Update Sept 2: Bill Gates has responded at Dot Earth
Andrew Revkin is hosting an interesting discussion at New York Times Dot Earth right now on energy innovation policy. It began with a post about Bill Gates’ recent interview with MIT Technology Review, which focused primarily on energy, and a rebuke from one commentator, Richard Rosen, in “A Challenge to Bill Gates on Energy Research.” Revkin encouraged discussion in an email to several experts, and this was my initial contribution. Bill Gates is apparently offering a response at Dot Earth tomorrow, so stay tuned:
The White House recently released its report on how ARRA is promoting innovation, particularly in solar PV, batteries, and DNA sequencing. ”Near-term improvements will be able to cut the cost of solar power in half, as second generation thin-film solar panels such as the rapidly emerging CIGS and Cd-Te technologies compete with ever improving traditional silicon-based panels,” the report noted. “Beyond that, breakthrough technologies could make solar as cheap as new fossil fuel plants without government incentives.”
This assertion stands in direct contrast to one of Richard Rosen’s most basic assumptions, which is that it is thermodynamically infeasible for low-carbon electric generation technology to provide electricity as cheap or cheaper than coal-fired power plants. Secretary Chu’s own assessment that we need several Nobel-caliber level breakthroughs to make low-carbon energy cheap enough to compete also stands in contrast. I think we can assume that Secretary Chu understands the second law of thermodynamics! (As well as Dr. Holdren and his team, for that matter, who I’m sure played an important role in the White House report).