Any real progress on de carbonisation of the energy economy has been stuck for some years by the economics of renewables. They are more expense than fossil fuels and so the developing world in particular can't afford to go down that path. See the graph which shows that the CO2 emissions of China and India in particular have increased dramatically in the past 20 years.
In Australia we have the Green Party and the Labour Party who are in denial about the high cost of renewables. The Greens have called for a 90 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 (source). Labour has called for a carbon reduction target of 45 per cent by 2030 (source). Greenpeace activists demand 100% renewables.
The problem with these policies is that they imply that renewables in their current state of development can do the job. From my reading of the evidence of those who have studied this in detail, they can't.
Let's assume for a minute that there are people who are neither alarmists, nor deniers, that there are people who actually want to think more deeply about these issues than the latest media headline about the Paris summit or how it's going to be very hot this summer. For those people here are some articles which provide a starting point:
Has Renewable Energy Finally Ended the Great Clean Energy Stagnation? by Jesse Jenkins
A Look at Wind and Solar Part 1: How Far We've Come by Alex Trembath
A Look at Wind and Solar Part 2: Is There An Upper Limit To Intermittent Renewables? by Alex Trembath
Nevertheless, it seems that something quite significant has at least coincided with the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. It follows that if de-carbonisation of the energy supply is a good thing and that renewables or nuclear for that matter can't currently replace fossil fuels (due to cost in the case of nuclear) then what is required is more research and development in order to lower the price of these alternatives.
From this perspective the dual announcement of the government based Mission Initiative and the entrepreneurial based Breakthrough Energy Coalition which focus on the need for more R&D is a very good thing.
Bill Gates has been pushing for more R&D for a while, see American Innovation Energy Council and TerraPower. I guess more wealthy people are coming on board now and even Obama, from the government perspective, now sees the need for more R&D.
Under capitalism the benefits of more R&D tend to go to all capitalists since once a breakthrough is made it is hard to stop competitors finding a way to copy it. In cases of energy development with long time lines and massive expenditure requirements it can only happen this way with big government - big capitalists seeing the need and combining efforts. Historically, massive R&D has happened before due to huge rivalry between different big powers. One example, was the Manhattan Project when America feared that the Nazis would develop the first nuclear weapon. Another example was the crisis caused by the USSR putting the Sputnik into space. This quickly led to funding for massive science research in the USA which created the moon landings, the internet, etc. I guess an issue has to be perceived as urgent before that happens. So my guess is that this dual announcement does represent a significant change.
Could this be the beginning of the end of a futile argument between global warming alarmists and deniers that has distorted our political landscape for the last 20 years?
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