Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One More Take on Copenhagen:

Ernie Moniz Speaks on Energy

Earlier this month, Professor Ernest J. Moniz from MIT spoke to the MIT Club of Washington, DC on energy. Ernie is currently Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, Director of the Energy Initiative, and Director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has served on the faculty since 1973. His research focus is energy technology and policy, including a leadership role in MIT interdisciplinary technology and policy studies on the future of nuclear power, coal, nuclear fuel cycles, natural gas, and solar energy in a low-carbon world. He is well known in Washington circles, having served as Under Secretary of the Department of Energy from 1997 until January 2001 and, from 1995 to 1997, as Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President. At DOE, he had oversight of the science and energy programs, led a comprehensive review of nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, and served as the Secretary’s special negotiator for Russian nuclear materials disposition programs.

I hesitated at first to comment on his talk because I have already posted several blogs on the Copenhagen conference. However, that remains an important topic to the nuclear community. Furthermore, Ernie had several other observations that may be of interest to readers.

I'll address his comments on the Copenhagen conference first. He said that he views Copenhagen as "largely a success." The Copenhagen Accord mentioned adaptation for the first time. It also addressed the responsibility of the more developed countries. Most of all, my impression was that he felt it was a positive development that agreement was finally reached by moving away from a negotiation of the entire body of over 190 countries. The final accord was struck by only 5 countries--the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. He sees the future of the negotiations moving toward the major economies.

These comments are similar in many respects to others I have been hearing. It will be a different dynamic, and a new way of doing things, so not everyone is completely optimistic about how things will ultimately play out. However, Ernie and others see the promise of having the major countries at the forefront.

In response to a question about what we might see by 2020, Ernie made the following "predictions": We will be seeing more of all energy-producing technologies in the future, as well as more efficiency. However, he cautioned that several areas, including nuclear power, are not likely to grow as much and as fast as some are hoping. He specifically said that there would be sequestration, but it would be limited, and that wind power will grow, but not as robustly as some project. With respect to nuclear power, he expects to see around 5 or 6 new nuclear power plants in the US by 2020. Worldwide, he saw much higher growth, of the order of 200 GW.

Ernie also made a number of observations on other energy issues that I found interesting. Key among them were:

• In the energy area, the main goal of innovation is cost reduction. This is different than the goal of innovation in other industries.

• In addition to technology innovation, the energy field needs policy and business model innovation. This is harder.

• The buildings, transportation, and electricity supply sectors are the key areas where carbon reductions can be sought.

• It is easier to remove carbon from the electricity sector than from transport.

• We need to begin to look at adaptation as well as mitigation.

• The investment in energy R&D as a percentage of the economy is very small. Percentage-wise, he said, the dog-food industry spends more!

While I can't promise not to discuss the Copenhagen Accord any further in the future, some may be relieved to know that I have now exhausted the material I currently have on file.


1 comment:

  1. It is interesting to me how engineers and scientists think it is easier to overcome technical obstacles than it is to change policies and business models. I think it is demonstrably easier to change a large number of minds than it is to sequester carbon dioxide reliably and affordably or to turn the wind and sun into reliable sources of electrical or motive power.

    Public opinion is variable; technical facts are not.