Guest essay by Eric Worrall
If current generation renewables are a viable replacement for fossil fuels, why are so many greens calling for lavishly funded “Grand Challenge” projects and “Apollo Projects” to make them work?
Renewables need a grand-challenge strategy
Launch a global clean-energy initiative to set priorities that galvanize researchers to deliver breakthroughs, write Alan Bernstein and colleagues.
Public spending on research into renewable energy is too low to meet even the modest targets set at the Paris climate talks last December, let alone decarbonize the world economy. It stands at about US$6.5 billion a year, or less than 2% of total public research and development (R&D) spending, according to data from the International Energy Agency.
In 2005, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington — with the Wellcome Trust in London, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Foundation for the US National Institutes of Health — targeted issues surrounding neglected diseases, which affect most of the world’s population (H. Varmus et al. Science 302, 398–399; 2003). Fourteen priority topics included developing a genetic strategy to incapacitate insects that transmit agents of disease, such as the mosquito vectors of yellow fever, dengue and Zika virus (D. A. Joubert et al. PLoS Pathog. 12, e1005434; 2016).
“Scalability, affordability, uptake and dissemination need to be addressed.”
Renewable energy calls for a broadly similar approach. It is a difficult, urgent global problem that has been neglected in terms of public research and investment. It requires big thinking, multidisciplinary approaches and supportive policies to compete with existing systems. And it is tightly coupled to other global challenges, such as food and water security, poverty and health.
Back in September last year, WUWT reported on prominent British Green David Attenborough’s call for an “Apollo Project” to make renewable energy viable.
In 2014, a Google Corporation engineering team concluded there is no way with current technology to make renewables a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Naturally these voices of discord are creating a backlash – in December 2015, Naomi Oreskes accused James Hansen of being a “Denier”, for suggesting that renewables by themselves weren’t up to the job of decarbonising the global economy.
The utter uselessness of current generation renewables is becoming increasingly difficult to deny. As the renewable driven instability which caused the South Australian State Wide Blackout demonstrated, any serious attempt to add more than a token renewable presence to the grid invites catastrophe.
The AEMO, the government body tasked with oversight of the Australian electricity grid, predicted back in August that renewables would increase the risk of blackouts.
Given the calls for major research efforts from committed greens, it seems reasonable to conclude that there are serious outstanding problems. How can politicians not be aware of these problems? Perhaps the main motivation for continuing to support renewables has become the immense embarrassment abandoning the effort would create, for the politicians who facilitated this colossal waste of taxpayer’s money.
Those same politicians may be tempted to support a renewable “Apollo Project”, to try to salvage some value out of the mess they created. But there is close to zero probability of a meaningful near term breakthrough. All such grand research efforts will achieve in any reasonable timeframe is the squandering of yet more taxpayer’s money on the renewables pipe dream.