Over at Bart Verheggen’s weblog, Bart (who is a climate scientist who looks at aerosols) writes about innovation, implementation and efficiency, saying,
“Often, innovation (of new/improved energy technologies) and implementation (of existing energy technologies) are presented as if they are binary choices. Lomborg is a champion of that kind of rhetoric.
They are not: Both are needed, and both serve a different purpose (or at least, they are different, and complementary means towards the common goal of transforming our energy system towards a more sustainable one).
Innovation doesn’t actually reduce emissions. Rather, it is expected to allow for deep, fast and/or cheap emission reductions in the long term. Its pay-off though is inherently uncertain.
Implementation is needed to get started on emission reductions. It’s the cumulative emissions that are of concern, so earlier cuts in emissions are more useful to climate stabilization than similar cuts made later.
Counting on innovation as the only mitigation strategy risks postponing doing anything until a silver bullet comes along that may never will. Hence this strategy is sometimes referred to as fairy dust.
Counting on implementation only risks high costs to achieve needed emission cuts (or an effective inability to reach needed emission cuts, if we don’t want to pay for it).”
Bart is probably on the wrong side of the fence for many readers here, but he’s a good guy–more reasonable and reasoning than so many activist bloggers, and willing to at least discuss issues, rather than lecture and hector in the Rommulan or Tobitian mode. I urge those of you who haven’t visited his blog to give him a chance–you probably won’t agree with him, but his discussions are at least interesting.
But he’s missing one or two important points.
There is another way of dividing this problem up. Using renewable energy sources (possibly including nuclear, depending on the level of religious fervor you have) and improving the efficiency of our current means of generating, distributing and consuming energy.
The innovation strategies are not the same for each, obviously.
For renewable energy sources, the technology most likely to reach price parity with fossil fuels is solar power. The improvements needed to make it inexpensive enough to convince die-hard American Republicans that we should use it are well-understood. The complementary technology to make it scalable, grid level storage, is also understood, but farther off.
The appropriate innovation strategy would be to publicly finance research and development of storage, and offer tax incentives for accelerated deployment and development of solar. This is important as the last generation of fabs for solar cells still has mileage on it, and the owners want to milk the last penny out of it.
The dilemma nobody talks about (because nobody wants to advertise it) is the first mover’s disadvantage.
Anthony has kitted out his house with state of the art energy efficiency technologies, because he actually understands that it makes sense to try and make a difference. I gave up driving back in 1991 (with a clean driving record, I’ll have you know), because it seemed like the quantitatively most significant action I could take. I don’t regret my choice, and I doubt if Anthony regrets his.
But if I owned a business with a location in a warehouse with a flat roof facing southerly, I would still hold off on buying solar panels to cover it. There would be two reasons for my hesitation.
First, I am not certain that I won’t get a better deal from the government on tax incentives, depreciation and Girl Scout cookies later on. They do talk about such things quite frequently, both in Sackamenna and Washington. So even if it made sense in other ways, I might hold out for a better deal.
Secondly, and more importantly, I know that solar power gets 20% better with every generation. Two more generations and it will be so inexpensive and higher quality that it would be insane not to use it. Sound business principles suggest that I wait.
On a higher scale, the same decision-making process affects large industrial producers and consumers of energy. Take hydroelectric power. Uprating the turbines of a hydroelectric power plant can increase power output by 35% or more. That ain’t hay.
But turbines are increasing efficiency by at least 1% per year. If my current facility is operating profitably and I wait for 10 years before uprating it, I don’t have downtime for the plant, don’t incur the expenses of retrofitting, and have extra money in my pocket before uprating to an even more efficient turbine 10 years down the road. If I do it now, it’ll be second-hand news in 10 years, and who knows when some really dramatic innovation occurs that makes it impossible to resist.
In my personal life I am willing to put up with some inconvenience and risk a bit of unplanned obsolescence in my energy choices. But as a small business owner I do not have that luxury. There are people who depend on me making the right choices from a financial point of view.
And that’s the dilemma pretty much in a nutshell.
Thomas Fuller http://www.redbubble.com/people/hfuller