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Monday, April 22, 2013

Renewable Energy Crowding Out Fossil Fuels

We need to eliminate the burning of fossil fuels in order to maintain the environment we evolved within. If we do so, the climate can return to its cooling trend which was in effect until the 19th century when human-generated Global Warming forced the climate to change. Since that cooling trend was terminated, the Earth has been on a path to destruction. By injecting more and more CO₂ into the atmosphere, we have been raising the overall temperature of the planet. 90% of the increase in heat has been absorbed by the oceans, substantially raising acidity (carbonic acid is CO₂ dissolved in water) and melting the polar caps. If we continue on the present warming path, the average air temperature will be 11°F higher by the end of this century. Most of the planet will be uninhabitable. Clearly, we must eliminate CO₂ both by refraining from burning fossil fuels and by sequestration of CO₂ from the atmosphere and from the oceans.

The best way we can fight the burning of fossil fuels is to make the sustainable alternatives cheaper. There's nothing like competitive price pressure to destroy the competition. In other words, even if we can't convince the public or the politicians of the necessity of eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, price pressure may be able to obsolete them in the marketplace.

Word comes this week from MIT, where researchers have broken the one photon-one electron barrier to photovoltaic energy. They have shown that they can generate two electrons per photon, which if confirmed, raises the theoretical maximum efficiency of solar cells from about 25% to above 30%. That's a huge gain since we already know that solar is quite capable of meeting all of our energy needs, given the ability to store the excess during the day and tap it at night.

Jeremy Grantham, head of GMO, told the Guardian newspaper:

On the human species' chances of overcoming its environmental challenges:

Whether we have the nous to pull it off is an interesting question, but I think the odds are we will scrape through. Not that we deserve to. [Laughs]. It's a 50/50 shot that declining fertility rates and alternative energy will save our bacon. But nature and development don't run on a puritan basis of just punishment. It's often sheer luck. It's sheer luck we found hydrocarbons. It's sheer bad luck that carbon dioxide has a greenhouse effect. It's sheer bad luck that the oil industry has incredible vested power and is prepared to use it to delay the speed of our reaction…

It isn't that we can't do it, it's that the Anglo-Saxon countries – where, by the way, there is a vast concentration of oil companies – are rather intractable on this issue and they've managed to find a little army of non-scientific, persuasive "loony lords", as I call them, to argue the case, either because they like being wined and dined by the enemy, or because they're naturally contrarian and like the publicity, or that they are genuine idiots. Who knows? I'm always puzzled by the modus of these people.

In the end, the surest way to defeat the enemy is by undercutting them in price. If we can do that, we — humanity — can win, hands down. The way things are looking, alternative energy will undercut fossil fuel energy in price within the next two years. That's very good news for everyone.