Energy Policy – Hitting the Broad Side of the Barn


I’ve been thinking about my up-coming meeting with Dr. Raj Pachauri, who, among other things, serves as the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Pondering this in advance of the meeting, I wonder what I would do, given the power, to deal with climate change.

I suppose the overarching principle I would use is prioritization. Why take on an issue that is contributing a microscopically small amount to climate change? Why not try to hit the broad side of the barn? I guess it will be cool when I can charge my cell phone using a solar photovoltaics (PV) fabric that’s woven into my hat, but that’s hardly going to change the world.

Here are four rough concepts that actually make a huge difference. Note that, in each case, the required technology already exists; there is no need to pull a rabbit out of our hat.

1) Because people in developing nations have limited access to modern modes of generating energy, they tend to burn hydrocarbons, mostly wood and animal dung, for cooking and lighting; obviously, this contributes significantly to pollution in various forms. We need a micro-grid or off-grid solution like micro-wind, coupled with high-efficiency lighting, cooking and refrigeration. Fortunately, one already exists: WindStream. I’m trying to get my friends at the Eleos Foundation to invest in establishing a manufacturing facility in Kenya. This will provide numerous benefits all raveled into one: less poverty, better health and nutrition, and better education (as people can read at night); note that educated people have fewer offspring. Everyone wins.

2) China is building a new coal-fired power plant at the rate of one per week, highlighting the world’s need to reduce and ultimately eliminate this incredibly dirty form of energy. Yet, without a replacement, China (and most of the rest of the world) will simply continue to burn coal; it would be great if it were in short supply, but unfortunately, it’s not. Solar PV and wind seem to be the two best candidates. PV is currently $0.56 per Watt – creating an attractive levelized cost of energy (LCOE) – especially if the issue of intermittency/storage can be addressed cost-effectively. This is a matter of R&D — and it’s coming along very well; companies like Eos Energy Storage have announced breakthrough technology that have the potential to make this extremely affordable. Are there other things in our lives that store energy once the cost of batteries comes down? You bet: electric vehicles. Once this happens, it will mean the rapid phasing out of gasoline, diesel, and the internal combustion engine.

3) We continue to slash and burn the Amazon rainforests at the rate of 1.5 acres per second; in the time you’ll spend reading this post, we will have deforested an area approximately the size of a regulation 18-hole golf course. The driving force here is largely the need for additional pasture land for cows, enabling a growing population to have inexpensive hamburgers. Guess what? If I’m king of the world, hamburgers will be getting a bit more expensive, because I’m putting an end to this deplorable behavior.

4) Meat production aside, the energy footprint associated with the food we eat is outrageous. The average food item that Americans consume was trucked 1200 miles to reach our grocery stores. Moreover, there are “food deserts” all over the world, where the delivery of food is logistically so expensive and/or dangerous that it simply doesn’t happen. Fortunately, we have an affordable solution to provide locally grown found ready to go into place: Tower Harvest with its breakthrough in bioaeroponics. Again, I foresee a world in which factories spring up, employing thousands of people to build and sell these incredible devices.

There you go: four ways of hitting the broad side of the barn. I’m really looking forward to my conversation with Dr. Pachauri; it will be interesting to see if he agrees with my theory.



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