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Bill Gates is wrong about “energy miracles”

By Joe Romm  

"Bill Gates is wrong about “energy miracles”"

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To preserve a livable climate, we need technology deployment. That’s what drives innovation, as Gates himself used to argue.

So I listened to Bill Gates’ TED Speech a few hours after he gave it in Long Beach, CA.  Let’s just call that an IT miracle.

It wasn’t 80% crap like his recent piece on energy.

Quite the reverse, it was more like a miraculous ice cream cone made up of 80% homemade chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream and only 20% bat guano.  Curiously, the guano kind of stands out when you lick it, and that’s what people talk about.

Since TED is all hush-hush, most people get only the snippets the media shares, such as HuffPost’s headline:  “Bill Gates’ TED Speech 2010: ‘We Need Energy Miracles’.”  Mongabay.com reported:

Gates said the world needs to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and suggested researchers spent the next 20 years developing new technologies and the follow 20 years implementing them.

But I’ve got the scoop for you — and I’ll post the transcript when I get it.

Yes, Bill Gates keeps diminishing the value of aggressive action now, which is just plain suicidal.  We need both massive technology deployment now and much more innovation.  But the former is the sine qua non for having any chance to preserve a livable climate.  Ironically, the former is also the key to the latter, something Gates himself used to argue.  Strangely, Gates strongly praises Gore’s book even though its main thrust is directly at odds with Gates’.

This post will:

  1. Look at what’s good in the speech.
  2. Explain why “Energy Miracles” are widely overrated as a strategy for preserving a livable climate.
  3. Explain why tech deployment is the key to the kind of innovation Gates wishes for.
  4. Raise the issue some technologists have raised with me:  Is Gates is a hypocrite?

WHAT’S GOOD IN GATES’ TED SPEECH

Let’s start with the homemade chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream.

First, Gates has finally gone on the record as to how serious a threat is posed by global warming and unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases.  He warns it could lead to starvation around the planet.  He notes:

Now the exact amount of how you map from a certain increase in CO2 to what temperature will be and where the positive feedbacks are, there’s some uncertainty there — but not very much.  And there’s certainly uncertainty about how bad the effects will be, but they will be extremely bad.

This is something many, many of us have been waiting for him to do, particular because of his expansive philanthropic work with Warren Buffet (see Gates Foundation strategy raises key question: Can the problems of the developing world be solved by ignoring global warming?).

Gates is unequivocal on the science:  “CO2 is warming the planet.”  He understands that we have to get near zero emissions by mid-century, especially the rich countries.  He talk to the “top scientists” and learned “until we get near to zero, the temperature will continue to rise.”

He recognizes “the IPCC is not necessarily the worst case” in term of impacts — though by now, that conclusion still deserves a “Duh” (see Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water).  For the plausible worst-case, see UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”

He doesn’t attack efficiency and renewables and immediate action with a string of dubious or illogical claims as he recently did (see “Bill Gates disses energy efficiency, renewables, and near-term climate action while embracing the magical thinking of Bjorn Lomborg (and George Bush).”  Woo hoo!

Indeed, he notes that “we do need a market incentive” — a price for carbon either in the form of “cap-and-trade” or an “energy tax.”

He further asserts we can achieve a factor of 3 to 6 in efficiency gain across the board.  Here is where he dives into the guano.

He fails to spell out just how aggressive we must be in technology deployment to achieve that efficiency gain.  After all, we have the ability to dramatically increase the efficiency of almost every major human enterprise is now — cost-effectively.  We don’t need energy miracles, we need to address market and regulatory barriers.

And while he correctly asserts that even if we do all of that efficiency, we can’t possibly solve the climate problem without multiple, massively scaled carbon-free energy sources.  He identifies the five most likely candidates for massive scaling as carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, wind and solar (both PV and solar thermal).  But he spends most of his time talking about nuclear, raising questions about renewables (transmission and storage) while pushing the notion that “We Need Energy Miracles.”

By miracles, he says, he doesn’t mean things that are “impossible.”  The “microprocessor” and the “personal computer” are the “miracles” he means.  As we’ll see, the PC in particular doesn’t match his (new) theory of how you get mass deployment of low cost innovative technology.

He doesn’t diss action now, but says that action now is “equally or maybe less important” than accelerating the pace of innovation breakthroughs.

And yes, when asked about the timescale issue, he does say “we need 20 year to invent and 20 years to deploy” his energy miracles.

Bizarrely, he says “a lot of great books have been written about” this subject and “I’ll be sending you” the new book by Gore, Our Choice.  But had he read the book — or even picked it up — then he would have noticed that it is almost directly at odds with his argument.  Right there on the back jacket next to Gore’s picture is an excerpt from the introduction by Gore beginning:

It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis period.  The only missing ingredient is collective will….

Our Choice gathers in one place all of the most effective solutions that are available now and that, together, will solve this crisis.

As CNN reports, Gates ended his remarks:

If he could wish for anything in the world, Gates said he would not pick the next 50 years’ worth of presidents or wish for a miracle vaccine.

He would choose energy that is half as expensive as coal and doesn’t warm the planet.

While Gates understands we need a price on carbon to make coal power more expensive, what he simply doesn’t understand — or, rather, what he no longer understands — is that the best way to drop the price of price of carbon-free power is through deployment.

WHY DEPLOYMENT, FAR MORE THAN R&D, IS THE KEY TO BOTH INNOVATION AND STABILIZING AT OR BELOW 2°C.

I was acting assistant secretary (and principal deputy assistant secretary) of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy from 1995 to 1998, helping to run the billion-dollar federal office in charge of research, development, demonstration, and deployment of most low-carbon technologies, including three of Gates’ would be miracles.  For much of that time I was in charge of technology and market analysis for the office.  Since then, I have written a number of books on low carbon technology development and deployment.

So I have thought a lot about whether Gates is right that we need multiple “energy miracles” developed through a $10 billion-a-year government R&D effort to stabilize at 350 to 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 comparable to the microprocessor. Seriously. Hot fusion? No. Cold fusion? As if. Space solar power? Come on, how could that ever compete with solar baseload (aka 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 if ever (see “California Hydrogen Highway R.I.P.).

I don’t know why the energy miracle crowd can’t see the obvious “” so I will elaborate here. I will also discuss 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 below 450 ppm, we need to deploy by 2050 some 12 to 14 stabilization wedges (each delivering 1 billion tons of avoided carbon) covering both efficient energy use and carbon-free supply (see here).  The technologies we have today, plus a few that are in the verge of being commercialized, can provide the needed low-carbon energy [see "How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated)"].
  • Myriad energy-efficient solutions 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 350-450 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

How do we achieve rapid innovation in existing technologies, as Gates suggests he wants?

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 “” and I’m glad Obama had doubled spending in this area. 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.

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. The IEA report concluded:

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.

Deployment, deployment, deployment, R&D, deployment, deployment, deployment.

Put another way the only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill.

IS GATES A HYPOCRITE?

After Gates put out his first piece dissing energy efficiency and action, I wrote a very critical analysis. Afterwards, a couple of technologists wrote to point out how hypocritical Gates was to push innovation-through-big-government-R&D, given that he has long been touting innovation-through-deployment for his own industry.

As recently as two (!) years ago in a Carnegie Mellon speech, Gates argued:

But Paul Allen and I thought, okay, we’ll do software. We’ll build a platform, and encourage other people to write software. Now, there was an assumption there that we could get millions of machines out, because, after all, if you want to make it economic to spend tens of millions developing software, and sell it for $100 or so, you’ve really got to get that base out there.

But because we made that bet, and we got that going, it became a virtuous cycle. That is, as more machines would sell, it created the market for a broader range of software, and that further drove the market for the machines, and in fact that volume allowed the price of the machine to come down. And that’s why from 1975 onward, that personal computer market actually not only became significant, it actually become the center of the entire computer industry.

The large machines we use today, and the big server farms, or corporate data servers, these are all based on the Windows PC architecture which, because of its volume, has come down in price, and improved in performance very, very dramatically. And so we have a large software industry.

Precisely.

One technologist (who wants to remain anonymous) wrote:

The man built his career on shipping “what we have now” and then improving it, using programmers paid out of the revenues gained from shipping not-quite-yet-ready product.  Not once cent of Big Government R&D Breakthrough Command Economy directly flowed to Microsoft.  To be fair, big government R&D did lead to things like the integrated circuit and the Internet, both of which had something to do with enabling Bill’s fortune.  His business strategy for his entire life was antithetical to the Lomborg nonsense “don’t do anything until the Big Research Lab In The Sky Makes It Perfect.”

We simply don’t have the time to wait for Energy Miracles, and Gates simply hasn’t proposed the best strategy to achieve his wish — dramatic improvement in performance and a sharp drop in price.

The time to act — to deploy — is now.

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49 Responses to Bill Gates is wrong about “energy miracles”

  1. paulm says:

    Hey Joe, why don’t you invite him to an inter/blog-view or a guest blog?

  2. Lamont says:

    That felt like too long and too disorganized of a post to me.

    All you needed was:

    One paragraph to point out what is right about what Gates said and his general agreement with the diagnosis of the problem.

    One paragraph to sketch out why he’s wrong that we can’t mitigate it right away.

    One paragraph explaining wedges.

    A little graphic to illustrate that we can mitigate it right away using wedges to do so.

    Another paragraph summarizing the graphic and pointing to the work that you’ve already done on wedges.

    Another paragraph pointing out that there’s no “miracles” worth even half a wedge in the near horizon.

    A graphic pointing out what happens if we wait until 2050 for a “miracle cure” vs. what happens if we start working right now with a little bit of explanatory text.

    And I’d ditch the whole “hypocrisy” argument, but YMMV. Bigger point I think is just that he’s wrong…

    You might also want to make an analogy to the phrase “analysis paralysis” which is often what happens to IT software projects when they can’t get to the actual implementation phase because designers become stuck on looking for the perfect/ideal solution.

    [JR: You motivated me to trim this a little, but fundamentally I need to make the whole case on the subject matter this important. And I think it important to highlight what Gates says that is right. The piece is written so you can stop at any point and still get the main arguments.

    The hypocrisy is interesting but it's the fact that he himself made the key historical analogy that is so important.]

  3. Wit's End says:

    Gates’ entire analysis is skewed from the get-go by this flawed observation, that from scientists, he

    “…learned ‘until we get near to zero, the temperature will continue to rise.’”

    NO, NO!!

    Well after we get near to zero emissions, the temperature will continue to rise!

    [JR: I don't consider that a serious error because I suspect he knows that. His point was that you have to get to zero in the not-too-distant future, which is more than 99% of the opinion makers understand.]

  4. Sean Taylor says:

    Forget Bill Gates, here is the most realistic solution to the coming climate/resource/population crunch. The advanced nations simply roll out technologies to humanely reduce the population to a more sustainable level – say 1 billion. Ecosystems will be saved from long-term destruction, non-renewable resources will last much longer and those who remain can live a comfortable existence.

    Sure, it won’t be pleasant, but it will buy us a lot of time and enable us to develop a more sustainable form of civilization. The problem right now is we’re nearly out of time — war and global chaos are going to take us down long before we can reinvent industrial civilization. A century or two after this Great Depopulation, if we haven’t wised up and the population again grows to an unsustainable level, we simply do it again. Rinse. Repeat. Problem solved. There, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?

  5. When it comes to climate science, Bill Gates is a rookie newbie… Nice of him to step up — But it looks like he is making a token appearance to show he is concerned…. Clearly he has little grasp of the situation – because if he did, the first thing he might do is have is Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust divest itself of the billions invested in Coal. http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1166559/000104746909010214/0001047469-09-010214.txt Then he might ask others to do the same…. Such a public relations error shows that Bill Gates fails to realize his greatest asset: the world sees him as a brilliant leader in technology. He has a duty to know the situation and act wisely. Otherwise he squanders both his empires and misses his real chance to change the world.

    I need a job, I would be happy to work for him again. But I suspect he still suffers from severe reality insulation. His minions fail to give him good information. That just means he will have to get it in the public arena. More real, but more embarrassing for him. Thanks Joe for making this happen.

  6. Doug Bostrom says:

    Great explanation, thank you.

    The perfect is indeed the enemy of the good, looks like.

    Not to beat up on Bill Gates, but as Joe mentions his success was a lot thanks to forgetting about perfectionism and simply going with what he had, or even selling what he did not quite yet have. The result was hardly perfect, distinctly ugly in fact, but had the virtue of existence. Good enough, apparently.

    Might also be worth remembering that Gates is a beneficiary as well as to some degree a victim of our standard capitalistic personality cult syndrome. He’s had stellar success in one arena but he’s not omniscient; we shouldn’t let our expectations require him to be perfect, surely.

  7. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    I found the article encouraging in that Gates seems to understand what is at stake. I wouldn’t call him a hypocrite though, at least not based on his current stance on technology deployment. It could be he’s not seen the similarity between what he did back then with what we need to do now.

    Till you discussed it in your post I hadn’t considered that either. It seems very obvious now, but it wasn’t something where I’d made all the connections between the ideas.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes to your same conclusions soon.

  8. evnow says:

    I think we are going about it the wrong way. Obviously Gates is someone with a big megaphone – so we should try to influence him and “educate” him. He could become a good spokesperson – atleast someone more acceptable to republicans than Gore.

  9. Dean says:

    “I don’t know why the energy miracle crowd can’t see the obvious”

    Because it goes against their world view / ideology that you simply can’t talk about lifestyle.

    This is a variant of the Julian Simon cornucopian theories that whatever problems humans run into, we can invent our way out of them. Obviously it happens sometimes, but to me it is like not getting a job because you know you can win the lottery – repeatedly – if you just believe strongly enough.

  10. Wit's End says:

    Right, forgive me for being repetitious.

    We could easily buy ourselves a substantial amount of time to allow us to mitigate, adapt, and invent clever technological solutions. We wouldn’t escape all of the effects of climate change, but we could certainly ameliorate the very worst ( insert favorite apocalyptic scenario here).

    Unfortunately, to collectively make any even the most minor adjustments in our consumption of energy requires an intolerable acknowledgment that the Reaganesque mentality – of drill baby drill, burn baby burn – is just untenable.

    And THAT is what is holding in abeyance any action to cap our carbon emissions or even just conserve energy, or subsidize clean energy – the greedy go west go west and exploit evermore mentality of American expansionism simply won’t allow for the notion that we should conserve, reduce and protect.

  11. Mike#22 says:

    “Full fathom five thy father lies,
    Of his bones are coral made,
    Those are pearls that were his eyes,
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
    But doth suffer a sea-change,
    into something rich and strange,
    Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
    Ding-dong.
    Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.”

    [JR: The Tempest! You go, guy!]

  12. To deploy existing technologies means investing in some technologies that have less of a gee-whiz factor than what Gates is used to or at least strives towards. Computer software can relatively rapidly be developed to be either a technological wonder or a kloodgy mess.

    To solve the climate crisis involves investing in technologies that are often advanced but do not so regularly feed our addiction to the new and the miraculous. I believe Gates has not yet adjusted to the time-scale of energy technology development and its uncertainties.

    Furthermore, he just needs to educate himself on the climate science, impending tipping points, and what is already out there that can solve the problem. Much of it is very good but unglamorous.

  13. mike roddy says:

    Well said, Joe, thanks.

    Many people, including Gates, do not realize how basically simple solar thermal utility scale power is. The main components are concrete, steel, off the shelf boilers and turbines, and heliostats made from either metal or lightweight polymers with thin reflectors. Improvements are not going to be magical, they will be incremental, and are a function of scale, experience, and basic engineering advances. In the meantime, reliable power is being generated at scale right now in both solar and wind power plants throughout the world, and the cost gap is narrow (in spite of what you may read in MSM).

    The original Manhattan Project had a specific technology in mind. Without that, we are decades away, and, as Joe said, we don’t have that much time.

    As for energy efficiency technologies, they have already been developed and deployed everywhere in the world except in the US, particularly in Germany. We heat and cool hotel rooms all day when nobody is in the room. There are many other examples. All Gates has to do is send Microsoft business travel only to hotels that use very little energy. This decision alone would enable any number of energy saving room microprocessor controls (my business) and insulation improvements. I now live in Seattle, and Microsoft has not taken this step. He can email me if he wants to, at mike.greenframe@gmail.com. I’ve already called on key Microsoft hotels near their headquarters, and gotten nowhere.

  14. Doug Bostrom says:

    Michael Hoexter says: February 14, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    “To deploy existing technologies means investing in some technologies that have less of a gee-whiz factor than what Gates is used to or at least strives towards. ”

    Well said, worth noting. A lot of what looks like disarray in the “alternative” energy landscape is about various folks promoting proprietary technologies. As Mike Roddy mentioned, solar thermal collection is just not that complicated, though storage presents more challenge.

    The Darwinian struggles of innovations in the marketplace are exciting to watch but unfortunately are also distracting, sufficiently that we often forget what we can accomplish without further invention. As well, this combat sucks up a lot of capital in a way that could hardly be termed efficient.

    We ought to be promoting domestic hot water heating much more than we are; this easy to gather, low grade solar energy has been whipsawed by fickle tax schemes and opportunistic hucksters but the basic technology is drop dead simple, very efficient in terms of dollars spent for effective watts gained. Unfortunately it’s perhaps too simple to be sexy enough to draw attention or capital. Yet domestic hot water represents a sizable slice of our energy consumption, demand and hence pollution that could be substantially reduced without any invention at all.

  15. ChicagoMike says:

    Sean: “Forget Bill Gates, here is the most realistic solution to the coming climate/resource/population crunch. The advanced nations simply roll out technologies to humanely reduce the population to a more sustainable level – say 1 billion.”

    Do you honestly think that reducing the Earth’s population by 80% would be an easier solution than an aggressive technology deployment program? While there are a few simple things we can do to slow population growth (improving education for girls and reducing infant mortality rates for example) that kind of reduction could only be accomplished through draconian government action that nearly all of us would consider immoral. A sustained, WWII-scale technology mobilization could get us to a zero GHG emission world at a cost of maybe 5% of global GDP.

    Besides, population growth isn’t really the most significant factor driving GHG emissions, as Joe has written about extensively:
    http://climateprogress.org/2009/04/13/consumption-population-global-warming-resource-threat/

  16. Dan B says:

    Joe;

    Gates has set the clock – 20 and 20.

    SET YOUR OWN CLOCK. CHALLENGE HIM!

    Development needs a timeline and a due date or it is meaningless. MEANINGLESS WITHOUT A DUE DATE – Business 101 and Communication 101.

    A CLOCK. That’s what global warming, clean energy, 21st Century Green Economy need, all of them. ALL OF THEM NEED A DUE DATE – A CLOCK.

    It can tick, it can drop sand through an hourglass, it can swing a pendulum – it’s visual.

    It’s a universal icon, and the end and beginning can be a “Gate-way”.

  17. Leland Palmer says:

    Actually, the closest thing to an energy miracle that I know of is BECCS:

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

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.[3]

    We need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them by force to carbon negative BECCS power plants.

    To pay for the conversion, we need to add a topping cycle, as in the Clinton era HIPPS (High Performance Power System) and IFCC (Indirectly Fired Combined Cycle) ideas. Both of these terms actually describe the same idea: use a high temperature heat exchanger to heat air to roughly 1000 degrees C, run it through a conventional gas turbine to generate power, and use the exhaust from the gas turbine at 500-600 degrees C to run a conventional steam cycle. Doing this can roughly double the amount of electricity generated from the same amount of fuel.

    To do this, though, we need a cheap place to put the CO2. One possibility is the deep saline aquifers, with an estimated several trillion tons of CO2 storage space.

    Another possibility is to find a geologically ideal location, such as underneath the Juan de Fuca plate, off the west coast of the U.S, and inject the CO2 into fractured basalt layers with that it could chemically react with to form carbonates.

    Still another possibility is to heat it before injection, and use the heat and pressure of the injection site to set off positive feedback reactions that would speed up the formation of carbonates:

    In Situ Mineral Carbonation in Peridotite for CO2 Capture and Storage

    http://americasclimatechoices.org/Geoengineering_Input/attachments/Kelemen%20%20Matter%20NAS%20White%20Paper.pdf

    In situ reaction of CO2 with a common rock type, mantle peridotite, to form solid carbonate minerals could be used to capture and store billions of tons of CO2 per km3 of rock per year 1. There may be positive feedback regimes in which high reaction rates at high temperature are sustained by exothermic heating, and permeability and reactive surface area are maintained or enhanced by cracking in reponse to large increases in the solid volume. If these regimes can be accessed, in situ peridotite carbonation offers a rapid, relatively inexpensive, and essentially permanent method for CO2 capture and storage.

    Zero emissions is good, but negative emissions would be much, much better.

    We are told, by the fossil funded McKinsey studies, for example, that such carbon capture and storage solutions would be too expensive. But then, that is the message that the fossil fuel companies would like to spread, so that they will be left alone, isn’t it? And since cost is all about efficiency, adding a high temperature gas turbine topping cycle could produce enough efficiency gain to pay for the parasitic losses incurred by capturing the CO2 and compressing it for deep injection.

    As far as the free market goes, the Chinese with their command economy are eating our lunch in many economic areas including clean energy. Under John Kenneth Galbraith’s sound management, our WWII era wage and price controlled economy practically doubled in size in only something like six years, without excessive inflation – and economic miracle. So, maybe the genius of the free market has been overstated, and certainly, American markets dominated by a few big banks and oil corporations, distorted by decades of subsidies for fossil fuels are not free markets. Plus huge scale commodity futures trading by financial institutions like Goldman Sachs has effectively decoupled price of fossil fuels from supply and demand.

    Gates is a monopolist, not really a capitalist. I’m not sure what he has to say about clean energy technology is either correct or useful. Certainly, delays of any sort are no longer tolerable.

    With solar thermal, wind, and biomass we have all the technology we need to get started, and do so on a massive scale. And carbon storage is actually a reasonably mature technology, which has been done for secondary oil recovery on medium volume scales for decades.

  18. Ken Johnson says:

    Re “The time of break-even” (for PV), utilities are reportedly already starting to sign PV contracts at grid-parity prices.

    Re “No existing or breakthrough technology is going to beat the price of power from a coal plant that has already been built,” U.S. coal plants are nearing retirement age (see here and here). It probably wouldn’t require much of a price signal to make an accelerated phase-out of coal economical.

    Another point, re “Gates said the world needs to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050″: The emission rate in 2050 doesn’t really matter; what does matter is the atmospheric GHG concentration level, i.e., the integrated emission rate between now and 2050. Marginal, near-term emission reductions could make a big difference in the requisite 2050 emission rate to achieve a particular GHG concentration target.

  19. Dan B says:

    The clock that sets the time remaining until we have no recourse except covering our heads will determine if we act in time.

    That clock will work if it’s concrete. Or as Frank Luntz says famously, visual.

  20. Stephen Watson says:

    According to my computer’s dictionary: Miracle –

    a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency : the miracle of rising from the grave.
    • a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences : it was a miracle that more people hadn’t been killed or injured [as adj. ] : a miracle drug.
    • an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something : a machine which was a miracle of design.

    Is this kind of thinking what is supposed to be the basis for a sound energy policy? If so, we are in worse trouble than I’d thought.

    This obsession with technology is simply further denial. Technology means we have to change nothing but only decide on the next shiny new (efficient) product to buy. It means that we can carry on as we are now because technology implies that it will all be resolved by someone else. As Al Gore has pointed out above, we have everything we need right now. The thing we don’t have though is the collective will for change and without that, temperatures will just keep rising. Imagine if we decided to drive less (or not at all!!), fly less, eat less, shop less and waste less. Just imagine. No new technology required, just a change of mind, and the amount of ‘deployment’ is almost nothing.

  21. pete best says:

    Did Bill Gates have to fight the right and their lobbyists to get Windows to sell and work? No of course not for if he did we probably would not have Windows today as we know it to be. Fighting the good fight politically against fossil fuels when plenty of companies have srious money and vested interests to protect and maintain.

    Does Bill Gates much like Tony Blair expect no cultural change to occur andwe just deploy 12 wedges of clean energy and change the world that way. This is naive to be fair. We need much more than technology change alone, we need efficincy gains. cultural change to what we drive and when etc. What we eat even and globalisation might need to stop somewhat along with the fable of endless growth.

  22. prokaryote says:

    4. Artificialy reducing 70-80% of earth human population it is not feasible. Think of economy and markets aswell.

    We need to adapt more 1 child politics and wealth/health worldwide. If we keep refusing to educate huge parts of the world it will end in terror and waves from it through every nation. Focus on the opportunities. A bigger population (which uses clean energy) can tackle the climate crisis faster. Worldwide economic growth without further climate implications is only possible with clean energy solution.

    It comes down to space cultivation in the long run and climate farming now – where everyone is needed.

  23. Lou Grinzo says:

    Pete (#21): Excellent point about the nature of change needed.

    This is a detail that I think is overlooked in about 95% of conversations on climate change–we’ve pushed the planet so far, in terms of consuming resources and saturating sinks that the easy, comfortable solutions don’t add up to enough. Yes, we certainly should do the easy things immediately and start benefiting from those steps ASAP, but as the saying goes, you can only unscrew every other light bulb once. After that, you’re replacing bulbs with more efficient models, installing motion detectors to turn off lights when not needed, figuring out how to use fewer rooms at a time, how best to generate the electricity for those lights, how to use hybrid lighting systems that mix sunlight with artificial light, etc.

    We’re still in the early stages of making the transition into the Metricene, the time when we have no choice but to attempt to actively manage the planet’s environment. It’s going to take a lot of head reshaping (and no doubt some really big mistakes in the short run) if we have any hope of getting it right.

  24. Leland Palmer says:

    Another possible “energy miracle” – adding a Brayton topping cycle to solar thermal power plants to boost their thermal efficiency. This is the same idea as adding a Brayton topping cycle to coal plants, but it would be spared many of the corrosion problems that coal fired power plants have, because solar is much, much cleaner than coal.

    Scroll the page linked to about halfway down, to see the Solugas combined gas turbine/steam cycle power plant:

    http://www.solugas.com/index/stp.html

    Solar hybrid gas turbine systems

    One of the most promising concepts for the cost reduction of solar thermal electricity is the introduction of the solar energy into the Brayton topping cycle of a combined cycle (CC) power plant. In this way the solar heat can be converted to renewable electric energy with the highest currently available conversion efficiency of modern combined cycle plants.

    Scheme of solar-hybrid gas turbine system (Solugas demonstration system in dotted box)

    Power towers with heliostat fields are used to concentrate the solar radiation to a receiver placed on the top of the tower. The receiver absorbs the concentrated solar irradiation and transfers the solar heat to pressurized air, which can be heated to temperatures up to 1000ºC. The hot, pressurized air from the solar receiver is directly fed into the combustion chamber of a gas turbine where natural gas is added to further heat the air to the turbine firing temperature design point.

    The serial connection of pressurized solar air receivers with the combustion chamber of a gas turbine allows a solar-hybrid operation that can compensate for any deficiency in solar radiation. Thus, the power output of the solar-hybrid power plant can be guaranteed independent of the sun’s position or meteorological conditions, and still meet the Utilities power demand requirements. Depending on the system configuration and operation strategy, the power output from solar energy can be between 40% and 90% depending on the design conditions. In terms of thermodynamic efficiency, the concept of a central solar high temperature receiver, in which pressurized air is heated up to 1000ºC and converted into electrical energy by means of a combined cycle, is superior to any currently available solar thermal application for electricity generation.

    The concept of solar-hybrid gas turbine systems leads to the following advantages:

    * High cost reduction potential due to the high conversion efficiency
    * Low environmental impact due to low water consumption
    – gas turbine Brayton cycle: no cooling water required
    – combined cycle configuration: up to 70% less cooling water required
    * Reduced land usage due to high conversion efficiency which reduces collector area and land use
    * Guaranteed dispatchable power, independent on meteorological conditions

    Solar thermal power plants at 35% thermal efficiency are good.

    Solar thermal power plants at 50% thermal efficiency would be better – and cheaper.

  25. prokaryote says:

    Enhanced absorption and carrier collection in Si wire arrays for photovoltaic applications
    Si wire arrays are a promising architecture for solar-energy-harvesting applications, and may offer a mechanically flexible alternative to Si wafers for photovoltaics1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. To achieve competitive conversion efficiencies, the wires must absorb sunlight over a broad range of wavelengths and incidence angles, despite occupying only a modest fraction of the array’s volume. Here, we show that arrays having less than 5% areal fraction of wires can achieve up to 96% peak absorption, and that they can absorb up to 85% of day-integrated, above-bandgap direct sunlight. In fact, these arrays show enhanced near-infrared absorption, which allows their overall sunlight absorption to exceed the ray-optics light-trapping absorption limit18 for an equivalent volume of randomly textured planar Si, over a broad range of incidence angles. We furthermore demonstrate that the light absorbed by Si wire arrays can be collected with a peak external quantum efficiency of 0.89, and that they show broadband, near-unity internal quantum efficiency for carrier collection through a radial semiconductor/liquid junction at the surface of each wire. The observed absorption enhancement and collection efficiency enable a cell geometry that not only uses 1/100th the material of traditional wafer-based devices, but also may offer increased photovoltaic efficiency owing to an effective optical concentration of up to 20 times.
    http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nmat2635.html

    We have the technology.

  26. SecularAnimist says:

    Much discussion about whether Bill Gates “understands” this or that aspect of alternative energy or efficiency technologies. And Joe asks whether Gates is a hypocrite.

    What Gates is, is a profiteer. He is pushing nuclear power because he has invested in nuclear power and he wants to make money. It’s really that simple.

    Make no mistake: there will be plenty of people like Gates and Pickens who will try to make a lot of money from the urgent need to phase out carbon emissions by pushing various schemes that are for some reason attractive to them (e.g. they are already heavily invested in them), that are potentially vastly lucrative for them, but that are in fact extremely dubious at best, unhelpful, and even counter-productive.

    Look, this is a guy who spent his IT career blathering about “innovation” while his company started off by buying a desktop OS which it did not create, then licensed it to IBM and thereby gained an effective monopoly on desktop OSes for business computing, and proceeded to steal genuinely important innovations from Apple, Novell, Netscape and other truly innovative companies, while at the same time using its desktop OS monopoly to undermine, marginalize and destroy competitors who had superior technology.

    Based on Gates’ history with Microsoft, there is NO reason to expect him to be a positive contributor to the clean tech revolution, and there is every reason to expect him to be a dishonest, manipulative profiteer.

  27. SecularAnimist says:

    You know, according to Gates’ argument, it was a mistake to deploy all those IBM PC clones with 8 Mhz Intel 8088 CPUs and 640 Kb of RAM running MS-DOS back in the early Eighties — you know, the ones that jump-started the personal computer revolution that made his fortune?

    Nah. We should have waited twenty years for a “computing miracle” to come along before we started deploying anything.

  28. prokaryote says:

    I think the best what people like Gates or classic energy companys could do beside clean energy(sun, wind & thermal) is investing into big biochar facilities. It’s a win win situation. You burn organic material and get gas, oil and biochar(char rich in trapped greenhouse gases).

    Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass, and differs from charcoal only in the sense that its primary use is not for fuel, but for biosequestration or atmospheric carbon capture and storage.[1] Charcoal is a stable solid rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil. Biochar is of increasing interest because of concerns about climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG). Carbon dioxide capture also ties up large amounts of oxygen and requires energy for injection (as via carbon capture and storage), whereas the biochar process breaks into the carbon dioxide cycle, thus releasing oxygen as did coal formation hundreds of millions of years ago. Biochar is a way for carbon to be drawn from the atmosphere and is a solution to reducing the global impact of farming (and in reducing the impact from all agricultural waste).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar

  29. Bob Horn says:

    I’d like to see the graphics that lamont asks for in your blog tomorrow !

  30. Chris Dudley says:

    Joe,

    You are really in your element when describing technology development and adoption. I think what you are mainly faced with is an extended metaphor of energy heroism. That some valiant feat of inventiveness is going to save the day is the basic idea behind calls for a Manhattan or Apollo Project in clean energy. But if we look at development of energy technology as it is, there are no heroes. Dead coal miners are either victims, or if the mine owner gets his way, clumsy oafs who have cut production because they got themselves killed. Soldiers fighting for access to world oil resources are more and more considered dupes though we honor their sacrifice. And even domestic oil came from “the most cruel, impudent, pitiless, and grasping monopoly that ever fastened upon a country.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Rockefeller#Monopoly While there are plaques to honor the people who died building our dams, it is no different from bridges and sky scrapers and safer working conditions would have been a better way to go. Energy just can’t be imbued with the heroism of astronauts and rocket scientists in reality. At best so far we have the suffering Prometheus where entrails are torn out just like coal from a strip mine.

    Rather than stories of miracles or heroes, we need stories of diligence or renewal. The victory of the tortoise of wind power over the frivolous hare of coal power, the return of spring as Persephone is release from the hellish coal mine to come into the purity of sunlight. Stories of constant repeated effort are needed rather than the narrative that Revkin or Gates lean towards. As Bucky Fuller wrote, fossil fuel use only makes sense if it is a path to renewable energy. That is the story of a journey, not a miracle.

  31. Lee says:

    Lamont ask for “A graphic pointing out what happens if we wait until 2050 for a “miracle cure” vs. what happens if we start working right now with a little bit of explanatory text.”

    Figure 22 in the Copenhagen Diagnosis provides a good view of this issue. http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org/

  32. prokaryote says:

    Lee, this page is a bad example of a easy accessable website with content.

    Warning: javascript not enabled in browser
    When i click read online there is just a black screen and asking me to download flash. Downloads for a lot of pdf files, starting with indonesia language and no clue what is inside those files.

    Than the Full report comes with 32 mb – wt.?
    So i donwload the low version in 3 mb, than i have 3 pages with logo and images, the 4th page is blank, many pages are blank – obvious this pdf is not a web version. On page 11 i can start reading about greenhouse gases. Because the pdf is so huge (maybe because half the pages are blank) it is an act to read or scroll the pdf. The text seems designed for the technical audiance. I rate this website and content 2/5.

  33. Joe,

    Do ‘learning curves’ limit the maximum speed of cost decrease?

    On a different note, there is a possibility of co-signing the open letter of 55 Dutch scientists regarding climate change and the alleged IPCC errors. See the letter (and possibility for signing, PhD’s only) here: http://www.sense.nl/openletter

  34. Chris Winter says:

    Richard Pauli wrote: “When it comes to climate science, Bill Gates is a rookie newbie…”

    I had the same impression reading Joe’s piece. It could be that he’s been so involved in IT, and more recently in his Foundation’s work on diseases, that it just “snuck up on him.”

    Bill Gates in charge of Microsoft was no hero. He may be aware of that, and trying to change it with the Foundation. He has done some good work on immunization. I’m willing to cut him some slack therefore.

    But I agree that he should have divest himself of any coal stocks in his portfolio.

  35. Lee says:

    prokaryote, I don’t have a problem getting to the smaller version of the report but I agree it’s not the the best site and the flash version works for me but not well and I should have warned people away from it. The source of the graph is the German Advisory Counsel on Climate Change. The graph is at the end of their 4 page (388kb) pdf “Factsheet Climate change: Why 2°C?” http://www.wbgu.de/wbgu_factsheet_2_en.pdf

    I should have link to this site in the first place.
    BTW: It a German site but it is in English

  36. fj2 says:

    Re: “So I have thought a lot about whether Gates is right that we need multiple ‘energy miracles’ developed through a $10 billion-a-year government R&D effort to stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm.”

    Richard Smalley did the lecture circuit proposing this several years back.

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

    In his later years, Smalley was very outspoken about the need for cheap, clean energy, which he described as the number one problem facing humanity in the 21st century. He felt that improved science education was key, and went to great lengths to encourage young students to consider careers in science. His slogan for this effort was “Be a scientist, save the world.”

    Smalley’s latest research was focused on carbon nanotubes, specifically focusing on the chemical synthesis side of nanotube research.

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

    Ironically, characteristics including the extreme strength per weight of carbon nanotubes and graphene projected for commercialization around 2050 may have the potential to revolutionize the built environment to greatly facilitate adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

  37. Chris Winter says:

    Sean Taylor (#4) helpfully advises us that the solution to pollution (and global warming) is diminution. The advanced nations should “simply roll out technologies to humanely reduce the population.” He recommends a level of about 1 billion as the final target.

    Right, we’ll just bring in those people from… what was it — Ameeniyar 7? They can build disintegrator units and teach us how to walk into them while cheerfully humming, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”

    But seriously, this is a bad idea on all levels: not only immoral but impractical. What, Mr. Taylor, do you think would be the result if the Western nations tried to impose such a policy on a world in which the two most populous nations have nuclear weapons?

  38. Leif says:

    Chris Dudley, #30: Well said. I continue to feel that the future of corporations is bright indeed but that they must awaken to a new economic horizon. We have two to choose from IMO. The “rational” or the “enforced” By “enforced” I refer to the continual “disaster response” mode that will be imposed by shortages of food and water, population dislocations, etc., all situations that promote gangs and terrorist activity. Which in turn swings society into a “war posture” and dictators.

    On the other hand, a rational approach to me implies a economy that strives for sustainability in all endeavors. All profits of capitalism are focused on the well being of humanity first and foremost with a minimal remainder for ego enhancement. Reward comes from doing good or not at all. Corporations strive to produce products that last a life time or two. That become cherished heirlooms to be passed down. All in an economy that grants access to all humanity.

    The one product that can sustain a rational economy is sustainable energy with production access to all. The cost of that energy should be pegged at the cost of all social services. From Defense to schools and fire departments . Health Care of course. The whole shebang! The GOP would like the fact that there would be no more deficit spending. It is all paid up front. The average man would like it because there would be no more taxes. All taken care of! (GOP won’t like this part.) The National Debt world wide is erased. Big Money got us in this mess, there is NO reason Humanity should pay interest on getting us out. That is a “hit” Big Money takes for F***ing with the Hu-MAN-ity all these years.

  39. Chris Dudley says:

    Leif #38,

    What I write seems to get you going sometimes. All to the good. I tend not to agree with the 1930′s technocrat approach in your third paragraph, essentially making energy the only currency. But, I think you would find some commonality with Shell’s idea of two futures: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3548

  40. Leif says:

    Chris: I admit that much of my brainstorming is just that, mental gymnastics if you will, and yes, you do promote exploration on my part. Thank you for your efforts.

    The main problem I have with the Shell and most all corporate solutions is that they require a top down energy supply. Big companies selling to the little man and further stratifying society. I feel that if energy were a common currency that payed for all social services up front there would be not be a stigma of poor taking from the rich. Allowing everyone with a view of the sun access to sell power to the grid at base price gives them all a cash cow in their yard. City density would lower. Folks could afford to live in the country. Commuting would be free with home made energy. Gardening would proliferate with added home time. (The greenest food is the food you grow.) The power grid would need less investment, given millions of point sources of production and not megawatt adaptations. Surely manufacturing can build lots of user friendly systems for deployment. There will be a technological break through. If society can entice massive migration from the city to the country and a sustainable rural lively hood our national carbon foot print could vastly improve. This needs to happen the world over. Humanity gains nothing with vast populations living in slums.

  41. prokaryote says:

    Lee, thanks.
    Just i think this post here covers this graph already and can read by people without pdf reader.
    http://climateprogress.org/2010/02/09/progress-from-the-copenhagen-accord/#more-18770

  42. Chris Dudley says:

    Leif (#40),

    I was mostly noticing the ‘two futures’ construction as a similarity. Shell does make some solar panels.

  43. Leif says:

    Chris, #42: Shell makes some solar panels but I do not believe there “heart” is in the effort. My guess is it is for “green washing” thou I would love to be proven wrong.

  44. richard schumacher says:

    It’s good that Mr. Gates is finally on board. Now he must realize that we already have available the technologies needed for zero-emission energy: nuclear, wind, and Solar (both PV and thermal, and both ground- and space-based). There is no need to delay deployment while searching for improvements and breakthroughs; these will come in time, and we have no time to waste.

    Of course purists and idealists will continue to disdain and try to shred every idea and vision that are not identical to their own. The perfect is the enemy of the good enough.

  45. Keith Henson says:

    Bill Gates may be right about space based solar power, and wrong too.

    If you want SBSP to displace fossil fuels, then the easy way is to make it less expensive. Parametric analysis will tell you that a transport system is needed that reduces the cost to GEO to ~$100/kg. That can be done at the million tons per year needed to build power sats at a significant rate (200 GW/year).

    Google henson oil drum or ask for a more recent paper.

    The reason Bill could be wrong is that SBSP may not be the only way to tap a very large energy source.

    In either case, the carbon crisis of the second half of the century could be too little CO2 in the air.

    Keith Henson
    hkeithhenson@gmail.com

  46. Leland Palmer says:

    Huh?

    In either case, the carbon crisis of the second half of the century could be too little CO2 in the air.

    How did this standard denier talking point creep into the discussion?

    The odds of “too little CO2 in the air” being a bigger crisis than ocean acidification, release of methane from methane hydrates, the melting of the permafrost, the dynamic destabilization of the polar ice sheets, the burning of the world’s forests, and so on seem almost zero.

    About space based solar power, an electromagnetic launcher or “space gun” might be capable of lowering the cost of putting raw materials like ingots of aluminum and silicon into LEO, there to be processed into solar cells by orbital processing facilities.

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

    Even with a ballistic launcher that could potentially put raw materials into orbit for only the energy cost of putting them there (a couple of dollars a pound), space based solar power is still a long shot, and transmission of energy through the atmosphere to earth without negative effects on the atmosphere seems like another big problem.

  47. Leif says:

    It has been said before but needs to be said over and over. The least expensive “power” is efficiency and the power we do not use. I recall hearing that the United States wastes the amount of energy that the Alaska Pipeline produces. That is money out of the pockets of the masses and into the pockets of the few. A few dollars here a few there. Is it any wonder that the Fossil Industry spoon feeds us crap to perpetuate the status quo?

  48. Joker says:

    I just watched his talk on TED.com and didn’t see anything wrong with the fundamentals of what he was saying, its great to see a mainstream figure like him help get the collective spotlight focused on energy. I agree with some of the points here but attacking him with headlines like:
    Bill Gates is wrong about “energy miracles”, just gives the skeptics dirt to through at us and 90% of the criticism thrown at him is a real stretch, seems like he wants to help the world if you ask me.

  49. claudia horwitz says:

    Hey there…TED is not really so hush hush; Gates’ talk was posted (in full) just a couple days afterwards on TED.com