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China Reportedly Plans Strict Goals to Save Energy

Published: March 4, 2011

Wu Hong/European Pressphoto Agency
Any energy policy moves by Beijing holds global implications, given that China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy and largest emitter of greenhouse gases. A Sinopec plant refines oil in Shandong Province.

HONG KONG — With oil prices at their highest level in more than two years because of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, the Chinese government plans to announce strict five-year goals for energy conservation in the next two weeks, China energy specialists said Friday.

Bejing’s emphasis on saving energy reflects concerns about national security and the effects of high fuel costs on inflation, China’s export competitiveness and the country’s pollution problems.

Any energy policy moves by Beijing hold global implications, given that China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy and largest emitter of greenhouse gases. And even the new efficiency goals assume that China’s overall energy consumption will grow, to meet the needs of the nation’s 1.3 billion people and its rapidly expanding economy.

As a net importer of oil, China tends to view its energy needs as a matter of national security. And so, even as Beijing tries to quell any signs of the Arab world’s social unrest striking a political chord with Chinese citizens, the government is also intent on not letting similar upheaval impinge on its energy needs.

Zhang Guobao, who was China’s longtime energy czar until his retirement in January and is still a power broker on energy issues, said Friday that China must undertake an “arduous” task to protect its security. “Oil security is the most important part of achieving energy security,” Mr. Zhang told the official Xinhua news agency. “Preparations for alternative energies should be made as soon as possible.”

China has placed a big bet on renewable energy, emerging as the world’s biggest and lowest-cost manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. But the country remains heavily reliant on coal for its electricity. And its oil imports are surging after auto sales have surpassed the American market in each of the last two years.

China has also moved ahead of the United States as the biggest buyer of oil and natural gas from Saudi Arabia, which has so far avoided social upheaval but is on Mideast analysts’ watch lists. That oil is shipped in tankers that travel along sea lanes controlled by India and the United States, which adds to Beijing’s jitters.

Iran, hardly a bastion of stability, is another large supplier of crude oil to China.

And while Russia in the current geopolitical context is looking like a relatively secure supplier of energy, a large pipeline to China from Russia, completed this winter, so far supplies only 3 percent of China’s crude oil.

An important feature of the five-year plan is its call to double the share of natural gas in Chinese energy consumption, to 8 percent in 2015 from 4 percent last year, according to Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the multilateral International Energy Agency in Paris. This will make China a natural buyer of large quantities of Russian gas, making it a competitor to Europe, which already relies heavily on gas from Russia.

According to an estimate by Wood Mackenzie, a global energy consulting firm, China imports nearly two-thirds of its oil and is on track to pass the United States in the percentage of imported oil this year. China was a net exporter as recently as 1992, before the demands of its economic boom created an insatiable energy appetite at home.

As part of its effort to curb oil demand, the Chinese government has already been pursuing an aggressive program to develop electric cars, although these would run at least initially on a national grid that still relies heavily on coal.

China aims to limit energy consumption in 2015 to four billion metric tons of coal or its equivalent in other fuels, Mr. Zhang said. An energy specialist in Beijing said that he had also been told the same figure by several people.

Even a goal of four billion metric tons of coal or its equivalent represents an annual increase of 4.24 percent from last year’s consumption of a little more than 3.2 billion tons.

No decisions have been made yet on how the almost entirely state-owned energy sector would allocate the limits by city, province or electric utility. This is already causing considerable anxiety within China, said the specialist, who insisted on anonymity because of the government’s sensitivity about goals that have not yet been announced.

“It’s a political target, it’s being taken without a lot of internal consultation,” he said, before adding a Chinese proverb to describe the unhappy reaction of power producers and users already briefed on the new policy: “It’s like a whole lot of ants are being thrown in a hot wok.”

The Chinese economy has repeatedly grown considerably faster than government forecasts. But the government has come much closer to its energy goals because it owns all of the electricity distribution systems. And it has controlling stakes in the oil, gas and electricity companies and many coal mining companies.

The last five year-plan, which ended on Dec. 31, called for the country to reduce by 20 percent the energy it used per renminbi of economic output in 2010, compared to 2005. To try meeting that goal, Beijing required the governments of every province and city to achieve 20 percent improvements. Local officials, in turn, set similar goals for the 200 largest companies in each province and city.

But China fell badly behind its goal in late 2009 and early last year. The government’s economic stimulus program, in response to the global financial crisis, produced huge spending on highways, high-speed rail lines and other infrastructure that required lots of steel and cement, which are energy-intensive to produce.

Premier Wen Jiabao responded last May by starting a national campaign to improve energy efficiency and soon vowed an “iron hand”to enforce compliance. By September, the government was ordering production lines to close at 2,000 factories.

The campaign reached extremes last autumn and early winter, with some town officials shutting off electricity and heat to businesses, homes and even hospitals in desperate bids to avoid censure for missing their goals.

Despite the measures, the government fell slightly short. Senior officials initially said in January that the country had “basically” met the 20 percent goal. But statistics issued since then show an improvement of only 19.1 percent over the last five years.

Meeting the new target of no more than four billion metric tons of coal or its equivalent will require further improvements in efficiency if the economy expands 7 percent a year in the coming years.

Much greater efficiency gains would be needed if the economy grows even faster, as most economists predict. The Chinese economy expanded 10.3 percent last year.

Mr. Wen and others for years have resisted setting total energy consumption goals and have only issued efficiency goals — precisely because overall consumption goals could require drastic measures to meet if the economy surges.

There was no immediate explanation available on Friday, other than troubles in the Arab world, for why the government had now decided to embrace an overall target.

The goals in China’s new five-year plan are consistent with the International Energy Agency’s “new policies” plan for climate change, a middle course that represents an improvement from current policies, Mr. Birol said. But he noted that the Chinese goals did not go far enough to meet what the agency considers necessary to prevent world temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, an increase that many scientists fear as potentially leading to very broad environmental changes.

Mr. Zhang and other Chinese officials have made little mention of climate change, which has ranked far behind energy security as a priority in Chinese policy making.

Zhou Yongkang, one of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee that runs China and the top law enforcement official of the Chinese Communist Party, is an oil engineer who spent most of his career rising to the top of the country’s oil industry. He retains considerable influence over energy policy even though his job now is crushing internal dissent.

Most recently, Mr. Zhou has overseen efforts to round up dissidents and make sure that the “Jasmine Revolution” does not spread from the Arab region to China. Premier Wen and other top officials have also warned recently that rising prices for many commodities pose a threat to social stability.


Vinod Khosla thinks most venture capitalists are being too cautious with their green investments. But is his own approach too risky?

Mar 10th 2011 | from the print edition

“ENVIRONMENTALISTS are fiddling while Rome burns,” says Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture-capital firm. “They get in the way with silly stuff like asking people to walk more, drive less. That is an increment of 1-2% change. We need 1,000% change if billions of people in China and India are to enjoy a Western, energy-rich lifestyle.” Forget today’s green technologies like electric cars, wind turbines, solar cells and smart grids, in other words. None meets what Mr Khosla calls the “Chindia price”—the price at which people in China and India will buy them without a subsidy. “Everything’s a toy until it reaches that point,” he says.

Mr Khosla has a different plan to save the planet. He is investing over $1 billion of his clients’ money in “black swans”—ideas with the potential for sudden jumps in technology that promise huge environmental benefits, easy scalability and rapid payback. The catch? Mr Khosla expects nine out of ten of his investments to fail.

“I am only interested in technologies that have a 90% chance of failure but, if they do succeed, would change the infrastructure of society in some radical way,” he says. Khosla Ventures’ portfolio reads like an eco-utopian wish-list: non-polluting nuclear reactors; diesel from microbes; carbon-negative cement; quantum batteries; and a system for extracting methane from coal while it is still underground.

“Any one of these things is improbable but, if you have enough shots on goal, then it’s very likely that something improbable will win,” he says. “Ten years ago, no analyst in the world would have predicted 650m cellphone subscribers in India but only 300m people with access to latrines and toilets. Even five years ago, no one would have predicted the way that Twitter took off. These are the black swan outliers.” Mr Khosla is keen to point out that he has caught a black swan before. In the mid-1990s, when working for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture-capital firm, he invested $3m in Juniper Networks, a company making telecoms gear based on internet standards.

“At the time, every major telecommunications company told us that they would never switch to internet systems,” says Mr Khosla. Within just a few years, the internet boom had netted Kleiner Perkins a $7 billion return on its Juniper investment. Now Mr Khosla is gambling that venture capital can work similar magic in the field of clean technology. His approach is that of a pragmatic businessman rather than an eco-warrior. “I don’t view climate change as a moral thing. I view it as a risk, no different from nuclear proliferation, terrorism or national defence,” he says. “Business is used to buying insurance, and this is insurance that it is imperative we buy.”

These high-tech insurance policies come in many flavours. Mr Khosla has invested in companies that promise ultra-efficient air conditioning using hypersonic vortices or desiccant chemicals. He is funding the commercialisation of low-power lighting, next-generation solar cells and super-strong building materials. But, like the environmentalists he scorns, Mr Khosla puts most of his energy into seeking alternatives to traditional fossil fuels.

“We remain primarily a gasoline-driven consumer economy,” he says. “I’m happy to see the price of oil going up, as it will incentivise us to replace fossil fuels.” Mr Khosla has invested in several biotechnology companies that aim to condense the multi-million-year process of creating oil from plant life into a matter of hours. Amyris, which was floated on the NASDAQ exchange last autumn, is using genetically engineered organisms to turn plant sugars into a precursor of diesel.

Never tell me the odds

Another start-up, KiOR, is hoping to go one step further, converting cellulosic biomass (such as waste wood and leaves) into a crude oil replacement called Re-Crude. Fans of cellulosic biofuels hope that they can produce ethanol without competing with food crops for agricultural land. According to Mr Khosla, KiOR can produce Re-Crude in America today for less than $90 a barrel. “Three years ago, I would have said that there was a 90% chance of KiOR failing. But these things aren’t predictable. Forecasting is based on assumptions, and technology changes those assumptions,” says Mr Khosla. “I never compute returns. If you start forecasting cash flows, you lose innovation, you lose instinct. You average yourself down to mediocrity.”

No one is likely to accuse Mr Khosla of that. At the age of 20 he launched a soya-milk company in his home city of Delhi, targeting the multitudes in India who did not own a refrigerator. When it failed he moved to America to study biomedical engineering and business. In 1982 he co-founded Sun Microsystems, a maker of powerful workstation computers. After the company’s initial public offering (IPO) in 1986, Mr Khosla left to become a venture capitalist. At Kleiner Perkins, Mr Khosla was involved in the early financing of Nexgen, an innovative chipmaker, and Excite, a search engine. He also had some high-profile flops, including Dynabook, a company that designed a tablet computer 20 years before the Apple iPad but proved unable to bring it to market.

“I’ve had many more failures than successes in my life,” admits Mr Khosla. “My willingness to fail gives me the ability to succeed.” His next move was characteristically unpredictable: he temporarily moved his family to India. “I wanted to see if I could have a social impact,” he says. “I quickly realised that any non-profit activity I could do would be no more than a drop in the ocean. Most non-profit organisations are completely ineffective. That’s when I decided that I needed to look for scalable solutions, which meant self-propagating solutions, which meant capitalist solutions. Proving the capitalist tool as a solution for poverty is high on my priority list.”

Mr Khosla put several million dollars into SKS, a for-profit microfinance company. Although India’s booming microfinance industry has since attracted criticism (and even government action) for its high interest rates and aggressive debt-collection practices, Mr Khosla is adamant that its benefits outweigh any ills. “Millions of people now have access to financial services,” he says. “That’s more social than any non-profit thing I could have done. And guess what? In the process, I made $100m. You never know when something you’re trying to be radical on will make you money.”

If Mr Khosla is unapologetic about making money while helping some of the world’s poorest people, he is equally outspoken when it comes to the environmental movement in the West. “Wind projects are a waste of time. And the reality is that electric cars today are coal-powered cars, because the USA and much of Europe have mostly coal-based electricity,” he says. “Environmentalists use artificial rates of return, buried assumptions and ‘what if’ assumptions about behaviour changes. It’s useless crap.”

This sort of talk does not exactly endear Mr Khosla to environmentalists. “The solution to our energy problems is almost the exact opposite of what Khosla says,” declares Joseph Romm, who is the editor ofClimate Progress, an influential climate blog, and a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress Action Fund, a think-tank. “Technology breakthroughs are unlikely to be the answer. Accelerated deployment of existing technologies will get you down the cost curve much more rapidly than a breakthrough.”

But Mr Khosla is standing behind his black swans. “We fool ourselves into thinking that if 5% of San Franciscans or rich Germans can afford a technology, then it’s getting market traction. But only when an electric car can compete with a Tata Nano will you achieve scale, and that requires radical innovations in battery technology,” he says, referring to the world’s cheapest production car. Accordingly, Khosla Ventures is funding several energy-storage systems, including high-efficiency solid-state batteries that sidestep the safety problems with today’s lithium-ion cells.

It’s all about diversification, says Mr Khosla: “We’ll try half a dozen batteries. If other people try 30 more, only one has to work to completely change society.” Whether other investors will be prepared to take similar gambles on blue-sky technologies remains to be seen.

Going it alone

Although Khosla Ventures’ two funds are fully subscribed, and have invested about $1.3 billion in over 40 companies, billions more dollars and many more start-ups will be needed to hatch a flock of black swans. Mr Khosla estimates that the amount of investment required to replace all the petrol consumed in America with renewable fuels will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. But other high-tech venture capitalists seem to be steering clear of risky green investments.

“I would love to say that Vinod is starting a trend,” says Steve Westly, another venture capitalist focusing on green technology. “But no. Not everybody has the courage to do that. Even here in Silicon Valley, people find it hard to understand that if you think big, you’re going to have some failures.” Mr Khosla thinks other investors will come round to his way of thinking eventually. “The climate will change as soon as we have a Netscape moment. When we have an IPO where people see they can make a billion dollars, everyone will start to invest.”

But Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, whose IPO kicked off the internet boom, thinks Silicon Valley investors will prefer to stick to information technology. He has even promised that his latest venture-capital fund will avoid “clean, green, energy and electric cars”. He argues that clean-tech is a very different field. “Moving from IT ventures to green technologies is nearly impossible, except for rare and extraordinary individuals like Vinod,” he says. “He has put years into becoming a master of the field, but it’s not the entire Valley deciding to move into clean-tech.” Mr Khosla’s mentor at Kleiner Perkins, John Doerr, has expressed concern over his own company’s green investments and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and a partner at the Founders Fund, has said that clean-tech companies “for a variety of reasons don’t work”.

Facing both industry scepticism and the ire of environmentalists, Mr Khosla decided to engage Tony Blair, a former British prime minister, who joined Khosla Ventures last year as a senior adviser. The idea is that Mr Blair can provide a more diplomatic public face for the company, and he also brings global clout.

Mr Khosla, who clearly likes to see himself as a green iconoclast and financial maverick, is either very foolish or very clever. But at this point it is difficult to say which. “I try a lot of new things,” he says. “It’s fun to play the game and fun to play the odds—and long odds win a lot of fun.” Mr Khosla’s cold-blooded view of the economics of environmentalism has certainly ruffled some feathers. But if he turns out to be right, his quest for clean-tech black swans could be exactly what the planet needs.

from the print edition | Technology Quarterly

Brain scan

Betting on green


BP Says World Energy Demand to Increase 40% by 2030, led by China, India, Brazil

By Lananh Nguyen, Bloomberg - Jan 19, 2011 9:02 PM GMT+0800

BP Plc said global energy use will rise by almost 40 percent by 2030, led by demand from ChinaIndia, Russia, Brazil and other emerging economies.

Global energy demand growth is forecast to average 1.7 percent a year to 2030, the London-based company said in its Energy Outlook 2030 report, which estimates energy trends for the next 20 years.

Demand will rise at a faster pace in emerging economies outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with annual average growth of 2.6 percent by 2030, BP said.

“Non-OECD Asia will account for nearly two-thirds of non-OECD consumption growth over the next 20 years and more than three-quarters of the net global increase, rising by nearly 13 million barrels a day,” BP Chief Economist Christof Ruehl said in an e-mailed press release.


Hunting for Methane (+ Fun Explosions) [VIDEO]

The release of methane from underneath Arctic ice is expected to be a major issue in coming years as permafrost melts (if we don’t act to stop climate change soon). Methane is about 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 100-year time period and about 72 times more potent over a 20-year time period. As the National Science Foundation has noted: “ Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”

Dr Joe Romm also noted: “Methane release from the not-so-perma-frost is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle.”


Going “All The Way” With Renewable Energy?

Political will seen as main green power obstacle, but practical issues remain.

Bagged neodymium in a factory.

Photograph by Nelson Ching, Bloomberg/Getty Images

Worldwide production of the rare earth mineral neodymium would have to quintuple to supply the millions of wind turbines needed to power a 100 percent renewable future, two researchers say. They view political will as a bigger stumbling block than any materials bottleneck.

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visitThe Great Energy Challenge.

In a world where fossil fuel provides more than 80 percent of energy, what would it take to go completely green? Could the world switch over to power from only the wind, sun, waves, and heat from the Earth in only a few decades?

The question seems a fanciful one, when world leaders are stymied over proposals for far less dramatic cuts in the carbon dioxide emissions from global burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. But two U.S. researchers, a transportation expert and an atmospheric scientist, decided the time had come to apply blue-sky thinking to one of the world's greatest challenges.

"We wanted to show that wind, water, and solar power are available to meet demand, indefinitely," says study co-author Mark Delucchi, of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis. He and Mark Jacobson of the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford University began to tally the build-out that would be needed to supply renewable energy for all the world's factories, homes, and offices, as well as all transport—cars, planes, and ships.

Their argument that such a revolution was both possible and affordable by 2030, first explored as a thought piece published in Scientific American before the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, is detailed in a study published last month in the journal Energy Policy.

Steel, Concrete, and Minerals

Delucchi and Jacobson estimate that a drive for 100 percent renewable energy would require a massive building binge. For instance, the world would need nearly 4 million wind turbines, and they'd be big ones—rated at 5 megawatts (MW). That's two or three times the capacity of the majority of turbines on the market; 5 MW turbines were an innovation introduced offshore in Germany in 2006, and China just built its first 5 MW wind turbine last year.

The pair estimate that the world would need 90,000 large-scale solar plants, each with a capacity of about 300 MW—both those that rely on photovoltaic panels that make electricity directly, and concentrated solar power plants that focus the sun's rays to boil water to drive electric generators. At present, fewer than three dozen such utility-scale solar plants are in operation worldwide; most are far smaller.

And the big solar systems wouldn't displace the need for rooftop power; the researchers estimate a need for 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt solar PV systems as well. Think of that as one rooftop PV system for every four people on the planet.

Building all these new turbines, solar panels, and other infrastructure would eat up plenty of steel, concrete, and other resources. However, Jacobson and Delucchi concluded there are no significant economic or environmental constraints on the production of bulk materials such as concrete and steel, so they examined more closely the needs for less common materials.

The main bottleneck, they argue, could be the production of rare earth metals such as neodymium, which is often used in making magnets.

To build all the electric generators to go into the millions of wind turbines they envision, worldwide production of neodymium would have to more than quintuple. But there should be enough neodymium available, the study argues, since current world reserves of the element are about six times larger than needed.

(Related: "Replacing Oil Addiction With Metals Dependence?"

There are also ways around this bottleneck, Delucchi and Jacobson argue. Other types of magnets could be used in turbines, and rare earth metals could be recycled. No such recycling program exists today.

The researchers insist that none of the obstacles is great enough to block a path to fully renewable power by 2030. They do allow that it would be more feasible to stop building new power plants and vehicles that burn fossil fuels by 2030, and then replace the existing plants gradually to reach 100 percent green energy by 2050.

(Related: "Warming Solution: Just Stop Cold?")

"Technically you can do it," Jacobson says. "It really depends on will power."

Leaving Out Biofuel

In forging their road map for a fossil-free future, the researchers make their job all the more difficult by leaving out biomass, the renewable that currently owns the greatest share of the world energy mix. Due to the undesirable air pollution and land-use impacts of ethanol and biodiesel, they built their vision for a 100 percent renewable future without them. And due to concerns about waste disposal and proliferation, they also left out carbon-free electricity generation by nuclear power, which currently provides about 6 percent of world energy.

The world is far from on track to a biomass-free renewable future. Today, all renewables provide just 13 percent of world energy supply, and that share slips to 3 percent if biomass is left out, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) 2010 World Energy Outlook.

If nations live up to the broad policy commitments they have made to reduce greenhouse gases—and that is by no means a given—the IEA projects those non-biomass renewables will rise to just 7 percent by 2035. With more aggressive action on climate change and promotion of renewables, the IEA projects that share would increase to just 11 percent. "Large-scale government support is needed to make renewables cost-competitive with other energy sources and technologies," the IEA concluded.

But Delucchi and Jacobson maintain that with the expected decline in renewable technology costs, the cost of what they call a "100 percent WWS" system—wind, water and solar—would be similar to that of the energy-delivery system today.

Shifting Winds

"The real challenge is matching supply with demand," Jacobson says. Heavy reliance on wind, which would provide half of world power in the researchers' scenario, and solar, which would contribute 40 percent, could risk reliability of the system, because of the variability of the winds and skies. But the authors say that can be largely addressed through interconnection of the system and by taking advantage of how the different renewables can work together.

"Wind and solar are very complementary," Jacobson says. "When the wind isn't blowing, you usually have a clear, sunny day. And vice versa—when there's less sunlight on a cloudy day, it's usually windy."

Geothermal systems that harness heat stored underground, and machines for harnessing energy in ocean waves and tides, would make a smaller contribution than wind and sun in the Delucchi-Jacobson scenario—about 6 percent of world energy. But because these forms are more consistent, they would help make the system more reliable.

(Related: "Can Geothermal Energy Pick Up Real Steam?"

Hydroelectric dams would also pitch in to provide about 4 percent of world energy—but because the authors believe that most of the best spots for dams are already taken, they don't envision anything nearly like the expansion they see for solar and wind.

Also aiding in the reliability of a system running completely on wind, water, and solar power, the authors say, is that it would need about a third less energy than a fossil-fired system. "It's mostly because of the conversion from combustion engines," like those in cars, Jacobson says, "to electric motors, which are much more efficient."

This study is far from the first to look at the tricky problem of integrating renewables. Sarah Barber, a mechanical engineer who specializes in wind turbines at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, says that because of the variability of renewables, "the energy peaks need to be balanced out, requiring a more modern [electrical] grid."

She notes that Delucchi and Jacobson included in their estimates an updated grid and various forms of energy storage.

"It's relieving to see some serious studies being done on the actual feasibility of installing renewable energy systems," Barber says. "Studies such as this one should help clear up some question marks."

Still, the nitty gritty of making it work can be complicated. "Energy dips need to be quickly covered," Barber says, "such as with hydro pumps, as in Switzerland," which can store electricity by pumping it uphill, into reservoirs. Around the world, electric power systems that have added significant amounts of renewable energy to the grid require both costly and creative solutions. These run the gamut from batteries to far more complex electricity-management systems.

(Read about some of these efforts here: "Texas Pioneers Energy Storage in Giant Battery" and "Frozen Fish Help Reel in Germany's Wind Power")

Replacing the internal combustion engine as rapidly as the authors envision would require a sea change, with all-electric cars just hitting the market now, and current projections that even by 2020 they will make up well under 10 percent of global auto sales.

(Related: "Rev Up Your Motors, Electric Cars Zip into View")

Daniel Kammen, the World Bank's chief technical specialist for renewable energy and energy efficiency, says that works like the Delucchi-Jacobson paper are useful because they add to the growing literature of low- and no-carbon scenarios.

"This paper is one such study that highlights the potential of renewables, without dealing with the details of a realistic energy generation and delivery systems," says Kammen, who is founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California Berkeley. "As in many things, the devil is in the details. At present, we far from having 100 percent of energy from renewables—or even a majority of energy from renewables. This paper provides a useful accounting of the renewable energy resources without getting into the workings of a realistic energy systems."

The world is in need of a more detailed transition document that lays out "how we are going to make a zero-carbon world function," says Kammen, an adviser to National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge initiative. He says much such work is now under way around the world.