Monday, January 28, 2008

Awaiting the Awakening

Last week, I posted part of a solar grand plan that appeared in Scientific American. Today, Stuart Staniford of the Oil Drum has posted his own. He calls it a straw man for now, but once again, it is a darn good start at getting our hands around the kind of future we need to envision.

Here is a small part of it:

"My basic approach is as follows:

Over the next fifty years, we're going to phase out most burning of fossil fuels, but they will still be used for petrochemicals and fertilizer (manufacture of which will be mainly in the Middle East). We will cope with short term energy problems by efficiency improvements, but in the long term we will power society predominantly by massive amounts of solar PV, with smaller amounts of wind, and legacy hydro.

We will use a global transmission grid to balance supply and demand between the nighttime and cloudy areas and the areas in the sun that generate power. Nuclear is avoided in the long term out of proliferation and waste concerns but is used in the short and medium term. Owners of fossil fuel infrastructure will be compensated at fair market value.

Ground transportation will be by a mix of electric cars and electrified public transport (in areas of high enough density). The car fleet will be moved through hybrids to plug-ins to full electrics as storage technology slowly improves. Developing countries will be encouraged to urbanize and develop as rapidly as feasible to reduce pressure on remaining wild ecosystems and to build public transport systems in their very dense cities.

Building heating and cooling will be transitioned predominantly to ground source heat pumps powered by electricity instead of burning fossil fuels.

Agriculture will remain predominantly industrialized, and ongoing yield improvements, particularly in the lower-yielding poor countries, are assumed to be able to feed the world. The residual oil production and modest and regulated amounts of biofuels will be used for certain applications where the advantages of liquid fuels are indispensible (predominantly heavy construction and agricultural machinery, shipping, and aviation).

There is considerable scientific uncertainty on the extent of soil depletion, but the assumption here is that at-risk areas will be placed in conservation reserves, and that, later in the century when energy becomes cheap again, restoration and remediation will be attempted.

The overall economic approach for implementation will be a hybrid "markets-within-a-plan" approach. A pure free market approach is likely to be disastrous (eg starving the poor to make biofuels for the rich, which will result in riots and revolutions). However, markets are very powerful drivers of innovation and efficiency when well designed.

We will set general goals with binding targets by treaty, and then use a combination of subsidy auctions, rights auctions, and reverse auction retirements of fossil fuel infrastructure to meet the binding targets. Market competition will improve the technology and drive down the required subsidies over time.

In general, this will require a massive global infrastructure project. It will be expensive, but it's not impossible. It seems very cheap compared to further uncontrolled experiments with the climate, or to allowing the world to descend into starvation and chaos by adopting dysfunctional approaches to our energy challenges.

It will place civilization on a tolerably sustainable footing for the longer term." more

More and more, thinkers and policy makers are making the connections they need to make to see the Unified Photonic Energy Web that slumbers in our collective consciousness.



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