26 October 2010

Maybe We Don't Have the Technology

[UPDATE: Thoughtful perspectives on India, energy and carbon at the blogs of Bryan Walsh and Michael Levi.]

In 2007, the IPCC concluded, implausibly, that the world presently has, or soon will have, technologies needed to achieve aggressive emissions reduction targets.  This conclusion was often repeated by its chairman Rajendra Pachauri, such as in this 2008 interview with the IAEA (pdf):
We have established very clearly that all the technologies that are required for stringent mitigation action are either available today or due to be commercialised very soon.
 In a news report just out from Greenwire, Pachauri has a very different message:
Pachauri also predicted that India could commit to carbon emissions cuts of its own "maybe 10 years from now," once the technology to effect such change becomes more widely available.
What that technology is and the mechanisms for making it widely available are not discussed, but the fact that Pachauri admits that it is not presently available and won't very soon be marks a stark change in orientation.  I argue in The Climate Fix that no one knows how fast large economies can decarbonize, so Pachauri's guess of 10 years is just that.  The question that inevitably follows is, what policies are going to be adopted that help to motivate and direct innovation in energy technology?  India, it appears, has some answers.


  1. I can't access the 'news report just out from Greenwire' - it's paywalled?

  2. Have you heard about Indian Ultra Mega Power Plants? Up to 14 coal-fired 4000 MW + projects to give all Indians access to electricity by 2012?

  3. I guess it's a matter of defining what the challenge is first. Does 'stringent mitigation' mean right now or a 30 year process? I think it's important to be deliberate with terms in such contexts. Unfortunately, the media doesn't always follow such logic.

  4. Speaking of India, CNBC will rebroadcast their "Carbon Hunters" program on November 14. It gives some insight into the types of shenanigans possible with carbon offsets. About 45 minutes into the program, they describe an offset that apparently is available in Britain to balance the carbon footprint of cremation (!) The mortician offers the next-of-kin the opportunity to purchase a carbon offset, which results in a fossil-fueled irrigation pump being turned off in India. The mechanical pump is replaced by a human being, working a manual pump.

    My first thought was, "This is progress?" I'll bet the mortician gets a cut of the money, as does the carbon trader in Britain, the money changer in India, and the landowner. A few pennies may be left for the poor worker.

    My second thought, as an engineer, was to question whether or not there was actually an offset. After all, a human being will exhaust carbon dioxide, and more of it when exercising.

  5. "What that technology is and the mechanisms for making it widely available are not discussed"

    India has substantial reserves of thorium. Last I checked their thorium reactor development is currently at the 'research reactor' demonstration phase. 10 years from research reactor to commercial rollout appears somewhat optimistic.

  6. Would a Thorium reactor be effectively "carbon-free"?

    Just asking because I heared that normal nuclear reactors have actually quite some large carbon footprint (perhaps 40% of the footprint of fossil fuel per energy unit) due to mining, transport, waste management...
    If that's also the case for Thorium, let's hope India does not double its energy demand in those 10 years...

  7. If used optimally in a MSR thorium is vastly "greener" than uranium. Mining impact and waste stream toxicity is 100 to 1000+ times less.


  8. My problem with “decarbonization” is its insane environmental destructiveness for Rube Goldberg contraptions that don’t work. By now everybody knows “wind power” lies solely in the hot air of its rent-seeking promoters.

    Consider now the article at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/10/29/desert-tortoise-gets-fast-tracked-to-the-curb/ — ” construction of BrightSource Energy’s 3,280-acre, 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System”.

    This huge solar farm generates, for half a day at most, ten percent of the 24/7 power output of the Palo Verde nuke on a campus roughly the same size.

    And this is supposed to be “green” and “environmentally friendly.” We have lost our minds.