The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm

In this post I will lay out ‘the solution’ to global warming.

This post is an update of a 2008 analysis I revised in 2009.  A report by the International Energy Agency came to almost exactly the same conclusion as I did, and has relatively similar wedges, so I view that as a vindication of this overall analysis.

Stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm or lower is not politically possible today — not even close — but is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective, as I and others have said for years.

Humanity has only two paths forward at this point.  Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net water use, low-net-material use economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-scheme-collapse forces us to do so circa 2030. The only difference between the two paths is that the first one spares our children and grandchildren and countless future generations untold misery (see “Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water” and “A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice“).

It would require some 12-14 of Princeton’s “stabilization wedges” “” strategies and/or technologies that over a period of a few decades each ultimately reduce projected global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year (see Princeton website here).  These 12-14 wedges are my focus here.

The reason that we need twice as many wedges as Princeton’s Pacala and Socolow have said we need was explained here. That my analysis is largely correct can be seen here: “IEA report, Part 2: Climate Progress has the 450-ppm solution about right.”

I agree with the IPCC’s detailed review of the technical literature, which concluded in 2007 that “The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades.” The technologies they say can beat 450 ppm are here.

Technology Review, one of the nation’s leading technology magazines, also argued in a cover story two years ago, “It’s Not Too Late,” that “Catastrophic climate change is not inevitable. We possess the technologies that could forestall global warming.”

I also agree with McKinsey Global Institute’s 2008 Research in Review: Stabilizing at 450 ppm has a net cost near zero.  For a longer discussion on cost, see “Introduction to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost.”

I do believe only “one” solution exists in this sense “” We must deploy every conceivable energy-efficient and low carbon technology that we have today as fast as we can, though obviously the strategies that are most scalable and have the most co-benefits and fewest negative impacts should be favored.

Princeton’s Pacala and Socolow proposed that this could be done over 50 years, but that is almost certainly too slow.  Sadly, there is little prospect that the aggressive deployment will begin in the next few years (see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2“).

We’re now over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year (more than 8 billion tons of carbon) “” and notwithstanding the global economic slowdown, probably poised to rise 2% per year.  The exact future growth rate is quite hard to project because it depends so much on what China does, how quickly peak oil kicks in, and the extent to which other countries around the world keep their substantial Copenhagen/Cancun commitments in the absence of a global agreement.  We have to average below 18 billion tons of CO2 (below 5 GtC) a year for the entire century if we’re going to stabilize at 450 ppm (see “Nature publishes my climate analysis and solution“).

[A note on units:  One ton of carbon equals 44/12 = 11/3 = 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide (see “The biggest source of mistakes: C vs. CO2“).   A billion tons is a Gigaton (Gt).  By default, I will use GtCO2 and put GtC equivalent in parentheses.]

We need to peak around 2020, then drop at least 60% by 2050 to at most 15 billion tons (4 billion tons of carbon), and then go to near zero net carbon emissions by 2100.  You may view this as politically implausible now, which it is.  We could, of course, peak in say 2025, but then we have to drop even faster and unbuild more polluting, inefficient infrastructure.

Delay is very risky and expensive.  In releasing its 2009 Energy Outloook, the executive director of the  International Energy Agency said last year, “The message is simple and stark: if the world continues on the basis of today’s energy and climate policies, the consequences of climate change will be severe.”  They explain, “we need to act urgently and now. Every year of delay adds an extra USD 500 billion to the investment needed between 2010 and 2030 in the energy sector”.

The risk comes if we wait so long that we set off amplifying carbon cycle feedbacks that undermine mitigation efforts and shoot us quickly to very high levels of CO2 (see Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s!)

If we could do the 12-14 wedges in four decades, we should be able to keep CO2 concentrations to under 450 ppm. If we could do them faster, concentrations could stay even lower. We’d probably need to do this by 2040 and get to zero as soon as possible after that to have a shot at getting back to 350 this century. [And yes, like Princeton, I agree we need to do some R&D now to ensure a steady flow of technologies to make the even deeper emissions reductions needed in the second half of the century.]

I do agree with Hansen et al that the basic strategy is to replace virtually all of coal as quickly as possible, which is why so many of the wedges focused on electricity “” that, along with the need to electrify transportation as much as possible. I also agree that this will be harder and more expensive if conventional oil were not going to peak soon. But for better or worse, it is (see “Merrill: Non-OPEC production has likely peaked, oil output could fall by 30 million bpd by 2015” and “Normally staid International Energy Agency says oil will peak in 2020“).

Also, I tend to view the crucial next four decades in two phases. In the first phase 1, which I now expect begins circa 2020, the world finally gets serious about avoiding catastrophic global warming impacts (i.e. Hell and High Water). We increasingly embrace a rising price for carbon dioxide and a very aggressive technology deployment effort.

In phase 2, 2030 to 2050, after countless climate Pearl Harbors and the inevitable collapse of the Ponzi scheme we call the global economy, the world gets truly desperate, and actions that are not plausible today “” including widespread conservation “” become commonplace (see “Veterans Day, 2030” for a description of what that collapse might look like).

In the basic solution, I have thrown in a some extra wedges since I have no doubt that everybody will find something objectionable in at least 2 of them.  I have blogged on most of the solutions at length.

This is what the entire planet must achieve:

Here are additional wedges that require some major advances in applied research to be practical and scalable, but are considered plausible by serious analysts, especially post-2030:

  • 1 of geothermal plus ocean-based renewables (i.e. tidal, wave, and/or ocean thermal)
  • 1 of coal with biomass cofiring plus carbon capture and storage “” 400 GW of coal plus 200 GW biomass with CCS
  • 1/2 to 1 wedge of cellulosic biofuels for long-distance transport and what little aviation remains in 2050 “” using 8% of the world’s cropland [or less land if yields significantly increase or algae-to-biofuels proves commercial at large scale].
  • 1 of soils and/or biochar- Apply improved agricultural practices to all existing croplands and/or “charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass.” Both are controversial today, but may prove scalable strategies.

That should do the trick. And yes, the scale is staggering.

[Note: For those who prefer terawatts, 1000 GW=1 TW. I have adjusted the peak GW of the renewable wedges to take into account the lower capacity factor of solar and wind. The efficiency measures are assumed to have a capacity factor of about 60%.]

Note: The albedo effort requires a more aggressive effort than described in this post, one that California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld detailed to in aninterview.

I am more bullish about PV and vehicle efficiency these days, based on recent technological advances.

I have been skeptical for a long time that we could do more than 1 wedge of CCS (see “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?“).  Research — and reality — in the last year have increased that skepticism among many experts I know:

Ironically, the death of a climate bill for the foreseeable future may prove fatal to CCS.  It is far less likely it will be ready when it is needed, since it probably takes 10 years of serious effort before CCS is even plausible to scale up.

The 1 wedge of nuclear includes a half wedge of next generation nuclear post-2030.  Why not more than 1 wedge? Based on a 2007 post on the Keystone report, to do this by 2050 would require adding globally, an average of 17 plants each year, while building an average of 9 plants a year to replace those that will be retired, for a total of one nuclear plant every two weeks for four decades “” plus 10 Yucca Mountains to store the waste. It is also increasingly unlikely it will be among the cheaper options. And the uranium supply and non-proliferation issues for even that scale of deployment are quite serious. See “An introduction to nuclear power.”

Note to all:  I am not proposing to build all those nuclear plants nor do I think we would need to — but with CCS becoming less plausible for delivering a wedge, let alone more, nuclear may take up some of the slack.  Also, I do think we will have to swallow a bunch of nuclear plants as part of the grand bargain to make this all possible and that other countries will build most of these.

This is not to say the two wind power wedges (4000 GW peak total) would be easy “” but the world did build 16 GW of wind in the first half of 2010. We would need to average 100 GW/year through 2050. But I do think it is ecologically and economically possible, as I think all the other wedges in the top group are, too.

But none of the wedges is easy. That’s why getting to 450 ppm is not yet politically possible. Not even close.

Three more points: First, it bears repeating that the wedges are not analytically rigorous (as I explained in Part 1), but they are conceptually useful. We might need a couple more or a couple less.

Second, some people mistakenly think we need a lot more wedges. I explain why this is a mistaken view in Part 2.5: The fuzzy math of the stabilization wedges [warning: only for hard-core wonks].

BUT if we do delay a full decade until 2020 before getting serious, then rather than deploying more wedges, the (somewhat) more plausible strategy is to deploy them faster, over 3 decades — an effort that rivals the homefront effort in World War II, but lasting far longer and encompassing the world.  That’s why climate mitigation (and adaptation) will become the primary driver for the economic policy of every major country within a quarter century (see “Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery“)

Third, if you don’t like one of those wedges, you need to find a replacement strategy. Other possibilities can be found here, but I think the ones above are the most plausible by far, which tells you how dubious some of Princeton’s other wedges are [— I’m talking about you, would-be hydrogen wedges].

Could a bunch of breakthrough technologies substitute for some of the above wedges? That is far, far more implausible, as I explain at length here (see “The breakthrough technology illusion“).  Increasingly R&D is very important, as I’ve argued for two decades,  but rapid deployment is the sine qua non for averting multiple ever-worsening catastrophes.

The bottom line is that give or take a wedge or two, we are likely to do most of what I lay out above sooner or later.  Let’s work hard to make sure it’s sooner.

74 Responses to The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm

  1. Ben Lieberman says:

    This is very convincing, especially the point that taking out one wedge requires adding another.

    The key question remains moving to action and developing the means to create pressure for action. I would hope that leading and not-so-leading Climate Hawks can focus on this question in the immediate future.

  2. pete best says:

    Phew – as you say the scale is staggering. Deploying a million or two on and off shore wind turbines is a real feat but as they get bigger (10 to 15 MW) then maybe it is plausable it can be done in time. Solar baseload is a interesting one as its a real political minefield in the Eu as we have to tap into north africas solar power which is considered an energy security issue.

    The world will surely change come 2050 and billions dont have a clue it is coming. Very few people, even governments are thinking on this scale if at all. Still its a excellent article and one that requires adhering to. However you have to wonder as a 2% per annum increase in energy requirements means adoublng of energy needs come 2045.

  3. I appreciate the analysis, and I will spread it around, but I have one question:

    Isn’t it plausible that some of these solutions (particularly solar and wind power) will have exponential growth? That would make them better than wedges, which just involve linear growth.

  4. llewelly says:

    This is what climate blogs should really be about. Too bad the denialists seek to destroy the free speech of those who would prefer solution-oriented discourse.

  5. ken levenson says:

    Great to see the new and improved list Joe. Let’s get to work!

    For buildings, there is nothing more effective than Passive House….pushing buildings toward 75% reduction in energy use (90% reduction in heating and cooling energy). Find out more at:,,

  6. David B. Benson says:

    There is also a goal to use the chemical reaction
    CO2 + energy –> C + O2
    to produce elemental carbon. The pure carbon could then be put to use in replacing coal, beginning with metallurgical grade coal. The energy must, of course, not come from burning fossil fuels of any sort. Here is one way, called STEP, which uses solar
    and can, in principle, be used with air capture of the CO2.

  7. llewelly says:

    Charles Siegel says:
    January 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm:

    Isn’t it plausible that some of these solutions (particularly solar and wind power) will have exponential growth? That would make them better than wedges, which just involve linear growth.

    Exponential is not necessarily better than linear; in the early phase,, exponential has a very shallow slope; it starts out slow (unless it has a high coefficient). In this case it is essential for solutions to take off rapidly. Since exponential growth does not do that, it isn’t better than linear growth.

    Probably some of these solutions will have temporary exponential growth (in the long run, it will be sigmoidal, but that’s another topic). I suspect those that do not will end up being mostly failures. Probably Joe needs to adjust the shape of his wedges, but until there is more data on how the various wedges faring, I suspect it will be very hard to do better than linear approximation.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    My attempts to determine the cost, called LCOE, for various electricity generation methods finds gas, wind and nuclear all about the same. This agrees with the professionally done Northwest Power and Conservation Council study done for the lastest power plan to guide BPA’s actions. These power plans are written once each five years and involve a twenty year planning horizon.

    As for the once-through ‘spent’ fuel rods, only about 2% of the available energy has been obtained. These fuel rods can then be reprocessed [the French do this routinely] and the result used in a more advance nuclear reactor than those now running in the United States [but not those in France]. With even more advanced designs, so called Gen IV, this reuse goes on until the finally completely used up stuff (not much of the original left) only needs be kept isolated for about two centuries, clearly feasible.

    For these reasons, but also others, expect in the future that about 75% of electric power will come from nuclear (as is the case now in France).

    For more along these lines, see the appropriate threads on

  9. Good top level analysis Joe. Details/timing of the wedges aside good to know it’s still doable. Bears repeating that no one calls 450 ppm ‘safe’.

    In this political climate easiest (only?) way to get started is at the neighborhood level…folks working together to cut their energy use and save money. Car pool anyone? How about car-sharing?… There are all sorts of things we can do right now. Anyone else?

  10. David B. Benson says:

    I suppose I didn’t earlier state than stablizing at even this year’s CO2 concentrations is not good enough. We must put the excess carbon back in the ground. Doing that will take some more wedges for the required energy.

    So be it.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    Ken Levenson,

    I agree that passive house retrofits could be a huge step, one that is cost effective if a modest or low discount rate is assumed. My background is construction and development, but the issues are not difficult for anyone here to understand.

    Retrofitting windows to be low E, installing more batts in walls as well as attics, and even reorienting windows are a good start. A new trade should develop whereby north facing windows are filled in and south facing ones added or expanded. This isn’t cheap, but is a lot easier with American frame houses than with blocks or bricks.

    Other steps are correcting HVAC duct and vent leaks, downsizing and upgrading HVAC systems when called for, reflective roofs and ceilings, thermal breaks, and weatherstripping. Exterior plant location and eave additions help, too. It’s tough to retrofit fully for net zero energy, but going most of the way could be huge for our emissions.

    If the heating/AC load is reduced enough, it becomes possible to supply all of it with rooftop solar or small backyard or rooftop wind turbines, preferably with storage or feedin tariffs.

    As for commercial buildings, I know a major engineering and design firm that can retrofit for zero net energy. Inquiries can be directed to me at They are very busy, but are staffing up for the task.

  12. quokka says:

    It should be noted that in the 1980s the build rate for nuclear power plants was about 30 new plants per year: (David MacKay).

    [JR: You have misquoted MacKay: “The world construction rate peaked at 30 GW of nuclear power per year in 1984.” A little under 200 GW of nukes were added in the 1980s (see here).]

    Given the increase in size of the world economy and in particular the huge manufacturing capacity of China, some multiple of that is possible, though clearly like every other option, far from easy.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that the design service life of modern nuclear power plants is 60 years. Given the experience of operating life extension for many existing NPPs, it seems reasonable to assume that 60 year service life and perhaps more will be achieved.

    Wind turbines have something like a 20 year design life and it is probably unclear how long various solar options will last, though some degradation is probable. If we are in this for the long haul (and we should be) then service life is an important question and it strongly favors nuclear.

    [JR: Uhh, I dare say wind and solar last as long as nukes and have fewer maintenance/catastrophic-failure issues.]

  13. llewelly, I would like to see some numbers, but I would guess that if the current growth rate of solar and wind continues, the total by 2050 will be more than those wedges.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Joe Romm — I fear you are uninformed on those matters. Poster quokka has the numbers about right.

    [JR: Not. Quokka couldn’t even quote his one source correctly! Solar PV panels could last decades with minimal maintenance. Most of the hardware for CSP is pretty low-tech and enduring. Wind turbines an last as long as nukes if they get the same care!]

    However, the point is irrelevant as what counts is the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) as maintenance is included in the LCOE calculations and none of those technologies have catastropic failure issues (beyond insurance tornado risks for wind turbines).

    The point I made in a earlier comment still obtains: wind and nuclear currently have about the same LCOE for new construction. The one example of a contracted LCOE (busbar) for solar thermal was slightly more than twice that. However, the LCOE for solar PV is projected to go below the wind and nuclear LCOE. It won’t actually displace anything except some solar thermal and it remains the case that most regions will have about 75% nuclear, like France.

    [JR: Not in this country or anywhere you can see in open pricing scheme, but then, in this country, you can’t find a nuclear vendor that will guarantee a price. By 2015, PV will be cheaper than nukes for delivered power.]

  15. David B. Benson says:

    Conf. on small modular nuclear reactors; Nuscale in presentation session I-P:
    I quote from the Nuscale marketing honcho’s presentation:
    economics validated EPC price of $4,000/kw

    [JR: C’mon. PPT presentations are bunk. You know better than that.]

    This is in good agreement with the NPCC study I mentioned in an earlier comment. It is also just slightly higher than the bid price for an AP1400 that the South Koreans are building in the UAE; I suppose the final as constructed cost might well go up to the $4000 figure. [It is true that some of the French designed NPPs are quite a bit more expensive!]

    As for the wind turbine actual life, as opposed to design life, only time will tell. But the wind turbines suffer thermal stresses and NPPs, by design, do not. The wind turbines operate at variable speeds and NPPs, by design do not.

    He who does not learn to store shall have no power after four.

    Solar power, in suitable locations, will certainly aid in covering the increased power demand in the daytime. However, nobody is (yet) proposing enough thermal storage to cover the more constant nightload (sometimes called baseload). A working figure for the minimum for a region is 24 units with the afternoon peak of 36 units. So provide 24 units from NPPs and the remaining 12 from solar; 75% nuclear.

    [JR: Wind and PV and solar thermal with storage are a good match. Throw in Demand Response, and you’ve got most of what you need. Nukes can do some baseload, sure.]

    As for the projected lifetimes of solar PV and solar thermal, I’ve seen no figures and time will tell. But in both technologies there will be thermal stresses due to daily cycling. Solar thermal might give a lifetime similar the combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs). These have a design life of 40 years, but it is too early to know how long the actual lifetime is.

  16. David B. Benson says:

    Well, I didn’t take the Nuscale presentation alone. As I stated, I found another study (where I had started) and an actual construction price; all three are in good agreement.

    I seriously doubt that wind and PV and solar thermal with storage are a good match since once the electricity is generated it must be consumed. While 24 hour forecasts for wind (and solar) are good enough to manage a grid with substantial amounts:
    IEA Wind Power Study
    wind requires some form of schedulable backup. (Solar does as well.)

    As for demand management, some consumption can be arranged to occur only when the power is available but far from everything. [Locally there is a so-called smart grid demonstration project involving (1) the university, (2) the other major employer and (3) the city government. The local utility is putting in all sorts of neat stuff, some of it made by (2).]

    If you can link to a serious study, along the lines of the IEA study linked above, tending to show in decent detail this purported match, I’ll stick with
    which still leaves the vast majority of the hundreds (thousands?) of coal burners around the world to be replaced with a fossil fuel free alternative.

  17. adelady says:

    Investing in nega watts rather than mega watts has to be the biggest wedge for countries like Oz, US, Canada and lots of Europe.

    I just love this idea for a cold climate. Using human body heat from a rail station to (partly) heat a neighbouring building looks like a winner to me.

    There must be thousands of similarly innovative ideas available once people start looking in the right way at the right concepts.

  18. llewelly says:

    Charles Siegel says:
    January 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm:

    llewelly, I would like to see some numbers, but I would guess that if the current growth rate of solar and wind continues, the total by 2050 will be more than those wedges.

    By 2050, probably. But what about by 2020? Or even 2030? It is the early phase of an exponential growth curve which is less than linear growth.

  19. BBHY says:

    Are we assuming a “wedge” or two of population control? Surely all of this falls apart if the population grows from 6 billion to 12 billion.

    I think if we can hold the population roughly constant we can make it work.

    Let’s just hope and pray that we don’t see WWII style population reduction, although it is easy to see how that could happen amidst the devastating chaos that will likely result from the combined effects climate change and competition for diminishing resources.

  20. Michael T. says:

    Global Temperature Model (1885-2100) [1080p]

    Goddard Institute for Space Studies climate model simulation made for IPCC AR4 and SC07, the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis.

  21. Great ongoing discussion and refinements.

    Seconding Ken Levenson on the PassiveHouse standard – something that goes way beyond passive houses in the generic sense, and also, covers a broad range of buildings, not just houses.

    It is much more profound than ground source heat pumps. These buildings – as I have seen and covered professionally – turn the HVAC paradigm on its head, in a truly elegant way.

    They are powerful, comfortable, and readily beautiful. Too bad the German name doesn’t translate so well, and the US organization supporting PassivHaus is a molt or two short of the scale of the opportunity, still.

    Learn about it! HVAC energy savings approaching 90% are pretty much a piece of cake!

    As far as CSS, I’ve thought for a while that the main value is likely to be building appreciation for incredible value available through biological sequestration in intact natural ecosystems, especially forests.

  22. Juat for example…

    The Grundschule Riedberg, a Passivhaus-certified suburban elementary school in Frankfurt, Germany

  23. jorleh says:

    Joe, I can´t understand your anti nuclear stand. We know all that the other wedges are wishful thinking and will not ever happen.

    IFR nuclear: our only realistic possibility.

    [JR: One wedge of nukes is more optimistic than any nuclear forecast you’ll see by a major group. Most of the other wedges will happen, probably before the wedge of nukes, certainly before, say, 2 wedges of nukes.]

  24. Awesome post, Joe. I’m finally getting it. I’ve only been able to follow your blog sporadically for the last year, but I’ve made some adjustments so that I am now tracking with every post, and as I read over this update and follow-up on a few links, I can see how far you’ve taken me.

    You make a tight argument. It jives with what I have been able to study of Hansen and some other authors (I appreciate the 350 to 450 range and explanation), and I can’t disagree with any of the wedges.

    I like seeing the parenthetical about diet-related changes under the wedge for WWII-style conservation measures. I also like seeing the two forestation wedges plus wedges for biofuels and improved soil management practices. That strikes me as a good, solid emphasis on the agriculture sector. I think dietary changes and forestation go hand in hand, and are very doable when we look at global acreage currently in livestock production (North and South America combined!)

    It’s a minor point, but I’m thinking local, closed-loop ethanol systems might coexist long-term with cellulosic ethanol in one of the wedges. Given the liquid fuels crunch associated with peak oil, I also think we’re going to see more demand for cropland biofuels over the next couple of decades, as well as on forest biomass. Deforestation due to climate-change related forest fires and pathogens is something you’ve already touched on. Add to this strong increasing demand for livestock, and the crunch on forest and cropland is clear. I guess what I’m saying here is that I think a campaign for dietary transition, agriculture 2.0, and forestation during the 2010-2020 time frame probably needs to be kept in mind as much as up-front emphasis on any of the other wedges – especially if livestock-related food shortages trigger food riots and geopolitical instability near-term.

    If we get serious food shortages and liquid fuels shortages at the same time, which seems pretty much like a done deal 2011-2015, a strong regulatory push against the livestock industry may gain us a lot more breathing room, with a heck of a lot less capital investment, than a hard push against fossil fuels. My sense about this is accentuated when I hear you saying we might not get real political traction on hydrocarbon regulation until as late as 2020. Obviously we can’t let up the fight on that front, but what if we could get some serious livestock emissions regulation in place first, coupled with agroforestry promotion and some improved dietary recommendations? Seems to me like this would be the base of a pretty good 2012 Farm Bill.

    Two questions remain for me at this point. The first question is how does scale up of these wedges relate to the ideas of contraction and convergence and global carrying capacity? Are we talking about a system that is expected to provide a relatively equitable quality of life for 8-10 billion or so over the long-run?

    Second, I’m wondering where you see rail in all of this. Are we looking at a global-scale car culture here, or is this going to be primarily a rail culture, with electric vehicles mostly for critical local infrastructure services?

    I’m looking forward to following ClimateProgress even more closely in 2011. Thanks again for the great analysis.

  25. Its pretty simple,IMO. The President and Congress need to– mandate– that by the year 2020, at least 50% of the electricity produced by a utility be produced from non-carbon dioxide polluting resources (nuclear and, or, renewable energy)and by 90% by the year 2030. And there should be the penalty of a heavy carbon tax on those utilities that fail to meet the Federal requirements.

    Similarly, it should be mandated that 10% of all transportation and heating fuels and carbon based industrial chemicals be derived from carbon neutral resources by the year 2020, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2040, again with the penalty of a carbon tax on all fuels that fail to contain the Federally mandated percentages of carbon neutral fuel.

    Such Federal mandates would allow utilities and fuel companies to begin to invest in gradually moving America from a fossil fuel economy to a carbon neutral energy economy over the course of just two or three decades.

  26. Stephen Gloor (Ender) says:

    Joe – ” Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net water use, low-net-material use economy over the next two decades”

    One question – are the 12 wedges going to supply the energy for BAU or for a reduced energy economy as you advocate here.

    Also I do not see this post as anti-nuclear. You are accepting a wedge of nuclear and all the problem that this entails as a necessity. There are many places where renewables will not work well and nuclear is the lesser of two evils.

    The only difference is that you correctly, to my mind, place nuclear as the choice of last resort rather than the silver bullet savior of BAU as some of the commenter’s here seem to think it is.

  27. Stephen Gloor (Ender) says:

    jorleh – “IFR nuclear: our only realistic possibility.”

    If only it wasn’t imaginary …….

  28. A face in the clouds says:

    Okay, here we go. This link should spread pretty far via the old, retired engineers I know waiting for fish to jump in their boat. Also, like other Climate Progress links I’ve posted at various web sites, this one should generate a lot of discussion among the C students (like me).

    The world needs you, C students, spread the word.

  29. jorleh says:

    Stephen-Imaginary? You know, they do it in China, Russia, India, France…

    USA will be the loser if it delays with IFR. Clinton´s big failure: he sold IFR to oil and coal business. Because he had to: otherwise he would have been in the hands of GOP…

  30. Michael B. says:

    The $1 Trillion gorilla in the room are the capital investments made into existing fossil fuel industry and infrastructure that companies and Wall Street keep expecting continued profits from.

  31. pete best says:

    Is this a USA or global thread primarily ?

    It was stated yesterday that China has boosted the sales of Rolls Royces to a record level. The new Nissan Leaf (all electric car) which is retailing at £28,000 so its sales are in doubt even with the UK subsidy of £5000 which makes it £23,000. This price puts in right in the mix of very good high MPG diesel cars and it must deliver on energy return as gasoline in the UK is running at around $8 a gallon!!!

  32. ken levenson says:

    Mike Roddy, As Kevin Matthews elaborates – Passive House is a big step beyond typical green building: windows are triple-glazed and thermally broken, thermal bridges in construction are virtually eliminated, the building is air-tight with unbelievably good interior air quality due to continuous, low volume high efficiency heat exchange ventilation system. The occupants and appliances practically heat the place! It becomes affordable because mechanical systems can be reduced in size by 75% or more and distribution is greatly reduced as you don’t need to heat or cool at the perimeter. They are more comfortable and healthier and better built too.

    As building operations consume nearly half of all energy – such dramatic cuts offered by Passive House make it, I believe, “a core climate solution”.

  33. Jakob Wranne says:

    Thank you, Jim!

    Please, tell us about
    • Steel
    • Concrete
    • Food

    And maybe also, about Tax and dividend

  34. Jakob Wranne says:

    A comment on Passive Houses – I love them.

    An there has risen a term, a kind of house called “plushouse” or “active house”. A house that delivers more energy than it consumes. In essence it’s mostly a house plastered with PV:s, heatpumps and windmills. A house nicely made up with the help of a generator. So, the term is confusing. The “active/plus house” is a house with an added gadjet for producing energy. A nuclear plant or a coal energy plant is the best example.

    The “plus house” or “active house” term i blurring the sight.

  35. Nell says:

    I’d love to see this plan implemented.
    How are we going to pay for it?

  36. anders says:

    Does this take into account the current political system with nation states? I assume that people can accept greater sacrifices to help other citizens of their country than strangers in strange contries with different customs and language on the other side of the world? I admit it is the case for me, kind of tragedy of the commons problem, if I can’t believe they would help me if I needed it my acceptance to help to them decreases considerably. Easy to come to the conclusion that they created their mess, it is up to them to get out of it.

    Assuming a WW2 mobilization effort of the world is optimistic, my belief is each nation will do what it can and have the ability and resources for its own people, between nations help will fall far short.

    A global co2 tax on jet fuel and bunker fuel, untaxed today, collected by an international fund and used for development where it is most needed would be a large step forward but I doubt the usa would accept such a thing during my lifetime.

    As usual the largest stumbling block is usa politics. How the f**k did usa end up with such a bad system?


  37. David Smith says:

    As you increase the efficiency of the thermal shell of a building, the sun becomes a liability. It adds to much energy into the system and when the sun isn’t shining the glazing looses heat. It also does not deal with the potential cooling requirements during the warmer seasons. I prefer super-insulation in all climates. With a high performing exterior shell, small amounts of heat, cold, light, proper humidity and clean fresh air can be added as required for absolute comfort, year round. These basics can easily be provided with on-site renewable energy; wind, solar &/or geo-thermal. Low tech, but active.

  38. Tyler says:

    To what extent does this depend on zero-growth economies and population caps?

  39. DavidCOG says:

    @12. quokka:

    > It should be noted that in the 1980s the build rate for nuclear power plants was about 30 new plants per year:

    Aside from misquoting Mackay (as Joe pointed out), it should also be noted that there is a worldwide shortage of nuclear engineers and associated trades for building nukes. Difficult to build something when there’s no one with the skills to do it. Pre-empting the predictable “but China can build them quickly!”:

    * How does China build nukes more quickly than the west? “…9,000 workers currently on site. Instead of working three eight-hour shifts, as is common in Europe, the people working for Hua Xing, the concrete contractor on the first Taishan reactor, work 10-hour stints, seven days a week.”

    > withouthotair/ c24/ page_171.shtml (David MacKay).

    David Mackay is not the dispassionate scholar that the nuclear fan club portrays him as. Anyone who reads his book with a critical eye should be able to see all the signs of an ideologue who is pushing anti-renewable propaganda. Here are a few quotes either by him or from others that he uses:

    * “Wind farms will devastate the countryside pointlessly. … This Greenpeace leaflet arrived with my junk mail … army of windmills … I’m more worried about what these plans [for the proposed London Array wind farm] will do to this landscape and our way of life than I ever was about a Nazi invasion on the beach.”

    Further, he refers to nuclear technology, such as fast breeders, as though it is commercial reality. It is not. It is – to date – a failed technology. Fairly difficult to power the planet on something that does not work.

    > Given the increase in size of the world economy and in particular the huge manufacturing capacity of China…

    It’s not simply a matter of capacity – it’s an issue of technical reality. Nukes go massively over budget and over schedule with tedious regularity. See Olkiluoto, Finland and Flamanville, France – both years behind schedule and billions of $$$ over budget.

    > Another thing to bear in mind is that the design service life of modern nuclear power plants is 60 years.

    Sure. The nuclear corporations make some impressive promises. Sadly, reality often fails to match those promises. Here are a few indicators of that reality:

    * Half of Britain’s nuclear power stations closed for repairs.

    * The Tennessee Valley Authority has lost nearly $50 million in power generation from its biggest nuclear plant because the Tennessee River in Alabama is too hot.

    * Japanese reactor offline for 20 months following earthquake.

    * French Nuclear Power Struggles in a Cold Snap.

    > Given the experience of operating life extension for many existing NPPs,

    Here’s the experience from one nuke that is past its ‘sell by date’:

    – The zone of groundwater now contaminated at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is about the size of a football field. … The Department of Health stepped up its monitoring work in early January after Yankee discovered radioactive tritium in a well about 30 feet from the Connecticut River.

    And it’s not alone:

    – Radioactive leaks in 27 of the US’s 104 nuclear reactors.

    > …it seems reasonable to assume that 60 year service life and perhaps more will be achieved.

    “Reasonable” is not the word I would choose.

    > Wind turbines have something like a 20 year design life

    20+ years and improving all the time – see e.g. new gearless designs. And at end of life, most of the turbine can be recycled in to a new one. Compare that to a nuke – bury it all in a hole in the ground and hope it doesn’t poison your drinking water.

    > …it is probably unclear how long various solar options will last…

    No, we know with high degrees of certainty how long solar will last – comfortably 30+ years for PV:

    * Testing a Thirty-Year-Old Photovoltaic Module. “…[the] module is still performing to factory specifications — or perhaps a little better. … shows no signs of browning, electrical corrosion, or water intrusion. It certainly looks as if it’s ready to perform for another decade or two.”

    Similarly, CSP is going to be very reliable – it’s basically just mirrors, pipes and a turbine.

    > …service life is an important question and it strongly favors nuclear.

    Clearly you are wrong. Maintaining and repairing nukes is a massively expensive and time-consuming process. Also, nukes are massive single points of failure… not good for a reliable power system. In comparison, solar PV is practically zero maintenance and 100% reliable for perhaps 40 years.

    And then we can add fuel in to the mix: free, clean and never-ending for renewables; very expensive and highly toxic – both ends of the process – for nukes.

  40. Neven says:

    Joe, is all of this possible if we keep neoclassical economics (with at its core the concept that growth is always good and therefore must and can be infinite) the main driver of political policy and culture at large?

  41. DavidCOG says:

    @23. jorleh (and the other nuclear drum-bangers):

    > IFR nuclear: our only realistic possibility.

    Neither reality nor credible predictions agree with you. The evidence for renewables dominating new capacity and for nukes to remain a niche power source is overwhelming. I could dump dozens of links to prove this, but I’ll just do China:

    * China nuclear body recommends 2020 target of 70 GW

    * [China’s] current draft plan calls for 300 GW of hydropower, 150 GW of wind power, 30 GW of biomass power, and 20 GW of solar PV, for a total of 500 GW of renewable power capacity by 2020.

    70 GW of nukes and 500 GW of renewables – and the nuke fan club can’t chant the usual nonsense meme that it’s tree-huggers stopping nukes taking their rightful place in the energy portfolio because China is run by hard-headed engineers.

    P.S. ‘Nuclear utopia’, France is also investing heavily in renewables: a €1.35 billion research program and they’re building their first offshore wind farm soon. That *should* give the nucular fan club a big clue… but it doesn’t for some reason. Nuke fan boys are as immune to evidence and reality as any of the ACC deniers….

  42. DavidCOG says:

    @Joe Romm:

    > By 2015, PV will be cheaper than nukes for delivered power.

    By some estimates, that has already happened:

    * Solar Photovoltaic is Cost-Competitive Now. There are places and PV systems today that can sell electricity at 10 c/kWh. They are cost-effective without incentives, no carbon price, no traditional depreciation. As years go by they will diffuse from the sunniest to less sunny places.

    * Solar and Nuclear Costs – The Historic Crossover. Solar energy is now the better buy.

    And given the rate of development in solar technology – both improved efficiency and cost of deployment – nuclear is going to look like a massive white elephant in the coming years.

  43. Mike#22 says:

    The new air source heat pumps will give the GSHPs serious competition. Many manufacturers are making units with cold weather COPs comparable to the ground source units at a fraction of the cost. DC variable speed scroll compressors and good engineering make them efficient. Able to operate in air temps below 0 deg F. Several configurations: typical split system with indoor air handlers; split systems with indoor hot water production for radiant/baseboard heat; monobloc type which makes hot or cold water in the outdoor unit.

    Mass produced costs are low. Units are easily recycled. Small units can heat or cool individual rooms easily on a few hundred watts.

    On the horizon, units using CO2 as the working fluid.

    Good opportunity for idle factory floor space.

  44. John McCormick says:

    We’re still talking CO2 and should be talking CO2 eq. We’re past 450 CO2 eq and the atmosphere is not fussy about which compounds we use to describe climate forcing. It uses them all.

    And while we’re on the subject, Dec. Mauna Loa reading was 389.69 ppm CO2. The May readings are highest and between Dec 2009 and May 2010, the CO2 increased 5.5 ppm. Add that to the Dec 2010 and May 2011 will be 295.19.

    We could see 400 ppm by the time President Obama is sworn in for his second term. Don’t know what happens at 400 ppm but likely worse than what’s happening at 389.69 ppm.

    John McCormick

  45. John McCormick says:

    RE # 44

    Sorry for the typo. 295.19 should read 395.19. Wish that wasn’t so.

    John Mccormick

  46. llewelly writes: “By 2050, probably. But what about by 2020? Or even 2030? It is the early phase of an exponential growth curve which is less than linear growth.”

    Yes, but Joe is using those wedges to calculate what we need to do by 2050. Joe says he is thinking over the next 4 decades:

    “If we could do the 12-14 wedges in four decades, we should be able to keep CO2 concentrations to under 450 ppm.”

    Other wedges would be easier to frontload, such as:
    1 wedge of albedo change
    1 wedge of vehicle efficiency

  47. KeenOn350 says:

    RE: the possibilities of CCS –

    I have always been very sceptical ;-) of those promoting CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) as the solution to burning fossil fuels (rather than reducing fossil fuel usage).

    On this note – a very interesting news article on a report from one of the largest CCS projects.

  48. Greg says:

    Thanks for the tour de force overview of the problem, Joe.
    One alternative idea for CCS is here:

    By converting CO2 to ocean alkalinity the effects of ocean acidification can be offset, in addition to providing a vast place to store carbon. But this itself is unlikely to provide a wedge.

    There’s also a more expensive air capture version:

    My feeling is that we will remain too lazy and unmotivated to achieve much of the emissions reduction wedges you specify, meaning that post-emissions air CO2 capture (bio and chemo) would be our last, best chance.


  49. Robert says:

    Technically the problem is solvable. Politically it is not.

  50. David B. Benson says:

    Stephen Gloor (Ender) @27 — My understanding is that a Russian/Chinese consortium and separately an Indian group are working up a pair of IFRs.

  51. David B. Benson says:

    He who does not learn to store
    shall have no power after four.

    If solar PV becomes sufficiently inexpensive, I suppose one could use resistance heating to make molten salt, storing that thermal energy to make steam, hence electrity after the sun goes down. I don’t know how to price such a system, but certainly expect it would be noticeably pricier than using nuclear fission. I’d be perfectly happy to be shown in error, but like David Mackey, you’ll have to do the data and unlike him, actually compute the LCOE for a utility than produces on demand, not just when the sun is shining.

  52. spiritkas says:


    A quick thought for marketing on this excellent strategy that is likely to be a huge part of any favorable outcome.

    Victory Gardens for WWII

    Victory Turbines for GW

    Victory Roofs reducing albedo all across the country!

    I think a clever artist could come up with some awesome WWII style ‘BUY VICTORY BONDS’ or Rosy the Riveter style ads to show people building green or raising turbines in their community while having money coming out of their pockets.

    Plaster those all over and begin the campaign! There could be dozens of them urging us to buy up ‘Federal Green Credit Union Bonds’ and ‘Install white/green roofs to keep your children cool in the summer’ etc. etc.

    Let’s embrace the strategies, tone, and character that worked to bring america and the (1/3 of) world together to fight WWII and then rebuild europe. We can have a post Civil War failed reconstruction or a post WWII European/Japanese style Marshall/IMF plan to achieve victory and build those wedges!



  53. Leif says:

    I see no reason that excess wind energy could not be shunted into Solar Thermal storage facilities. Making those storage facilities do double duty.

  54. The Climate Change public relations machine appears to have ran into a brick wall. The attempt to get the public to listen; in a mix of obfuscated and complex science – has failed. The anti-science brigade has muddied the waters so much now that anti-AGW skepticism is more rife than ever. We may need a simpler approach to communicate to the people who don’t read the more thorough holistic analyses of the crises of our time.

    It is quite clear that the world has hit Peak growth already. This is something that most climate scientists are not really understanding properly. They also seem to misunderstand the fact that it doesn’t matter how much oil and coal remains beneath the ground. If it takes MORE energy to get out, than you get from burning – then it’s a total waste of time. That applies for remaining coal reserves, oil shale, deep-ocean, tar-sands, etc. And burning these things to “keep warm” or “cook food” is not the sort of usage that has sent this world into crisis. It is the burning of these things for industrial profit, manufacturing, etc that has been the driver.

    I had an article published concerning Peak Oil vis a vis climate change, and one commenter wrote the following:-

    “It is supremely obvious ANY additional CO2e is not just ill-advised, but supremely dangerous, and this is an obvious conclusion. When we add in the residence time of CO2 being centuries.”

    It is profound ignorance like that which makes me very irritated. Do they want poor people to starve to death or go cold? Really? Also..maybe they should actually check the figures of the sort of things that overwhelmingly contribute to CO2:-

    (In the case of Britain):-

    Now think about what the figures would be if people started growing their own food, burned charcoal or bio-methane to heat and cook their own food, and used only public transport and local materials, etc.

    I also get arguments from people saying “well, recent studies on feedback mechanisms mean that we are going to face up to 4C warming from just a 1C rise – and this will happen even if we drastically cut CO2 today”. They claim that the feedbacks are all inherently +C in their effects and that there is growing certainty in that +C picture. But there isn’t – as this NASA/NOAA study seems to illustrate:-

    These feedbacks could end up being adjusted and ending up even worse. My experience in reading the literature of this field is weak – to say the least. But really; does talk of “catastrophic/human extinction” events help us? Do people want to support geo-engineering solutions? I have my doubts.

    The world will hardly be a pleasant place as a result of climate change; but scientists such as Romm et al think that stabilizing at or below 450ppm does not neccessarily equate to a catastrophic situation for all of humanity (even if it does exacerbate problems to a large degree). James Hansen also published a paper titled “Implications of “peak oil” for atmospheric CO2 and climate”. In it he stated the following:-

    “We suggest that, if estimates of oil and gas reserves by the Energy Information Administration are realistic, it is feasible to keep atmospheric CO2 from exceeding approximately 450 ppm, provided that future exploitation of the vast reservoirs of coal and unconventional fossil fuels incorporates carbon capture and sequestration.”

    As my article points out. Unconventionals are not going to fuel the global economy at prices we can afford to burn.

    We now have no choice at all – but to change our economic system to one based on a steady-state, non-debt paradigm. We are facing a potential mass-default on the debt in every nation-state up to its heels in toxic derivatives. The collateral on the debt no longer exists in a world where oil has peaked and can no longer meet growing demand. No amount of fossil-fuels remaining on this planet – can replace the current global economic edifice that has been created by oil. Contraction is inevitable, and that threatens very dangerous geopolitical consequences. Oil is liquid hegemonic power. The consequences of global warfare are very great if powers insist on holding onto oil as some form of industrial hegemony.

    Climate scientist Kevin Anderson said in Cancun that “the only way to reduce global emissions enough, while allowing the poor nations to continue to grow, is to halt economic growth in the rich world over the next twenty years”. If we are past peak growth and if we are at the point of debt-saturation, please explain to me how these nations can keep growing overall in the next 5 years (never mind the next 20)? And then please explain to me what happens when we go to war with China or Russia over energy-reserves in Eurasia?

    We have NO CHOICE but to act now. Our economy is going to shrink regardless, we are going to get poorer and poorer, we are going to get bogged down in wars, rationing is coming and potential mass die-offs of people. Look what happens to a global fossil-fuel economy when oil reaches $300 a barrel. It turns off like a light-switch.

    The “end of growth” reality is easier to articulate to people than the more complex issue of anthropogenic global warming. This is because we have zero evidence that oil production is going to regain its all-time peak that it acquired in 2006. Even if “abiotic oil” exists (unlikely) – it doesn’t mean much for people if they can’t have access to it and companies are unable to harness its apparent existence. I’ve even heard people on the libertarian right-wing who are contemplating preparing for a massive economic collapse and starting to engage in survivalist movements. They just need to realise that community is more important than rugged individualism in a post-peak world.

    That’s the bottomline.

  55. Solar Jim says:

    Nice posting DavidCOG. Mr. Benson’s (and other) data on atomic is just a bunch of made up malarkey.

    Atomic power is not financially feasible under “free market” economics. This is because it would be exposed to free market risk assessment, which is presently outlawed in the US. Thus, in a way, it is Un-American. The market has placed no orders for decades.

    No atomic reactor exists without massive public subsidies of one kind (over $300 billion so far) and another (such as disease). It is a pervasively fraudulent business. All the pro-nuclear talk is just delusional hype for another investor scam, locked in by utility rates. It is the other side of the fossil coin, including mining and centralized investor power, and is the wrong way to go. It is not “clean” and is not “renewable.”

  56. Stephen Gloor (Ender) says:

    jorleh – Stephen-Imaginary? You know, they do it in China, Russia, India, France…

    Perhaps then you would kindly post links or documentation to show these operating IFR reactors including the electro separation of the fuel in industrial quantities as per the “I” in IFR.

    There have been demonstration plants of Fast Reactors as you say however the IFR is a combination of a fast reactor and an integrated fuel reprocessing facility. The electrochemical separation of the spent fuel has only been done in laboratory settings, not in the industrial quantities required. Imagine an aluminium smelter in the same radioactive conditions as a spent fuel cooling pond that not one bit of moisture is allowed, as it could cause a catastrophic explosion, and EVERYTHING in the entire separation operation, from opening the fuel rods to packaging them back up again, must be done remotely including the repair and service of the machines doing the work.

    Yes it can be done but until such a plant is built and debugged the IFR remains imaginary. Also it will not be cheap contrary to what some advocates say.

  57. Stephen Gloor (Ender) says:

    David Benson – “My understanding is that a Russian/Chinese consortium and separately an Indian group are working up a pair of IFRs.”

    I am sure they are however today, now they are still imaginary or vaporware if you prefer that term.

    Until a sodium cooled fast reactor like Prism operates in a commercial setting along with the fuel reprocessing plant also in a commercial quantity for at least enough time to be certified then the IFR remains vaporware.

    Personally for nuclear vaporware I prefer the LFTR:

  58. David B. Benson says:

    Stephen Gloor (Ender) @55 — Maybe that’s actually what the Indians are working up.

  59. These grand GHG solutions are not deemed to be politically possible right now because of the (acknowledged) “staggering” scale of the investment required. Yet, ANY model of future supply (whether BAU or climate-friendly) is similarly staggering. The investments in a BAU model also would require investments (in conventional oil, gas & coal infrastructure) that would boggle the mind and stretch the limits of belief. The reason for this is the very scale of the world economy that is projected.

    Some observations:

    1. The “staggering scale” is predicated upon an as-yet-unchallenged baseline assumption of continued exponential world economic growth, increasing populations, and exponentially improving living standards for billions upon billions of people.

    2. It is, however, becoming clear that world economic growth is constrained and often collapses whenever essential resource limits are reached. We are going to reach many of these “Limits to Growth” based on constrained natural resources, beginning in this same time frame.

    3. The mechanism for rationing of limited resources is price, which drains away funds from many things we want to do, to pay for the things we must have. For instance, when oil prices rise again above $100 per barrel this is likely to slow or even reverse economic growth in countries such as the U.S. which are highly dependent upon imported oil. For a discussion of rapidly rising commodity prices and the limits to economic growth posed by resource limits, see “Living Better in The Finite World” here:

    4. These Limits to Growth constraints will affect both the scale of the entire world economic growth, and also the scale of the BAU and “wedges” needed to respond. Though the Princeton models assumed some increased efficiencies, I doubt they have fully accounted for the Limits to Growth.

    5. As both private & public budgets are already stretched, the likeliest course of action will be that the least-costly solutions will be adopted first. Low-cost and no-cost energy efficiency solutions will prevail. Vinod Khosla, for instance, is investing in new air-conditioning units that use a new thermodynamic cycle to use 80% less energy.

    6. If high-cost solutions — which represent many of the “wedges” — are instead foolishly pursued as a first course of action, the public will still be expected to pay for them. However, it will be at this point — for instance when electric rates are raised drastically to pay for new nuclear plants or for new offshore wind farms — that the public will finally wake up to the need to cut individual, commercial, and industrial usage. (Price is the most powerful motivator.)

    7. If the investments in the high-cost power supplies are long-term, non-modular, and require tens of billions of dollars for a single new facility, financial ruin may ensue for the investors in such facilities. The public can choose to walk away from such White Elephant projects, choosing instead to cut their air conditioning 80% with Khosla’s new air conditioners, or simply to retire their electric dryers by installing a humble clothes line, rather than pay exhorbitant electric rates.

    Given the new environment that is now acutely more budget-focused for individual families, businesses, and politics, all of the above points to the need for those who care about the climate to focus first & foremost on implementing the lowest cost solutions first. By definition, these will achieve the greatest emissions reductions for the least amount of monies spent. As they are the most practical and economical solutions, they should also be the most politically acceptable.

  60. quokka says:

    @Stephen Gloor (55)

    If we wish to list vaporware according to your criteria, there are a remarkable number of candidates including engineered geothermal systems, smart grids, grids where the majority of electricity is generated by non-hydro renewables, a full 24/7 solar thermal power plant, grid level storage other than pumped hydo, large scale wave power and on and on.

    Anybody can wave their hands about and shout “vaporware”. The point is surely to get a grip on what is feasible from an economic and engineering viewpoints over time frames that count.

    The point about the IFR is that much of the research has already been done at the Argonne Labs and in particular issues of safety, metal fuel (to allow for a decent breeding ratio) and reprocessing with pyroprocessing techniques (to achieve a very small waste stream and produce fuel unsuitable for weapons) have been extensively and successfully researched. It would be quite inaccurate and misleading to lump this technology together with say fusion when characterizing potentially feasible time to deployment.

    It should be recognized that the all the major nuclear energy nations (except the US) have fast spectrum reactor programs including Russia, China, France, Sth Korea, India and Japan. They are not doing this out of idle curiosity, but as part of long terms plans to manage waste more effectively and guarantee their energy independence and ultimately reduce their dependence on mined uranium to tiny levels. Ultimately it may or may not be IFRs based on PRISM that are built world wide, but fast spectrum reactors paired with pyroprocessing are almost certain to be built.

  61. Stephen Gloor (Ender) says:

    quokka – “If we wish to list vaporware according to your criteria”

    And you are perfectly correct however I am not counting on any of these to save the world, nor did I write an entire book about them assuming them to be a done deal like a certain author I could name.

    My position as you should know is that we may be able to save something of our world if we accept limits to growth, start living with less energy and resources, then and only then fit in whatever energy source seems to be the best.

    Even all of this may not work.

    You by contrast seem to be betting the farm on vaporware and are confident that the IFR can save the world. You are correct the most of the research on the IFR is done however many many promising research developments have totally failed to scale up into production systems for a variety of reasons. I think that it is premature to bet our future on laboratory results. Equally, large scale solar thermal and smart grids all have to prove themselves as well. However these things are 20 years ahead of the IFR in getting that production experience. We will know within 5 years if CSP with storage is viable or if the smart grid will smart gridlock and die.

    The only thing that is a reasonably sure chance of working right now is energy efficiency and conservation coupled with radical lifestyle change.

  62. Paul says:

    On the breakthrough technologies side and the nuclear side, have you considered the travelling wave reactor?

    Still in development. May never be feasible. But if it is it has a lot of advantages.

    1. Burns depleted uranium. We have a lot of that around waiting for us to find a safe way of disposing it (as in Yucca) mountain. We also have unsafe ways of disposing of it – by using it in munitions that are essentially dirty bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    2. Is pretty much proliferation proof.

    3. Runs for up to 60 years without any refuelling required.

    4. Is small and quick to build. In fact it can be built in a factory and delivered to site by road.

    5. Power generation isn’t high, but could be sited close to communities without the need for beefing up the grid.

    Although I have to say I’m not happy with liquid sodium as a coolant. I know the higher operating temperature means greater thermodynamic efficiency, but a leak that encounters water could result in a large bang, possibly breaching core integrity and causing a uranium fire (dirty bomb time). I’ve yet to see any description of what happens in a LOCA – does the core melt down?

    That said, the risks are probably a could deal lower than conventional designs. So if we need nuclear and the concept turns out to be practicable, then it sounds like the way to go.

  63. @Craig #59. Well said. I think we need to embrace a contraction and convergence paradigm at the global level, and start planning for degrowth in the overdeveloped north and west. But as I see it in the United States, for example, we have so much waste in the system, we can degrow GDP fairly dramatically, and still have capital to invest in a balanced manner across Joe’s portfolio.

    Eight of Joe’s wedges are all efficiency and/or degrowth related. They are about doing more with less. The remaining wedges are a mix of solar, wind, water, geothermal, nuclear, and biofuels. What else can we do? This is it, folks. Realistically, this is the only portfolio of solutions we can throw at the problem, and balanced deployment with attention to regional comparative advantages in insolation, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass resources, as well as nuclear technical proficiency and existing infrastructure, makes the most sense. A one-size fits-all cookie-cutter is the last thing we need.

    Sure, we have to address the population part of the overshoot problem. But that’s for the social engineers to solve (and I’m one of them, by the way). And we need to address the monetary part of the problem, and government corruption in general, but these are political problems, which Joe addresses at length in other posts. No matter what else we do, we can’t stop investing in our future. It’s not physically possible. Everything we have in place right now is subject to decay and depreciation. So we either replace what we’ve got with something better, or we keep on throwing good money after bad to sustain an infrastructure without a future. What I see Joe trying to do here is get us all oriented around a level-headed portfolio of infrastructure investments as we move forward.

    I’m on board, and I’m going to be working on the forestry, biofuels, agriculture, and home economy conservation wedges by looking at how these can all be incorporated into a Farm Bill that make sense for rural economic development here in Maine.

  64. David B. Benson says:

    Craig Severance @59 — In at least this region of the USA, energy efficiency is being pushed hard. [To my amazement, way over yonder in Kansas they were able to shave the electricity consumption by 5% in one year; it appears that has caused an approved 400 MWe coal burner to be put on hold as un-needed as of yet.] Nonetheless, the cost of electricity is going to go up and up. My electricity costs just went up 12%, but still is only around 67% of the national average. In southern Idaho, busbar prices are expected to about double of the next 20 years. Indeed, as prices increase, some demand is extinguished but at the same time the population continues to grow.

    However, elsewhere in the world the demand for electricity continues to increase rapidly. My understanding is that at least 35 countires are in some stage of planning or constructing new nuclear power plants, for example.

  65. David B. Benson says:

    Stephen Gloor (Ender) @61 — At some level of penitration, the so-called smart grid will prove to be a success in those regions with sufficient communications capability (which need only the wifi, for example). As I noted in an earlier comment, a demonstration project is going on in this community (where there is aq research group working on grid stabilty and reliability issues). The type of equipment used and tested can then be sold elsewhere in the world, pentirating to the level determined best in each region. I’m quite optimistic this will shave off at least some of the demand and shift some to times with otherwise lower power consuption. Just how much remains to be seen, but just a few percent probably justifies the equipment purchase and installation; negawatts are much less expensive than megawatts.

  66. David B. Benson says:

    Jonathan Maxson @63 — We can put some of the excess carbon back underground. One way is by making biochar. Here is one of the many websites about the stuff:
    A Farm Bill could easily provide some incentives to make and bury biochar.

  67. David B. Benson says:

    TerraPower’s Travelling Wave Reactor – why not use an IFR?

  68. Bill Woods says:

    Leif (#53): “I see no reason that excess wind energy could not be shunted into Solar Thermal storage facilities.”

    If you don’t mind throwing away 2/3rds of the energy, converting electricity into heat and back into electricity…. Better to use pumped-hydro if you’ve got it, or maybe CAES.

  69. Stephen Gloor (Ender) says:

    Bill Woods – “If you don’t mind throwing away 2/3rds of the energy, converting electricity into heat and back into electricity…. Better to use pumped-hydro if you’ve got it, or maybe CAES.”

    You don’t actually have to do it this way. A CSP plant with extra storage in the sun can be payed by the wind farm that has surplus energy to NOT generate and just put all the thermal energy into storage. This can be released later when the wind farm wants energy to make up for a lull.

    If the solar thermal plant is in night time or cloud efficient inductive heaters could easily add energy to salt in the cold tank to be pumped back into the hot tank at much the same efficiency at pumped hydro. Remember you with pumped hydro you lose energy converting electricity into potential gravitational energy pumping it uphill and then when you convert it back to electricity again. Also you need a large lake on a big hill and plenty of water which some areas do not have.

  70. David B. Benson says:

    Stephen Gloor (Ender) @69 — Yes, provision to backup wind must exist. A new wind farm is going into production in the Idaho Power service area. Idaho Power has requested of the utility commission that this be the last wind farm, despite there being plenty more tier 1 sites for wind farms in southeastern Idaho. The problem is that Idaho Power has no more backup for any more.

    And its not that southern Idaho has a surplus of power. Due to population growth, especially in and around Boise, there is enthusiastic local approval to build a nuclear power plant somewhat to the northwest of Boise itself.

  71. Joffan says:

    Large-scale storage in the field of electricity generation has always struck me as a bit of a rabbit-out-of-a-hat when used in support of intermittant sources. Assuming that some form of storage is cheap and deployable, it requires far less of that storage to produce load-following electricity from baseload than from intermittent sources. Baseload is already 70-80% of the electricity; re-scheduling some extra night power into the day peaks requires a lot less storage than rescheduling everything to cope with the 24-hour demand.

    If we assume the storage issue will solved at some reasonable cost, it is a powerful argument for rapidly increasing nuclear power. If it were already a solved issue, we would long since have been using it in place of spinning reserve and open gas turbines.

  72. Roger Caiazza says:

    Overall I think this is a great description of what needs to be done and wish that these discussions were the focus of the debate. I disagree with one of your statements in one regard.

    You say that stabilizing atmospheric concentrations is “achievable from an economic and technological perspective” but I don’t believe that wind energy has reached that threshold. The problem with wind energy is that the meteorological conditions conducive to highest peak energy load are large high pressure systems that have much reduced wind energy resources. So in this regard we either lack the technology to store the wind energy or we have to pay to build back up fossil-fired power plants which I think would not be cost-effective.

  73. The reason I’m skeptical of the 350-450 proposition is that all of the species on the planet were formed in an environment of 180-280. At 450
    the temperatures will rise well beyond human tolerance no matter how well prepared you are.

    The more I study this the more it looks like Lackner, Broeker, et al are right – we must scrub the atmosphere back down to 280 and sequester the CO2 in the lithosphere and we need to do it fast.

  74. Roger Arnold says:

    Albedo change could supply more than one wedge by extending it beyond just “cool roofs”. Sizable tracts of land in arid regions could be shaded by “cool nets”, loosely woven from ribbons of material painted to be highly reflective in visible and near-IR, and highly emissive in thermal IR.

    The nets would be suspended in a tensioned tent-like roof well above the ground. Somewhat like the nets that cover the partially sheltered nursery areas of garden centers, the nets would pass maybe 50% of incident sunlight to the ground below. Plenty of vegetation is quite happy with 50% sunlight — which, after all, is more than open fields in regions of the country where “partly cloudy” is the normal forecast. The nets would cool the area they covered, increase nighttime dew formation, and reduce evaporation during the day.

    Given the potentially low cost per acre, cool nets might well pay off through enhanced productivity of non-irrigated land areas in arid regions, independent of their role in countering CO2-induced warming. It would need further study to confirm it, but it’s conceivable that they even help to reverse desertification.