TED Conversations

Yvonne Gamble

CEO,

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Can 15 Technologies change the Clean Energy Landscape in a Post-Fossil Fuel world?

These 15 technologies are, briefly,

1. Higher Vehicle fuel efficiency
2. Mass transit with high-density urban design
3. More Efficient buildings
4. More Efficient baseload coal plants
5. Substitute natural Gas baseload power for coal
6. Capture CO2 at baseload power plant
7. Capture CO2 at a Hydrogen fuels production plant
8. Capture CO2 at a coal-to-synfuels plant
9. Substitute Nuclear power for coal power
10. Substitute Wind power for coal power
11. Substitute Photo Voltaic power for coal power
12. Use Wind power to produce Hydrogen fuels for vehicles
13. Substitute Biomass fuels for fossil fuels
14. Reduced deforestation, and reforestation
15. Conservation tillage (carbon-capturing agriculture) on croplands worldwide

Since 2004 when Pacala and Socolow published in the journal SCIENCE about these 15 technologies, only #1, #3, #5, and #10 have been implemented on any significant scale, and those four are progressing far slower than necessary to achieve a difference in the next 50 years, except for #5 (natural gas, thanks to "fracking" is actually making a difference). The most cost-effective solutions on the list include 3,4,5, 9, and 10: efficient buildings, higher efficiency coal plants, natural gas power, nuclear fission, and wind power. Albeit major energy players in the world are ignoring nuclear fission as an effective tool in this toolbox, with the exception of China and India who still understand-- nuclear energy is at least as likely as wind and solar to be the main post-fossil-fuels energy source. If Western nations had not over-regulated nuclear energy to the point of intentionally strangling it, we would be in a MUCH better position now to slow anthropogenic climate change. 30 years of improvements in nuclear energy safety and cost-effectiveness have been lost.

Do you think any of these 15 will work?
Will there implementation make a difference?
Are these just more examples of hot air for scientists and politicians?

0
Share:
progress indicator
  • Dec 28 2012: "1. Higher Vehicle fuel efficiency
    2. Mass transit with high-density urban design
    3. More Efficient buildings
    4. More Efficient baseload coal plants
    5. Substitute natural Gas baseload power for coal
    6. Capture CO2 at baseload power plant
    7. Capture CO2 at a Hydrogen fuels production plant
    8. Capture CO2 at a coal-to-synfuels plant
    9. Substitute Nuclear power for coal power
    10. Substitute Wind power for coal power
    11. Substitute Photo Voltaic power for coal power
    12. Use Wind power to produce Hydrogen fuels for vehicles
    13. Substitute Biomass fuels for fossil fuels
    14. Reduced deforestation, and reforestation
    15. Conservation tillage (carbon-capturing agriculture) on croplands worldwide"

    Those are steps in the right direction, but I would point out that in the long run coal plants have to disappear completely in favor of photovoltaics and nuclear fusion. I like that you included those first three points in your list: these are often overlooked even though the United States, Canada, Australia and the richest Arab countries can cut energy use significantly through these points (they consume twice as much energy as people in Western Europe) and by extension significantly reduce global energy consumption.
    • thumb
      Dec 29 2012: If we were to employ your energy consumption reduction model and were able to reduce consumption by 25% from the United States, Canada, Australia and the richest Arab countries, how much more would we have to reduce consumption per year as we factored in population growth rates [1.2% per year globally] and doubling times [approx 77.7 years (use U.S. rate)?

      We can expect the world’s population of 6.5 billion to become over 9 billion by 2050. (http://www.prb.org/Educators/TeachersGuides/HumanPopulation/PopulationGrowth.aspx)

      Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of reducing our energy consumption in every way that we can from basic recycling to constructing breathable buildings (see Ted Talk by Doris Kim Sung: Metal that Breathes).

      Do you think we will become a society that lives in glass houses with mini nuclear reactors in our back yards? Is this scene from George Orwell or Clockwork Orange?
      • Dec 29 2012: "If we were to employ your energy consumption reduction model and were able to reduce consumption by 25% from the United States, Canada, Australia and the richest Arab countries, how much more would we have to reduce consumption per year"

        If by consumption you mean standard of living, then it would not have to be reduced at all, Europe is proof of this. Some steps are as simple as building homes out of bricks instead of plywood, driving, smaller, more efficient cars and having more public transportation in the cities.

        @below

        Energy use could be reduced by 50% in these countries without affecting the standard of living, since not all energy comes from fossil resources this means that consumption of those resources can be cut by more than 50%.
        • thumb
          Dec 29 2012: I was actually speaking of our consumption of finite resources.
  • thumb
    Dec 31 2012: I agree with what some of Lejan said, but Natural Gas can also be created by bacteria released into coal reserves as I heard from a TED talk here. Nuclear can also be done to use the other 97% of nuclear material with enough research.
    One talk that I believe should be mentioned here is Amory Lovins 40 Year plan for Energy. Amory advocates soft energy paths like solar and wind renewables. My company (www.insiterenewables.com) manufactures new solar panels to take advantage of on site renewable energy sources in windows and garage doors with photovoltaic window shades, shutters, and louvered solar panels. The production of energy near where its used like a home or office, reduces energy lost in transmission from a central power plant to a customer. It can also reduce the peak load on the grid during peak hours of usage during hot parts of the day (photovoltaic output correlates with A/C Demand)

    Amory also has plans for a hypercar that would be super efficient, The Aptera Car was a streamlined hybrid that was able to get 300mpg. Tesla motors is also working with its sister company Solar city to install Solar Powered electric vehicle stations around the US.
  • thumb
    Dec 29 2012: How can coal and natural gas possibly be part of any 'Post-Fossil Fuel world'? Both are fossil fuels, so at any means, they can only be seen as 'transitional' forms of energy and a temporarily substitute for crude oil, which spins our wheels at the moment.

    The capturing of CO2 is no solution either, as probably most geologist would confirm that there is no underground storage cavity which would stay untouched forever on constantly drifting tectonic plates. So it may calm our generation with an average life-expectancy of about 80 years, yet never on any geological and generational scale.

    Nuclear energy is no alternative, at least the one based on fission, as it will never be save nor able to solve its 'byproducts' within the generation who consumed that energy.

    Your so called '30 years of improvements in nuclear energy safety' is a false claim as it did allow diesel-safety generators to be placed below sea-level in a well known seismic area at a nuclear plant right next to an ocean ...

    How little fantasy do we still need to imagine even worse 'shortcuts' to gain more profit before the high cost of safety installations? And no, Japanese engineers are not that stupid, so the reason for this '30 year safety experience' is hidden somewhere else ...

    I can understand that these times of our desperate search for alternative energy sources, could be seen as a 'new spring' for the nuclear energy lobby, yet personally, I don't know any other industry - besides banks, recently - who flushed their own reputation that successfully 'down the drain' by giving false and misleading impressions about the risk of their 'product' and the constant concealment of incidences and its real danger ...

    So as long nuclear fusion is no available source to us, we have to change by available alternatives only.

    What you didn't mention at all, is the reduction of energy consumption in our daily lives, which is also a great source to finally change this world into a 'Post-Fossil Fuel' one .
    • thumb
      Dec 29 2012: I did not mention “the reduction of energy consumption in our daily lives” because reducing energy consumption changes the net effect energy use has on the environment, it does not increase nor reduce energy production. Therefore, while it is environmentally efficient to reduce our energy consumption it does not affect a growing society’s need for additional energy. Our need for energy is not determined solely by our use, but primarily by the numbers in our populations. This is why it is critically important that we “change by available alternatives,” as you mentioned.

      What available alternatives would you suggest?
      • thumb
        Dec 31 2012: The energy consumption in kWh per capita in the US is approximately twice as high as it is in Europe:

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

        By cutting in half 'your' average consumption, you could double the number of 'your population', so the need for energy is solely tight to its use!

        When I lived in the US, I didn't notice any difference in comfort of living, as one may expect the opposite by just comparing the numbers. Yet what I did notice, was a lack of 'sensitivity' in saving energy and rooms were lit even without anyone in it or refrigerator doors kept wide open while slowly shopping bags were unpacked.

        Energy consumption is in the detail, every day, and a first step is to get sensitive about it!

        Since Fukushima, Germany decided to free itself from all nuclear power plants by not increasing the overall CO2 emissions at the same time. This is a huge task and nobody knows if this can be managed. Interestingly again, there is no debate on personal energy reduction, as if this was a 'holy grail' which only gets touched if any other alternative fails ... Why this is this way I have no idea!

        If we would ban all electrical 'standby' modes on modern electrical devices, which keep consuming energy in this state of 'sleep', we could save at least two nuclear power plants in Germany without any problem and need for any alternative energy source. And this 'standby' mode is only used to start TV sets or music stations by a single push on the remote control, as if we are overstrained nowadays to start and end a multimedia device by its original power on/off switch, which shuts down any 'blind' usage of energy when the device isn't working. We have become that lazy in many respects, because energy used to be ridiculously cheap as it did not include its 'hidden' costs.

        What available alternatives would I suggest?

        We need to change towards renewable energy sources exclusively, we need to change now, fast and consequently. Solar, Tides & Wind to start
        • thumb
          Jan 2 2013: I agree in change towards renewable energy sources, not necessarily exclusively, but yes to change now, fast and consequently.

          Renewable energy in the U.S. is moving rapidly to fuel this nation’s future. Globally, more than $600bn has been invested in Renewables to date, including more than $100bn last year alone. Goldman Sachs projects global investment in renewables will approach $400bn/year by 2020.

          Renewable energy is also about jobs, real growth and job creation are in the more labor-intensive implementation, construction, and maintenance of renewable energy systems. The University of Massachusetts estimates that for every $1 million invested in solar, biomass or wind power, 13 to 16 jobs are created.

          National security is always of concern. Unlike nuclear, coal and oil, renewable resources have little or no hazardous materials involved, no dangerous transportation, and no unstable regimes from which to import them, no supply chains to defend by naval forces, and provide no easy target for a terrorist plot. The distributed nature of renewable energy means that thousands of sites provide power, not just a few. Moreover, as we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the wind turbines held up fine and continued to provide power to many local users even when the conventional power grid was damaged.

          Lastly, a progressive energy policy should not neglect the lowest hanging fruit: Efficiency. The highest ROI comes from retrofitting existing buildings, vehicles and improving efficiencies. Fewer power generators needed, and less carbon emitted. Companies have shown that these projects have substantial returns; more than two-thirds of emission reduction projects had ROIs in excess of 30%!

          On a global world platform the time for study and lobbying has long since passed. The science is clear. The financials are attractive. Now is the time for forward-thinking energy policies that reward behavior that sought and penalize those we do not.