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Energy, Security, and Climate

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

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The World Needs Post-Silicon Solar Technologies

by Varun Sivaram
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 »

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

by Varun Sivaram
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 »

The Oil Lesson of 1986 is Wrong

by Michael Levi

When I was on the road promoting The Power Surge in 2013, I regularly said two things: First, oil prices could easily plunge for a year or two, though it was far from certain that that would happen. Second, we would not see a repeat of 1986, when the hangover from a price crash lasted for well over a decade before high prices finally returned. Read more »

Booming Coal Use Isn’t Just About China – It’s Increasingly About India Too

by Michael Levi
Reuters/Hannibal Reuters/Hannibal

Coal has been the world’s fastest growing energy source for a decade. That’s largely been driven by China. Increasingly, though, it’s about India too, which has important climate implications.

The chart below shows annual changes in global oil, gas, and coal consumption. (The figure for a given year is the change from the previous year; all numbers in this post are based on the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014.) Between 1988 and 2002 coal led the pack only once. But between 2003 and 2013, coal led in every year but 2008. Read more »

New Nobel Economics Winner Jean Tirole on Energy, Climate, and Environment

by Michael Levi
noble economics jean tirole energy environment climate REUTERS/Fred Lancelot

Jean Tirole was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences today “for his analysis of market power and regulation”. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that he’s written a lot about energy, climate change, and environmental issues. Here’s a quick selection of his relevant papers. Read more »

What My Book The Power Surge Got Wrong

by Michael Levi
The Power Surge by Michael Levi Paperback

It’s been two years since I turned in the manuscript for The Power Surge, my book about the changes sweeping American energy and their consequences for the world that was published last May. The book is out in paperback today, which strikes me as a great opportunity to take stock of what’s changed, both in the world and in my thinking about it. Here are five things I’d tackle differently if I could write the book again. Read more »

The Most Important Part of the Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement

by Michael Levi

The State Department has released its long-awaited final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline. The headline is straightforward: the pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands” and, as a result, world greenhouse gas emissions. This is essentially a status quo conclusion, reaffirming the essence of the draft EIS (released last year). It also allows President Obama to judge that the pipeline meets his requirement that the project “not significantly exacerbate the problem of climate pollution”. The report does, however, carve out one substantial exception. That’s worth drilling down into, because it’s what the President will likely lean on if he decides to say no. Read more »

Energy Risks in 2014

by Michael Levi

Where will the world’s flash points be in 2014? My colleague Paul Stares does an annual survey to provide insight. The Preventive Priorities Survey 2014, based on a questionnaire sent to more than 1,200 experts, is out today. It won’t surprise this blog’s readers that crises in many of the top hot spots could have reverberations throughout the energy world. Read more »