1. bill shockley

    Even assuming that Gilding’s analysis and predictions are correct in all aspects, there remains the important question: Will it be enough to solve the climate problem?

    What pace of FF-replacement is implied by Gilding’s forecast? My guess is about 2% per year, which is what optimistic projections consider possible for renewables alone. And that is approximately what is needed to assure we keep below the +2C limit.

    Problem is, the 2C limit is, in James Hansen’s term, a “prescription for disaster” (briefly, 2C guarantees several meters of sea level rise and an eventual further global temperature rise to 3C or 4C as a result of slow feedbacks and momentum within the system). He believes we must, and can, do much better than that, and that to do so, a strong, steadily rising price on carbon is imperative.

    Stephen Chu also believes that to achieve the necessary pace we need a strong carbon pricing policy. But he doesn’t even realize that a 450ppm goal is not sufficient. Why don’t these people talk to each other?

    Hansen’s analysis is laid out in his paper from December, 2013, “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change”.

    We must make sure our goals are sufficient and that our methods can achieve them.

    • bill shockley

      PS, I should have included that Stephen Chu’s most recent forecasts for the broad crossover on the price of renewables vs fossil fuels is identical to that of Gilding’s, i.e., 5-10 years, so the comparison between the two is apples to apples, but Chu sees the need for something more. Check his most recent youtubes.

      • Stephen McGrail

        Hi Bill,

        Thanks for reading and commenting. Could you provide some links to Steven Chu’s presentations? (I found no such energy forecasts when searching on youtube). My guess is he’s only talking about electricity generation technologies, and not about the production of renewable liquid fuels (i.e. alternatives to oil), but even still I’m highly skeptical. Credible bodies like CSIRO have repeated argued that it’s not comparing apples to apples due to things like hidden costs which I noted in my post.

        On the issue of targets (re: 2C limit) I’m well aware of those issues. However, whatever target is adopted the main goal is the same – as rapid as possible decarbonisation. The core question is whether this will occur automatically and quickly in a market-driven process (as Gilding claims) or if interventions by governments etc are required.


  2. bill shockley

    Looking again over your summary of Gilding’s scenario, I see that Gilding is suggesting the whole CO2 thing is essentially solved, FF companies are dead, they just haven’t fallen over yet… so my objection to vagueness of mitigation rate is moot. I guess all I can say is I agree with you that he must be missing some things, since Chu sees the same successes in renewables as Gilding as far as price competitiveness, including the approaching competitiveness of battery vehicles, but he is much less optimistic regarding the rate at which the technologies can be adopted without the stimulus and guidance of government policy.

    Probably the most detailed of Chu’s presentations is this one from March of this year:

    youtube: Richard R. Ernst Lecture 2015: Nobel Prize Laureate Steven Chu speaks at ETH Zurich

    Below is a partial transcription, partial summary.

    52:41 Cost of solar in US
    July 2008 18c/kWh, actual contracts. A business deal, not some environmentalists projection.
    2014, 2 signed contracts in Texas. 5c and 4.8c per kWh. I did not think solar would be that cheap for another 10 years.
    This is the cumulative installation of solar [53:24]


    doing virtually nothing until about 2009 and then something dramatic happened. What happened? Well, I became secretary of energy [humor]. I had a massive loan program and I was loaning money to people who had sound purchase agreements for solar and wind. The banks wouldn’t touch them. And all those projects are paying off. In fact Berkshire Hathaway—Warren Buffet—has bought two of our solar farms. The developer bought it and sold it to… he said look… the developer got a 15% return on investment… I’ll take 8%, because it’s safe. The project’s built, it works… I’ll take 6%! So, I did the next best thing, I bought Berkshire Hathaway after I left the Dept. of Energy. But the point is, this is taking off, but it’s only 1/4 of 1% of the electricity generation in the US today. Wind is now 4%. But Wind and Solar within the next decade will easily begin to exceed hydro power in the US. Because this is really racing. Because it’s become so cheap. But remember, those numbers are showing 2008 to 2014. That made all the difference… it tipped the balance. OK, where’s the technological headroom–this is mostly crystalline and polycrystalline silicon…[55:19]


    I should say there’s a new class of materials, so-called Perovskites, first one announced 2008, look at that learning curve [almost vertical] and so they’re now pushing 20% efficient and they can go higher, but the beautiful thing about this material is people are beginning to say you can combine it with silicon to get a solar module that’s 30% efficient. Right now the commercial polycrystalline silicon is about 17, 18% efficient, and so all the land use, all the embedded infrastructure–mounts and everything–just scale with efficiency if you can build it at the same price. So, again, lots of technological headroom, which is what we want.

    [56:01] Intermittency, storage, battery cost, electric vehicle cost, battery development cycle. Long distance transmission to mitigate intermittency of solar/wind.
    [1:08:00] What about countries without the land resources to enable the big footprint needed for renewables? Power to liquid. At 50% renewable electricity there are many days of surplus. Splitting water ==> H2 + O2 via artificial photosynthesis. Captured CO2 from cement plants, power plants, steel plants. Combine H2 with C to make synthetic hydrocarbon fuels. Very mobile, ships cheaply around the world. Store it in the country for energy secutity. European countries have a 90-120 day supply of oil because of the oil shocks of the 70s and 80s.

    To Steven Chu:
    You showed your success in introducing photovoltaics, but you showed at the same time how tight oil production went up in the same period. Did you promote both?
    Steven Chu:
    No. That was promoted in the 70s until 1990 in the dept. of energy. Because of the environmental problem, because of the sustainability issue, one can only view natural gas as an interim measure, to transition first away from coal, but then we have to transition away from natural gas. And it could be debatable whether this fossil reserve lasts 50 years, 80 years, 100 years… the way we’re using it now and the rate of increase, no one is projecting it’s going to last for a very long time… This is not about sustainability. If you use it at the rate we’re using it today, in the next 20 or 30 years, to quote Martin Luther King, there is such a thing as being too late. So, we need to do these things and reduce the emissions of carbon by mid-century. Can we get there around the world, to get substantially in this danger zone? Well, I actually don’t think so. I think we will glide past 450ppm, and even 500ppm. And so, there are these other issues that we have to think about. To be sure, we need a price on carbon; that is a long term goal, that doesn’t jerk around with poliitical things; The US, the federal government is not going to pass anything in the next 2 years, for sure; but let me also say that if you look at the states in the US, and the amount of people in the economy in the US, 78% of the economy in the US has renewable portfololios mandatory. If you include goals, 86% of the economy has that. So in the US, although if you look at the federal government, it looks completely stalemated, which it is, the states, starting with California, with a price on carbon which will ratchet up gradually, with a very strong 20, 25, 32% renewable energy goal, and the eighth largest economy in the world. And so there are many states in the US which are marching toward this. I wish Florida and a few other popular states would do this as well. Fossil fuel can only be seen as a very temporary thing, and we have to get replacements.

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