Google has tried long and hard to reduce the cost of renewable energy to that of coal. They now say this is not possible and further, entirely new methods of generating energy are needed because renewable energy, even in a best-case scenario, can’t do it all in reducing carbon emissions. Renewable energy is too variable and too location-specific. Further, the cost of replacing coal and natural gas with new energy sources needs to include the cost of shutting down the old plants, building new ones, then producing power at 4-6 cents per kWh with the power company making a profit (or at least paying for expenses and debt, if it’s a public utility.)
Google engineers explain their conclusions.
Suppose for a moment that it had achieved the most extraordinary success possible, and that we had found cheap renewable energy technologies that could gradually replace all the world’s coal plants—a situation roughly equivalent to the energy innovation study’s best-case scenario. Even if that dream had come to pass, it still wouldn’t have solved climate change. This realization was frankly shocking: Not only had RE
Read that again. This needs to be understood. Google says entire new methods of producing energy need to happen, and fast.
What’s needed are zero-carbon energy sources so cheap that the operators of power plants and industrial facilities alike have an economic rationale for switching over within the next 40 years.
Google doesn’t know how this will be done, only that is needs to be, and suggests governments and business focus on energy R&D.
To reverse climate change, our society requires something beyond today’s renewable energy technologies. Fortunately, new discoveries are changing the way we think about physics, nanotechnology, and biology all the time. While humanity is currently on a trajectory to severe climate change, this disaster can be averted if researchers aim for goals that seem nearly impossible.
Oddly, Google doesn’t even mention nuclear. One of the comments does.
China has 28 reactors under construction today and plans to build 100 more by 2030. In addition, China has hundreds of engineers and scientists working on molten salt reactor (MSR) technology, and plans to have a prototype working by decade’s end. MSRs are Generation IV reactors and can provide high-heat for industrial processes, such as making cement and steel and producing hydrogen (for those clean fuel cell cars) without releasing CO2. MSRs are incredibly safe. They can’t melt down (they’re molten by design).