2008 MIT Energy Conference: Renewables at Scale: Big Green vs. Big Iron
The growing scientific consensus is that we have perhaps forty years to reduce drastically our GHG emissions below current levels to avoid catastrophic consequences. In the meantime, conventional wisdom has it that firm power services will continue to be supplied to the world's power grids predominantly by coal (eventually with carbon capture and sequestration), nuclear and large hydro (and to a lesser extent by natural gas) for decades to come, with non-hydro renewables growing exponentially over that period but continuing to play the marginal, non-firm role they've played almost exclusively to date. Yet nuclear and large hydro face significant environmental, logistical, financial and political hurdles; carbon capture and sequestration technologies are years from commercialization, will be costly, and don't address concerns with supply-chain environmental impacts; and natural gas cannot continue to fill the gap indefinitely. As a result, there are significant risks to relying on these “conventional” approaches to close the massive gap left by the current renewable energy paradigm. In short, there is an increasingly urgent need to change the renewable energy paradigm – to identify renewable, low-carbon technologies that are scalable, firm, dispatchable and commercially viable on a stand-alone basis within the next five to ten years, able to compete with coal and nuclear not only in the U.S. and Europe but in India, China and elsewhere. Are there potential solutions in view, and if so, why are they not receiving more attention and financial support from the mainstream energy policy and planning community?