Gigaton Throwdown: Scale – Anything Else Is Peanuts!

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The week before last was the culmination of a labor of love for Sunil Paul and Claire Tomkins with the launch of the Gigaton Throwdown in DC after 18 months of hard work, researching and as I witnessed first hand coralling the efforts of other researchers.

What is the Gigaton Throwdown?

The Gigaton Throwdown Study was launched as a Clinton Global Initiative in 2007. It was started as a project to educate and inspire entrepreneurs, investors, and policy makers to think big about solving the climate crisis.  It was an effort to answer Sunil’s question, “What does it take to make a difference with clean energy technology?”

A team of entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders teamed up with leading academics to answer this question.  I was privileged enough to join the writing team. Specifically, we asked how could any one of nine technology “pathways” scale up so each could avoid one billion tons a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions per year, and do it by 2020.  We refer to this as “gigaton scale.” For an electricity generation technology, this is equivalent to an installed capacity of 205 gigawatts (GW) of carbon-free energy (at 100% capacity) in 2020.

These are the 9 technologies we analyzed in order to find out if they have the potential for achieving  gigaton scale:

• Biofuels

• Building efficiency

• Concentrating solar power

• Construction materials

• Geothermal

• Nuclear

• Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
• Solar photovoltaics
• Wind

I was honored to contribute to the book by offering the national security perspective for supporting the adoption of clean energy and energy efficiency, it is a position I discuss a bit in my Memorial Day blog entry.  I tried to incorporate the perspectives of Jim Woolsey and others like him that chant about the importance of clean energy regularly.  I hope I managed to include a few issues that we don’t often think about in terms of national security… like how we will stretch our nation’s already strained military to patrol the newly exposed Northwest passage and energy resources in the Arctic.

The DC launch was a star studded event which was attended by some contributors and authors (alas… I was stuck in San Francisco on a project), lobbyists, entrepreneurs, investors, policy wonks, key members of the DOE and the White House Staff (Van Jones, John P. Holdren) and some of the  legislators (Senator Kerry) that the book was hoping to engage.

Dan Kammen, one of the lead authors in a number of the chapters, was there at the launch and described the endeavor nicely:

“The Gigaton Throwdown sets our collective sights on game changing combinations of science, technology and policy that can turn the needed levels of climate protection and energy security into a roadmap for laboratory-to-industry partnerships.”

I can’t say it much better. The fact is that this is a huge issue that requires a massive mobilization of our technical, financial and educational resources and achieving gigaton scale in any of the technologies will require forward thinkers (like you?) in policy, research, finance, engineering and business.

I was very encouraged while working on the book, as I feel that we’ve reached a tipping point of sorts in terms of society acknowledging the magnitude of the challenge. I just hope we can come together as a community to continue to support policy makers that are trying to lay the foundation for this radical shift in our approach to consumption, energy, and lifestyle.

I’d suggest you take the time to at least read the overview or the chapters of the book that interest you most.  I challenge you to  free up the bottlenecks the book addresses in your own small (or big) way, because as Sunil says…

“We are at a crossroads, and the U.S. has an opportunity to become a leader in this new global sector if we act now. To us the choice is clear.”

For non-American readers, I challenge you to beat the US, this is healthy competition at it’s finest.

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  1. We have reached the kind of point where anything but thinking (and ultimately doing) big is not going to have a significant impact. Humankind can not afford to dawdle on environmental issues any more, and drastic measures have to be implemented to ensure our ultimate long-term survival as a species on this planet.

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