Perhaps the most notable of these – so far – has been the Ansari X Prize. The Ansari X Prize was a space competition in which the X Prize Foundation offered a US$10 million reward for the first non-government organization to launch the same reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. It was modeled after early 20th-century aviation prizes, and aimed to spur development of low-cost spaceflight. There is real brilliance in this idea, but in the specific terms of the prize, which prompted other competitors – each of whom spent far more than the prize money. The prize, claimed by Scaled Composites in 2004 for its Tier One project launched or accelerated a diverse portfolio of private space ventures, “spaceports”, and an industry now worth billions.
A June 7 op-ed, The Gas is Greener, by Robert Bryce in The New York Times is a sad example. Using rhetorical arguments and faulty calculations, Bryce argues that technologies such as wind and solar are somehow more environmentally destructive than natural gas and nuclear energy. This opinion is at odds with the findings of the several hundred analysts who developed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources released last month. It is also at odds with the community of nations who reviewed and endorsed the report and its finding that 17 to 77 percent of global energy needs could come from renewable energy by 2050.
So, what is the truth? Can we build this new energy economy?
So what to do?
Putting more energy in and money towards the manufacturing of innovative green technologies is key: exploiting the wind or sun without solar panels and turbines is like trying to catch fish without a net or rod. Africa is poised to manufacture the ‘nets’ for clean energy.
Is there any viable solution for energy today, what with tsunamis hitting nuclear plants, offshore rigs spewing oil, natural-gas wells leaking fracking fluids, and wind turbines killing birds? To unravel the confusion, we turned to physicist Dan Kammen. As the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley and lead author of numerous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, 49-year-old Kammen has long been one of the clearest thinkers on renewable energy. Now, as the man in charge of clean energy at the World Bank, he’s taking on the globe.
HIGHTOWER ALLEN: As The New York Times put it, you’re the World Bank’s “clean-energy czar.” What does that mean?
KAMMEN: Well, I hope I don’t end up the way some czars of old have. Their track record in Washington, D.C., hasn’t been great. Czars have either a lot of power or no power, depending on who you ask. The World Bank’s lending for renewables is, depending on what metric you use, 50 to 65 percent of its entire portfolio of energy lending. So it’s a big deal by itself.
When it comes to our energy future, what’s the greatest myth you have to contend with?