Climate change is bollocks and all that.
Now, back in the real world:
The US Energy Department is funding 75 projects developing electricity storage, mobilizing teams of scientists at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the elite Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge labs in a bid for what it calls the ‘Holy Grail’ of energy policy.
You can track what they are doing at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). There are plans for hydrogen bromide, or zinc-air batteries, or storage in molten glass, or next-generation flywheels, many claiming “drastic improvements” that can slash storage costs by 80pc to 90pc and reach the magical figure of $100 per kilowatt hour in relatively short order.
“Storage is a huge deal,” says Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary and himself a nuclear physicist. He is now confident that the US grid and power system will be completely “decarbonised” by the middle of the century.
The technology is poised to overcome the curse of ‘intermittency’ that has long bedevilled wind and solar. Surges of excess power will be stored for use later at times when the sun sets, and consumption peaks in the early evening.
This transforms the calculus of energy policy.
Ambrose EP can become somewhat enthusiastic, as we know. However, the underlying point here, if we get cheap electricity storage then that changes everything is right.
And I’ve no doubt that we will get cheap electricity storage.
Of course, I’m entirely incompetent to tell you which method will work. But I know very well that there’s already at least one method that does work. Run solar generated ‘leccie through a fuel cell, store the hydrogen produced. When you want power run the hydrogen back through a fuel cell. This does indeed work. There’s absolutely no reason (ie, scientific, engineering or technical) why fuel cells shouldn’t be 10% of the price they are. Solar panels are still, as far as I know, declining in price at 4% a quarter, 20% a year. Over some timespan which is trivial by civilisational terms this will indeed work. And EP is looking at the other various methods being explored.
One or more of them really will work.
At which point of course we’re done.
Yes, yes, I know, climate change is all bollocks. Except….
Think back to our original models about climate change. The SRES which underpinned everything up to AR4. What people call “business as usual” (and isn’t, all scenarios were and are business as usual) is A1FI. This is the same as RCP 8.5 in the newer emissions pathways. This says that we’ve got a problem.
But then there’s A1T. Which uses the same population, economic growth and wealth numbers (that’s the A1 part) but a different technological path. Essentially, if we ditch the coal and get rather more of our energy from non-fossil fuel sources then we’re done. There is no problem. Actually, it’s more than that. A1FI insists that we use more coal, get more of our energy as a portion of all energy from coal in the future. A1T isn’t predicting any massive breakthroughs, it just assumes that energy efficiency and emissions reductions continue in the 21st century much as they did in the 20th.
What EP and I are predicting is that technological advance will be faster than A1T. And a quick look around our world does seem to indicate that this is true. Every time someone touts 50% of energy from renewables today and the like then this is just underlying that fact that technological advance is carrying on. And it’s happening faster then the most Panglossian of those original estimates.
We are, therefore, done. We’ve kicked the global economy off that dangerous path and onto one where we just don’t have a problem. We’ve gee’d up the production of less emitting forms of energy generation. Add in this coming cheap storage and that’s all we need to do. For as our original diagnosis tells us, move to non-fossil fuel energy and the problem goes away.
At which point climate change really is bollocks, isn’t it? No, not as a problem that could have existed, but as one that exists now. Cheap solar (and there’s no shortage of insolation) plus cheap ‘leccie storage mean that we will preferentially use those instead of fossil fuels. At which point there is no emissions problem.
We’ve already put in place the things which mean that A1FI, or RCP 8.5, are not going to happen. We’ve already started the processes which mean that the outcome is going to be better than A1T.
And thus there is no problem.