Nirvana arrives in just 400 years

China is Making Solar Farms That Will Look Like Adorable Cartoon Pandas

This just in from James Temple, Senior Editor: Energy, in the sustainable energy section of the MIT Technology Review

At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system.  Here are the real reasons we’re not building clean energy anywhere near fast enough.

Fifteen years ago, Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, calculated that the world would need to add about a nuclear power plant’s worth of clean-energy capacity every day between 2000 and 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. Recently, he did a quick calculation to see how we’re doing.

Not well. Instead of the roughly 1,100 megawatts of carbon-free energy per day likely needed to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, as the 2003 Science paper by Caldeira and his colleagues found, we are adding around 151 megawatts. That’s only enough to power roughly 125,000 homes.

At that rate, substantially transforming the energy system would take, not the next three decades, but nearly the next four centuries. In the meantime, temperatures would soar, melting ice caps, sinking cities, and unleashing devastating heat waves around the globe.

Oh noes, the sky is falling, the sky is falling …

Caldeira stresses that other factors are likely to significantly shorten that time frame (in particular, electrifying heat production, which accounts for a more than half of global energy consumption, will significantly alter demand).

What a wonderful, idea: “Solar heating is the most efficient home heating system on all three criteria, and electric is the least efficient and least affordable.”

But he says it’s clear we’re overhauling the energy system about an order of magnitude too slowly, underscoring a point that few truly appreciate: It’s not that we aren’t building clean energy fast enough to address the challenge of climate change. It’s that—even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.

Perhaps because there isn’t actually a problem?

The UN’s climate change body asserts that the world needs to cut as much as 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions by midcentury to have any chance of avoiding 2 ˚C of warming. But carbon pollution has continued to rise, ticking up 2 percent last year.

So what’s the holdup?

In a word: Money.

Beyond the vexing combination of economic, political, and technical challenges is the basic problem of overwhelming scale. There is a massive amount that needs to be built, which will suck up an immense quantity of manpower, money, and materials.

For starters, global energy consumption is likely to soar by around 30 percent in the next few decades as developing economies expand. (China alone needs to add the equivalent of the entire US power sector by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.) To cut emissions fast enough and keep up with growth, the world will need to develop 10 to 30 terawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2050. On the high end that would mean constructing the equivalent of around 30,000 nuclear power plants—or producing and installing 120 billion 250-watt solar panels.

Energy overhaul
What we should be doing* What we’re actually doing
Megawatts per day 1,100 151
Megawatts per year 401,500 55,115
Megawatts in fifty years 20,075,000 2,755,750
Years to add 20 Terrawatts 50 363
Sources: Carnegie Institution, Science, BP *If we had started at this rate in 2000 Actual average rate of carbon-free added per day from 2006-2015

There’s simply little financial incentive for the energy industry to build at that scale and speed while it has tens of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the existing system.

“If you pay a billion dollars for a gigawatt of coal, you’re not going to be happy if you have to retire it in 10 years,” says Steven Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.

It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to see how any of that will change until there are strong enough government policies or big enough technology breakthroughs to override the economics.[…]

And there you have it: “strong enough government policies”. Tax and control.

[…]Arguably the most crucial step to accelerate energy development is enacting strong government policies. Many economists believe the most powerful tool would be a price on carbon, imposed through either a direct tax or a cap-and-trade program. As the price of producing energy from fossil fuels grows, this would create bigger incentives to replace those plants with clean energy.

“If we’re going to make any progress on greenhouse gases, we’ll have to either pay the implicit or explicit costs of carbon,” says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Carbon credits, ETS, carbon pricing, tax on exhaling and so on.

So should we just give up?

That would certainly get my vote.

There is no magic bullet or obvious path here. All we can do is pull hard on the levers that seem to work best.

Don’t forget to pull hard on the handle of your wheeled suitcase as you jet off to the next climate conference.

Environmental and clean-energy interest groups need to make climate change a higher priority, tying it to practical issues that citizens and politicians do care about, like clean air, security, and jobs.

And the link between those is what exactly?  Apart from the fact that expensive energy threatens security and jobs.

Investors or philanthropists need to be willing to make longer-term bets on early-stage energy technologies.[…]

And then lose their money like:

The complete list of faltering or bankrupt green-energy companies:  (*Denotes companies that have filed for bankruptcy.)

  1. Evergreen Solar ($25 million)*
  2. SpectraWatt ($500,000)*
  3. Solyndra ($535 million)*
  4. Beacon Power ($43 million)*
  5. Nevada Geothermal ($98.5 million)
  6. SunPower ($1.2 billion)
  7. First Solar ($1.46 billion)
  8. Babcock and Brown ($178 million)
  9. EnerDel’s subsidiary Ener1 ($118.5 million)*
  10. Amonix ($5.9 million)
  11. Fisker Automotive ($529 million)
  12. Abound Solar ($400 million)*
  13. A123 Systems ($279 million)*
  14. Willard and Kelsey Solar Group ($700,981)*
  15. Johnson Controls ($299 million)
  16. Brightsource ($1.6 billion)
  17. ECOtality ($126.2 million)
  18. Raser Technologies ($33 million)*
  19. Energy Conversion Devices ($13.3 million)*
  20. Mountain Plaza, Inc. ($2 million)*
  21. Olsen’s Crop Service and Olsen’s Mills Acquisition Company ($10 million)*
  22. Range Fuels ($80 million)*
  23. Thompson River Power ($6.5 million)*
  24. Stirling Energy Systems ($7 million)*
  25. Azure Dynamics ($5.4 million)*
  26. GreenVolts ($500,000)
  27. Vestas ($50 million)
  28. LG Chem’s subsidiary Compact Power ($151 million)
  29. Nordic Windpower ($16 million)*
  30. Navistar ($39 million)
  31. Satcon ($3 million)*
  32. Konarka Technologies Inc. ($20 million)*
  33. Mascoma Corp. ($100 million)

If mankind has not invented more efficient processes in the next 400 years then we are simply going to have to power the wind farms from the wing beats of the flying unicorns.

 


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In solidarity with the those in the world’s most despised demographic, WH has decided to ‘come out’ as an old white male. WH enjoys exercising the white-male privilege that Whaleoil provides for him by writing the occasional post challenging climate change consensus; looking at random tech issues that tweak his interest, as a bit of a tech nerd; or generally poking the borax at anyone in public life who goes on record revealing their stupidity. WH never excelled on the sports field because his coaches never allowed him to play in his preferred position on the right-wing. WH also enjoys his MG.

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