CFR Presents

Energy, Security, and Climate

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

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 »

Do India’s Renewable Energy Targets Make Sense?

by Varun Sivaram Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Flickr(CC)/Hiroo Yamagata Flickr(CC)/Hiroo Yamagata

By way of introduction, I’m brand new to CFR and excited to contribute to this blog. I joined last week as a fellow in CFR’s Center for Geoeconomic Studies, and I plan to write about renewable energy technology, climate policy, and national security—with an eye toward emerging markets. Before CFR, I did stints at McKinsey’s cleantech practice and in municipal government, working on energy policy for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. I also studied physics at Stanford and Oxford—my group in Oxford researched third generation solar panels that we hope will one day make colorful coatings for skyscraper windows. Read more »

Five Things I Learned About the Oil Price Crash

by Michael Levi Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Oil Price Crash 2015

The Council on Foreign Relations hosted a symposium yesterday on the causes and consequences of the oil price crash. Our three panels tackled the reasons for the crash and the future of oil prices; the economic fallout from the crash in the United States and around the world; and the geopolitical consequences of the oil price crash, both to date and going forward. (These links will take you to video of each session.) I trust that everyone took distinct conclusions away from the day. Here are five things I learned or hadn’t properly appreciated before: Read more »

A Must Read New Book on Oil, Finance, and Economic History

by Michael Levi Thursday, February 12, 2015
Market Madness

In 1863, with the first American oil boom “at full tilt”, Andrew Carnegie had an epiphany: the world would soon run out of oil. He and a partner “decided to dig an enormous hole, capable of holding 100,000 barrels of oil”, where they would stockpile crude “until the worldwide oil shortage had struck”. When that happened, they’d be rich – to be precise, they’d be millionaires. Read more »