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A model for tackling the energy challenge

Susan Hockfield, Boston Globe
…Project Apollo surfaces repeatedly as a model for tackling the energy challenge. Given the urgency of the situation, achieving a secure energy future will, indeed, call for a similar commitment in funding, policies, and passion. The execution, though, will have to be different. More than a discrete undertaking with a single goal, the energy project will have to deliver a broad portfolio of solutions, playing out on timetables measured over a few years to several decades.

No single technology can meet current or projected energy demands. Humankind uses energy at the rate of 14 trillion watts. Supporting that much primary energy use would require about 10,000 large coal plants, at 500 megawatts of electricity each. To generate an equivalent amount of electricity with solar power, today’s deployment would need to be increased several thousand-fold.

Adding to the pressure for multiple approaches to this vast challenge, the time for initiating meaningful steps to curb climate-threatening carbon dioxide emissions is short. It will take a long time to change the energy mix appreciably. Yet we are probably only decades away, at best, from the point of no return on greenhouse gas concentrations.

…Federal energy research funding that is sporadic, at best, is one reason university research has not realized the promise of the post-1970s energy crisis. Happily, this situation is changing. The Department of Energy has increasingly emphasized basic energy research in a range of areas — a welcome recognition that we have much yet to learn on the way to truly game-changing energy technologies.

To fully realize its potential, though, the university community must lower some internal barriers. The standard academic research model of a single investigator, or a small group of people, working on narrowly defined problems is important but, frankly, not sufficient in an energy context. We must develop organizational structures and incentives that encourage large multidisciplinary teams and, where relevant, permit true working partnerships with industry and government groups.

Project Apollo’s inspiration ultimately produced the scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and policy makers who have fueled this country’s innovation economy. Today, our nation hungers for a similar inspiration, one that will refocus the attention of our schoolchildren toward science, mathematics, and technology. In fact, our future economic success could depend on it.

Can we sustain a meaningful commitment through the course of a mission that is markedly more complex and multifaceted than the moon landing, and that will demand a smooth melding of policy making and technological developments? Can we build an energy innovation pipeline that will, once again, both inspire our children and fuel our economy? …

Susan Hockfield is president of MIT
(13 Dec 2006)

CSIRO Sustainability Network Newsletter #63E
(440-KB PDF)
Elizabeth.Heij editor, CSIRO (Australia)

  • Language as a tool for culture change in agriculture;

  • Designs from nature to capture energy from the sea;
  • Less water and more people – what lies ahead for Australia?;
  • The ‘green’ vs ‘consumerist’ culture clash at home;
  • Backyard billabongs – new look for an Aussie urban icon;
  • Air travel debate – the gloves are off!;
  • Feedback on: Population – that “unspeakable” issue again!; Misconceptions about wind power; and Abandoning one ‘green revolution’ for another in Indian agriculture.

(15 Dec 2006)

Re-Thinking progress: Well-Being as the Focus of Policy

Nic Marks, FEASTA
You can now download the 2006 Feasta Lecture Re-Thinking progress: Well-Being as the Focus of Policy (57:00, 38.8 MB QuickTime file) by Nic Marks. Nic Marks is the head of the Centre for Well-Being at NEF (The New Economics Foundation) and has recently set up a new global measure of progress, the Happy Planet Index, which shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world.
(14 Dec 2006)
I wasn’t able to get the QuickTime file to load. Maybe it’s just me. -BA

Green Revolution Sweeping the US Construction Industry

Frank Greve, McClatchy Newspapers via Common Dreams
… The key to the movement is a new set of standards that’s far more demanding, environmentally speaking, than local building codes. The movement invites innovation because it’s based on environment-protecting performance standards, not rules. That leaves it up to architects, builders and designers to decide how best to reduce energy and water consumption, for example, or workers’ dependence on cars.

The U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C. -based alliance of some 7,200 architects, builders, land use planners and academics, issued the first set of standards in 2000, covering big commercial construction projects. Standards for existing buildings and commercial interiors came out in 2004. Criteria for new single-family homes, public schools, hospitals and cookie-cutter commercial buildings such as bank and retail store branches will come in the next year or two.

The council’s goal is to “transform the marketplace” in real estate in the United States and globally, said Rick Fedrizzi, the council’s founding chairman and chief executive officer. “We’ll be at that point” in the movement, Fedrizzi said recently, “when it’s no longer called green building; it’s just the way building is done and they are simply called buildings.”

… A more basic argument for green building came from Wal-Mart’s Moseley: “The huge majority of changes we’re making are financially beneficial.”
(12 Dec 2006)