudge them). That argues that we should specifically design our policies to achieve this goal, as quickly as possible. Current policy proposals don’t seem to be oriented towards that objective. That worries me, and I think it should worry you

    Some of Joe’s proposed wedges address this issue. For example, efficiency counteracts increased energy prices and greenhouse gas caps. Also, plug-in vehicles dramatically reduce fuel costs (e.g. the electric RAV4-EV is 6 times cheaper to fuel than the gasoline RAV4). California has shown that efficiency need not require large government investment. For example, it decoupled utility profits from revenue, and then the utilities invested in their customers’ efficiency. Feebates are a revenue-neutral way to influence purchasing choices. It seems there is a lot we can do without the government raising and spending billions. I am not personally ideologically opposed to the government doing this, but some are, so this is an issue. I suggest that your claim that yours is the only way is not valid.

    I also don’t see why developing countries cannot prosper in on a level playing field, whether that is a high-altitude field or a low-altitude one. The problem is a sloped field, but no one is suggesting that.

    EK> What do you think the world should do about GHG between now and then? What level of GHG do you think Earth will experience in this timeframe?

    JJ> The United States and the developing world should do what I outlined above, in short: 1) price carbon and raise revenue, 2) invest revenue in driving down costs and rapidly deploying clean energy solutions. 3) engage the international community with an eye towards rapid technology transfer and diffusion as a base of an international climate agreement (ideally in “exchange” for emissions limits in developing countries).

    JJ> We’re not saying don’t do anything until clean energy prices are cheaper than coal! That’s President Bush’s line! We’re saying that making clean energy cheaper than coal must be the explicit policy objective of a successful US climate policy, and it’s currently not. We’ve got to get started today in achieving that objective (yesterday really!) and that will mean deploying everything we’ve got at our disposal today while striving to bring down the costs of mature and emerging technologies, and invest in a broad R&D strategy to develop as many more tools in our toolbox as we can get.

    You haven’t answered the second question, and it seems that this is a BIG question with your approach. Again, this is why BI generates so much rancor. If it takes until 2050 to accomplish your stated objective, it is too late.

    There is of course no single thing that is sufficient to solve our problem. We need to do many things in parallel to succeed. If I distill the concern folks have about BI’s posture, it would be you emphasize (e.g. on your website) a single thing, and that single thing does not seem as important as some other steps. What I am hearing from you is that BI’s policies are broader, which is good, but that means you’ve got a communications problem, since that is not apparent from your webpage.

    EK> Is the investment program on your webpage also targeted at reducing the cost of new clean energy to less than cost of old (paid-off) dirty energy? If so, how long is this likely to take? If not, does BI have a proposal to shut down existing dirty energy plants, since you suggest carbon pricing is unlikely? If we don’t shut down existing dirty energy plants, how do we prevent reaching disastrous GHG levels in the atmosphere?

    JJ> We strongly favor replacing dirty energy in the U.S. and other developed economies with clean energy sources, efficiency, or CCS. But we emphatically don’t think that effort to simply shut down coal plants without a well-thought out alternative will work because there is too high of a risk of energy price spikes that generate public animosity and make the kind of sustained effort to reduce emissions over the course of the next few decades politically challenging, if not impossible. In other words, “shutting down coal plants” is a tactic not a strategy, and we will imperil the long-term strategy if we don’t focus centrally on replacing dirty paid off energy plants with clean energy sources that create good jobs, increase America’s energy security, advance our economic competitiveness, and bring down the price of clean energy. Of course we need to shut down existing coal plants. The question is how we go about doing it, and what will replace them. What’s your answer? What’s your answer in China?

    I don’t consider the above to answer my question, and it is probably the most imporant question I asked. Getting new clean energy to be cheaper than new dirty energy does not prevent disaster in 30-some years, because at 2 ppm per year, the existing plants are sufficient to destroy the atmosphere. There must be a plan to close the dirty plants. Cheaper clean enegy won’t do it! Once the cost has been sunk into a dirty plant, it is no longer feasible to put it out of business without a price on emissions.

    You answer also suggests that alternatives don’t already exist. Could you elaborate?

    However, a price on greenhouse gas emissions is a method for shutting down old dirty emitters, by making them unprofitable to operate. If the price is high enough, then clean energy becomes cheaper. Since you’ve signed onto greenhouse gas emission pricing, you do have a method to do what I asked, unless you see the price being set too low.

    Also, efficiency in the U.S. at least is a way to shut down coal without risk. Even with the expected population increase over the next 30 years, an efficiency thrust would let us shut down or reduce combustion at U.S. coal power plants. We are that inefficient. Consider the population growing from 297 million in 2005 to 392 million in 2040. If the U.S. goes from 12,347 kWh per capita per year to 7,032 kWh during this time period, then annual generation goes from 3667 TWh to 2757 TWh, a decrease of 910 TWh. Since coal generated 1956 TWh from coal in 2005, this is enough to elimate 47% of U.S. coal combustion without building a single alternative energy plant.

    JJ> p.s. Michael: We’re not “letting the future of a favorable climate hang on technological breakthroughs.” We need to get started yesterday in deploying every available tool as quickly as is politically possible (while working to advance what is politically possible!).

    Amen to that. I just wish it weren’t a postscript.

    JJ> We’re simply concerned that the scale of the challenge and the corresponding “technology gap” makes technological breakthroughs (in price and performance of existing, emerging and new technologies) essential. If the climate challenge demands we make that bet, we’d better place our chips down now, on as many of those roulette squares as possible.

    Please explain what you mean by a technology gap. As an example, Joe’s 14 wedges are based upon present day technology. Deployment will reduce their price through the standard industrial “learning curve”. All we need are the policies, incentives, and regulations that get deployment started. It may not require large government spending. Sure, development and maybe research might produce even better solutions, but we cannot bet on that. As you agree above, we need to start deployment yesterday.

  64. Earl Killian says:

    Jesse, I was not able to post the reply I composed here (perhaps due to length), so I put it here.

  65. David Lewis says:

    As you write: “I would estimate that the actual federal budget today that goes toward R&D breakthroughs that could plausibly deliver a half wedge or more by 2050 (i.e. not fusion, not hydrogen) is probably a few hundred million dollars at most. I wouldn’t mind raising that to a billion dollars a year. “

    So, like you would take the 150 billion dollars Obama is proposing to throw at R&D for climate in the next ten years and throw $140 of it back in his face? How big is the US budget anyway? Let’s see… that’s $3.1 trillion…. that’s three thousand and one billion dollars. And you won’t spend one billion, no matter what the proposal, even the yet to be presented ones, there’s nothing out there and nothing that could even BE out there that you could imagine that might take that much money to develop that you would spend more than one billion of the precious US federal budget on. And you were saying Andy Revkin was a moron for qualifying and hedging on the cause of the Arctic ice disappearing. What kind of bozo are you?

  66. I don’t consider the above to answer my question, and it is probably the most imporant question I asked. Getting new clean energy to be cheaper than new dirty energy does not prevent disaster in 30-some years, because at 2 ppm per year, the existing plants are sufficient to destroy the atmosphere.

  67. msn nickleri says:

    Jesse, I was not able to post the reply I composed here (perhaps due to length)

  68. I want to thank for this necessery good post.
    Thanks.

  69. George says:

    Can you fix the link
    http://www.shell.com/static/media-en/downloads/51852.pdf
    ? Would be interested in reading the original document.

    Thanks