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Speaker's Footnotes

Relevant notes and citations provided to TED by Joe Lassiter.

  • I want to alert you to my potential conflicts of interest, which might influence my thinking. I have helped raise money for and provided pro bono assessments to a number of new energy and climate related ventures. In addition, I am an investor in a number of energy/cleantech related ventures, including 1366 Technology (a solar technology venture), TerraPower (a nuclear technology venture) and ThorCon Power (a nuclear technology venture). As well, I am currently serving on the MIT Future of Nuclear Energy Technologies study, which is funded in part by the Sloan Foundation.

  • 00:15

    Energy Poverty Statistics Source: “Access to energy,” The Economist.
    *Includes kerosene, ethanol, natural gas or electricity for cooking. Electricity access minimums are defined by the International Energy Agency as above 250 kWh per year in rural households and 500 kWh per year in urban households (typically adding a 2nd cellphone, TV or refrigerator).

  • 01:48

    I should have said Paris "Climate" Treaty.

  • 02:10

    US Energy Information Administration. International Energy Outlook May 11, 2016 (Released yearly). See Table A20 for CO2 emissions by region under the EIA’s reference case from all energy uses: electricity, transportation, industrial processes, heating/cooling, etc. The figures shown in this presentation are the EIA Reference Case, which assumes the US’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) does not go into force as scheduled. Were the CPP to go into effect, the change in worldwide CO2 emissions would be relatively small as a percentage, though within the US the shift from coal, primarily to natural gas and renewables, does lead to a material percentage change in US CO2 emissions. An update to the EIA’s US forecast of the impacts of the CPP will be published in September 2016. The EIA CO2 emission numbers are based on the country where the carbon emissions are produced, not the country where the carbon emissions are consumed. These tend to overstate the role of developing countries that produce carbon-intensive products for export (e.g., China) and understate the role of developed countries that import those same products (e.g., the US or OECD-Europe). The "exporting of CO2 emissions" will be less of a factor going forward as domestic consumption increases in the developing world. The reporting distortion is discussed in "Consumption-based accounting of CO2 emissions" by Steven J. Davis and Ken Caldeira in PNAS dated March 23, 2010 , vol. 107 . no. 12.

  • 03:40

    CO2 emissions are converted to Carbon emissions by dividing by the ratio of the molecular weight of CO2 to Carbon, or 3.67.  Under the EIA’s reference case, world-wide CO2 emissions from all sources grow from 33.5 gigatons per year in 2010 to 45.5 gigatons in 2040, averaging about 39.5 gigatons per year of CO2 over the period or dividing by 3.7, about 10 gigatons per year of carbon.

  • 04:00

    On November 3rd, 2014, the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final installment of their 5th climate assessment report (AR5) which stated that in order to have a better than two-thirds (66%) chance of limiting warming to 2°C above preindustrial levels, global leaders must limit total accumulated carbon in the atmosphere to a 1000 gigaton “carbon budget,” with some 550 gigatons estimated as having already been emitted as of that date. The current EIA 2016 forecast adds about 300 gigatons, lifting cumulative emissions to 850 gigatons.  The size of the carbon budget that is "manageable" for the planet is a matter of on-going scientific discussion.

  • 04:30

    I have focused on electricity generation because coal-fired and gas-fired power plants are rapidly growing, long-life sources of CO2 emissions in the developing world. The electrical generation capacity mix is based on the forecasts in the EIA International Energy 2016 International Energy Outlook reference case and reflect their assumptions about the timing of technological improvements as well as future fossil fuel prices. The generation capacity is shown as gigawatts (GWe but the more common GW is used in these figures, etc.). To be comparable, power sources must be "derated" for intermittency and availability. See Chapter 5: Electricity, Variability in electricity generation capacity factors by region and fuel, of the EIA 2016 International Energy Outlook for country-by-country discussion or "capacity factors." In addition with the use of renewables, idle capacity from dispatchable power must held in reserve for daily and seasonally variations in sunlight and wind. A discussion of the high total power system costs of dealing with intermittency can be read here:   Brick, SW. and Thernstorm, S. "Renewables and decarbonization: Studies of California, Wisconsin and Germany"

  • 06:22

    Poverty Shifts in China and India, 1981 -2025. "The gloves go on," The Economist, November 26, 2009

  • 07:30

    Premature Causes of Death Due to Pollution in Selected Countries.  Jefferies, "Metals & Mining: Initiating on China Coal Sector: I Can’t Live, With or Without You," industry note, July 26, 2012. Compiled from "Chart 100: Premature deaths from all pollution, 2002," p. 49, and "Chart 101: DALY caused by pollution, top 20," p. 50. (Source for data: World Health Organization, Jefferies.)

  • 07:40

    Leading Causes of Death in China Today Cause-specific mortality for 240 causes in China during 1990–2013: a systematic subnational analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Zhou, Maigeng et al. The Lancet, Volume 387, Issue 10015, 251 – 272

  • 07:41

    See an analysis of clean cooking and heating fuel availability in Modern Energy for All OECD/EIA 2013 Table 2.4

  • 07:55

    The generation capacity mix is based on the forecasts in the EIA International Energy 2016 International Energy Outlook reference case.

  • 08:34

    The number of coal plants forecast to be added to the existing worldwide fleet by 2040 varies widely by sources and their assumptions. To reflect that uncertainty, I used 800-1600 as a net number (meaning gross GW additions of new, high- efficiency, lower pollution coal plants  less gross GW closings of old, low-efficiency,  highly-polluting plants) bracketing estimates by the EIA,   Platts WEP 2015-Coalswarm and Greenpeace. CO2 emissions per year per GW were drawn from the MIT The Future of Coal Study, assuming a 50 Yr plant life.  The 1-3% of the world’s carbon budget  per 50-100 net GW installed per yr is based on 1.25 - 2.50% /yr for 350 gigaton carbon residual budget and 0.88 - 1.75% /yr for 500 gigaton residual carbon budget . The world currently installs a NET of between 50GW and 150 GW/yr of coal depending on economic growth, domestic jobs programs and financial markets.

  • 10:00

    But, to beat fossil fuels in time, you have to match what fossil fuels are capable of providing.  Any alternative to fossil fuels has to meet Khosla’s Chindia test by proving that they are: (1) viable (seen as safe and implementable by a nation’s citizens), (2) scalable (available in every major market at the same net rate as coal/gas plants, worldwide maybe 100 GWe/yr ), (3)  cost-effective (without subsidy or mandate relative to coal and natural gas  (maybe $0.05/kWh)), and  (4) deployed in time (demo by 2025 and scale by 2030) to halt and then reverse the fossil fuel build out. New nuclear is the only alternative claiming they might be able to get there in time, but only if "we" will let them.

  • 10:30

    By "we" I mean the world’s energy entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who to enter this market with private funds, not public funds supplied by the US or EU taxpayer. I suspect that entrepreneurs will need the flexibility and the ability to learn-while-doing that comes from private –as opposed to public—financing.  I also doubt that the developing world will be able to get the domestic political support to subsidize the developing world’s transition to zero-net carbon sources of power "soon enough" to keep the carbon in the ground.

  • 11:20

    In my talk, I used "capacity factors" for wind of 30% of the installed capacity and for solar of 20% of the installed capacity to account for the intermittency of both these resources in China, which are far higher than the Chinese achieve today. See Chapter 5: Electricity, Variability in electricity generation capacity factors by region and fuel, of the EIA 2016 International Energy Outlook for country-by-country discussion of "capacity factors."

  • 11:36

    The EIA forecasts tell you we are losing the race to fossil fuels and that nothing currently known or forecast to become available  is good enough to beat coal in time.  While there are a number of energy alternatives on the table, just a few have an outside chance to compete with coal and natural gas soon enough to halt the build out in Asia/Africa that is required to support urbanization and industrialization. Nearly all except utility scale solar and new nuclear require some kind of scientific breakthrough in order to have a big impact soon enough. Solar today reaches billions of dollars per year of public support, yet even with that support and the impressive rate of improvement in the technology, the EIA 2016 forecast shows that solar is not going to going to be cheap enough slow the buildout of coal in Asia and Africa.  Utility-grade solar with natural gas as a back-up to deal with intermittency may get cheap enough in time in some parts of the world. Yet, even with solar panel prices falling, installation knowhow increasing, and local (non-LNG) natural gas supplies increasing, the land use and transmission right-of-way problems for solar/ natural gas may present insurmountable political problems in parts of Asia and Africa.  For further discussion look here. The world’s recent experience with fracking and shale gas has shown that the world’s energy ecosystem can rapidly change—in less than a decade—if the one uses existing technology that is cheap enough, scalable enough and if the relevant local public supports it. We need non-fossil alternatives that can match the scale and the rate of deployment that fracking and shale gas have shown is possible in the world’s energy ecosystem, see here.

  • 12:20

    Getting new nuclear available in time requires:

    (1) a change in radiological health regulations as well as education of the public as to the science-based radiological health impacts associated with the broad deployment of nuclear power.  This is an incredibly passionate area of debate. A recent article by Sachs, et al. "Epidemiology Without Biology: False Paradigms, Unfounded Assumptions, and Specious Statistics" in Radiation Science and the comments pro and con cover most of the issues in one place. Another view of changes is discussed by Prof. Gerry Jones of Imperial College, Thomas GA, Symonds P, 2016, "Radiation Exposure and Health Effects - is it Time to Reassess the Real Consequences?," Clinical Oncology, Vol:28, ISSN:0936-6555, Pages:231-236. A program to educate the public about the safety of nuclear power lies in the current political debate to keep the current nuclear fleet open, rather than allowing these older plants to be shut down prematurely by either ill-designed renewables mandates or uninformed radiophobia. See a discussion of this effort by Michael Shellenberger at TEDSummit 2016.

    (2) a change in  the "military equipment mindset" that has become ingrained with the development and deployment of nuclear power because its military origins. We will need to change the "military equipment" behavior of the supplier network to keep costs competitive with fossil fuels regardless of which nuclear technologies prove their value. An interesting basis for such changes is discussed by Jack Devanney of ThorCon Power here and here. By way of disclosure, Devanney and I were professors in MIT‘s Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering with one another in the early 1970s and I am an advisor to ThorCon Power today.

  • 12:47

    The 25 years refers to the "traditional" time from concept through development to a rolling out nuclear power plant design in volume supported by a robust supply chain.  I should have said $2B to $5B to develop and license a new reactor technology, not $25B. Government Accounting Office discussion of the cost of licensing new light water commercial reactors in the US can be seen here. This is a time frame we have grown to accept. We have done this in less than 5 years often in the past; it is time to remember how to do so once again.

  • 13:13

    Some examples of companies pursuing advanced, or what I call new nuclear are TerraPower, ThorCon Power, Terrestrial Energy, and Transatomic Power, Fluor/NuScale, which uses the historical light water reactor technology, might be capable of costs and scaling that are competitive with fossil fuels. We need a lot more of the nuclear ventures to move much faster if we are to beat coal in time. You can learn more about them in summary here or by visiting their respective websites.

  • 13:22

    The world needs better choices and our governments need to provide a "re-invented" regulatory environment that gives our entrepreneurs the chance to beat coal in time. Right now, TerraPower is building its 1st prototype in China. ThorCon hopes to build its 1st prototype in Indonesia and Terrestrial Energy is aiming for Canada. I wish someone thought they could get the job done in the US, but that doesn’t appear to be the case at the moment.