Seeking Consensus with Schalk Cloete

The administrators of have been kind enough to allow me to launch a potentially very interesting project through a new column entitled "Seeking Consensus". In this column, the aim will be to objectively quantify the attractiveness of the wide range of energy options we have available using feedback from the well-informed community commenting on this forum.

Since participation from the TEC community will be essential for making this project work, this first article will describe the initial plan for structuring the project and request feedback. If you have any suggestions on how this can be done more effectively, please let me know in the comments section.


The current plan for structuring this project is as follows:

  1. I will post an article analysing one energy option according to one specific criterion (e.g. the externalized costs of coal).
  2. The community will then be invited to present quantifications of this particular criterion in the comments section.
  3. After one week, I will analyse the data in the comments section in order to quantify the current TEC consensus (or lack thereof) on this specific subject and update the post with the result.
  4. As soon as all energy options have been analysed with regard to a certain criterion (e.g. externalized costs), I will publish a post to present and analyse the differences.
  5. Ultimately, all energy options will be evaluated with regard to all important criteria in order to facilitate an objective view of the relative attractiveness of different pathways.

In order to encourage active discussion, the quantifications in the comments section will be weighted according to the number of "likes" received. In addition, rebuttals to given quantifications will be allowed where each "like" for the rebuttal will subtract from the weighting of the original comment. A counter-rebuttal can then be provided in order to once again increase the weighting. If more than one rebuttal is posted, only the most "liked" rebuttal will be considered in the weighting.

The final result will be some simple statistics such as the mean and standard deviation calculated from the weighted quantifications in the comments section. In this way the current average view in the community as well as the amount of variation in opinion can be quantitatively assessed.

Energy options considered

All the major energy options we have available today will be assessed: oil, coal, gas, nuclear, onshore wind, offshore wind, biomass, biofuels, solar PV, solar thermal, energy efficiency and energy conservation. The primary comparison will be for electricity production since this is the only area where almost all energy options compete, but transportation and direct industrial use will also be considered where applicable.

Energy criteria considered

Part of what makes the energy and climate debate so complex is the large number of important criteria that influences the relative attractiveness of different energy options. This project aims to gradually work through all of the most important criteria in order to construct a complete picture. The criteria considered are the following:

Current internalized costs

Internalized costs are those which can be correctly accounted for in our current economic systems (e.g. the levelized cost of electricity).

Future internalized costs

Several technologies still have substantial potential for cost reduction over coming decades. Future internalized costs will be assessed for the year 2030 (some reputable forecasts exist for this timeframe).

Current externalized costs

Externalized costs are those which are not accounted for by our financial systems (e.g. the climate change costs from CO2 emissions or the intermittency costs of wind and solar).

Future externalized costs

Externalized costs related to factors such as CO2 emissions and intermittency may very well rise significantly in the future. To combat this, technology such as CCS and energy storage could be deployed. These factors could change future externalities substantially.

Growth rate

There is a general consensus that decarbonization of the economy needs to happen pretty quickly. The rate at which low-carbon technology can be rolled out is therefore an important criterion to consider.

Saturation point

Technology deployment normally proceeds according to an S-curve – an initial exponential expansion followed by an asymptotic approach of a ceiling beyond which further deployment is no longer economically attractive. This saturation point is an important criterion to consider when talking about clean energy.

Public acceptance

If the democratic electorate is against a given energy option, it will not get deployed. Public acceptance is therefore another very important criterion to consider.

Security of supply

Energy security is becoming an increasingly important criterion in our global village. Local supplies or imports from stable neighbours are definitely more attractive than imports from unstable and unreliable countries.

Rebound effect

Many clean energy options suffer from the rebound effect – the effect where a decrease in unabated fossil fuel combustion in one region reduces global prices, leading to increased use in other regions.


In order to keep the discussion focussed, only one combination of energy options and selection criteria will be discussed per article. The articles will be short in order to shift the emphasis to the comments section. In this way, the consensus view on each energy option will be gradually revealed over a number of years.

Any suggestions?

If you can suggest any alterations to the structure of this project before it officially starts, please let me know in the comments section. It is important that the best structure is found before this long-term project gets under way.