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  • I'm going to talk today about energy and climate.

  • And that might seem a bit surprising because

  • my full-time work at the foundation is mostly about vaccines and seeds,

  • about the things that we need to invent and deliver

  • to help the poorest two billion live better lives.

  • But energy and climate are extremely important to these people,

  • in fact, more important than to anyone else on the planet.

  • The climate getting worse, means that many years their crops won't grow.

  • There will be too much rain, not enough rain.

  • Things will change in ways

  • that their fragile environment simply can't support.

  • And that leads to starvation. It leads to uncertainty. It leads to unrest.

  • So, the climate changes will be terrible for them.

  • Also, the price of energy is very important to them.

  • In fact, if you could pick just one thing to lower the price of,

  • to reduce poverty, by far, you would pick energy.

  • Now, the price of energy has come down over time.

  • Really, advanced civilization is based on advances in energy.

  • The coal revolution fueled the industrial revolution,

  • and, even in the 1900's we've seen a very rapid decline in the price of electricity,

  • and that's why we have refrigerators, air-conditioning,

  • we can make modern materials and do so many things.

  • And so, we're in a wonderful situation with electricity in the rich world.

  • But, as we make it cheaper -- and let's go for making it twice as cheap --

  • we need to meet a new constraint,

  • and that constraint has to do with CO2.

  • CO2 is warming the planet,

  • and the equation on CO2 is actually a very straightforward one.

  • If you sum up the CO2 that gets emitted,

  • that leads to a temperature increase,

  • and that temperature increase leads to some very negative effects.

  • The effects on the weather and, perhaps worse, the indirect effects,

  • in that the natural ecosystems can't adjust to these rapid changes,

  • and so you get ecosystem collapses.

  • Now, the exact amount of how you map

  • from a certain increase of CO2 to what temperature will be

  • and where the positive feedbacks are,

  • there's some uncertainty there, but not very much.

  • And there's certainly uncertainty about how bad those effects will be,

  • but they will be extremely bad.

  • I asked the top scientists on this several times,

  • do we really have to get down to near zero?

  • Can't we just cut it in half or a quarter?

  • And the answer is that, until we get near to zero,

  • the temperature will continue to rise.

  • And so that's a big challenge.

  • It's very different than saying we're a 12 ft high truck trying to get under a 10 ft bridge,

  • and we can just sort of squeeze under.

  • This is something that has to get to zero.

  • Now, we put out a lot of carbon dioxide every year,

  • over 26 billion tons.

  • For each American, it's about 20 tons.

  • For people in poor countries, it's less than one ton.

  • It's an average of about five tons for everyone on the planet.

  • And, somehow, we have to make changes

  • that will bring that down to zero.

  • It's been constantly going up.

  • It's only various economic changes that have even flattened it at all,

  • so we have to go from rapidly rising

  • to falling, and falling all the way to zero.

  • This equation has four factors.

  • A little bit of multiplication.

  • So, you've got a thing on the left, CO2, that you want to get to zero,

  • and that's going to be based on the number of people,

  • the services each person's using on average,

  • the energy on average for each service,

  • and the CO2 being put out per unit of energy.

  • So, let's look at each one of these

  • and see how we can get this down to zero.

  • Probably, one of these numbers is going to have to get pretty near to zero.

  • Now that's back from high school algebra,

  • but let's take a look.

  • First we've got population.

  • Now, the world today has 6.8 billion people.

  • That's headed up to about nine billion.

  • Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines,

  • health care, reproductive health services,

  • we could lower that by, perhaps, 10 or 15 percent,

  • but there we see an increase of about 1.3.

  • The second factor is the services we use.

  • This encompasses everything,

  • the food we eat, clothing, TV, heating.

  • These are very good things,

  • and getting rid of poverty means providing these services

  • to almost everyone on the planet.

  • And it's a great thing for this number to go up.

  • In the rich world, perhaps the top one billion,

  • we probably could cut back and use less,

  • but every year, this number, on average, is going to go up,

  • and so, over all, that will more than double

  • the services delivered per person.

  • Here we have a very basic service.

  • Do you have lighting in your house to be able to read your homework,

  • and, in fact, these kids don't, so they're going out

  • and reading their school work under the street lamps.

  • Now, efficiency, E, the energy for each service,

  • here, finally we have some good news.

  • We have something that's not going up.

  • Through various inventions and new ways of doing lighting,

  • through different types of cars, different ways of building buildings.

  • there are a lot of services where you can bring

  • the energy for that service down quite substantially,

  • some individual services even, bring it down by 90 percent.

  • There are other services like how we make fertilizer,

  • or how we do air transport,

  • where the rooms for improvement are far, far less.

  • And so, overall here, if we're optimistic,

  • we may get a reduction of a factor of three to even, perhaps, a factor of six.

  • But for these first three factors now,

  • we've gone from 26 billion to, at best, maybe 13 billion tons,

  • and that just won't cut it.

  • So let's look at this fourth factor --

  • this is going to be a key one --

  • and this is the amount of CO2 put out per each unit of energy.

  • And so the question is, can you actually get that to zero?

  • If you burn coal, no.

  • If you burn natural gas, no.

  • Almost every way we make electricity today,

  • except for the emerging renewables and nuclear, puts out CO2.

  • And so, what we're going to have to do at a global scale,

  • is create a new system.

  • And so, we need energy miracles.

  • Now, when I use the term miracle, I don't mean something that's impossible.

  • The microprocessor is a miracle. The personal computer is a miracle.

  • The internet and its services are a miracle.

  • So, the people here have participated in the creation of many miracles.

  • Usually, we don't have a deadline,

  • where you have to get the miracle by a certain date.

  • Usually, you just kind of stand by, and some come along, some don't.

  • This is a case where we actually have to drive full speed

  • and get a miracle in a pretty tight time line.

  • Now, I thought, how could I really capture this?

  • Is there some kind of natural illustration,

  • some demonstration that would grab people's imagination here?

  • I thought back to a year ago when I brought mosquitos,

  • and somehow people enjoyed that.

  • (Laughter)

  • It really got them involved in the idea of,

  • you know, there are people who live with mosquitos.

  • So, with energy, all I could come up with is this.

  • I decided that releasing fireflies

  • would be my contribution to the environment here this year.

  • So here we have some natural fireflies.

  • I'm told they don't bite, in fact, they might not even leave that jar.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, there's all sorts gimmicky solutions like that one,

  • but they don't really add up to much.

  • We need solutions, either one or several,

  • that have unbelievable scale

  • and unbelievable reliability,

  • and, although there's many directions people are seeking,

  • I really only see five that can achieve the big numbers.

  • I've left out tide, geothermal, fusion, biofuels.

  • Those may make some contribution,

  • and if they can do better than I expect, so much the better,

  • but my key point here

  • is that we're going to have to work on each of these five,

  • and we can't give up any of them because they look daunting,

  • because they all have significant challenges.

  • Let's look first at the burning fossil fuels,

  • either burning coal or burning natural gas.

  • What you need to do there, seems like it might be simple, but it's not,

  • and that's to take all the CO2, after you've burned it, going out the flue,

  • pressurize it, create a liquid, put it somewhere,

  • and hope it stays there.

  • Now we have some pilot things that do this at the 60 to 80 percent level,

  • but getting up to that full percentage, that will be very tricky,

  • and agreeing on where these CO2 quantities should be put will be hard,

  • but the toughest one here is this long term issue.

  • Who's going to be sure?

  • Who's going to guarantee something that is literally billions of times larger

  • than any type of waste you think of in terms of nuclear or other things?

  • This is a lot of volume.

  • So that's a tough one.

  • Next, would be nuclear.

  • It also has three big problems.

  • Cost, particularly in highly regulated countries, is high.

  • The issue of the safety, really feeling good about nothing could go wrong,

  • that, even though you have these human operators,

  • that the fuel doesn't get used for weapons.

  • And then what do you do with the waste?

  • And, although it's not very large, there are a lot of concerns about that.

  • People need to feel good about it.

  • So three very tough problems that might be solvable,

  • and so, should be worked on.

  • The last three of the five, I've grouped together.

  • These are what people often refer to as the renewable sources.

  • And they actually -- although it's great they don't require fuel --

  • they have some disadvantages.

  • One is that the density of energy gathered in these technologies

  • is dramatically less than a power plant.

  • This is energy farming, so you're talking about many square miles,

  • thousands of time more area than you think of as a normal energy plant.

  • Also, these are intermittent sources.

  • The sun doesn't shine all day, it doesn't shine every day,

  • and, likewise, the wind doesn't blow all the time.

  • And so, if you depend on these sources,

  • you have to have some way of getting the energy

  • during those time periods that it's not available.

  • So, we've got big cost challenges here.

  • We have transmission challenges.

  • For example, say this energy source is outside your country,

  • you not only need the technology,

  • but you have to deal with the risk of the energy coming from elsewhere.

  • And, finally, this storage problem.

  • And, to dimensionalize this, I went through and looked at

  • all the types of batteries that get made,

  • for cars, for computers, for phones, for flashlights, for everything,

  • and compared that to the amount of electrical energy the world uses,

  • and what I found is that all the batteries we make now

  • could store less than 10 minutes of all the energy.

  • And so, in fact, we need a big breakthrough here,

  • something that's going to be a factor of a hundred better

  • than the approaches we have now.

  • It's not impossible, but it's not a very easy thing.

  • Now, this shows up when you try to get the intermittent source

  • to be above, say, 20 to 30 percent of what you're using.

  • If you're counting on it for 100 percent,

  • you need an incredible miracle battery.

  • Now, how we're going to go forward on this: what's the right approach?

  • Is it a Manhattan project? What's the thing that can get us there?

  • Well, we need lots of companies working on this, hundreds.

  • In each of these five paths, we need at least a hundred people.

  • And a lot of them, you'll look at and say they're crazy. That's good.

  • And, I think, here in the TED group,

  • we have many people who are already pursuing this.

  • Bill Gross has several companies, including one called eSolar

  • that has some great solar thermal technologies.

  • Vinod Khosla's investing in dozens of companies

  • that are doing great things and have interesting possibilities,

  • and I'm trying to help back that.

  • Nathan Myhrvold and I actually are backing a company

  • that, perhaps surprisingly, is actually taking the nuclear approach.

  • There are some innovations in nuclear: modular, liquid.

  • And innovation really stopped in this industry quite some ago,

  • so the idea that there's some good ideas laying around is not all that surprising.

  • The idea of Terrapower is that, instead of burning a part of uranium,

  • the one percent, which is the U235,

  • we decided, let's burn the 99 percent, the U238.

  • It is kind of a crazy idea.