With energy, where do we go from here?

Monday, February 02, 2009

President Barack Obama has pledged to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 percent come 2050, and that means saying goodbye to carbon-spewing coal and oil plants. But we can't wave a magic, rhetoric wand to change from black energy to green. So how do we move forward in establishing a new, clean power economy? To launch our Power Trip energy series, The Takeaway is joined by Garry Golden, a futurist and energy blogger who lays out the yellow brick road toward green energy.

Listen to more from Garry Golden in The Takeaway's Power Trip series:
More on the future of energy from Garry Golden and Introducing the new energy economy.

Guests:

Garry Golden

Contributors:

Molly Webster

Comments [12]

Garry G

Lisa- Thanks for the note. And I would definitely not throw out Leadership. It is absolutely essential. And it is definitely an Economic problem. Poverty is the planet's greatest threat if we expect that billions of people will use lower cost carbon heavy fuels to meet their needs. In my 'science problem' statement- I was trying to connect where we might look for globally relevant solutions - I don't believe that consumption (or behavioral changes) are adequate given the doubling of energy demand in the decades ahead. To meet those terawatts of new clean energy - we need to advance science and technology. There is no way to create new energy production by reducing demand. But as you pointed out-- leadership is paramount in all these areas. So agreed! Thanks - Garry

Feb. 02 2009 01:37 PM
Lisa

Mr. Golden:

I have to disagree with you when you say that energy is a science and technology problem. It's a political problem and it's an economic problem as well. The U.S. has shown a woeful lack of leadership in these areas for decades.

Feb. 02 2009 12:59 PM
Garry G

Thanks for the comment... It is important to have a global perspective on population growth when talking about solutions. The main push for new energy will be outside of the US. And it is important for us to anticipate how this global reality could have an impact on the planet and everyone's quality of life and economic security. There might be severe "limits to growth" in a world with 9 billion people by 2050.

Feb. 02 2009 11:28 AM
Garry G

Here's a comment via email: --- "I am willing to do nothing to save energy until other people stop having so many children. I can live in a cold, dark place and eat only grass and it won't matter as long as the world population keeps growing. There are currently more people alive than have died. That's right: If you had a list of all the people who have ever lived from the beginning of time it would be shorter than the list of people who are currently alive. It took all of time for the world's population to reach a billion around 1900, about 60 years to reach 3 billion in the early 1960s, about 30 more years for it to double to 6 billion in the 1990s and unless this Juggernaut is reversed, it simply doesn't matter how much we consume."----

Feb. 02 2009 11:26 AM
Garry G

Here's a question coming via email:

"In the developed countries the total population would be going down if it wasn't for immigration (America, EU). But it is in the third world countries where population is growing. Why is this such a trend? --- --- ---

Great question! There is a whole field of Population Studies that explores this dynamic. But the short, simple observation is that family planning changes as people see their incomes climb. As countries move out of high levels of poverty, family sizes shrink. But there are many sides to this story. (Urbanization) Agricultural-based communities tend to have larger family compared to urban families. Access to healthcare, education, and nutrition is also a driver of change. Population is a major issue for energy. There is nothing more important than population and GDP. That is how we forecast demand. Thanks, Garry

Feb. 02 2009 11:19 AM
Garry G

Rick, Just a follow up that has popped into my head after going through some other comments that share your desire of 'here and now' strategies. Honestly, and respectfully, I do not not think 'here and now' will solve global challenges. We must enable fundamentally new systems. This requires better scientists, not better consumers. In my blog (The Energy Roadmap.com)I am not shy about my skepticism of 'consuming ourselves into a greener economy'. My nod today towards 'raise a scientist' should not be viewed as against incremental solutions, as much I intend it to be a statement against our consumer mentality. Energy is a science and technology problem. While there is room to improve our energy efficiency in America, the problem is the rest of the developing world. America has an opportunity here to reposition itself as an energy leader via science and technology- and not just as consumers. I hope that clarifies things. Thanks- Garry

Feb. 02 2009 10:49 AM
Garry G

Marni,
Thank you for the comment. Agreed, but again (to Rick's post) this is a global challenge that goes far beyond incremental tweaks gained by efficiency. Yes, we should all reduce our energy use, but I worry that we ignore what is really happening in the world. Namely that 3 billion more people are coming into the Planet over the next 40 years and unless we completely redesign our energy industry they will consume energy via wood and coal. Simply reducing our own consumption does nothing to stop this global reality. So I am with you- but find myself waving my hands around frantically for people to understand how much energy is going to be demanded by the rest of the world outside of the US. (13 Terawatts!) Incrementalism is not going to solve our problems. And I worry about 'consuming greener' strategies as a distraction from global challenges. But agree that we all need to do our part.
Thanks for your comment!
Garry

Feb. 02 2009 10:04 AM
Garry G

A. Cherson,
Thank you for the note.

I would agree that pricing carbon is an important policy decision, but would disagree on its impact.

It remains a popular concept, but like improving CAFE standards to transform the auto industry, it's impact on the marketplace is not clear cut.

It is still unclear which carbon pricing policy could pass in the US (and when), and again, it would do little to change carbon emissions in China, India (et al)

I am seeking global solutions. And recognize that our current tool set is lacking.

I am very skeptical about popular faith in carbon pricing. Both in its implementation and effectiveness. I don't think it goes far enough.

I advocate enabling bioenergy solutions like algae that transform carbon into a sellable resource.

Instead of pricing carbon, sell it as a feedstock for algae that use the power of sunlight to create usaeble forms of energy.
Thanks for the comment -Garry

Feb. 02 2009 09:58 AM
marni fylling

I am continually surprised at how infrequently a politician, or anyone else, for that matter, actually suggests that individuals change their habits to reduce energy use. We keep our thermostat at 60 in the winter and wear sweaters. We rarely use the clothes dryer- and our clothes last a LOT longer (and don't shrink). We walk or use public transportation, and always turn lights, appliances, etc. off when not in use. If everyone made small changes in their lifestyle, it would make a big difference in overall energy use.

Feb. 02 2009 09:51 AM
Garry G

Rick,
You are right to bring up an energy audit. Apologies for missing that simple step. And yes more efficient products is part of the low hanging fruit.

But I do think it is important to recognize the difference between incremental changes from gains in efficiency, and focusing on science/regulations that enable fundamentally new energy systems that can anticipate the doubling of our energy demands in the decades ahead.

Trying to conserve or consume ourselves into a green economy has its limitations. Incremental solutions via efficiency can slow our own demand growth rates but it cannot offset global consumption trends that follow population and GDP.

As a futures focused energy writer I emphasize enabling disruptive changes and new eras of performance. But as you've pointed out, we should not forget incremental gains!
Thank you

Feb. 02 2009 09:49 AM
A. Cherson

Your guest, Mr. Golden, missed the most important point of all: the need to make carbon emissions more expensive by creating a revenue neutral carbon tax. If dirty fuels continue to get a free ride, I don't care how many regulatory or smart grid changes you make, the filth will persist. Where did you say he obtained his degree? Was it Houston? US capital of dirty fuel? I hope you will balance your series with some more effective and immediate proposals.

Feb. 02 2009 08:30 AM
Rick Evans

How amazing an "energy blogger" was left tongue tied when asked what individuals can do to reduce their energy use. His answer? Raise a scientist? How about an energy audit and doing easy things like sealing off cold drafts. http://preview.tinyurl.com/5752hq Can't afford to replace your old hot water boiler. Consider a very low flow shower head. I picked up one that uses 1.6 gpm compared to the typical 2.5 gpm. Hot water is one of the biggest users of energy dollars. Try lowering your thermostat 1 deg. per week until you reach your minimum winter or maximum summer comfort level. Turn off the desktop PC when not in use. Turn off the TV when not watching it. Drive more fuel efficiently. There are plenty of good tips here http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ Mr. Golden is caught up on big long term techno-gimmicky solutions to a problem that can be attacked with many simple low tech approaches.

Feb. 02 2009 07:19 AM

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