CFR Presents

Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

Guest Post: Cleaning Up the Mess at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation

by Michael Levi Thursday, August 6, 2015
Nigeria oil NPPC Buhari Joseph Thlama Dawha (R), group managing director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), listens to Bernard Otti, deputy group managing director and executive director for finance and accounts, at a news conference on the forensic audit of the company which was conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in Abuja February 11, 2015. NNPC said on February 5 that the audit has cleared it of the allegation that it failed to remit $20 billion owed to the state. President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the audit in early 2014 after former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi said an estimated $20 billion in oil revenues had been withheld from the Federation Account. The news conference was held by NNPC to reiterate its position on the matter. (Courtesy Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)

This was originally posted by my colleague John Campbell on his Africa in Transition blog. John was formerly U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and is currently the Ralph Bunche senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more »

Five Takeaways on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

by Michael Levi Monday, August 3, 2015
Solar_panels,-nellis-afb

The final version of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (his carbon dioxide regulations for new and existing power plants) will be released later today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many details are already online. The new rules are an important step forward but certainly not without their flaws. Here are five important things, good and bad, that today’s dueling press releases might not tell you. Read more »

Five Things I Learned About the Future of Solar Power and the Electricity Grid

by Varun Sivaram Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The entrance to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado The entrance to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado (U.S. Department of Energy)

Nestled in the foothills of the Rockies in Golden, Colorado, the Energy Department’s  National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was established in 1977 to help bring new energy technologies to market. Today it is one of seventeen national laboratories overseen by the Energy Department and the only one whose sole focus is renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. I spent a full day touring the facilities and interviewing researchers working on a range of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies and on integration of clean energy into the electricity grids of the future. Here’s what I learned: Read more »

New Article: How Asia is Shaping the Future of Energy

by Michael Levi Thursday, July 9, 2015
Chinese woman struggles with air pollution A woman wearing a mask rides her bicycle along a street on a hazy morning in Beijing, February 28, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily

What caused the big oil crash of 2014? If you said the U.S. oil boom or Saudi strategy, you’re only partly right. As I argue in a new essay in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, if you want to understand current energy developments and future prospects – whether you’re talking about oil or gas or coal or renewables, and about economics or security or environment – you need to pay attention to Asia. Read more »

To Succeed, Solar Perovskites Need to Escape the Ivory Tower

by Varun Sivaram Thursday, June 18, 2015
Solar perovskite cells, patterned with gold electrodes, await tests that measure their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity Solar perovskite cells, patterned with gold electrodes, await tests that measure their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity (Plamen Petkov)

What will tomorrow’s solar panels look like? This week, along with colleagues from Oxford and MIT, I published a feature in Scientific American making the case for cheap and colorful solar coatings derived from a new class of solar materials: perovskites. In this post, I’ll critically examine prospects for commercialization of solar perovskites, building on our article’s claim that this technology could represent a significant improvement over current silicon solar panels. We argue: Read more »

What Matters (And What Doesn’t) in the G7 Climate Declaration

by Michael Levi Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Group of 7 climate emissions pledge G7 Reuters/Michael Kappeler

The G7 leaders concluded their annual summit yesterday with a declaration that put climate change front and center. As with all G7 communiqués, most of the content reaffirms steps that the leaders have already promised to take and, in many cases, are already taking. But, as usual, there are some interesting wrinkles. I’m struck in particular the parts that seem to be the most important are different from those that have generated the most headlines. Here are a couple highlights in each category. Read more »

The World Needs Post-Silicon Solar Technologies

by Varun Sivaram Tuesday, May 26, 2015
A Prototype of a Perovskite Solar Coating (Boshu Zhang, Wong Choon Lim Glenn & Mingzhen Liu) A Prototype of a Perovskite Solar Coating (Boshu Zhang, Wong Choon Lim Glenn & Mingzhen Liu)

In his 2007 keynote address to the Materials Research Society, Caltech Professor Nate Lewis surveyed global energy consumption and concluded that out of all the renewable options, only solar power could meaningfully displace human consumption of fossil fuels. However, he warned, the cost of solar would need to fall dramatically to make this possible—Lewis targeted less than a penny per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy and dismissed any prospect of existing silicon solar technology meeting that goal.[1] Solar, he argued, “would have to cost not much more than painting a house or buying carpet…Do not think ‘silicon chip,’ think ‘potato chip.’ ” Read more »

A Clean Energy Revolution is Tougher than You Think

by Michael Levi Thursday, May 21, 2015
Flickr(CC)/Hiroo Yamagata Flickr(CC)/Hiroo Yamagata

Had you asked most analysts a year ago what it would take to decarbonize the transportation system without aggressive new policy you’d have got an answer something like this: You need low-carbon technologies that can beat $100 oil on its own terms. And if you ask the same question today about electric power, you’ll usually hear that zero-carbon technologies need to come in at costs under the ever-rising cost of grid-distributed, fossil fuel generated electricity, a rather fat (and growing) target. Read more »

The Environmental and Climate Stakes in Arctic Oil Drilling

by Michael Levi Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Oil Drilling Arctic Environment Climate

On Monday, the Obama administration gave Shell conditional permission to move forward with Arctic oil drilling. The New York Times captures a common sentiment well in identifying this as a “tricky intersection of Obama’s energy and climate legacies”. The reality, though, is that this intersection isn’t nearly a fraught as many assume: decisions about offshore drilling in Alaska are indeed difficult, given the local economic and environmental stakes involved, but climate isn’t a central factor. Read more »

Why Moore’s Law Doesn’t Apply to Clean Technologies

by Varun Sivaram Thursday, April 23, 2015
Silicon solar cells during the manufacturing process for solar panels (Wikimedia Commons) Silicon solar cells during the manufacturing process for solar panels (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the weekend, Moore’s Law—the prediction that the number of transistors (building blocks) on an integrated circuit (computer chip or microchip) would double every two years—turned fifty years old. It so happens that the silicon solar panel, the dominant variety in the market today, is about the same age—roughly fifty-two years old. And over the last half-century, while the computing power of an identically sized microchip increased by a factor of over a billion, the power output of an identically sized silicon solar panel more or less doubled.[1] Read more »