Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy, spoke today at the US Center. Chu began with two predictions: 1) the price of oil will be higher in the future, and 2) we will live in a carbon constrained world. Regarding the price of oil, he looked at the estimates of oil production by the IEA and noted that as current oil fields are depleted, the world will need to rely on new discoveries and more unconventional sources. He then explained the basics of climate change and the deepening risks. Interestingly, he also clearly explained how we know that much of the climate change is man-made, focusing on the evidence provided by the percentage of 14C vs. 12C in the atmosphere over the past century. For his explanation of the science, see his full comments at http://www.connectsolutions.com/cop16/. (They should be uploaded soon.)
Chu likened climate change to someone who grows older and has a decreasing metabolism. If the caloric intake doesn’t also decrease for the person with a declining metabolism, there is a predictable resulting change in weight. Likewise, he points out that the energy input has been constant for our planet in recent decades, and yet our greenhouse gases have increased by 40%, allowing less energy out. Simply put, more energy comes in than goes out. He knows of no credible theory that suggests that the world would not heat up until there is a balance. Furthermore, it will take a full 100 years to see the full impact of the additional warming because of the time it takes for deep ocean mixing. He is concerned that in the meantime we will see fertile land become desert, more floods, and reduced glacier water supplies. He believes that clean energy is about our security, economy, and planet.
Perhaps the most interesting comments Chu made was with regard the current programs in the USA. Currently, $90 billion has been dedicated to clean energy. In the United States, we are improving automobile, appliance and building energy standards. There are currently ten major demonstration projects for carbon capture and storage. Perhaps most hopeful, there are three programs that are focusing on developing and exploring innovative technological and scientific projects: Energy Frontier Research Centers; Energy Innovation Hubs; and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). He described some of the proposed projects, from having plants grow with a DNA blueprint which would cause the plant produce the enzymes necessary to break down its own cell wall for biofuels to artificially replicating photosynthesis and creating fuels directly from sunlight. These programs have a limited time frame, and the emphasis is on getting successful products and processes to market. Many of these projects will not work, but Chu’s hope is that one out of ten will, which will more than make up for the investment.