Do We Need a “Holy Grail” Technology to Combat Climate Change?

Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) took a look at their earlier predictions on global warming, and guess what? They significantly underestimated the rate of increase in global emissions, particularly between 2000 and 2008. This was mainly due to the unforeseen (and rapid) increase in coal-burning by developing countries like China. But even still, it’s quite scary that we surpassed the worst-case-scenario predictions for 2000-2008. So, will we need some type of “Holy Grail” technology to stop global warming? Is the combination of renewable energy and possibly carbon capture and sequestration really enough?


Climatologists like Christopher Field, the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, recently stated that “we are basically looking now at a future that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulation.” And what the future may in fact need is innovative and resourceful technology. So what are we doing to address R&D and take the next step in developing greenhouse gas reduction technology?
The U.S. government has promised an increase in funding, but some suggest the government will still need to spend a lot more on basic energy research. Obama’s new stimulus package contains $400 million for advanced research for the Department of Energy, which will ultimately be designated for alternative and energy efficiency projects. But what about carbon capture and so called “energy discovery-innovation institutes?” Time is of the essence, and the slow process of scientific discovery may well need a boost in the form of cold hard cash to kick it into high gear.
That’s why a new Brookings report entitled “Energy Discovery Innovation Institutes: A Step towards America’s Energy Sustainability” calls for a total federal R&D goal of $20 to $30 billion a year. This is a seemingly enormous sum of money, but it is what Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, says we will need “to push closer to commercialization, fast.”
Although there is currently no “Holy Grail” technology to combat climate change, and there will never be just one solution, it’s always important to have additional weapons to add to one’s arsenal. We can’t rely too heavily on solar and wind, simply because of their energy storage issues. Energy storage problems are a major concern because renewables are often intermittent, producing energy only when the sun shines or wind blows. This means that large amounts of energy need to be stored (in batteries or otherwise) for access. That’s why we simply can’t be satisfied with our current technologies and must march forward. There have been obvious improvements in the efficiency of solar panels, biofuels, wind turbines, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies, but we simply need more solutions faster than ever before.
So what do we need to do then? Perhaps we need to lobby for less cumbersome commercialization regulations and of course, more funding. If a new clean technology is not dangerous, why hold back on testing it out? There should be adequate funding so that hundreds (if not thousands) of different technologies can be tried and tested in the market. This trial and error method may be our best chance at finally discovering something that is easily adopted, economically feasible, and highly efficient. This may merely seem like throwing money at the problem, but at this stage our options are limited. A cap-and-trade system is still an important part of the solution, but it can’t stop our thirst for energy.
Who knows, maybe we’ll finally figure out nuclear fusion and be on our way.
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ClimateCHECK is a greenhouse gas (GHG) management services and solutions company. The firm’s solutions support all facets of the carbon commodities market, including the verification, validation and consultation of GHG inventories and program portfolios, as well as quantification protocols for emissions reduction projects and clean technologies. ClimateCHECK is a sponsor and co-founded, with World Resources Institute and Carbon Disclosure Project, the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (www.ghginstitute.org). Founded in March 2007, the company has locations throughout North America. For more information visit www.climate-check.com