By Daniel Roesler
PV Solar Report Contributor
Sam Altman recently wrote a post detailing his worries about another economic downturn. He concludes, “Personally, I think that innovation and new technology is what will save us.” He leaves unanswered what he thinks that next-generation technology will be. I interpret that as an open request for ideas, and I would like to nominate sustainable energy.
Over the next few decades, the economic consequences of climate change will be severe, costing us hundreds of billions of dollars per year. This is the problem our generation will be solving, and the solution is simple: stop adding sequestered carbon to the carbon cycle.
Fig-6.1, IPCC 2013 Report — click here for larger image
Every year, the earth naturally releases and absorbs ~200 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. However, humans are injecting an additional 8 gigatons of carbon that wasn’t previously part of the cycle by burning fossil fuels. This may seem like an insignificant amount, but the speed at which we are adding it is causing a massive destabilization of the global climate. It is already costing us billions and will only get worse unless we stop.
And we can stop. This is a solvable problem. In 2103, we used ~520 quadrillion BTUs (QBTU) globally, of which 87% were sourced from burning fossil fuels. That means we have to replace ~450 QBTU/yr with something that doesn’t add carbon to the carbon cycle. That sounds like a fun challenge. Who’s got ideas? Here are some:
- We installed 30 gigawatts of solar power in 2012 (~0.9 QBTU/yr). Not a huge amount, but growing and gaining lots of support. Anyone want to make it grow faster?
- Energy efficiency programs saved 40,000 GWh of electricity and 360 million therms of gas in 2011 (~0.04 QBTU/yr). Seems like this industry is ripe for disruption. Who wants a piece of the action?
- We sold 47.5k electric vehicles in 2013 (out of 82.8 million total sales). More than ever before, but still not enough. Are you looking for some massive scale?
The energy revolution will be the next Internet. The next Google will be an energy company. This is what will save us.
Daniel Roesler is the co-founder and CTO of UtilityAPI, a utility data startup in the SfunCube solar accelerator program. He is also a co-organizer of CleanwebSF, a meetup that showcases Bay Area cleanweb startups and innovators. Prior to UtilityAPI, Daniel was a project development engineer at a public-sector commercial solar and energy advisory firm.