Discover a brand-new cheap source of electricity that does not emit greenhouse gases. Some speculate that such a breakthrough could be nuclear fusion or thorium-based nuclear fission. Decide when the breakthrough occurs, its initial cost relative to coal, and how long the delays in commercialization and scale up would be.
- Research and development into new technologies such as thorium fission or fusion.
- Government or corporate investments into new technologies.
|status quo||breakthrough||huge breakthrough|
|Breakthrough year||no breakthrough||2022||2022|
|Initial cost relative to coal||1||0.5|
Watch new technology (orange line) spike up as a breakthrough in a new zero carbon energy supply occurs in the “Sources of Primary Energy” graph. Notice that temperature drops only modestly. There are two reasons why:
- First, watch how little the coal and natural gas lines go down before 2065. Because of this, very little carbon is kept underground during a critical period. There is a long delay between discovery of the zero-carbon energy technology and its dominance in the market – 12 years to commercialize, several years to plan and build, and then growing only as existing coal and natural gas plants (which have a lifetime of 30 years) are retired.
- Next, look at the “Final Energy Consumption” graph. The reason the new technology grows so fast is that it is cheaper than all other energy supplies. The abundance of inexpensive energy increases demand to higher than it would be otherwise, which consumes some of the savings brought by a lower carbon energy supply.
- New technology does not exist, and if a new technology was developed, it would take too long for it to scale up to help significantly in the short horizon we have to keep temperature low.
The path to deployment will take some time after the success of the technology in the laboratory: commercialization (set at 10 years, roughly the same amount of time that Uranium-based fission took), planning (2 years) and construction (5 years). Then the new energy source must compete with other energy sources.
Potential Co-Benefits of a Breakthrough¶
- A breakthrough in a new energy sources would create jobs along the supply chain from research and development to construction to operations.
- Research advancements in new technologies may be useful for other applications.
- There are unknown consequences and risks associated with new energy sources.