Friday, September 30, 2011

Energy Miracle

At the influential TED conference last year, Bill Gates declared that if he were allowed one wish to improve humanity’s lot over the next 50 years, he would choose an “energy miracle”: a new technology that produced energy at half the price of coal with no carbon dioxide emissions. He explained that he’d rather have this wish than a new vaccine or medicine or even choose the next several American presidents. To help understand the reasoning behind Gates’s thinking, one should read Daniel Yergin’s intelligent new opus, “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.”

The Quest — By Daniel Yergin — Book Review - NYTimes.com

Even though the abundance of fossil fuels is finite, it will continue to be available in the foreseeable future. However other risks of fossil fuels remain.
Unless we shift our ways. Burning fossil fuels has a cost — perhaps an
unbearable one. We now have a mountain of evidence that the 30 billion
tons of carbon dioxide that humans pump into the atmosphere every year
are changing the earth’s climate in ways that will have negative effects
for most people.
And currently the alternative energy sources do not fit the bill. Solar, wind, even nuclear all have their issues. The need for new technology in energy is at the forefront like never before.
The reason Bill Gates wishes for a technology that creates energy at
half the price of coal with no carbon dioxide emissions is that he wants
a technology so compelling that it is adopted by poor countries as well
as rich ones. Coal is plentiful worldwide, and unless the new
technology is much cheaper, China and India will never adopt it. And if
these two countries — which together are building four coal-fired power
plants a week — don’t get off coal, nothing that happens in the West
matters, since the levels of carbon dioxide they will pump into the
atmosphere will be well above the danger mark. Half the price of coal
and no carbon: That’s a tall order, which is why Gates is looking for a
miracle. But what he means is a technological miracle of the kind that
happens from time to time. The steam engine, the automobile, the
computer, the Internet are all miracles. We need something on that order
in energy — and fast.


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