A bit late to the discussion here, but I wanted to re-emphasize the slightly nearer term limits that Holden brought up by Tom Murphy in his "Do The Math" blog, first presented a decade ago:https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/07/galactic-scale-energy/
This is formalized in Chapters 1&2 in a textbook he just released: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9js5291m
The argument goes 1) there is a finite amount of energy available, limited by solar capacity, 2) decoupling of energy from the economy is ultimately limited; we can only grow non-energy intense parts of the economy so much as a percentage of the overall economy, 3) space colonization is extremely difficult if not impossible given how inhospitable space is, and therefore 4) economic growth will eventually cease given limited energy and resources.
He also mentions thermodynamic limits to surface heat rejection via blackbody radiation. We may be able to get around that by moving most computation to space. Though I imagine that being a harder collective action problem to solve than climate change presently.
Galactic expansion through digital minds may be a possibility that gets around the human biological limits to space expansions, but it's unclear that the timing will line up conveniently. Our rate of economic expansion may hit hard energy and resources limits before a galactic digital mind expansion, regardless of whether it is possible.
Ultimately I don't see how it's possible to get around the energy limitations. As long as there are energy requirements for people - biological or otherwise - then it doesn't seem possible to indefinitely shrink the energy intensity of the economy to an arbitrarily small value.
Do we really imagine the future of the economy to be increasingly faster trading of multi-trillion dollar cat holograms? Is that humanity's destiny?
En-Roads is a systems dynamics model similar in purpose though much more complex and well-referenced than the World3 model of Limits to Growth fame. Reference Guide:
https://www.climateinteractive.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/En-ROADS_Reference_Guide_v92.pdfIt is probably roughly accurate for the sector models of buildings and industry, growth, land and industry emissions, carbon removal, and non-electric transport. The electrification and energy supply sector model is not reliable, as the model simulates on a 0.125 year timescale which misses the market dynamics of electricity production. Furthermore, it calibrates the electric market projections against the IEA world energy outlook (WEO) which has continually underpredicted renewables and overpredicted coal capacity to an embarrassingly large degree: https://steinbuch.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/photovoltaic-growth-reality-versus-projections-of-the-international-energy-agency. For example, solar capacity additions in 2016 were ~50 GW, WEO 2016 estimated solar additions would be roughly constant at 50 GW/year in 2018, reality was over 110 GW. WEO 2019 still assumes there will be substantial buildouts of coal plants in the U.S. and EU in the "current policies" scenario. The GIGO (garbage-in, garbage-out) applies here for the En-Roads electricity sector model - they calibrate against garbage energy supply projections from IEA, so the En-Roads analysis of electric sector policies will be grossly inaccurate.This model error could significantly change your inference on points 3 and 4 once corrected. The rest of your points of inference are probably accurate.
I want to make one more point, separated from the disinterested economic and technological arguments above. Understand that lobbying for nuclear research - as you and Let's Fund have promoted - is not politically neutral and does not occur in a vacuum. The U.S. through the DOE and NSF is by far the largest R&D supporter of nuclear and energy research in general, worldwide. The current administration is heavily focusing on financial support and R&D for coal and nuclear at the expense of other energy technologies and energy efficiency. The are using dishonest tactics and misleading information, including some of the points you mentioned above, as talking points to promote these interests. As an example, read the DOE grid reliability report that concluded grids would be fine without coal and nuclear, but had its abstract edited by former DOE head Ricky Perry to claim the opposite result. Two years ago, the administration tried to pass an emergency declaration for subsidies for power production with on-site fuel storage (coal and nuclear). And the most recent main thrust of R&D at DOE is for coal CCS and nuclear. This is at the expense of many other areas of R&D. The current administration has tried multiple times to cut ARPA-E, a highly successful technology development program across the whole energy sector, and the office of energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE). EERE provides technology R&D and market commercialization for energy efficiency (the cheapest form of energy - "negawatts") and was the source of funding that helped make solar and wind as cheap as they are today. To suggest precious EA dollars go to supporting nuclear R&D in the U.S. is ignorant of the political reality and potentially damaging to other energy and energy efficiency efforts, insofar as it shifts funds instead of increases the pie. I understand this is surely not the intent of Founders Pledge and Let's Fund recommendations. But ignoring this reality is not an excuse for what is, in my opinion, a bad philanthropic recommendation.
Responses to your points above:
1. IPCC Integrated Assessment models don't dictate technologies. By design, they assume many different future scenarios and calculate impacts from those scenarios. Some scenarios use ample amounts of BECCS to achieve negative emissions to hit a 2C target by trading off more short term emissions with expensive negative emissions in the future. This isn't a determination of what is needed, just an example of a technology scenario that hits an emissions target. Massive amounts of BECCS would be extremely expensive; IAMs don't factor in these economic factors. However BECCS may be needed to get negative emissions. Nuclear can't do that, and will need to compete economically for energy production. If you think nuclear is absolutely necessary, please send me the particular IAM that states that and the economic assumptions compared to other electric grid build-outs.
When I speak of the academic community here, I'm referring to the community doing resource planning and grid modeling - the people that are making the decisions about what grid resources, transmission, and R&D to pursue. In this community, nuclear is not recognized as a substantial contributor to short term or long term decarbonization.
2. Break out the capital cost figures. Licensing and regulation isn't the major difference. That accounts for less than 10% of the cost; The World Nuclear Association (nuclear lobbying group) puts it at 5% of the cost. The $3k figure in China is because labor is much cheaper there, which is also a reality for renewables.
On cost - I'll make the point again - even with heroic capital cost reductions, nuclear won't be competitive in the market. The O&M and fuel costs associated with rankine-cycle based power production cannot compete with VRE. Even the most nuclear pro lobbying groups can't claim nuclear is competitive using recent data (the link above compares to 2012 prices). Nuclear plants are closing now because even with O&M costs, they are more expensive than new VRE.
The same economics apply to coal plants - large rankine based producers with substantial fuel costs.
The slight difference is that coal also has to contended with large capital expenditures on criteria pollutant emissions controls (in most countries), whereas nuclear has larger capital cost requirements for the reactor.
a) On LCOE vs system LCOE. Marginal LCOE is what determines what new generation resources get built. In fact, utilities have an obligation to consumers to pursue lowest cost generating resources as overseen by the public utility commission. No one uses total system levelized cost in planning, and it's not clear how one would even do that. If this was Sim City and you could plan out the eventually 50 year grid from the beginning could you do it? Maybe, but it may not be centralized generating resources. As for high VRE costs, there isn't "betting" on the cost inflection point for VRE- we have very accurate models of the electric grid and build-out concerns. Electric battery storage is already cost-competitive with gas peakers in some grid regions. And as VRE increases, the marginal LCOE will tilt in favor of load shifting, DR, and storage assets instead of gas peakers, gas CCs, and certainly baseload coal and nuclear plants which have to earn revenue in the production and capacity markets to stay viable.
In a high VRE scenario, it's not clear that added nuclear or any baseload generator is the cost-preferred option to extra VRE with curtailment or even existing storage costs. Saying baseload generators are a solution needs supporting evidence, especially including how the market would need to be restructured to keep these plants viable.
b) On the point of political feasibility - eminent domain is an issue regardless of generating source. Gas lines, transmission lines, siting uranium or coal mines all have political pushback. Local opposition is much stronger against nuclear and fossil generating facilities in general.
c) Value deflation is an issue for solar, though not so much wind with a higher capacity factor and 24/7 power production. This is where load shifting and DR technology in buildings is likely to become cost-competitive with new generation. Building codes in California are already account for this using a TDV (time-dependent valuation) metric in design, rewarding energy savings during peak evening hours a lot and daytime savings comparatively little.
d) Germany heavily subsidized solar, providing the market incentive that brought the price down considerably for everyone else. And now subsidies are no longer needed to make wind and solar competitive - in general, they are the cheapest generating source on their own. But to claim the subsidies failed looking only at historical solar build out in Germany alone in comparison to the total German subsidy cost is to ignore the massive price decrease it meant for solar globally. I could make a similar claim for nuclear if I weighed U.S. nuclear program costs vs. the first 5-10 years of nuclear production in the U.S.
e) Sure, historical experience, especially recent historical experience should carry weight. No advanced economy has decarbonized. The fastest rates of decarbonization in absolute terms are from VRE, and nuclear is nowhere close. France, used as the common example, is building out VRE and retiring older nuclear plants. Nuclear prices have increased in every developed economy in the last 2 decades.
4. Exxon, Shell, BP are very interested in zero carbon fuels. NREL has a $100 million research project on next gen VRE to biofuels "electrons to molecules" funded by Exxon. Here cost of energy is incredibly important; I'm not sure why you suggest nuclear here? Electricity to fuels is well-paired with renewables to absorb low cost solar and wind during periods of otherwise curtailment.
District heating is a specific application where cogeneration is preferable, and a potential U.S. of SMRs in a few major cities with central district steam systems (e.g. NYC). I suspect a cogeneration application is where we most likely see an SMR demonstration project. For newer district systems, there are competing technologies of heat-pump based ambient loops or four-pipe chilled water/hot water loops that are much more efficient than conventional steam district systems and have lower operating costs that steam-based systems.
As to your point that 45% of fossil fuel emissions are electricity and heat? I assume you got that from Fig 2 in: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6396/eaas9793
The numbers heat 2% + combined heat + elec 5% + elec 26% + load following elec 12% + res/commercial heat 10% = 55%, transportation is 22%, cement 4%, iron & steel 5%, and other industry 14%.
Note that this graph includes other industrial non-energy related CO2 emissions and other gas emissions. Cement production involves emissions from limestone reforming in kilns, and steel mills from coke production. Other industry involves substantial methane emissions from refineries and oil and gas production, as well as ammonia.
Combined heat and energy - where future nuclear has potential economic competitive viability is <5% of this picture.
I don't agree with the view that an "all of the above" strategy that includes substantial support for nuclear R&D for electric production is the least risky from a climate perspective. Even if the R&D budget increases, these funds could be better spent on storage, integration, liquid fuels from electricity, direct carbon capture, market commercialization of several lab-proven technologies, or support for better building codes (75% of grid load). I see it as similar to "clean" coal CCS - unlikely to ever be viable and a distraction to less-risky efforts.
There are valid criticisms of Drawdown, but it's lack of consideration of nuclear and research into SMRs is not among them.*Nuclear energy for electricity production will not make a meaningful contribution to addressing climate change*I'm happy to go into more technical and numeric detail than the comments below.1) Nuclear is too expensive (https://www.lazard.com/perspective/lcoe2019), (https://atb.nrel.gov/electricity/2019/index.html?t=cn). The O&M costs alone (<20% of total cost of a nuclear build) are greater than new onshore wind and utility scale PV. Solar and wind costs have been declining at 5-7% per year, while nuclear costs have stagnated or gone up.2) SMRs will still involve a rankine-cycle based power production with its massive water and construction requirements. Even if research eventually yields a 10x capital cost reduction in nuclear, by that time it will have to compete with even cheaper wind and solar and new offshore wind and solar perovskites. Simply, advanced nuclear doesn't have a chance at being competitive in the future, even with massive R&D. It's O&M costs will still be above current wind and solar. Most goals involve decarbonizing the electricity sector in developed countries by 2035. It'd be lucky if there were even 1-2 demonstration SMRs online by that time.3) Variable renewable energy (VRE) is manageable, and grid integration studies from LBNL and NREL show VRE can easily reach 70-80% of production with little additional storage needs. New onshore wind is reaching capacity factors of 40-50%, and offshore wind at 60-70%, creeping into that mythological "baseload" generation. Buildings are becoming much more grid-responsive to control when and how they use power. Energy storage research is getting much more funding and showing similar price declines as early renewables. The challenges are not VRE amount, but rather the power electronics involved with switching from a synchronous-generator based grid to an inverter based grid. Even with current technology, existing energy storage plus overbuild and massive curtailment of VRE will be much cheaper than nuclear in hitting a 100% renewable grid.The academic debate has moved beyond whether advanced nuclear power will be a relevant solution to addressing climate change. It's now at whether it would be better from a climate perspective to shut down certain LWRs early and spend the money on renewables and efficiency instead, or if a subsidy in the form of a carbon-price would help keep existing LWRs open a little bit longer. This is largely a function of carbon price and utility regulation in mandating that all cost savings from closing nuclear plants go towards efficiency and new VRE.See:https://www.forbes.com/sites/amorylovins/2019/11/18/does-nuclear-power-slow-or-speed-climate-change/#3873b5506b40https://climatenewsnetwork.net/nuclear-power-cannot-rival-renewable-energy/Instead of seeing nuclear research as promising, we should view it alongside its current R&D partner - CCS for coal plants. Even if it is neglected in total funding compared to other R&D doesn't stop it from being a wasteful money pit. I think there is an argument for SMR R&D for ship propulsion, space propulsion, and extreme security and redundancy military installations, but this is not a climate change consideration.
You can track health impacts with HAPIT, the Household Air Pollution Intervention Tool . Use that directly instead of the assuming clean cookstoves eliminate the disease burden, which is far from the truth.Clean cookstoves have a really high bar to clear to reduce the disease burden for several reasons:1) Exposure is non-linear. The relative risk of dropping from 400 ug/m3 to 175 ug/m3 PM exposure is the same as going from 100 ug/m3 to 50 ug/m3. To reduce the disease burden to <1.5 requires exposure <50 PM ug/m3, which is very difficult for any biomass stove to accomplish.2) For the disease burden to be reduced, nearly all stoves in a locality need to be replaced, otherwise the outdoor air will still be above the exposure threshold.3) Stoves need to be used, used correctly, and maintained. The education and cultural habits to do this are very difficult to embed in a population.For these reasons, clean cookstoves have historically been largely unsuccessful at reducing the disease burden. They are improving. See the "2019 Climate Action and Clean Cooking Co-benefits workshop presentations and discussions" presentation by the Clean Cooking Alliance. This group is setting standards and tiers for clean cookstoves to rank them on performance and targeting intervention locations based on many factors to determine where cookstoves will be most successful.Even with optimistic assumptions of stove performance and uptake from HAPIT, it is likely that cookstoves will remain at least an order of magnitude more expensive than the best GiveWell recommended interventions for some time.
[Edit: fixed some spelling errors]
I distinguish between R&D and economic/policy factors, because it matters where technology is at in the R&D pipeline. Solar and wind are mature technologies. There is some additional work that can be done in solar (e.g. perovskites) and wind (bigger blades, offshore), but the vast majority of the costs at this point are not associated with the technology itself, but rather the implementation, permitting, financing, etc. At this stage in technology development, costs get driven down by expanding the market, not so much additional early stage R&D. There can be more investment in >6 hr energy storage and zero-carbon liquid fuels, as many of the solutions are in early stage research. Therefore, I'm more inclined to say that clean energy deployment in developing countries is economic and policy limited, not technology limited, given relatively low deployment rates and maturity of the most applicable technologies. I still agree with more R&D, but I don't think that is limiting factor in a lot of countries right now. Major climate philanthropy seems to agree - focusing on policy around development, energy efficiency, and deployment of exist tech, rather than early stage R&D funding. Perhaps they don't because the government already funds R&D at level greater than the philanthropic sector could ever meet. But if as you say, the R&D is more funding limited and has the better marginal return, then most of the philanthropic giving should be going to that.I understand the desire to not dive into the specifics which technologies to focus on and in general just get more clean energy R&D funding. More clean energy R&D funding lifts all technologies. An analogy would be to global health. It would be good to get more general funding into global health, and most academics and EAs support that. But I think the EA angle could benefit from being more specific on which kinds of interventions/technologies, as like global health, the effectiveness of additional funds could vary greatly depending on where they are spent (e.g. energy storage vs. clean coal). This is a increase funding or use existing funding more effectively question. Your argument is that Clean Energy R&D funding is so low that it is much more important to increase the funding. I agree with you on this. I have a mix of thoughts on whether ITIF's specific lobbying priorities within Clean R&D are correct, but don't want to get into that too much.I do want to address the points on adaptation and extreme warming.Adaptation gets funded through the UNFCCC framework is the fund has given out $1 billion, with support of $4 billion from other sources. This is total, not per year. https://www.un.org/ldcportal/least-developed-countries-fund-ldcf/https://fiftrustee.worldbank.org/en/about/unit/dfi/fiftrustee/fund-detail/adaptI think R&D in adaptation is underfunded, and adaptation in one area is likely to be replicable in other places (making it a global public good, similar to clean energy R&D). This is about limiting the worst effects, and is neglected in the same way tropical diseases are neglected on the global scale.An analogy on this is a expansion of pond metaphor. The water level is representing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and the pond is filled with adults (developed countries) and small adults or kids (developing countries). Some are already struggling. Mitigation will slow or stop the rise of water, but we should also spend some effort helping the smallest humans out before they can't touch the bottom (e.g. life preservers, rocks to stand on). We can presumably get better at figuring out ways to do mitigation (Clean Energy R&D) and adaptation (helping people in the pond to not drown). Right now, I think helping the smaller people is more neglected than lessening the rise of water level.Lastly to the comments on extreme warming scenarios. While there is a lot of research improving climate models and projections (largely computation limited), there is still a lot to be done on translating those extreme scenarios to impacts, and also geoengineering responses to lessen those impacts. This needs funding on the ~$1 billion scale and is vastly underfunded (funding got cancelled in the US given the current administration). I'm more inclined to think that this or adaptation are likely to yield better returns from an EA perspective.
I just logged on to my GWWC pledge dashboard and noticed I was under 10%, even though I've been giving 10-20% the past 4 years. It seems that my reported incomes were each included twice, possibly leftover from the site migration.
I'm wondering if this happened to other people - can you check if there multiple or duplicate entries for the same date ranges?
Thanks for putting this together, and sorry for the delay in posting a response.It's great to see some more attention to effective climate interventions in the last year, starting with the founders pledge report:https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/3poYR8mXfcr9YM34Z/new-research-on-effective-climate-charitiesThere is a lot of open debate in the EA community on how much to focus on climate change as a cause area:https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/BwDAN9pGbmCYZGbgf/does-climate-change-deserve-more-attention-within-eaI'm going to skip over the questions of how much of a catastrophic risk it is, and what the appropriate split between mitigation and adaptation should be, and instead focus on the point you make of "What can we most effectively do to fight climate change?".
In getting from the broad goal of emissions reductions to specifically support ITIF's policy work, there are several key assumptions:
Responses to those assumptions:
Overall, I think ITIF is broadly correct in the need for government-funded R&D in carbon-neutral liquid fuels, CCUS in industry, CO2 removal, and somewhat long-duration storage. I disagree with their Advanced Nuclear and Basic Energy research goals for practical and current political reality reasons. I don't think ITF's lobbying on their 6 focus areas rise to the level of "most effective climate interventions", as ~60-70% of emissions are policy-limited, not technology-limited. And I think the U.S. climate philanthropic sector has largely correctly identified policy interventions in India and China as the highest priority. From an EA angle, I think the most neglected climate-interventions are in adaptation in poor countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, and in understanding and adaptation to extreme warming scenarios.
"Concerns about your gains from preventing deforestation being reversed should be accounted for in your marginal cost-effectiveness estimate."
Well yes, if we account for the fact that current best marginal emissions reductions at present might fail in later years into our marginal cost-effectiveness estimate then we can still use the marginal cost-effectiveness estimate.
If I did that, it would show rainforest work having mediocre cost-effectiveness because emissions reductions aren't robust. So we reach different conclusions on best interventions, despite claiming to adhere to the same principle.
I agree with the position "we should act on the best marginal effectiveness". It's just that rainforest work is not independent of other interventions. Its cost-effectiveness is co-dependent on the cost-effectiveness of other interventions - needing to hit sub 3C century end warming. So my cost-effectiveness estimate cares more about the 80th percentile on the cost abatement curve from future projects, while a simpler analysis may just focus on the cheapest marginal abatement cost intervention at present yearly emissions.
This is heavily related to the concept of lock-in (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0100-6). Even though some interventions may be more expensive than others, they may represent a substantial enough amount of emissions and lock-in threat that on a longer time horizon they become the best marginal cost-effective interventions at present.
Once we've accounted for lock-in, largest emissions interventions, robustness, etc., THEN we can start moving down our new inclusive-forecast-century-weighted abatement curve of best interventions. I just think this will look different from McKinsey's abatement curve and yield different interventions than the ones you've selected in the report.
I agree the aim is to decarbonize, not get as much renewables growth as possible. My statement wasn't cheerleading renewables, it was making the observation that in actual grid capacity purchases and planning at present - the current market - renewables are more bullish than they appear in the reports you reference.
IEA World Energy Outlook has abysmal prediction accuracy on renewable install rates (https://www.vox.com/2015/10/12/9510879/iea-underestimate-renewables), and the integrated assessment models in AR5 are similarly conservative in their estimates.This is good news given the amount of emissions that come from the power and buildings sectors.
I'm confused by your comment "Also, this is only electricity not all energy, so other stuff like CCS and nuclear will be necessary to get us all the way to decarbonise"
Where does nuclear contribute besides the power sector? Your "emissions averted by different energy technologies" has nuclear's impact only from displacing coal and gas electric power.
Yeah, I wish Drawdown was more explicit in their calculations. I found an error in their documentation on plant diets, but couldn't track down if that was just in the documentation on the calculation too.
I only reference drawdown because it gives explicit GtCO2e estimates. For instance, it's nuclear estimate is 16 GtCo2e https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/electricity-generation/nuclear, while yours is 136 GtCO2e. It's wind and solar estimate in total is 171 GtCO2e, while yours is 135 GtCO2e. Not enough to change things on a log scale.
Obviously, you have to look elsewhere for philanthropic neglectedness calculations.
On points 3 & 5 -
Recent bids for renewables with storage are cost competitive with gas, and cheaper than nuclear, even at the $60/MWh quoted in the report.
The intermittent and non-intermittent power source debate is about a decade old, and doesn't reflect the reality that additional intermittent contributions to the grid have made the grid more reliable, not less, at least in the United States.
Energy markets are structured to provide a reliable electric grid - they price capacity and when electricity can be produced - and nuclear isn't competing in this environment.
Recently in the U.S. the nuclear lobby has hitched itself to the coal lobby to argue for emergency interference in energy markets by the government to require subsidizing large plants, precisely because they could not compete in the hourly capacity market.
Your comment about Germany doesn't seem applicable; renewables reduced emissions compared to the proper counterfactual where they hadn't been installed AND the nuclear plants were taken offline.
Again, this isn't me cheerleading renewables at the expense of nuclear. It's an observation of the current energy market that no one is even thinking about starting a new nuclear plant build because of how outrageously expensive they are compared to other options. There are 2 reactors under construction in the U.S. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vogtle_Electric_Generating_Plant#Planning_phase, 2 recently abandoned https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgil_C._Summer_Nuclear_Generating_Station, with the primary contractor filing for bankruptcy last year. All vastly overbudget.
Given the state of affairs with nuclear, CATF's large share of funding towards nuclear seems like pissing money away, especially since the government already funds this heavily through the DOE for reasons other than emissions reductions and competitive energy. I think the argument for CATF has the best donation target relies on their CCS work solely.
We can have different perspectives on this, and I share a different outlook, so I propose a bet:
If a nuclear plant is built in the US:
1) at least 150 MW in size,
2) in the next 10 years,
3) with construction started 2019 or later,
4) and sells its power in a competitive bid process for an electric grid,
I will pay you $100. If not, you pay me $100.
Also - can you respond or publish on why you didn't include an analysis of the other charities in the report that you include but do not recommend? Why were they rejected?