imgNewTechIcon New Zero-Carbon

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, or other investment into new sources of energy supply such as thorium fission or nuclear fusion.
  • Note, this does not include new technologies in CO2 removal, transportation, electrification, or energy efficiency.

Big Message

  • The potential contribution of a new energy supply technology is severely hampered by the long amount of time it takes new technologies to scale up. Even under optimal conditions, it would take decades to displace fossil fuels, and actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Key Dynamics

  • Watch the orange area of New Zero-Carbon go up as a breakthrough in a new zero-carbon energy supply occurs in the “Global Sources of Primary Energy” graph. Notice that temperature drops only modestly. There are two reasons why:
    • First, notice it takes a long time for the new technology to grow and become a large part of the global energy mix. There is a long delay between discovery of the zero-carbon energy technology and its dominance in the market – 10 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. Watch how little Coal (brown area) and Natural Gas (dark blue area) go down before 2040. Because of this, very little carbon is kept underground during this critical period.
    • Second, look at the “Final Energy Consumption” graph. The reason the new zero-carbon technology grows quickly is that it is cheaper than all other energy supplies, so the abundance of inexpensive energy increases demand to higher than it would be otherwise.

Potential Co-Benefits of a Breakthrough in New Zero-Carbon

  • 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.

Equity Considerations

  • There are unknown consequences and risks associated with new energy sources, and oftentimes these technologies can end up being located in vulnerable communities.

Slider Settings

status quo breakthrough huge breakthrough
Breakthrough year no breakthrough 2022 2022
Time to commercialize 10 years 10 years
Initial cost relative to coal 2 1

Model Structure

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.

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