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On Deficits and Energy

Thanks for the clarification RE your calculations. That seems pretty fair.
February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On President Obama Answers Question From a Young Person By Explaining at Least One Reason to Invest in Nuclear Energy

Yeah, not so with the new levels of acceptance though...

Here's a response to Obama's answer from the Energy Action Coalition, which posed the question to him in the first place:

[The President's] answer is unwise, and deceitful. I hate to say this about the President that has done more to invest in a clean energy economy than anyone before him (not a hard accomplishment since W, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, and Carter were the only presidents in office since  clean energy became an issue), but young people are tired of being lied to by the White House and congress.

Study after study show that renewable energy and energy efficiency are abundant and affordable enough to meet our short term emission reduction targets (including base load concerns).

Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for renewable energy, conservation, and even for strong action on the climate crisis.

Despite the evidence and public support, President Obama’s comments disregarded the potential of renewable energy. Instead, he championed dangerous and dirty alternatives like Carbon Capture and Sequestration (for some incomprehensible President Obama keeps on calling it ‘clean coal’) and nuclear energy even though many studies question their ability to quickly and cheaply reduce our emissions. CCS is extremely inefficient, forcing us to dig up and burn much more coal per unit of energy produced (that certainly won’t help our friends in West Virginia fighting to protect their mountains). Nuclear energy consumes large amounts of fresh water, already a precious resource that will become even more rare as the climate warms up.

Is President Obama’s support for these dirty forms of energy just a gimmick to schmooze voters? Apparently not, since polls shows overwhelming dislike of coal and nuclear.

So, President Obama, since you dodged our question this time, would you please answer this: “Why do you support the corrupt dirty energy policies of your opponents and ignore the warning signs of scientists, the calls from entrepreneurs, and the passionate pleas from my generation asking you to rapidly deploy renewable energy and energy efficiency?”

Nuclear remains a very tough sell for many in my generation, despite a growing number of what Stewart Brand might label "eco-pragmatists" who are taking a fresh and open look at nuclear power (I include myself in the latter category).
February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On Advantage China?

Geoff writes, "If we want to grow the cleantech sector here, rather than elsewhere, then the focus should be on incentives for R&D and manufacturing, not deployment, since deployment incentives seem to create at least as many jobs offshore as on.  Isn't that consistent with Breakthrough's recommendations?"

Yes actually, that's fairly consistent.  In our Rising Tigers report, we advocate for a full national clean energy competitiveness strategy, which would involve increased support for clean energy R&D and innovation; manufacturing, particularly scale up and adoption of advanced manufacturing techniques; as well as long-term, stable deployment incentives.  Elsewhere, we've advocated for a new conception of deployment incentives that places their primary objective - at least for still-maturing technologies - in driving reductions in cost and improvements in performance, not in simply driving MWs into the ground.  We'll be exploring and writing on that concept more in the coming year I believe.

RE the risks of focusing on incentivizing deployment and domestic market demand only, we write:

Developing and deploying domestic clean energy generating capacity is critical to competitiveness in the clean energy sector. Large domestic demand can help attract leading clean energy companies to do business within the country and may lead firms to relocate parts of their manufacturing and supply chain operations to areas where domestic demand is greatest.

As with R&D and manufacturing-focused strategies, however, domestic clean energy market demand is only one critical component of a comprehensive strategy to achieve economic leadership in the global clean technology sector. Nations lacking a strategy to develop and manufacture clean technologies domestically will be highly dependent on clean tech imports to meet domestic demand, widening the nation’s trade deficit. Furthermore, such nations will lose out on creating and attracting new value-added industries along the technology value chain and the future engines of economic growth that emerge from a strong domestic manufacturing base. Finally, without pioneering their own R&D efforts, nations with strong domestic demand for clean energy will be reliant on other countries to improve the price and performance of the technologies they increasingly rely on.

I'd encourage you to skim our Rising Tigers report.  I'd love your feedback on it.  Thanks,
February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On Deficits and Energy

"We seem to be stuck in a zone in which the only real solutions are unpopular, while most of the ideas that are popular wouldn't be real solutions."

And so what is else new in Congress these days?!
February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On Deficits and Energy

"In case you're wondering why we should care about that in light of our new emphasis on green energy, it turns out that the entire energy contribution of the record 10,000 MW of wind turbines installed in the US last year equates to about 100,000 BOE per day, the equivalent of one good-sized Gulf of Mexico oil platform or roughly 0.2% of our total energy consumption. We need more renewables and more conventional energy."

BTW, I'm not sure this is an entirely fair comparison, is it? Assuming this is based on the heat content (BTUs) of those MWhs of wind powered electricity and the barrels of oil, this comparison would ignore the relative levels of useful work/energy quality of the two energy sources.  Electricity can be put to more useful work than the equivalent BTUs of oil, can it not? 

Still, even if you double or triple the relative contribution to useful work from wind power, your overall point stands.  Just picking nits...
February 3, 2010    View Comment    

On Advantage China?

Geoff, thoughtful as always.  We should certainly be cautious to assume China is as "unstoppable" as we assumed Japan was in the 1970s/80s.  That would over-inflate the situation and be to our detriment.

However, the China's cleantech dominance is certainly worrisome from a U.S. economic perspective.  You're right that the analogy to imported oil is a stretch.  But the impact to our trade deficit - and to future job growth and shared prosperity - of ceding the clean tech sectors to China (or Japan or South Korea or the EU or anyone else) are not to be ignored.  According to a report from Senator Wyden's office and the Senate Subcommittee on Trade and Competitiveness (Finance), the U.S. trade deficit in "environmental goods" had already soared to $215 billion in 2008, more than doubling from 2004 levels, with renewables and efficiency technologies accounting for the bulk of that deficit.

If wind and solar alone are already as large as the U.S. aerospace industry, as you note, that's clearly no small potatoes.  For an economy in recovery and a nation looking to find paths to real, sustained economic growth and shared prosperity (not the bubble economy of the past decade), we don't have too many industries of that size with growth prospects to choose from.  And it's not just wind and solar we are falling behind in.  As our Breakthrough Institute/ITIF report, "Rising Tigers" documents, the U.S. already lags one or more of the three rising Asian "clean tech tigers" - Japan, South Korea and China - in the production of wind, solar, and nuclear power, high-speed rail, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, and the batteries that power them.

As I argued on "The Conversation" with Diane Sawyer yesterday, what the U.S. needs, if it wants to retain market share in these sectors, is to develop a comprehensive national clean energy competitiveness strategy.  Not a climate emissions reduction strategy.  Not a hodge-podge of isolated tax incentives and RPS policies and loan guarantees.  A national strategy, spanning support for research and innovation; manufacturing; and domestic markets.  

We need to avoid hysteria, as you appropriately caution.  But nor can we be lax in rising to this economic challenge.  It's time for America to get in the game.


Jesse Jenkins
February 2, 2010    View Comment    

On The Dependence of Renewables on Government

"While the points you make certainly resonate with me, I can't help wondering how in practice one avoids that turning into the kind of mess Germany created"

Well therein lies the rub, Geoff! And that's what need to figure that out.
January 28, 2010    View Comment    

On The Dependence of Renewables on Government

Some very good food for thought here.  Thanks Geoff for cogent and clear writing (as usual).  Some things I'll have to mull over. 

I'm not sure I agree with your prescription (e.g. level playing field that doesn't pick "winners and losers"and treats all non-fossil BTUs or KWhs equally); after all techs come into the marketplace at different price points which don't always speak to their ultimate potential to come down price and learning curves and compete without permanent subsidy after early markets are developed. 

We need some way to give every emerging tech an equal chance to thrive, and the conditions to do that may vary by technology. I agree we can't be anointing permanently-subsidized industries, but what we need to focus on is creating the conditions where winners can emerge in the first place.  Markets won't do that on their own, especially given many barriers to emerging clean techs.  And a single carbon price or per-KWH/BTU incentive price won't solve the barriers for each technology.  

For example, if the price is $20 per ton/MWh, wind may win while thin-film solar won't have a chance to emerge at all.  Focus on prices alone and those requiring infrastructures that don't match today's energy system won't emerge at all (like charging stations or biofuel distribution or transmission to wind and solar and geothermal resource areas). After all, our current energy system is built to serve (and thus perpetuate) incumbent techs.  And so on.

You've got the right concerns I think.  But we need more creative thought as to the right solutions.  I welcome your thoughts.  Cheers,

Jesse Jenkins
January 27, 2010    View Comment    

On Tesla Lands $465 Million Loan from Department of Energy for Model S Plant


A) You're not the only one: Marc Gunther has been pretty skeptical as well (prompting several rounds of debate between us about the role of government in our clean energy future!).

B) As far as bets on established companies, Ford gets $5.9 billion. Tesla gets $465 million.  So it would appear the established players are getting bigger bets.  I'd also suggest that given the track record to date of the big players in driving innovation, betting on a few upstarts is probably not the wrong move.

January 22, 2010    View Comment    

On Werbach: Brown's Election Means Time for a Climate Agenda Plan B

Yeah, it's been a pretty damn rough week, eh?!  In times like these, I turn to this:

Enjoy your weekends everyone...
January 22, 2010    View Comment    

On A Naval officer’s “Atomic Insights”

Excellent profile.  Thanks for spotlighting Rod and giving me (who came across Rod's writing relatively recently here at TEC) a bit more background on one of's most prolific contributors.
January 22, 2010    View Comment    

On Werbach: Brown's Election Means Time for a Climate Agenda Plan B

Well this didn't take long: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is already suggesting that cap and trade legislation pending in Congress could be split in two this year (as previously suggested by several moderate Democratic Senators, including Sens. Dorgan and Bingaman) to ensure a push to expand the United States' use of clean and alternative energy sources doesn't "fall victim" to the politics of cap and trade.

"We ought not to let one be the victim to the other, if you will," Hoyer told Reuters today. "I think we can move ahead on energy independence, I'm hopeful we can move ahead on the CO2 issue as well but I don't want to have one be the victim of saying we can't do one without the other."
January 20, 2010    View Comment