COP 21 – the Future Began Yesterday

by L J Furman, MBA on December 13, 2015

in Connecting the Dots, COP21, Eaarth, Ecological Economics, Energy, Iraq, NeoClassical Economics


Earth, The Blue Marble, courtesy NASA

COP 21 is, perhaps, the most important international effort in history. It concluded with an agreement by 196 nations to limit CO2 emissions to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Centigrade or 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit (NPR).

The only way to do this is to phase out fossil fuels, quickly, and replace them with efficient use of sustainable energy systems, i.e., solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and insulation.

 In the US, for example, according to the Energy Information Administration, EIA, here, the US in 2012 had 1,063 Gigawatts of nameplate generation capacity, out of which 158 GW were renewables (see table 1, below). Replacing the other 905 GW with Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Hydro and Sustainable Bio-Fuels, assuming nameplate costs of $3.0 Billion per GW, would cost $2.7 Trillion (see table 2, below).

US Electricity Generation, 2012
USA 1,063
Renewables 158
Non-Renewables 905
Table 1


Sustainable Energy Infrastructure
Tech Target Cost Target Cost
GW per watt $Billions
Solar 181 $3.00 $543.00
Wind 181 $3.00 $543.00
Geothermal 181 $3.00 $543.00
Hydro 181 $3.00 $543.00
Sustainable Bio-Fuel 181 $3.00 $543.00
totals 905 $2,715.00
Table 2

905 Gigawatts of nameplate capacity for $2.715 Trillion. Plus, as Paul Krugman or any Keynesian economist will note, this infrastructure spending would stimulate the economy.

However, the missing link in this is storage. The disadvantage of solar over coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear over is that solar turns off every night. While they must be shut down for refueling, or in the event of a hurricane, nuclear power plants are on 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year. Donald Sadoway, PhD of MIT and Ambri may have the answer with utility scale liquid metal batteries. If we update Table 2 with 280 GW of battery storage and lower the capacity of Solar, Wind, geothermal to 125 GW, we get 905 GW for an investment of $1.875 Trillion (table 2A).

Sustainable Energy Infrastructure
Tech Target Cost Target Cost
GW per watt $Billions
Solar 125 $3.00 $375.00
Wind 125 $3.00 $375.00
Geothermal 125 $3.00 $375.00
Hydro 125 $3.00 $375.00
Sustainable Bio-Fuel 125 $3.00 $375.00
Battery Storage 280 $3.00 $840.00
totals 905 $2,715.00
Table 2A

One of the problems with neoclassical economics is that side-effects, termed “externalities,” are discounted. The environmental externalities of conventional 20th Century energy, i.e., fossil fuels and nuclear, include radioactive waste, CO2, heavy metals. (Another problem with neoclassical economics is that the future is discounted. Both of these issues are considered in Ecological Economics.)

There are also socio-economic externalities. Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, in his book, The Age of Turbulence, said, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” (The Age of Turbulence, 2007, ISBN, 978-1-59420-131-8, pg 463).

The war in Iraq cost the US 3,528 lives, over 100,000 wounded (here,), an estimated $1.7 trillion, with an additional $490 billion (Reutershere) in benefits owed U. S. veterans. It also is believed to have claimed the lives of 176,000 to 189,000 Iraqis prior to March, 2013. And it created a political vacuum into which raced Iran followed by ISIS.

Imagine if we had not invaded Iraq. If that $1.7 Trillion had been spent on solar, wind, deep geothermal, biofuels from algae, insulation… Imagine if Gore had been President, not Bush.

But rather than re-imagining the past, we must imagine the future.

An analyst with Popular Logistics, I hold a BS and an MBA in “Managing for Sustainability” from Marlboro College, and over 20 years experience in Information Technology. Available as a speaker and consultant, I can be reached at “L Furman” at “Popular Logistics . com”.

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