Friday, November 11, 2005

Energy Challenges out to 2050

Cosmic Variance has a great post here on how we are going to secure our energy demands going into the future. The talk abstract, the powerpoint slide and an audio transcript are here. The abstract alone is a pretty accurate summary of what the issues are. The opening sentence summarises the problems with this area of research:
This presentation will describe and evaluate the challenges, both technical, political, and economic, involved with widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies. (my emphasis)
What technical people forget is that electricity is bought and sold like any other widget (with all the market baggage that comes with that) and that there are huge obvious and non-obvious political agendas at work (an old saying in the electricity game is 'electrons flow according to the laws of physics, money flows according to the laws of politics).
'Pure' research is funded, mostly, by govt since the chance of payoff is on a timeframe of >20 years and the benefits tend to be spread across anyone and everyone. Industry can't work on those timescales or with such a diluted payback, so if we are serious about developing new energy widgets, the funding has to come from govt sources. But if govt is not convinced of the importance, or has been lobbied to protect incumbent players, then all we can do is tinker around the edges (and up to now, alternative energy research has been tinkering) while ignoring something that's not going to happen In My Term Of Office (NIMTOO, a kissing cousin of NIMBY).
Having said all that, i am still very suspicious of anything that is predicted out >40 years since it's just plain stupid to imagine the world will be just like it is now only bigger. Even with that caveat however, what we're doing now (and not doing) is starting to look dumber and dumberer.

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