Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bill Gates: ‘We Need an Energy Miracle’

There was a saying making the rounds when it was revealed how huge the Sasquatch-sized carbon footprints of folks like Al Gore or Lord Stern or Leo DiCaprio actually were:
"I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who keep telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis."
Mr. Gates isn't acting like it's a crisis, he takes a deliberate approach but he is taking it quite seriously.
Gates net worth is $79.2 billion dollars.
From the Atlantic:

Bill Gates has committed his fortune to moving the world beyond fossil fuels and mitigating climate change.
In his offices overlooking Lake Washington, just east of Seattle, Bill Gates grabbed a legal pad recently and began covering it in his left-handed scrawl. He scribbled arrows by each margin of the pad, both pointing inward. The arrow near the left margin, he said, represented how governments worldwide could stimulate ingenuity to combat climate change by dramatically increasing spending on research and development. “The push is the R&D,” he said, before indicating the arrow on the right. “The pull is the carbon tax.” Between the arrows he sketched boxes to represent areas, such as deployment of new technology, where, he argued, private investors should foot the bill. He has pledged to commit $2 billion himself.

“Yes, the government will be somewhat inept,” he said brusquely, swatting aside one objection as a trivial statement of the obvious. “But the private sector is in general inept. How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them.”
Gates is on a solo global lobbying campaign to press his species to accomplish something on a scale it has never attempted before. He wants human beings to invent their way out of the coming collision with planetary climate change, accelerating a transition to new forms of energy that might normally take a century or more. To head off a rise in average global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—the goal set by international agreement—Gates believes that by 2050, wealthy nations like China and the United States, the most prodigious belchers of greenhouse gases, must be adding no more carbon to the skies.
Those who study energy patterns say we are in a gradual transition from oil and coal to natural gas, a fuel that emits far less carbon but still contributes to global warming. Gates thinks that we can’t accept this outcome, and that our best chance to vault over natural gas to a globally applicable, carbon-free source of energy is to drive innovation “at an unnaturally high pace.”

When I sat down to hear his case a few weeks ago, he didn’t evince much patience for the argument that American politicians couldn’t agree even on whether climate change is real, much less on how to combat it. “If you’re not bringing math skills to the problem,” he said with a sort of amused asperity, “then representative democracy is a problem.” What follows is a condensed transcript of his remarks, lightly edited for clarity.

On whether new commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions expected at the United Nations climate-change conference in Paris in December mean the world is now serious about the problem:
It’s good to have people making commitments. It’s really good. But if you really look at those commitments—which are not binding, but even if you say they will all be achieved—they fall dramatically short of the reductions required to reduce CO2 emissions enough to prevent a scenario where global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius. I mean, these commitments won’t even be a third of what you need.

And one of the interesting things about this problem is, if you have a country that says, “Okay, we’re going to get on a pathway for an 80 percent reduction in CO2 by 2050,” it might make a commitment that “Hey, by 2030, we’ll be at 30 percent reduction.” But that first 30 percent is dramatically, dramatically easier than getting to 80 percent. So everything that’s hard has been saved for post-2030—and even these 2030 commitments aren’t enough. And many of them won’t be achieved.

On why the free market won’t develop new forms of energy fast enough:
Well, there’s no fortune to be made. Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems, like “Okay, what do you do with coal ash?” and “How do you guarantee something is safe?” Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.

And for energy as a whole, the incentive to invest is quite limited, because unlike digital products—where you get very rapid adoption and so, within the period that your trade secret stays secret or your patent gives you a 20-year exclusive, you can reap incredible returns—almost everything that’s been invented in energy was invented more than 20 years before it got scaled usage. So if you go back to various energy innovators, actually, they didn’t do that well financially. The rewards to society of these energy advances—not much of that is captured by the individual innovator, because it’s a very conservative market. So the R&D amount in energy is surprisingly low compared with medicine or digital stuff, where both the government spending and the private-sector spending is huge.

On the pace of energy transitions historically:
What’s amazing is how our intense energy usage is one and the same as modern civilization. That is, for all the great things that happened in terms of human lifestyle, life span, and growing food before 1800, civilization didn’t change dramatically until we started using coal in the U.K. in the 1800s. Coal replaced wood. But the wave of wood to coal is about a 50- or 60-year wave.
If it was just about economics, if we had no global warming to think about, the slowly-but-surely pace of these transitions would be okay. If you look at one of these forecasts, they all say about the same thing: What you look at is a picture that’s pretty gradual, with natural gas continuing to gain at the expense of both coal and oil. But, you know, 1-percent-a year-type change. If you look at that from a greenhouse-gas point of view—if you look at forecasts—every single year we’ll be emitting more greenhouse gases than the previous year.

On whether we’ve ever done anything as big, as a species, as what he’s asking for now:
Well, sort of no. Because the scale of it is very big. People can talk about the Manhattan Project during World War II—the challenge of “Hey, should we get a nuclear weapon before, potentially, the Japanese or Germans do?” The speed of innovation there really was mind-blowing. And they had to find two paths to get there. One was enriching uranium; the other was breeding plutonium. And, in fact, the first bomb was a uranium bomb; the second bomb was plutonium. Both paths gave them what they’d hoped for. So there’s some amazing things—people look at the digital realm and see the pace of innovation. And that does kind of spoil you, because you can just put something up on the Web, and a hundred million people can download it.

But what we’re asking ourselves to do here is change energy—and that includes all of transport, all of electricity, all of household usage, and all of industrial usage. And those are all huge areas of usage. And somebody’ll say to you, “Well, hey, lighting, LED technology, is going to reduce energy consumption from lighting by over half.” That’s true; it’s a miracle, it’s fantastic. But unfortunately, there’s no equivalent in many of these other things, like making fertilizer or making electricity in a general sense. There’s opportunities to conserve that are really good. But the world is going to consume much more energy 30 years from now than it does today....MUCH MORE
Here are a couple posts at Mr. G's blog, Gates Notes:
July 29, 2015
We Need Clean-Energy Innovation, and Lots of It
June 25, 2014
We Need Energy Miracles
We have posted quite a bit on Mr. Gates' thinking:
"Bill Gates’ Children Mock Him With ‘Billionaire’ Song" 
Energy: "The man who’s tutoring Bill Gates … " 
Bill Gates On Energy
Bill Gates On Innovation
Follow-up--Q&A With Bill Gates: Robots, Uber and the Role of Government 
Vaclav Smil On Energy: "Revolution? More like a crawl" 
Bill Gates on The Most Astounding Statistic In Vaclav Smil's New Book 
Bill Gates Summer Reading List (Vaclav Smil has two entries)
A Major Piece: "Why the tech revolution isn’t a template for an energy revolution"
Energy Storage: Screw Batteries, Bill Gates, Peter Thiel and Khosla Ventures Team Up on A Different Approach 
Bill Gates is Going to Kill Us All 
UPDATED--Bill Gates On Innovation 
Q and A: Bill Gates on Energy
"Bill Gates on R&D, a Carbon Tax and China’s Climate Role"
Bill Gates Reviews Vaclav Smil's "Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines" 
Bill Gates Reviews (and Savages) "Why Nations Fail"
Bill Gates: "Why We Need Innovation, Not Just Insulation" (BRK.A; MSFT) 
Gates, Pritzkers vs. Musk: "The $5 Billion Race to Build a Better Battery" (TSLA) 
Bill Gates-backed carbon fund taps China emissions
Bill Gates Slashing Stake in Pacific Ethanol (PEIX)
Nuclear: "Bill Gates Is Beginning to Dream the Thorium Dream"
And many more, use the search blog box if interested.
For folks who are actually interested in this stuff and not just talking political b.s. while nibbling the canapés, from April 2014's "If It's April It Must Be Time to Visit Professor MacKay and His Map of the World":
...David  MacKay used to hang his hat at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory.
I don't really know what they do at the lab, I think it's where the Nobel Prize in Physics is made.

Mackay left the lab in 2013 to be Cambridge's first Regius Professor of Engineering.
He has a bunch of letters after his name.
April, 2007
Sustainable Energy-without the hot air
April 2013
Here is THE Problem Facing Alternative Energy

We also visited the Professor in 2012. By then I had shortened the introduction:
His Wikipedia entry is basically "David J.C. MacKay, see: heavyweight."*
Here's another April 2013 visit:
"16 Lectures on Information Theory and all that"

Here's his Cambridge website.
When people want to talk energy with me I usually ask if they have read his book
And if you don't read his book, you have no excuse. He put it on the internet for free download.