Don’t be Fossil Fooled – It’s Time to Say Goodbye


Peter Fiekowsky:

Paul puts it together beautifully, and comes to the same conclusion I have–fossil fuels are over within 15-30 years.

He says: Given climate policy action is also now accelerating, fossil fuels are double dead. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, “So long and thanks for all the energy”.

Originally posted on Paul Gilding:

It’s time to make the call – fossil fuels are finished. The rest is detail.

The detail is interesting and important, as I expand on below. But unless we recognise the central proposition: that the fossil fuel age is coming to an end, and within 15 to 30 years – not 50 to 100 – we risk making serious and damaging mistakes in climate and economic policy, in investment strategy and in geopolitics and defence.

I’ve written previously about 2015 being the year the “Dam of Denial” breaks, referring to the end of denial that climate change requires urgent, transformational economic change. While related, this is different. It is now becoming clear we’ve reached a tipping point where fossil fuels will enter terminal decline, independently of climate policy action.

Given climate policy action is also now accelerating, fossil fuels are double dead. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, “So long and…

View original 1,874 more words

Renewables cheaper than cell phones?

Oil companies: What is your plan in case renewables continue to grow like cell phones and dominate the energy market gradually over 20 years? Can you match Saudi Arabia’s plan?

Oil companies tell their valued investors that it will take about 70 years to transition from fossil fuels to renewables, locking in a disastrous 4 to 6 degrees of global warming. I’ve heard an earnest oil official say, in despair about the climate, “We need an energy system as cheap as cell phones”.

There is an energy system as cheap as cell phones that could replace 80% of fossil fuel usage in 20 years. If that transition has even a 10% chance of happening, investors should demand to know how the oil companies are planning to maintain their shareholder value in that scenario.

That energy system is, of course, renewables. Wind and solar at utility scale now cost about $2 per watt to build, and costs are falling 10% per year. At today’s costs, replacing 80% of all fossil fuel usage with renewables will cost about $20 trillion dollars, including storage*.

If we spread that investment out over 20 years, it is $1 trillion per year, which is just 60% of annual global cell phone business revenue. That $1 trillion is also what oil companies invested in 2013 to develop roughly the same amount of new oil and gas energy capacity**.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said last fall: We’re at 1% wind and solar: How do we get from 1% to 80%? The answer, as the cell phone industry demonstrated 25 years ago, is by growing to 5% market penetration per year, and then continuing that pace for 20 years.

Wind and solar penetration now is the same as cell phone penetration was in 1990. Remember what your phone looked like in 1990? How about in 2000, when penetration was 30%? Solar growth rates now are about the same as cell phone growth was in that decade.

In 2015 wind and solar will have increased their market penetration by another 1%, and if we keep the doubling rate for just five more years, by 2021 they will be replacing 5% more of the fossil fuel market share every year. Maintaining that 5% rate for fifteen years gets us to 80% replacement of fossil fuels by 2035.

If you’re an oil executive, delivering on that transition  looks impossibly difficult when compared to the transition from coal to oil, or oil to natural gas. There are thousands of new technologies required now, compared to the earlier shifts from steam engines to internal combustion engines, and then to turbines, which each took 70 years to mature.

The world has 6 million engineers now and the internet. Yet it’s hard for someone with a career in a conservative command-and-control company to imagine that army of engineers and entrepreneurs working independently to deliver a meaningful result. Especially not a result like replacing in 20 years the result of 100 years of painstaking conventional energy development.

Does that sound like the 20 year cell phone revolution? Or the 20 year revolution in photography ending with Kodak declaring bankruptcy in 2012, thereby redefining the phrase a “Kodak moment”?

Is a transportation transition really possible? By 2020 battery electric cars will have 300 mile ranges and will cost less to buy, and far less to operate than conventional vehicles. Charging stations appearing everywhere already allow electric cars to cross the country. That transition may be inevitable. 

Jet fuel can be generated now from biowaste or sunlight, but that could take 15 years to scale up. It only contributes 2% of emissions, so it’s not critical to the rapid transition.

How about heating? Ground source electric heat pumps are already cost effective in much of the US, and costs are falling.

What about the grid–Who will pay to upgrade our grid? The utilities will. We grant utilities monopoly status to allow them to invest heavily in infrastructure, assured of getting a return on that investment. Utilities will upgrade their grids as they are obligated to. Some will raise prices, and some will lower prices. Which way prices go depends mainly on how aggressive their public utility commissions are.

This scenario isn’t guaranteed to happen. Wind and solar could stall and stop following the market penetration curve of cell phones, despite the similar costs, and global market conditions. Much of the world’s population which could not afford wired phones in 1990 did adopt cell phones (we’re up to 7.2 billion cell phones and 7.2 billion people now). Similarly, much of the population which cannot afford grid electricity is rapidly being powered with solar and wind microgrids at steadily decreasing costs.

Renewables provide lower cost energy in most parts of the world now, and are providing about 60% of new generating capacity globally. There is no distinct reason for their growth to stop.

Oil companies are betting the farm on their prediction that the transition to renewable energy will occur at the same pre-globalization pace as the transition to petroleum did 100 years ago.

What will our oil companies do if wind and solar continue their ten years of exponential growth for five more years, and then displace the incumbent fossil fuels, as cell phones did?

Call to action:

If you are an oil shareholder, demand an answer to the question: What is your plan in case renewables continue to grow like cell phones and dominate the energy market gradually over 20 years? The process of answering that question will wake up the oil companies, and they will wake up our policy makers***. 


* Note: This assumes 17 TW total global energy usage and replacing 80% of fossil fuel energy (80% of total energy) at $1.50 per watt, plus the equivalent of 2 billion Tesla battery units at $3500 each.

The capacity factor of 20% for solar, and 32% for wind is similar to the efficiency factor of electric vehicles compared to gas, and to the efficiency of heat pumps compared to combustion. To make calculations easy, we consider that they cancel out. If double the capacity is required, the transition will cost about the same as the cell phone transition and take two more years to achieve.

**Annual new oil and gas capacity consists of replacement of the 5% annual decrease in production of existing conventional wells, plus 1% increase in total consumption. Over 20 years the path could look like this, assuming current technology and growth patterns:Converting US to wind and solar by 2035 graph

Replacing US fossil fuel usage with renewables: Data here. The global transition could have a similar pace: With some regions faster and some slower.

***The natural policy for a rapid transition is the steadily increasing price on carbon that oil companies generally promote.

Despite that, oil companies still promote a 70 year transition and the corresponding 4-6 degree warming. That grim future evokes desperate calls for coercive cap and trade policies that oil and other companies dread. Caps are disliked because they leave future prices uncertain, which makes wise investing difficult and thereby slows progress.

The future is unknown. It depends on our collective actions. Oil company planners understandably call a rapid transition to renewables “highly unlikely”.

Oil companies almost unanimously call for a meaningful, rising price on carbon, yet they don’t present such a scenario. It could look like the transition above, providing huge opportunities for well capitalized energy companies.

Consider a fast-transition scenario to be an insurance policy. When you buy insurance, you don’t list every reason that you might need or not need insurance. You look at the recent past, think of a handful of scenarios, and assess the probability of something happening. If the probability is more than 1 in 1000, you usually buy the insurance.

Oil company planners may think there is only a 1% chance that renewable energy could continue to grow on the cell phone curve, thereby avoiding catastrophic climate change. Like any other catastrophic insurance policy, a plan for even an “unlikely” rapid transition would be wise for them, critical for their shareholders, and incredibly valuable for humanity.

The stories we tell about possible futures profoundly affects the actions we take. Discussing and illustrating a possible happy-ending rapid transition option could lead to sensible market-friendly policy and better planning by all.

This story arguably can only be usefully told by oil companies. Neither President Obama nor Angela Merkel would be listened to, neither would the present author. Even  the Saudi Oil minister, when he discusses this scenario is ignored. So this essay is an acknowledgment of the authority that our oil companies have accumulated.

Oil companies should discuss a rapid transition option. By encouraging a steadily increasing carbon tax that is investment-friendly, they will leverage their financial power into future profits. 

Let my people go–Gain freedom from fossil fuel


Are we enslaved to fossil fuels? If so, how would we know, and how do we free ourselves from that taskmaster?

Passover is a celebration of freedom, and at the Passover Seder (traditional meal), we tell the story about the Israelites exit from enslavement by the Egyptian Pharaoh 5000 years ago. In the liberal Jewish tradition, we look each year for current day enslavements for us to break free from. In my youth it was Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union, and more recently issues of sexual enslavement get mention.

Preparing for leading our seder last night, I proposed that the underlying theme be freedom from fossil fuels. It sounded awkward and everyone I asked said it sounded like a bad idea. We did it anyway. It turned into an interesting conversation.

We might suspect that we’re enslaved when the fossil fuel industry tells us that we can’t survive without them. People engaged in the renewables industry know that wind and solar are doubling their new capacity every two years. Now that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels in much of the world, that growth will continue, if not accelerate, leaving us free of our fossil fuel owner in 15-25 years.

Why don’t people discuss that future? Perhaps because we are slaves to the fossil fuel industry. When Exxon and Shell tell us that it will take us 70 years to free ourselves, we believe them. Investors, policymakers, and news reporters assume that is the true future. But why are we believing them? Shouldn’t we listen to the renewables industry, the industry that is actually taking action?

In the renewables industry, there is currently a strong focus on storage. This is an important milestone because storage is only needed when wind and solar exceed 60%-80% of total electrical generation. The rush to invest there tells us that the renewable industry is expecting renewable electrical generation to reach those levels in the next ten years.

Free yourself from the fossil fuel taskmaster. Let go of oil company stories that we can’t live without them, and that we must keep subsidizing them, and even add new subsidies for the CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) that they hope will keep us in their hands for another 10-20 years.

Climate engineering is bad. Until you need to restore a healthy climate.


What is the difference between “Ending anthropogenic global warming”, and “Restoring a healthy climate”? The difference is restoring a healthy climate. Climate engineering is how that is done, unless you have a thousand years to wait for nature to take her course.

Climate engineering, also called geoengineering, is how we created global warming by increasing the CO2 levels 40%. It’s going to be how we get out of global warming if we do. Climate engineering includes planting, or cutting down trees, pulling CO2 out of the air, and doing things to reflect a bit more sunlight before it warms the ground and ocean.

Last weekend at the CCL regional conference in Oakland we heard from high level climate experts telling us about the predictable (to them inevitable) future. With the CO2 geoengineering we’ve done already (mainly fossil fuel usage), we’ve raised CO2 levels. The last time CO2 levels were this high, sea level stabilized 60 feet above current levels.

The most optimistic CO2 removal plans I’ve heard require several hundred years to remove the excess CO2. Of course CO2 levels are still increasing, so 60 feet is the best that could be hoped for, assuming we stop fossil fuel consumption this year.  The extreme drought in California (worst in several thousand years when comparing tree ring data) is expected to be the new norm, and the winter weather on the east coast is clearly becoming the new norm. Florida will be an historical artifact in the not-too-distant future.

You probably already knew all that. We’re all working to eliminate the destructive geoengineering we’re doing now–to eliminate the anthropogenic causes. Why do scientists think that mega-droughts and flooding are inevitable (and I don’t)? Let the NRC tell you.

The National Research Council (NRC) came out with a paper on geoengineering last week acknowledging that climate engineering could restore the ice caps in just a few years. That would stop sea level rise and restore normal weather patterns, and has no currently-known significant side effects, even with the full-scale test performed by Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

That said, they conclude: Given a choice between geoengineering or anything else, we should pursue anything else. And that’s what most people still say. That’s why scientists say the dismal future is inevitable.

But no one is proposing a one-or-other choice. It’s a false choice. It’s the “fallacy of the excluded middle” (look it up). Everyone, even the oil companies are saying, “put a meaningful price on carbon” in any case, whether or not we go on to use climate engineering to restore the ice caps and a healthy climate.

Why would the NRC conclude that? Maybe because they’re working towards the possibility of ending anthropogenic global warming. To accomplish that there’s no need for climate engineering, no reason to spend effort and possible embarrassment on it as we figure out how to do it well.

NRC does recommend putting together an organization to manage it, and that is the next step towards “Restoring a healthy climate”. Excluding the verbiage about the false choices they present, I agree 100% with their report. If I were on the committee, given the current context (ending global warming), I would have written the same thing.

The question is: In addition to slowing the damage we’re causing, are we interested, and willing, to restore a healthy climate?  Are we willing to be at-cause in the world we give our children, and restore it; or do we really prefer to tell them, “We stopped burning it, and then left nature to restore what’s left at a geological pace. Sorry about that.”

Inside the possibility of restoring a healthy climate, there are unlimited opportunities for action. And given the technology we have, and that which our children will develop, there is no reason to expect we wouldn’t achieve it, just as we went to the moon, developing all the technology in 8 short years.

I’ve researched in detail all the relevant technologies, and we could restore a healthy climate by 2040 (at a leisurely pace) or by 2030 (if we get excited by the prospect) with existing technology, and at a net benefit to the economy. Of course we’ll develop new and better technologies along the way.

Just like we would not have gone to the moon without declaring the goal, we won’t restore a healthy climate without declaring that goal. Accomplishing it is not impossibly difficult. It just requires a vision—a future which calls people into action.

Let’s restore a healthy climate. We can, therefore we must. Please share this widely if you want the scientists to know you want a healthy climate.

Taking action on the climate


I regularly find myself being yelled at by academics for promoting a climate roadmap leading to where we want to end up.

Academics and I often have different action paradigms, theories of action. I find that most professors I speak with have gotten upset to some degree when I discuss where we want to go with regards to the climate, and how we could do that. This includes many of the most senior IPCC scientists. I have huge respect for them, and don’t mind that they blow a fuse when confronted with the disparity of what they are predicting against what could happen which we want to happen.

The academic / scientific paradigm, which is clearly a correct one, is to predict the future and tell others about it.

My brain-science paradigm is to focus brains’ attentions on where we WANT to go, where we could get to if we perform well, and keep the focus there.

When I learned to drive in snow in Boston, the first thing they told me was, “When you get into a skid, DON’T look at the tree you want to avoid, or you’ll hit it. DO look down the road to where you want to go. “ It’s brain science: The unconscious part of the brain, which controls actions, takes us where we’re looking, no matter what commentary the conscious part of the brain is having about what we’re looking at / thinking about.

Have you seen those pictures of a car wrapped around a tree where the tree is the only tree in 1000 feet? Those pictures made sense to me after that snow-driving lesson. The driver was looking at the tree he was trying to avoid. Maybe his spouse was yelling, “DON’T YOU SEE THAT TREE??? DON’T HIT IT!”.  And his spouse was correct in saying that, and saying it passionately.

Being correct has its costs sometimes. Our academic gloom sayers are similarly correct in talking about an unlivable world, and saying it passionately.

May I get more arrogant for a moment?

CCL isn’t just getting a carbon tax through Congress, we’re also working with great respect, and huge effectiveness, to have the Paris climate summit be an agreement for a steadily increasing price on carbon. Although it was barely reported, there was almost total agreement out of Lima for that outcome. We didn’t confront, didn’t scare, just presented a pathway. And the experts all agreed that’s the path they want. .

The important thing that a steadily increasing carbon price accomplishes is that investors’ attention then gets focused 20 years down the road where they can see clearly that there’s no future investing in fossil fuel infrastructure, and that profits will be in renewable energy. And by starting at a low level, investors aren’t scared beyond clear thinking in the short term. No other policy does that.

So I honor the academics’ fears, and I suggest you honor them too. That said, as a human with a human brain, if you want effective action, then keep your attention on the point in the road where you want to end up. And learn to be at peace with your spouse yelling at you to pay attention to the tree.

How can wind and solar fulfill 80 percent of total energy in 25 years?


A common response to the climate roadmap by experts is “It’s just not possible.”

Their objections are general, not quantitative, so here is a physics 101 style explanation. That means that we take the simplest possible solution, and then add complications one by one.

  1. To replace FF we need to replace its energy with (clean energy + efficiency). We’ll add efficiency improvements later (when that costs less than new clean energy, of course). To start the analysis we’ll set efficiency to “unchanged”.
  2. Clean energy consists of a combination of wind, solar, nuclear, CCS, biofuels, and numerous others that are only locally interesting. As physics-101 students, well pick one, do the analysis, and later optimize with the panoply. We pick solar as a starting case because we can extrapolate its growth curves, doubling every 2 years for 10 years. Society appears to accept solar, and the costs are going in the right direction (down). Later in the exercise we’ll optimize–replace solar with others when and where they cost less than solar.
  3. Solar probably won’t make it in Alaska. In other words, almost anything else will be cheaper than solar in Alaska, maybe  they’ll use wind and biomass.
  4. Split the problem into two phases: 0-50% solar and 50-80% solar. After the 80% stage, in 25 years, we can assume that abundant new solutions are developed, and new problems as well. If tech innovation totally fails us, then solar stays at 80% and we use CCS, nuclear, wind, and biomass for the last 20%.
  5. 0-50% phase (15 years): Carbon fee goes from $0 to $1.30/gallon of gas.
    1. Very little storage needed. Off-grid locations will place a high value on storage, so the technology gets a running start. Compressed air (isothermal, 95% efficiency using foam or spray) storage is looking very strong in 2014. If storage technology totally fails, we can use NG peaker plants for the 3% of the year needed until they’re not needed–with little impact on total emissions.
    2. Cost: competitive with NG in much of the world. Low crude prices now will probably raise NG prices in the US because of reduced fracking.
    3. Area: In the US, the area required to replace all FF, if no wind or biofuel is added, is the same as we now use to grow corn for ethanol (40 million acres).
    4. Transportation: US mileage standards are doubling by 2025; it’s easy to imagine 25% BEVs, 30% hybrid vehicles, and electrification of 30% of trains in 15 years. The current grid of charging stations across the country spreads to most gas station locations. Airlines would be at 15% carbon-neutral jet fuel (bio or solar-manufactured).
    5. Heating: in 15 years it’s easy to imagine 30% of heating systems being converted to heat pumps, most with ground source.
  6. 50%-80% phase (10 years): Carbon fee goes from $1.30 to $2.20/gallon of gas.
    1. Storage capacity is gradually expanded from hours to days by expanding storage tanks and building more excess capacity.
    2. Cost: expected to reach pennies per watt
    3. Transportation: with charging and H2 stations common, increasingly heavy equipment becomes either electrical, H2, or methane-from-H2; By the end of 25 years, 80% of jet fuel is carbon neutral
    4. Heating: all new heating systems are heat pumps, most with ground source.
  7. Add wind energy where it is lower cost than solar: storage requirements decrease in most locations
    1. Wind generation costs decrease more slowly than solar, so the benefit of wind increases with distance from the equator because solar output decreases and variability increases as the sun goes lower.
  8. Add nuclear in countries with strong governments and lots of cash
    1. Modular nuclear reactors could become common by 2030, allowing easier replacement of the last 20% of FF
  9. Add efficiency improvements wherever they cost less than the lowest cost clean energy source.

We end up with an incremental solution which costs much less than we are spending on fossil fuels now, and which saves 13,000 lives per year in the US alone due to reduced pollution.

A Roadmap to restoring a healthy climate: Let’s go faster!


The Critical Question: What is the Endpoint?

In July of 2012 I got seriously involved volunteering with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) and asked its Executive Director, Mark Reynolds, “What is the endpoint of our campaign?”

Eventually I developed this simple answer: The goal of climate work is to restore a healthy climate. That project consists of two parts: first switching energy sources from fossil fuels to clean energy, and second (and simultaneously) restoring the ice caps, ocean, and atmosphere. This paper describes those two projects and shows how they can be accomplished in 25-40 years while improving the economies of those countries and companies participating.

I had been trained to ask this question at the start of big projects when I began my professional career programming at NASA. My bosses demanded for each project, “What are the specific requirements for success / failure in this project?”  In my twenties, I resisted that question, responding in each project, “How could I know? There are too many unknowns, and the project environment will change during the time it takes us to complete it, so there’s no point wasting time now defining success / failure. We’ll work on it madly until the customer is happy.”

I kept that young-adult attitude until I started my own company, and realized that projects can’t go on forever, and the best projects fail or succeed quickly allowing the staff to go onto the next phase or the next project. I became hard-headed about demanding requirements specifications for all projects within a month of their startup. And I insist that the requirements be ones that we can fail at. If we’re on the wrong track, I want to see the failure coming quickly so we can change course.

CCL’s Mark Reynolds answered my climate question with, “Our goal is to get an effective carbon tax passed in the US as quickly as possible.” My response was, “OK, if we do that, what does it accomplish?” I knew well that a carbon tax is the solution that practically all economists and climatologists agree is the policy which would make all the difference to moving us towards ending climate change.

But “making all the difference” isn’t a requirement that we could fail at, and therefore also isn’t one that we could succeed at. Mark, being a genius, responded, “Peter, that is your project now. Dr. James Hansen is on our board, you might ask him.” I spoke with Dr. Hansen, and many other leading climate scientists and got very long answers, which, I hesitate to say, sounded too much like the evasive responses I gave my NASA boss thirty five years ago. After eight months of unsatisfied searching, I decided to write my own tentative “Restoring climate specifications”, and with those specifications, a roadmap to achieving them. Here they are.

A warning to readers: If you have spent a large part of your career dealing with climate related issues, experience shows that you may find yourself having an emotional objection. Although emotional reactions are important indicators of value in many fields, such as music and architecture, in the fields of science, engineering, and policy, value is measured with data and evidence rather than emotional reactions.

You can split your concerns into two parts: 1) Given the technology and finance we have now, what is possible? 2) What are the barriers to realizing that possibility? If it is just political will, then organizations such as Citizens Climate Lobby are designed to create the needed alignment and actions.

The only specific policy this roadmap recommends is a price on carbon, which almost all experts agree is the most important single policy needed. This roadmap is simply based on current market trends and the assumption that financing for clean energy will continue to grow.

Various experts recommend changing policy to expand or shrink nuclear power or CCS (carbon capture and sequestration to extend the use of gas and coal). However it appears that all such programs call for new large public investment, and the articles promoting those investments propose considerably slower transitions away from fossil fuel than the path we are currently on (50 years compared to 25 years). Indeed, most models show that extending the use of fossil fuels for several decades will require significant, probably huge, new public investment.

Technical Summary

  1. Restoring the climate has 2 parts: a) switching from fossil fuel to clean energy; and b) using geoengineering to restore the ice caps and oceans while we restore CO2 levels. Geoengineering can be accomplished for a few billion dollars per year, not trillions. It is too controversial an issue to discuss now, but in a year or so we should be able to have non-emotional discussions about it.
  2. Reducing emissions is an investment issue far more than a consumption issue. Fossil fuels are used in capital equipment such as electrical generation plants, trucks, cars, and furnaces. The capital equipment that now uses fossil fuels must be replaced by clean energy equipment. Fossil fuels will be used until that process is completed. Other factors such as agricultural process improvement will help, but only the replacement of FF capital equipment with clean energy equipment will end our dependence on fossil fuels.
  3. Efficiency improvement reduces the amount of clean energy equipment required, and in most cases insulating a building is cheaper than building the equivalent amount of clean generation. In most cases we prefer to have the market choose between investing in efficiency or clean energy. Either way, we’re replacing the same amount of fossil fuel capital equipment.
  4. Fossil fuel replacement: Looking from an endpoint of 90% replacement several decades from now, backwards towards the present, we see that at some time new oil and gas development will have ceased. Existing Oil and gas well outputs decrease about 5% per year, which is 600 GW / year. (That’s 17 TW X 80% fossil fuel X 5% per year). Therefore wind and solar capacity for electricity, heat and transportation will be expanding at that 600 GW / year rate to replace decreasing oil and gas well output.
  5. When do we stop developing new oil and gas wells? When the clean energy industries are producing the same amount of new capacity each year as the new wells would produce, which is about 600 GW per year. After that there is no economic reason to invest in new wells, and existing wells will be highly profitable cash cows for oil companies.
  6. The following graph shows how this looks for the US, which is more homogeneous than the whole world, and therefore easier to model (spreadsheet here)Converting US to wind and solar by 2035 graph
  7. This 100 GW / year for the US or 600 GW / year globally includes electricity, transportation and heat. Over a 20-30 year period it is reasonable to replace most cars with electric cars, and furnaces with electric heat pumps. Both of which can be 2-5 times more efficient than the current fossil fuel versions.
  8. The cost of building 600 GW / year of new wind and solar is $1.1 trillion / year at the current ~$2 / watt. This is about the same amount that oil companies now spend each year to develop new capacity.
  9. New wind and solar capacity have been doubling every 2 years for 10 years. That is five doublings. Three more doublings takes the 90 GW (solar + wind) in 2014 up to the needed 600 GW / year by 2020. About that time new oil and gas capacity will no longer be needed.
  10. In the US, the area of solar photovoltaics (PV) needed to replace the power from all fossil fuel use is about the same as is now planted with corn used for ethanol production. In reality less than half that will be needed because other sources, especially wind, will split energy production with solar.
  11. Capacity factors for solar are 20%, and 32% for wind in most of the world, compared to 45% for natural gas plants in the US, so a factor of 2-4 is needed to account for that difference. However efficiency improvements give about that same factor, and decreasing production costs are expected to reduce costs by a factor of two as well.
  12. If these estimates are off by a factor of two, that would require another two years of growth at the start, and 80% more annual costs. Those costs, $1.8 trillion are still less than half the money spent on oil and gas now, about $4 trillion, and our gas and oil consumption will be dropping steadily. After halting the $1 trillion per year of new FF production costs and reducing FF consumption, we would be saving money by 2025, without even considering the health benefits.
  13. Natural gas is competing with, and now losing to renewables, with 56% of new generating capacity globally being renewables (72% in Europe, 51% in China, 51% in US).Wind and solar prices drop 5%-15% per year, so demand should continue increasing.
  14. The energy storage market will attract entrepreneurs to build cost effective storage when it’s needed (about 2030, when wind and solar comprise > 80% of power), electric cars (2025), and electric heat pumps (2020). The demand for those gradually expands along with the steady increase of low cost renewable electricity. The 25 year transition period means that vehicles and industrial processes are gradually replaced with efficient electrical versions as the old equipment wears out anyway—capital expenses rise slightly if at all—new technology, such as cars, tends to be lower cost than old.
  15. In some regions nuclear will expand. However future expansion is impossible to predict—it depends largely on if and when melt-downs occur. Of course nuclear will only expand when it is less costly than wind and solar plus storage. When built, it will accelerate the replacement of fossil fuels.Nuclear Energy Production There are 60 new plants now under construction in 13 countries, mostly in Asia, and 435 plants in operation. That should increase production by 15% in 10 years.
  16. Coal is not discussed here because China and India, the major users of coal are both committed to eliminating it soon. Bloomberg estimates that “peak coal” will be in 2015 to 2017. A price on carbon will cause coal usage to drop rapidly. The US coal industry employs about 100,000 people, compared to about 1 million now in wind and solar.
  17. A steadily increasing carbon tax will make all of this go faster, and be far better for companies and investors because they’ll have more certainty about future prices and demand for fossil fuels. They’ll be able to confidently invest in future clean energy sources and technologies.
  18. Implementing the carbon tax as a carbon fee and dividend, with 100% of revenues rebated back to households has been shown to produce 2.2 million new jobs, increase the GDP, and save 13,000 lives per year according to a recent detailed study REMI 2014 (summary). The surprising benefit is caused by the shift of revenue from capital intensive oil and gas, via the dividend, to households who spend it locally on labor intensive retail and health.
  19. A carbon fee that increases $10 / ton per year  is needed (raising the cost of a gallon of gas by 87 cents after 10 years). Common carbon tax rates are $30 / ton or less now. They do reduce emissions, but only slightly. Studies show that the economic, health, and climate benefits are maximized by a steadily increasing tax. This eliminates the need to guess an optimum rate.

By 2040 we could switch from fossil fuels to clean energy at a lower direct cost for energy compared to continuing fossil fuels. Or we could attempt to maintain business as usual and continue investing in high-cost oil wells and wars and starve the expansion of renewables. It is a choice worth considering carefully.

Why haven’t I heard this before? Paradigms.

The data referred to here is well known in the renewable energy industry. In fact Elon Musk, when he announced Solar City’s new PV factory in NY State in September 2014, said that the global goal is 400 GW / year of new solar capacity, presumably in tandem with a similar amount of new wind capacity. This is the amount of annual capacity required to achieve the 20 year transition described—it appears that Musk is making his plans based on this roadmap, and already a few others are as well.

The reason that this roadmap has not been visible to most of the climate community is because it is based on a new paradigm. The old paradigm for dealing with the climate is “fear”. The goal has been to raise the public level of fear until action is taken. This paradigm worked to get us into WW II, Viet Nam, and Iraq wars, but has not worked so well for the climate. It led to “An Inconvenient Truth”, and a series of IPCC reports, but little effective policy action. Fear, of course, leads to “fight, flight, or freeze”, and during fear, the amygdala in the brain suppresses logical thinking, which is why fear-based political campaigns can be very effective in causing people to act against their best interests.

Dr. James Hansen uses this illustration to suggest our energy future:Jim Hansen's energy graph

You might notice that this image produces a different sense about the future, and you might be able see why Hansen and others, looking at his figure, advocate for nuclear power to replace fossil fuels. But you can see that the final ten years of this graph are consistent with the first ten years of our roadmap. Then you can consider whether technological, financial and political conditions now are more similar to 2005-2014 or to the conditions dominating that figure between 1850 and 2000.

The new paradigm is the business oriented approach of picking a specific measurable goal, and then showing a pathway there from the present using existing technology. This approach is antithetical to the fear paradigm because a clear and viable plan reduces fear and blame rather than increasing it.

Comparison to the cell phone industry

The common objection to this roadmap is that the doublings in new capacity from wind and solar simply won’t continue–for historical reasons although not for any specified technical reasons. When looking at Hansen’s graph of US Energy in 1850-2010, we can see why energy experts feel that way. It took coal, oil, and nuclear each 50-80 years to saturate their markets. Many people agree that times have changed since the 1850-1950’s, and maybe we’d be smart to compare the market shift to an internet era market transition.

Cell phones were introduced about 1985 and went through a similar growth curve to what we’re now seeing with wind and solar. There was a series of doublings in the first 12 years, and then an average of 5% per year of increasing market saturation according to the CTIA, the Wireless Association. US Cell Phone Subscribers

You can see the dips after the 2001 and 2008 recessions. Compare this to our roadmap’s similar projection of wind and solar growth rates:

Projected US wind and solar growth

In both cases, the regular doublings slow down after 2% annual market penetration, which is about 5% total penetration. For cell phones the growth rate continued to increase up to 8% per year, while wind and solar will probably plateau at 5% per year, matching declining oil and gas production.

Cell phone and Wind and solar market growth

For those comfortable with logarithms, these log graphs compare the market saturation over 33 years for cell phones and wind and solar. Wind and solar grow more slowly than cell phones did, but we’re clearly well down the path (spreadsheet here).

More interesting is the similarity of the costs involved. The CTIA estimates that average cell phone costs are $50 per month, or $600 per year, This totals $200 billion per year in the US, which is roughly the annual investment the US will make to produce the 100 GW / year of new wind and solar capacity between 2020 and 2035.

If we encourage the clean energy industry to continue their growth, there is no technical nor economic reason for them to slow prematurely.

Restoring the ice caps, oceans and atmosphere: Geoengineering or climate engineering

In seventy years society has increased the CO2 level of the atmosphere by 40%, and mostly melted the northern ice cap during summers. We have the power to change the climate quickly for the worse. Scientists have figured out methods to reverse that, but discussion of these technologies has become emotional, in part because of the fear paradigm we’re still using to produce climate action. Any potential solution to climate change reduces fear, and is attacked because it appears to delay effective action.

Without mentioning any specific solutions, and thereby avoiding evoking upsets in many knowledgeable readers, we can discuss actions to take now. We want to produce good research to find what technology will work and what side effects we can expect. A good model for this is the FDA, the US department which insures the safety of drugs marketed in the US. The FDA makes it possible for us to take amazing drugs with a phenomenally low rate of bad outcomes. A similar organization could be created to moderate and control climate engineering research and production.

After such a climate organization is created, ideally by the end of 2015, research could accelerate, and sensible testing begin. We could restore the ice caps, halt sea level rise, and restore normal weather patterns within a decade, while we steadily switch off of fossil fuels, find efficient ways to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and restore ocean acidity.


There are trillions of decisions we could make over the next few years regarding energy. The choices we do make depend on what future we’re intuitively expecting right now. This roadmap we are on produces a different intuition of the future than the fear-inducing roadmap of where we’ve been. Publicizing the roadmap will improve economies around the world by getting them in sync with current trends, rather than current fears. The transition from fossil fuels will in turn empower the poor with local jobs in retail and renewable energy that cannot be off-shored.

The roadmap is to continue expanding clean energy as we have been for ten years, until we are producing enough new clean energy each year to replace the energy that oil companies have been producing with new wells. After new oil and gas production ceases, the old wells will decay at a steady 5% per year, giving companies in every industry several decades to implement a shift in their investments to match our new clean energy future.

A steadily increasing price on carbon will accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and make it more profitable for energy companies. Those companies will then be able to make smart capital investments with confidence about how the energy future will look.

Peter Fiekowsky