Distrust of new technology runs deep in the climate movement — from skepticism of silver bullets like direct air capture and nuclear fusion that may never materialize, to opposition towards “false friends” like carbon capture and storage (CCS) or blue hydrogen that could lock in natural gas production far into the future.

And there is good reason for such distrust: prospective green technologies are often championed by the same corporations and financial institutions that got us into this mess.

Many well-informed and well-meaning environmentalists (I count myself among them) are concerned that investing in new technologies will impede progress implementing existing technologies. While such concern is warranted, the reality is we don’t have the critical green technologies we need to get us to net-zero by 2050 — and assuming we do is wishful thinking.

Every pathway to net-zero requires investing massively in the rapid implementation of existing technology while simultaneously making big bets on medium-term solutions. The key technology gap is around the production of net-zero electricity to meet the anticipated doubling or even tripling of demand as Canada electrifies other high-emitting sectors like transportation, heating and manufacturing.

The current portfolio of net-zero electricity sources can get us a good chunk of the way there. This conventional “recipe” for closing the net-zero electricity gap includes:

  1. shoring up existing hydroelectric dams and aging nuclear plants to provide a strong baseload;
  2. dramatically scaling up wind and solar in every province; and
  3. modernizing the grid and integrating three-hour battery storage to manage the huge new contribution from wind and solar, whose electrical production varies depending on weather, time of day and season.

This is a great recipe for helping Canada cut its remaining dirty electricity out of the grid and begin to meet rising demand, but it’s not enough — not for Canada and certainly not globally. We need additional green electricity sources to get us to net-zero. If this were a soup recipe, the current combination of viable net-zero electricity technologies is a hearty broth, but not a full meal.

So, what are the most promising additional “ingredients”? If we focus on sources that could add significant amounts of baseload electricity to the grid, the list is surprisingly short. One pathway is simply expanding conventional nuclear and hydro. But public appetite for new, large nuclear or hydro projects in Canada is meagre. And even if this strategy could work in Canada, it doesn’t work globally.

That leaves four nascent technologies with the potential to provide large amounts of net-zero electricity: small modular nuclear reactors, ultradeep geothermal, fusion and a quantum leap in battery technology. (While batteries are not an electricity source themselves, significantly better batteries could more fully address the variability issues of wind and solar.) Last, natural gas with high-efficiency CCS could, in theory, produce almost-green electricity some day (with the caveat that the daunting methane leakage issues are solved). But this technology might commit us to fossil fuels in the meantime.

There are 4 technologies that can provide large amounts of net-zero electricity: small modular nuclear reactors, ultradeep geothermal, fusion and a quantum leap in battery technology, writes @scottjanzwood @CascadeInst #Geothermal #Cdnpoli #NetZero

Some of these technologies are certainly more feasible — and desirable — than others. But if we’re going to handle skyrocketing electricity demand in Canada and around the world, we need to place big bets on multiple options in hopes that at least one bet pays off.

Critics provide good reasons to be skeptical of these expensive, not-so-quick fixes to the climate crisis, but too often, they state their opposition in starkly either-or terms.

First, they rightly emphasize the urgency of the decarbonization challenge. Why invest billions of dollars in pie-in-the-sky technologies when we could use that money to rapidly implement the ones we have? A tonne of carbon mitigated today may be far more valuable than a tonne mitigated 10 years from now if, as scientists warn, climate tipping points may be lurking between 1 C and 1.5 C of warming.

But the answer must be to do both. Yes, research and development (R&D) is costly and slow (although it can be accelerated) — but focusing on short-term solutions without investing in a solid plan to finish the job is like neglecting to save for retirement. There’s no point cutting emissions now only to fail to reduce those harder-to-reduce emissions after 2035. Laying the groundwork for those tougher cuts must begin today.

Which brings us to the critics’ second concern: maybe Canada doesn’t have enough resources to address short-term cuts and adequately invest in new net-zero electricity sources. When it comes to financial resources, this is certainly not the case — governments and financial institutions continue to funnel billions of dollars towards fossil fuel infrastructure.

But there is legitimate concern about the scarcity of a different resource: attention. Politicians tend to only champion one or two “pet” climate solutions at a time. If new solutions like ultradeep geothermal are inserted onto the policy agenda, some fear that less sexy, existing solutions will get deprioritized.

To impress upon policymakers and the public the need to simultaneously balance short- and medium-term climate priorities, we need a more powerful narrative. For example, we could rally behind the idea of building a “Canadian green industrial strategy” — a vision that encompasses both short-term climate solutions and the longer-term investments necessary for Canada to get to net-zero and be competitive in the emerging green global economy.

Last, there is justified concern that technological solutions will fail to address deep inequities in our energy system and will simply perpetuate a system that privileges the usual “winners.” It is ultimately the responsibility of the government to create an innovation ecosystem that fairly allocates the benefits produced by these technologies — whether it’s jobs, improved energy access or cost-savings — and to implement appropriate policies to address social costs.

We need to figure out how to place big bets on medium-term technologies without compromising short-term progress on climate action — and we need to do this quickly. Advocates of climate action need not convert into techno-optimists, but we must accept that every feasible pathway to net-zero passes through a major technological breakthrough.

Scott Janzwood is the research director at the Cascade Institute. He leads the development and management of its research projects. Janzwood's own research focuses on how scientists and policymakers collaborate to address global catastrophic risks such as climate change, pandemics and other emerging threats. He also studies strategies and tools that we can use to make better decisions under deep uncertainty.

His doctoral research focused on the issues of R&D prioritization and uncertainty communication in climate change and planetary defence governance. He has also contributed to projects on improving foresight programs in the public sector. Scott has a PhD in global governance from the University of Waterloo.

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While I originally thought this was another head-shaking article by the CNO promoting Nuclear or extending the life of Fossil Fuels, I don't believe that's the case. That said, I am concerned with the inference that we should still be considering unproven and expensive SMR and CCS. Technology has always been a double edge sword. When it is developed to address an actual issue confronting human-kind, and not just a path to making somebody money, it is usually beneficial. When technology is developed and implemented considering potential unplanned consequences and unwanted repercussions, it can be OK, But we need to be careful. I would like to have seen this article also raise the need for technological advancements in mechanical storage - I'm hoping this can be a saviour of sorts, from more resource extractive solutions.

Deeply problematic:
1) "There’s no point cutting emissions now only to fail to reduce those harder-to-reduce emissions after 2035."
Dangerous nonsense. The IPCC and IEA are crystal clear: To limit dangerous warming, we need to cut emissions in half by 2030. (IEA) Cutting that first half of emissions sooner rather than later spells the difference between bad and much worse.

If the world has the technology to halve its emissions by 2030, obviously we should make every effort to meet that goal starting today.
We have the technology to dramatically reduce emissions in the power, buildings (heating), and transportation sectors. Which represent the bulk of total emissions. As the need for fossil fuels declines, we can safely manage the decline of upstream O&G production.
That leaves hard-to-decarbonize industrial processes like cement, steel, and fertilizer. Progress is being made already on those fronts. Carbon capture should be reserved for those applications.

Just because we do not have all the solutions at hand does not justify delay. The longest journey begins with a single step.

The less GHGs we emit into the atmosphere now, the less GHGs we shall need to remove using yet-to-be-invented and inefficient "negative-emissions" technologies later.

2) "modernizing the grid"
Scott Janzwood gives short shrift to grid improvements. It's #3 on his list.

Overbuild cheap renewables. Storage. Expand transmission capacity and interconnect grids.
Installing renewables is just the first step. You need the other three for the system to work.

"The key to stable, reliable grids is not any individual technology but the design of power markets and power systems. Today ... they are designed around large, centralized power plants and one-way power flows. To keep grids reliable during the energy transition, policymakers need to redesign markets to encourage diverse portfolios of energy technologies, from distributed generation to storage and demand response." (Vox, 2019)

The key to the energy shift is transmission.
No number of solar panels or wind turbines will be enough without the transmission capacity to move electrons from where they are currently being produced to where they are immediately needed.
An overbuild of cheap renewables depends on national and continental interties to move surplus electricity from where it's produced to where it's needed.
Storage helps absorb surplus power during supply peaks so power does not go to waste and prices do not go negative.
In North America, for example, massive solar farms in Arizona could supply Western Canada in winter. Spring through fall, prairie provinces supply their neighbours with solar and wind. Wyoming supplies wind power to California. California sends sunshine to Wyoming. Quebec supplies the northeast U.S. with hydro.

"The Price of Power: How to cut Canada's Net Zero electricity bill" (RBC, 2022)
"Option #1: Transmission
"Leveraging Canada's large geography, power can move from where it can be most efficiently produced to where it's needed. That would require swapping power between provinces that have good wind and solar resources and those with a lot of hydro. During periods with high solar and wind generation, we'd send renewable power to the hydro provinces, and at night or on calmer days, dispatchable hydro would return the favour. In most studies, this helps Alberta, Saskatchewan, BC, Quebec and the Maritimes decarbonize."

3) "Baseload"
"shoring up existing hydroelectric dams and aging nuclear plants to provide a strong baseload"
Providing "baseload" power supplemented by renewables as available is not the game plan. The game has changed.
The "baseload" model is outdated. Replaced by the far more flexible and responsive renewable energy model.
All the renewable technologies together, including broad transmission networks and energy (not just battery) storage, will provide increasing amounts of increasingly reliable power. A broadly distributed network of diverse renewables plus storage increases their reliability and the reliability of the grid overall.

"The variable nature of wind means there are times when turbines are not turning. Wind energy, like other sources of energy, is part of a system. Investment in 24-7 renewables such as geothermal, energy storage, transmission infrastructure, and distributed generation is essential to its growth."
Project Drawdown: "Onshore Wind Turbines"

"Can renewables provide baseload power?" (Skeptical Science, 2016)

"Four EU countries not rich in hydropower got half their 2014 electricity use from renewables (Spain 46%, Scotland 50%, Denmark 59%, and Portugal 64%) without increasing bulk storage or reducing reliability. Italy achieved 33%, as Germany is expected to do in 2015. These countries' grids work as a conductor leads a symphony orchestra: No instrument plays all the time, but the ensemble continuously produces beautiful music."
"The experts on nuclear power and climate change" (The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2015)

"Wind and solar PV can supply bulk energy, balanced by flexible, dispatchable renewables."
"Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths" (The Ecologist)
The new paradigm is based on variable/intermittent non-dispatchable renewables (wind, solar PV) supplemented by fast-peaking dispatchable [can adjust power to demand] power (open-cycle gas turbine, hydro, concentrated solar thermal power [CST] with thermal storage).

"The idea that wind, solar, geothermal, and hydrokinetic should, individually or collectively, 'replace' coal is a straw man. What greens are proposing is a new paradigm, pairing aggressive energy efficiency and conservation (easily the cheapest 'source' of energy) with distributed small-scale sources appropriate to regional context, and smart grids." (David Roberts, Grist, Apr 16, 2006)

US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): "Increased electricity system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply-demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations."

"The main claim used to justify nuclear is that it's the only low carbon power source that can supply 'reliable, baseload electricity' — unlike wind and solar. But not only can renewables supply baseload power, they can do something far more valuable: supply power flexibly according to demand. Now nuclear power really is redundant.
"We have all heard the claim. We need nuclear power because, along with big hydropower, it's the only low carbon generation technology that can supply 'reliable baseload power' on a large scale.
"For example, the UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, attempted to justify the decision to build the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station on the grounds that 'we have to secure baseload electricity.'
"Similarly, Australian Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane recently claimed at a uranium industry conference: 'Baseload, zero emission, the only way it can be produced is by hydro and nuclear.'
"Underlying this claim are three key assumptions. First, that baseload power is actually a good and necessary thing. In fact, what it really means is too much power when you don't want it, and not enough when you do. What we need is flexible power (and flexible demand too) so that supply and demand can be matched instant by instant."
"Dispelling the nuclear 'baseload' myth: nothing renewables can't do better!"

"Renewable Energy's Intermittency is Not a Showstopper"
Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University, Physics (APS), April 20, 2022

"The sun doesn't always shine? No problem for renewables" (Pembina Institute, 2016)
"Baseload myths and why we need to change how we look at our grid" (Pembina Institute, 2017)

4) Who says the research and development of the "missing" technology must come from Canada? Name all the current renewable/sustainable technologies Canada is responsible for? Would these technologies not have been invented elsewhere?

5) The energy shift also depends on energy conservation measures. Changing lifestyles. Reducing our footprint. Using less energy. Buying less stuff.
Urban (re-)design is key. Build cities designed for people, not cars. End sprawl. Move from private cars to public transit.

This goes with the baseload discussion above:

"Three Myths About Renewable Energy and the Grid, Debunked" (Yale Climate Connections, 2021)
"While variable output is a challenge, it is neither new nor especially hard to manage. No kind of power plant runs 24/7, 365 days a year...
"Seasonal variations in water availability and, increasingly, drought reduce electricity output from hydroelectric dams. Nuclear plants must be shut down for refuelling or maintenance, and big fossil and nuclear plants are typically out of action roughly 7% to 12% of the time, some much more.
"…A nuclear plant or fleet might unexpectedly have to be shut down for safety reasons.
"Every French nuclear plant was, on average, shut down for 96.2 days in 2019 due to 'planned' or 'forced unavailability.' That rose to 115.5 days in 2020 when French nuclear plants generated less than 65% of the electricity they theoretically could have produced.
"Climate- and weather-related factors have caused multiple nuclear plant interruptions, which have become seven times more frequent in the past decade…
"Thus, all sources of power will be unavailable sometime or other. … The influx of larger amounts of renewable energy does not change that reality, even if the ways they deal with variability and uncertainty are changing. Modern grid operators emphasize diversity and flexibility rather than nominally steady but less flexible 'baseload' generation sources. Diversified renewable portfolios don't fail as massively, lastingly, or unpredictably as big thermal power stations.
"… The grid can rapidly back up wind and solar photovoltaics' predictable variations with other renewables, of other kinds or in other places or both.
"… Modern power electronics have reliably run the billion-watt South Australian grid on just sun and wind for days on end, with no coal, no hydro, no nuclear, and at most the 4.4-per cent natural-gas generation currently required by the grid regulator."

My main concern about this article is the assumption that ‘we’ should be doing this or that. That ‘we’ should be betting on this or that technology. It should not be the job of governments to bet on winners and losers and gamble away taxpayers’ money on ventures designed to perpetuate status quo operations by vested interests. What we need is a framework such as the current (but inadequate) carbon pricing regimen that is structured towards the needed reduction of greenhouse gases that would avoid runaway climate destabilization and minimize climate destruction. Private investors are the people who should be the ones taking on the risks their investments entail. If this doesn’t lead to a technological breakthrough, then it may be that our only choice will be to have governments raise GHG pricing (with Carbon Border Adjustments) to the point which curtails the production of those GHGs, and live with the consequences of ‘negative growth’ in some sectors of the economy. It’s just a matter of survival.

David Schenck (PhD, Director of the Ethics Program at the Medical University of South Carolina.) and Larry Churchill (Professor of Medicine Ann Geddes Stahlman Chair in Medical Ethics-Vanderbuilt) in "Ethical Maxims for a Marginally Inhabitable Planet (2021)say that mitigation (of the climate crisis) of any kind and even technological innovations 'look more like fantasy and folly than prudence'. They suggest that we are at the point when we should consider the necessary social adaptation to the now inevitable collapse and they present six Maximes guiding us how to be to work toward a high quality of life as we (societally and individually) engage into the transition.

I'm not against researching new energy sources. I'm not convinced wind + solar + storage won't be enough (people have been gloom-and-dooming about how they can't possibly be scaled up for ages, and so far I see no indications of them being proved right), but more clean technologies would be far from a bad thing. But getting down to specifics, about half of the article's list isn't viable.

Everything I've heard about Small Modular Reactors suggest they are actually a stupider idea than the normal kind--more expensive, not less; more dangerous, not less; more waste problems, not less; slower to build per unit of energy production, not less. And did I mention more expensive, than the most expensive kind of energy in the world, not less?

CCS doesn't work. And nobody involved in doing it cares, because they just want it for greenwashing. So it's not going to improve much. And methane leakage is a very intractable problem.

That leaves deep geothermal, fusion, and better batteries (with "batteries" taken as a shorthand for energy storage more generally). The techno-nerd in me likes fusion, but practical fusion power has been just 30 years away since the 1960s or so and is likely to stay 30 years away for a while yet. It's also not quite as clean as people imagine--it doesn't use radioactive FUEL, but it emits very energetic energy; pretty inevitably, it creates a fair amount of radioactive CONCRETE. Fusion research is also very expensive and high tech. I would be tempted to leave it to the big boys, or else try to join a research consortium, like a sort of fusion CERN, rather than trying to single-handedly bring fusion power to fruition. But I'm not gonna say fusion should be ignored--if we could get it to work well, that would be a whole new ball game.

I see deep geothermal as well worth some serious research and investment though. Even compared to other "clean" technologies, geothermal has very few downsides if you can make it viable. And better batteries, what's not to like there? Sure, better batteries is something that's going to get researched no matter what Canada does, but it's also going to be a big industry . . . somewhere . . . no matter what Canada does, so better if we're involved and have a bunch of people who know battery tech.

Not mentioned that I think are worth some R&D are wave and tide power. Tide is pretty specialized, there's only a few really good places for it, but where it works it could be really nice and pretty reliable. And wave power could make significant contributions. No reason not to try to add them to the mix.

The basic idea that we should roll out plenty of solar, wind and battery while also putting plenty of effort into research on more clean energy technologies seems pretty straightforward and hard to disagree with; it's almost a mom-and-apple-pie position.

(It is also true that we should work on using LESS energy, and that we should transform the economy so that it does not depend on endless growth. But I do not see that as contradicting the article's position)

What Geoffrey Pounder said!

Somewhat more seriously...

"Distrust of new technology runs deep in the climate movement..."

Aside from the problem of opening with a patronizing, Yoda-esque statement, the author assumes, incorrectly, what, at least, this environmentally and technologically aware person thinks about technology.

Here's my retort: I posit that, at any time in its history, humankind has had all the technology that it has needed to keep going another day. And so it is today.

Technology is not the problem.

If our species -- if I can rhetorically lump us all together -- can't live within the biophysical capacity of the place we live, using whatever technologies exist, then the problem is not the lack of technology, the problem is a refusal to accept what is staring us in the face. New technology won't solve that problem, either, because there is always a new problem that arises with every implementation of new technology to which yet more technology is needed as a remedy.


This is Band-Aid upon Band-Aid upon Band-Aid, and brings to mind that folksey definition of insanity.

It doesn't matter the context, I don't believe. Pick any aspect of human interaction with the ecosphere and you'll see the same thing.

My distrust is not of technology; it is a distrust of human nature and of those people who believe and publicly advocate, despite eons of evidence to the contrary, that, this time, technology will save us.

And we should believe them.

And bet the farm.

This time.

And imagine if we got our governments around the world to stop subsidizing fossil fuel corporations (directly and indirectly) to the tune of $5.9 TRILLION every year with OUR tax money. $5.9 trillion redirected to zero-carbon energy technologies could make a difference.