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On [PODCAST] When the Rubber Meets the Road: Taking Cleantech to Scale

This post from Bryan Walsh at TIME reflecting on the entrance of big corporate players into the cleantech space, with potential for both investment and acquisition of startups, is a good addendum to this podcast discussion.
March 2, 2010    View Comment    

On Climate debate missing the point

BTW, to your point about the unsustainability of permanent subsidies to support clean energy sources, I did a little math the other day and found that if the U.S. decided to subsidize 20% of it's projected electricity demand in 2035 at 2.1 cents/kWh, the same rate as the current production tax credit for wind and geothermal power (today's most cost-effective renewable electricity technologies), it would cost the federal budget roughly $20 billion annually in 2010 dollars.  If we took clean energy sources to 50% subsidized at that same rate, it would cost the taxpayers $50 billion.  I'll leave it up to the readers here to decide if that is a cost that is politically sustainable or not...
March 2, 2010    View Comment    

On Climate debate missing the point

Barry, nice post. Agreed that all the debate over how much to cut emissions by when is a distraction, as is, for the most part, debate over which way to price carbon (whichever way is most politically sustainable IMO).

I also agree with you and Kirsch (and Google and Bill Gates and others) that the only way we will truly avert climate change is if we can make clean energy cheap, e.g. cheaper than coal, oil and gas in real, unsubsidized terms, as I've written here at and at the Breakthrough Institute many a time. That task will be hard, as you note, but ultimately, it is critical to achieving our climate objectives. Time we get serious about that challenge.

I have a question for you regarding your "it must be technology neutral" plank: does this mean that you believe that policies design must be blind to the challenges facing specific technologies, or simply that policies should give all low-carbon technologies meeting a common-sense set of criteria an equal opportunity to become competitive? I'd agree with the latter view, but the former would likely strangle several technologies with great potential in their cradles, as each technology faces a particular set of hurdles to market launch. This wouldn't be "picking winners and losers" as is often charged. Rather, without a suite of policies that can tackle the various and particular challenges facing market launch for a new technology, I worry we will not create the conditions in which winners can emerge in the first place. What are your thoughts?

Jesse Jenkins

March 2, 2010    View Comment    

On The Economics of Bloom Energy's "Breakthrough" Fuel Cell

Question for the assembled TEC community: any idea how the Bloom fuel cell compares to the Capstone microturbine, which is of comparable size (35 kw to 200 kw) and can be used for distributed co-generation and backup power like the Bloom Box and can run on various methane fuels. A simpler technology (potentially), and already in deployment, but how does it compare on cost, performance, emissions, reliability, etc.?  Anybody know?
February 26, 2010    View Comment    

On The Economics of Bloom Energy's "Breakthrough" Fuel Cell

Commenter Amazingdrx at Grist reminds me that waste heat can indeed be used to provide cooling using the common absorption refrigeration technique (which I should have recalled, since the entire campus at my alma mater, the University of Oregon - Go Ducks! - was cooled using absoprtion chillers run by our natural gas plant). So the waste heat from these fuel cell stacks should be used to cool the data centers they also power, increasing the efficiency and economics of the system...

Post has been updated accordingly...

February 25, 2010    View Comment    

On The Economics of Bloom Energy's "Breakthrough" Fuel Cell

Thanks Mark. Appreciate the compliments.

The ITC certainly isn't optimized for much at all. Why, for example, should we expect the same 30% tax credit to drive a whole set of different technologies forward, each with different price points, competitors and market conditions? (Answer: we shouldnt!).  Clumsy indeed, but to be fair, the ITC is designed to spur "alternative energy" in the energy security and diversification of the energy mix sense, not zero-carbon energy sources. 

To the highest degree politically possible, internalizing externalities like carbon emissions will certainly help level the playing field for low-carbon techs.  But, as we've been agreed on before (I think), there's no reason to assume the kinds of carbon prices we'd get from Congress are sufficient to make something like Bloom's fuel cell appear. A $20/ton CO2 price would raise the ave. grid rate by about $13/MWh using the figures above, or 1.3 cents/kWh.  That's not enough to make the 13-14 cents/kWh Bloom Box competitive in most markets, even if it ran on zero emissions fuels at no greater cost (which it doesn't). 

If we want to see a suite of technologies emerge, we need a suite of targeted incentives that allow promising techs to move into the market price and down cost curves, with continued subsidy conditional on continued improvements in price and performance towards the point where the tech is competitive without subsidy at all (hopefully with as many externalities included as possible). I prefer to think of this as creating the conditions for winners to emerge at all - given the huge hurdles facing new energy techs in a market dominated by incumbents - rather than picking winners and losers.  A carbon price helps but is far from sufficient in that.
February 24, 2010    View Comment    

On It's Not All Good: Why You Should Worry About the Clean Energy Race

Charles, our "Rising Tigers" report includes nuclear power in the collection of clean technologies we examine in the report (full list includes: solar, wind, nuclear, CCS, high-speed rail, plug-in and electric vehicles and their advanced batteries).

Garry, thanks for the comment, and always great to hear from someone appreciative of our work!  I think you are right to look for areas where the U.S. has an innovative or technical edge that can be leveraged into leadership in clean technology sectors.  The key, which you've already begun yourself, is to develop a strategy, not just a collection of policies.  Strategy means looking ahead and planning back, it means looking at specifics and at opportunities, and it means a cohesive set of policies that can leverage America's competitive advantages into economic progress.  That's difficult work, and we're a long way from there today.  Thanks for trying to focus people in on that kind of thinking.

Jesse Jenkins
Breakthrough Institute
February 18, 2010    View Comment    

On Wall Street Journal - Small Reactors Power Nuclear Industry

Rod, this is a great article. Thanks for the tip.

Quick question that popped up as I read this post: does the risk of a reactor accident increase, all else being equal, with the number of reactors operating out there? And if that's the case, then does a proliferation of smaller reactors vs. a smaller number of large reactors to provide the same amount of power increase risks?  Just curious if there's any merit in that line of reasoning...

February 18, 2010    View Comment    

On It's Not All Good: Why You Should Worry About the Clean Energy Race

According to today's NYTimes:

The Chinese bullet train, which has the world’s fastest average speed, connects Guangzhou, the southern coastal manufacturing center, to Wuhan, deep in the interior. In a little more than three hours, it travels 664 miles, comparable to the distance from Boston to southern Virginia. That is less time than Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, takes to go from Boston just to New York.

Which country is the technological backwater again?  I'm having trouble keeping that straight...
February 12, 2010    View Comment    

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