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12/06/2011

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When virtual knives (or charges of Charlie Sheen moments) aren't flying, Joe and I clearly agree on the false dichotomy of deploy OR invent/innovate. I've said this; he's said this. In my video interview with Nate Lewis of Caltech in the relevant post, he said this as well. Two parts are here: http://www.youtube.com/revkin

I stress innovation and R&D because they are deeply discounted in our politics and discourse, which are torqued toward the near term and off the shelf (even at a big price premium). Joe stresses massive deployment, which is his privilege.

My take also draws on the wisdom of people like Lewis, the Caltech scientist who runs one of the federal energy innovation hubs. Here's a bit more from our Q&A in case you don't have time to listen to the tape:


Revkin: There’s all this, to me, false drama about deployment versus innovation or whatever. To my mind, and I think to your mind, this is hardly an either or situation, is that fair to say?

Lewis: It’s not even hardly either-or. It’s an and-and or it won’t get done.

Revkin: How important is it to factor in building our intellectual infrastructure even as we work on these questions about changing our energy infrastructure?

Lewis: You cannot get to where we need to go with just what we know how to do today. Which means we need to learn to not only evolve faster, better, cheaper what we know how to do today, we also need to do things we don’t know how to do today. That doesn’t mean you don’t start now doing what you know how to do. It does mean that you shouldn’t have your head in the sand and know that 40 yards away you can’t get from here to there because the Grand Canyon is in between and you never built a bridge. So if you really cared about meeting the target, if you really cared about making sure that the odds were stacked in your favor, if that’s what you really carted about, you would be deploying, you would be lowering costs and you would be having multiple options to figure out a way to do the stuff that we don’t know how to do so that we would succeed. If you don’t care about succeeding and you just care about pushing your agenda then you would leave out that last key step and I’m not willing to bet the Earth on leaving it out.

Andy Revkin's comments above are instructive. His initial reasonableness quickly gives way to the rhetorically sloppy bashing of Romm-like straw men: "It does mean that you shouldn’t have your head in the sand and know that 40 yards away you can’t get from here to there because the Grand Canyon is in between and you never built a bridge. So if you really cared about meeting the target, if you really cared about making sure that the odds were stacked in your favor, if that’s what you really cared about, you would be deploying, you would be lowering costs and you would be having multiple options to figure out a way to do the stuff that we don’t know how to do so that we would succeed. If you don’t care about succeeding and you just care about pushing your agenda then you would leave out that last key step and I’m not willing to bet the Earth on leaving it out."

This is typical of the Dot Earth piece and videos. There may (or may not) be a "false dichotomy" between Revkin and Romm in substantive terms, as Revkin says. But certainly not in rhetorical and political terms.

Hmm. Your complaint shouldn't be with me but with Nate Lewis. That's Nate -- one of the world's most highly regarded practitioners in energy research -- speaking, not me. And, as Nate explains, this is not a "he said, she said" issue in any case. His interview responses are built around two exhaustive analyses by collections of energy, climate and economic experts.

Andy, you framed the question, chose the Nate Lewis quote and cited it as supporting your argument. The straw men are yours.

Moving passed the pie throwing, something that hasn't come up in the Robert/Roberts/Revkin/CEF Study fight is that the study doesn't include cost or really much in the way of tech performance in their analysis. They assume some broad cost assumptions from other reports, but their not central to their analysis.

So on one hand, yes, California can get to 60% reductions with existing tech (a term not defined really until they release their technology studies). But on the other hand that assumes California picks up the significant cost difference or consumers are suddenly willing to purchase more expensive electricity or businesses absorb significantly higher energy costs at a loss to their competitive advantage. Regulation or not, there are significant economic consequences excluded from the studies "portraits" assuming existing tech.

I can imagine taking into account tech costs and performance would significantly lower that 60% number in real world terms. That's not a political problem, but a real economic one. The study even notes that it's concerned of the high capital investments needed to meet these targets. Now I understand that including costs and performance was not part of the studies scope, but as policy analyst, it has to be taken into account. Brushing it off and assuming we can will our way to these goals doesn't seem helpful.

It seems reasonable to look at past reg/standard situations that show that usually a viable, cheap tech alternative precedes it's deployment through the standard, not the other way around (ex. SOX scrubbers and clean air). The new vehicle standards are another good example - the car companies know the tech exists and it won't jack up the price of their cars, so they agreed to the standard.

Further, the report doesn't assume emission leakage - something I can imagine will happen if businesses move elsewhere because energy costs become too high. And these no-cost-constrained, existing technology portraits aren't a global solution. We're talking about global warming, not California warming, so we need technologies that are viable everywhere. The rest of the world can't subsidize, long-term, existing technologies like we think we can(which it should be obvious given austerity that we cannot).

So I guess at the end of the day, my thought is - clean energy technology readiness is the fundamental policy question. Innovation includes deployment and regs and R&D, but as long as it's done in a smart way of which some of our R&D and most of our regs and subsidies are not done so. As such, I would love to work with folks to make all of our energy policies innovation-oriented.

It's a big policy debate that needs to happen and more so than what has happened around the CEF report.

They seem to be fighting, but both are actually aiming for the same thing - the success of renewable energy technology.

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