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Building 'Risky' Energy

6th Annual PESD Conference

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research/Gunn Building

366 Galvez Street, Stanford University

G7 leaders committed this summer to phasing out fossil fuels by the year 2100. Actually making good on commitments to decarbonize will require an energy supply mix that is very different from today’s. A number of sources of energy have significant potential in theory to reduce the carbon content of the global energy supply. These include nuclear power (fission and fusion), carbon capture and sequestration of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion, enhanced geothermal, methane hydrates, biofuels, wave or tidal power, solar thermal, and off-shore wind. However, these options are “risky” in the sense that their long-term economic and political viability is difficult to assess given current information.

This uncertainty comes from various sources. Prospective investors may be unable to determine the ultimate cost of deploying a technology at scale because not enough projects have been built. Public perceptions of the environmental impacts and health and safety risks of a technology may block such crucial early implementations—whether or not these perceptions are justified by data. The location of an energy resource and its characteristics may require the cooperation of multiple geographic and administrative jurisdictions if it is to achieve an efficient scale of production. Geopolitical factors or instability in countries possessing key energy resources or raw materials may make international coordination difficult.

These sources of uncertainty will need to be managed if we are to meet aggressive carbon targets. This conference seeks to identify the non-technological issues of today that are holding back development of the energy technologies of tomorrow and to discuss what policymakers can do right now to increase the likelihood that at least some of these technologies will be economically and politically viable in time. Experts in each of these technologies will be asked to address the following questions and to present policy strategies that historical experience with other technologies suggests might be effective in overcoming the various barriers:

  1. Where are there significant unexploited “learning-by-doing-effects” that could significantly reduce the cost of this technology so that it could compete with conventional technologies?
  2. What are the public perception issues with this technology that create significant political or legal barriers?
  3. Are there unresolved issues of inter-jurisdictional cooperation or basic regulatory capability that hinder the ability to deploy this technology in an efficient manner?
  4. Do international political risks limit the ability to deploy this technology efficiently?


Keynote Address:

Ten Uncomfortable Facts about Energy and the Environment

Doug Kimmelman, Senior Partner and Founder, Energy Capital Partners


Nuclear Power (Fission and Fusion)

Burton Richter, Former Director, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)


Carbon Capture and Sequestration

Mark Zoback, Stanford University


Solar and Wind Power

Frank O’Sullivan, MIT


Advanced Biofuels

Christopher Knittel, MIT


Geothermal Energy

Michal Moore, University of Calgary