Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bill Gates in Rolling Stone on Controlling Carbon Emissions and Nuclear Energy

Bill Gates
If you've got an interest in Bill Gates and his involvement in the nuclear startup TerraPower, we suggest you take a look at the interview the Microsoft founder did with Rolling Stone that was published earlier this week:
Like cut carbon emissions fast.

Yes, but people need energy. It's a gigantic business. The main thing that's missing in energy is an incentive to create things that are zero-CO2-emitting and that have the right scale and reliability characteristics.

It leads to your interest in nuclear power, right?

If you could make nuclear really, really safe, and deal with the economics, deal with waste, then it becomes the nirvana you want: a cheaper solution with very little CO2 emissions. If we don't get that, you've got a problem. Because you are not going to reduce the amount of energy used. For each year between now and 2100, the globe will use more energy. So that means more CO2 emissions every year. TerraPower, which is the nuclear-energy company that I'm backing, required a very long time to get the right people together, it required computer modeling to get the right technology together, and even now it's going to require the U.S. government to work with whatever country decides to build a pilot project – China, maybe. In a normal sort of private market, that project probably wouldn't have emerged. It took a fascination with science, concern about climate change and a very long-term view. Now, I'm not saying it's guaranteed to be successful, although it's going super, super well, but it's an example of an innovation that might not happen without the proper support.

Nuclear power has failed to fulfill its promises for a variety of economic and technical reasons for 40 years. Why continue investing in nuclear power instead of, say, cheap solar and energy storage?

Well, we have a real problem, and so we should pursue many solutions to the problem. Even the Manhattan Project pursued both the plutonium bomb and the uranium bomb – and both worked! Intermittent energy sources [like wind and solar] . . . yeah, you can crank those up, depending on the quality of the grid and the nature of your demand. You can scale that up 20 percent, 30 percent and, in some cases, even 40 percent. But when it comes to climate change, that's not interesting. You're talking about needing factors of, like, 90 percent.

But you can't just dismiss renewables, can you?

Solar is much, much harder than people think it is. When the sun shines, electricity is going to be worth zero, so all the money will be reserved for the guy who brings you power when there's no wind and no sun. There are some interesting things on the horizon along those lines. There's one called solar chemical. It's very nascent, but it comes with a built-in storage solution, because you actually secrete hydrocarbons. We're investing probably one-twentieth of what we should in that. There's another form of solar called solar thermal, which is cool because you can store heat. Heat's not easy to store, but it's a lot easier to store than electricity.
For more on Gates and his vision for the world's energy future, check out this TedTalk from 2010.

Bill Gates photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil.


jimwg said...

Re: "...If you could make nuclear really, really safe,"

Gee whiz, Billy, how much safer you gotta get in the real world?? You can pack all the nuclear plant fatalities there ever were worldwide over 50 years on one Greyhound Bus. You really want to get into what you'd need to haul all the victims of fossil fuel accidents -- never mind the routine daily pollution effect victims? Stop cluelessly fanning FUD of misperceptions and start hawking nuclear (even in self-intertest) like you did Windows! Granted, you're no nuclear Carl Sagan but do put those billions where your mouth is -- in mass media ads, please!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

SteveK9 said...

Jim, he wants a reason why what he is doing is so much better ... that is how he hawked Windows.

In a lot of ways TerraPower sounds like a really bad idea. It is not new ... 'candle' reactors were discussed in the 1960's, and leaving the fuel in place for 60 years ... at least some experts think this sounds difficult.

If you want a fast-metal-breeder reactor, the sodium reactors, Russian BN series (built) and GE's Prism (designed) are already there. Hard to see exactly what TerraPower is doing that is so interesting.