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Energy Seminar | Sally Benson Arun Majumdar David Fedor

Energy Seminar | Sally Benson Arun Majumdar David Fedor


PRESENTER: So today, we
have a rare, unusual treat. We have the two
precourt directors in a panel with noted Hoover
Energy Task Force energy expert David Fedor moderating. I would say this is
unusual because it’s unusual for both
of the co-directors to be in town at the
same time, let alone be in town and at the same place
at exactly the same moment. So I personally am
very grateful for that, and I think they
are anxious to talk to the campus and the global
energy community basking in the glow of a very
successful Global Energy Forum back in early November,
I think it was. So they’re going
to talk to us today through David’s moderation
about the future of energy here at Stanford and
around the world. So, David, take it away. DAVID FEDOR: Thanks,
everyone for coming to the energy seminar. John, how long has
the energy seminar been going on here at Stanford? JOHN: Let’s see. 2, 6, 11 years, 12 years. DAVID FEDOR: At least, yeah. PRESENTER: Something
like that, yeah. DAVID FEDOR: So I’m at
the Hoover Institution. My research analyst there,
I work with George Shultz on energy policy issues. And I’ve known Arun and
Sally for a while now. Previously, I was an
undergrad here at Stanford. I was studying the
Earth systems program, and that’s where I got
interested in energy. So you know, when I think
about energy today, that’s where I start, sort of 10,
12, 15 years ago at what my boss calls an inflection
point in energy in the US in terms of technology and
awareness of different issues around policy, climate,
things like that. And so, you know, today,
I’d like to talk about, with Arun and Sally, where we
are on energy as a country, and sort of how Stanford has
played into that conversation, and how it’s doing that
today, where we’re going next. To introduce them
briefly, they are co-directors of the Stanford
Precourt Institite for Energy. Sally was formerly at
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab where she was Deputy
Director of Operations. Came to Stanford
in 2007, and she’s a geohydrologist by
training, and worked later to direct Stanford’s Global
Climate Energy Project, GCEP. About the time that Sally
was coming to Stanford, Arun, you were also over at
LBNL across the Bay and a professor at Berkeley. Later went into government
as the founding director of ARPA-E, Advanced Research
Projects Agency for Energy, under the Obama
1.0 administration working with Secretary Chu. Later, went to work for some
of Google’s energy initiatives before joining us here
at Stanford as well. And you’re now in the Department
of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Is that right? ARUN MAJUMDAR: That’s right. DAVID FEDOR: So we’ll
come back to, I think, both those issues, GCEP and
ARPA-E and the relationship to Stanford, but let me
take you back to my life as an undergrad and the
issues that I saw with energy then and under the George
W. Bush administration early in the mid-2000s, and
to set the context for, I think, what has happened
in energy since then, because I think,
really, I’ve had a step change in this country
in the past dozen years or so, and the role
that Stanford has played in delivering that to today. So what did we think
about back then when we thought about energy? We thought about, I
think first, top of mind, early 2000s was really access
to energy and a lack of energy. I mean, I think we were
genuinely concerned that we would not have
enough energy to go around. We had very intelligent
and honorable men and women arguing about peak
oil theories, not just in the US, looking at the peak
of oil production in 1970 here, but for the whole world. Of course, now,
if you look back, that seems kind of silly when
our oil production has well exceeded what we had in 1970. Prices were through the roof. Natural gas was reaching
$12 or $13 per million BTU, and I think today, in the US,
it’s about $3 per million BTU. That was mostly a fossil
energy story, oil and gas. You know, oil and
gas is about 80%, 81% of the world’s energy use. That’s true today. That was true 10 years ago. That was true 20 years ago. That was true 30 years ago. Oil and gas has been about 80%
of our total primary energy supply, so that was a
lot of what was happening underneath the ground. The National Petroleum
Council had an industry report called “Facing the
Hard Truths on Energy” where they argued that the US
was in a very precarious place in its energy supply situation. And it’s something
we need to change or we’d be really
beholden to imports. And then there was the
issue of energy access for the developing world,
getting that billion plus people who
don’t have access to modern, clean energy on
the grid using clean fuels. And I think of those
issues of energy access, you could say sort
of the price issue and the peak oil issue
has been addressed, but the energy access
issue really has not. There’s a lot to be done
there, and maybe Sally could come back to that later
to get your views on that. The second issue I
would flag is the idea of international
competitiveness for the United States and energy technology. I think there was really
a feeling in the mid-2000s that the US might be falling
behind in our ability to produce the advanced
technologies we needed to compete with
China, even with Europe. And this extended into energy. The National Academy
put out a study called “Rising Above the
Gathering Storm” in 2005, which reflected
a lot of these concerns about the US falling behind on
education in key technologies. There is some dispute
over how true that was, but that ultimately
led to something called the America
Competes Act, which was the founding charter for
RPE, which Arun later led. So maybe you have some
commentary on that history and how that plays with
the university ecosystem. Then there was climate. I think, today, we talk
about energy and climate as sort of first in
mind, and I intentionally put it third on
my list, you know, looking back 10 or
15 years, because it was growing as a
concern but it wasn’t the number one focusing issue. Science was clearly
progressing beyond, I think, the policy world’s
acknowledgment this is going to be a key issue. It was progressing beyond
general public attitudes and media. You know, it was still common
you’d read a New York Times story, it would
mention climate change, and it’d be sort of
a he said, she said. You know, scientists say
this but this guy says that. We’re not really sure
what’s happening. And there was more
uncertainty back then, but there was a
feeling that this was going to become more and
more central to the energy story going ahead. And people at Stanford
played a big role in that. Folks like Steve Schneider
who was one of my professors back then. He was really one
of the early people both involved in the science of
climate change and in the idea of how you can communicate
that to the general public, to policymakers who really
advocated for scientists– not necessarily
advocating for policies, but advocating for their
own research as opposed to letting someone else
just sort of read the paper and decide what it meant,
but to actually engage. But he was very careful
in how he did that. I can recall I took
a seminar with him and Hurricane Katrina
hit New Orleans. And Steve had gone on Letterman
to talk about the impact on rising seas and hurricanes
and was this all due to climate change? And he played a
clip for us, and you know, Letterman kind of
egged him on to say, yes. This was all due
to climate change. That’s why we need
these policy changes. And he came back and he
said, well, you know, I feel bad about that. I went a little
bit beyond what I felt I was comfortable
with on the science and what it really
showed, because that’s what I wanted to believe. Today, you know, that science
is probably stronger on that, but he felt like,
at the time, he wanted to be careful
to keep the credibility of the scientific community
as they sort of learn and set these ground rules
for how they’re going to gauge on
the policy issue, and that really started
to affect energy as well. Just a couple other folks
at Stanford, Chris Field, who founded the Carnegie
Institute’s Center for Global Ecology, was very influential
in some of the early IPCC work on this and in the
science of understanding how elevated carbon
dioxides affect ecosystems around the world, including some
work over at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. BP– Lord Browne, when he was
heading BP in the late ’90s, gave a very influential
speech at Stanford where it was basically the
beginning of BP’s Beyond Petroleum branding
and the idea they were going to have to move
beyond their bread and butter, oil and gas. And later, Lee
Raymond for ExxonMobil spoke on that as
well at Stanford, acknowledging some of the
role of human activity in climate change,
which led to GCEP. And maybe Sally, you could
tell us some about history and how that relates to today. Finally, there was
the Kyoto Protocol. And I would say, at the
time, that climate was not a particularly partisan issue. The Senate had
sort of voted 97-0 to say Kyoto negotiations
are going on. Don’t bring us back a treaty
where the developing country doesn’t have goals. We won’t even vote on it. And ultimately, even
though the US signed it, it was never even
brought before the Senate because there just wasn’t
really enough buy-in yet and comfort with the
idea in Washington, and that’s something that’s
changing today as well. Last, I would say,
cutting over that, looking at the issues
on energy in that era was the policy question,
sort of cross cuts. From my perspective
as an undergrad, I saw how economists
at Stanford were really early movers in
the policy analysis world on energy and climate. They had a background in doing
natural resource economics. Folks here like
Larry Goulder, really world experts in
thinking about things like pricing emissions, carbon
taxes versus cap and trade. He continues to be
active in that today. I don’t know if Larry’s
in the room now. Or John over here with his
energy modeling forum group at Stanford, which
for many years, has brought together modelers
for environmental and economic systems to ask policy questions
and to give factor of analysis. California was
starting to engage in a lot of climate policy
issues, energy policy issues. The Pavley Bill vehicle
efficiency standards in 2002, AB 32 in 2006, folks
like Jim Sweeney over here were influential in advising
some of the California policymakers on sort of
better and worse ways to approach some of these
early climate policies. Than we have folks today
like Katharine Mach, who was, I think, a PhD student in
the [INAUDIBLE] program. And I was an undergrad here
and some of these climate issues were coming up,
and in the past few years and here at Stanford
today, been extremely influential in guiding some of
that policy and science going forward. So you know, I go back in time
to sort of give a sense to some of the undergrad
or grad students here, the ways in which
these questions have evolved, and to give a sense
that people at Stanford have engaged on this
in a very broad way. Energy goes from
physicists at SLAC who are looking at
molecular interactions to folks like myself at the
other far end who are thinking about how policymakers
prioritize their constituency’s concerns about energy and
climate issues broadly. And there are a lot
of ways to engage. You know, I think people
can feel helpless sometimes about energy and
particularly climate issues, but I would urge you
to think of the ways that Stanford students
and professors have been constructive in this space
over the past 10 or 15 years, and really defining a new era
in energy and climate technology in the United States, and how
they continue to do that today. So maybe I’ll turn
to Sally and Arun and let them talk for
the rest of this session. But, you know, Sally, we talked
about GCEP and some of the ways in which climate concerns were
coming into energy R&D space. How would you describe sort
of that history of GCEP, and then 15 years ago,
the way we thought about these issues versus
how we think about them today at Stanford? SALLY M. BENSON: OK. Well since you went
back to the mid-2000s, I’m actually going to take us
back a little earlier in time. I think I’m going to start
out in the mid-1970s, which is the first time I ever
got any awareness of energy. And I was living
in the Bay Area, and this was the
first energy crisis where conflict in
the Middle East led to a severe shortage of
petroleum in the United States. And it was really, really bad. If you wanted gasoline, you had
to get it only every other day, and the lines to get
gasoline was huge. And back then,
everyone was driving cars that maybe got eight
miles to the gallon or 10 miles to the gallon. I mean, really,
really incredible. And so that was really a
wake up call to everybody that there was something
fundamentally wrong, and the price of oil shot up,
I think, like three times. And that’s a huge shock when
you think about the fact that usually, energy takes
about 10% of the economy. And if you take something
that’s that important then all of a sudden you bump
that up triple, you know, all of a sudden, you
can set off a recession. So in response to
that, the government decided to make a big
push in the investment in a couple of things. One was in the area
of renewable energy, and the other one
was to try to make the United States more
self-sufficient in oil and gas resources. So I’ll say a little bit
about Stanford at that time. Stanford had then and still has
today a world-class petroleum engineering department. And it was called
Petroleum Engineering then, and some of the
most famous names were busy working trying to make
so you could get more oil out of the ground by things like
in-situ combustion or steam flooding. And really, the epicenter
of a lot of that innovation was here at Stanford. But at the same time,
it was recognized, well, we could use
renewable resources. And so really influential
people like Dick Swanson, who then went on
to make SunPower, had started to work
on solar energy. And people like Roland Horne,
one of the world’s leaders in geothermal energy, was also
here at Stanford in the 1970s and began a
geothermal conference that still goes on to this day. So that was really a
huge push, emphasis on increased reliability of
hydrocarbons and renewables, diversify your suppliers. And Stanford was a major
player in both of those. And at the same time,
energy efficiency, the importance of that,
especially in California, became paramount. And so people like Jim Sweeney
became very heavily involved with the state, and
as we heard about, started to really make it
so that California became the first state to
decouple its energy use with economic growth, and
that was really seminal work. So all that went on, but
then all of a sudden, the price of oil went down. And all of a sudden, everybody
stopped paying any attention to things like reliability
of oil supplies, and oh, by the way, renewables
are way too expensive, and they were really expensive. Solar might have been
$100 a watt back then. So a lot of that work
kind of went into hiatus. And Stanford and many other
universities around the United States basically
slowly, I guess, divested perhaps from
having such a strong focus on energy research. But then fast forward, we find
ourselves in, again, rapidly rising oil prices, the
US now in even a greater situation with
regard to shortages of its own domestic oil supply. And at the same
time, as you heard, climate started to
become a real issue. And it’s like, wow, how
are we going to provide all the energy we need? How do we address
the climate problem, and how do we do that in a
secure and affordable way? So that’s when GCEP, the Global
Climate and Energy Project, came along. And Professor Lynn
Orr, who was then the Dean of the School
of Earth, Energy, and– well what was then the
School of Earth Sciences, got together with faculty
from across the campus and they said, we
think we really need to do something to jump
start this next wave of energy innovation. You know, we need
decarbonized energy products and we need reliable supplies. So very fortuitously,
in 2002, through a lot of hard work of
many people, they were able to partner with four
companies, so very interesting. It was ExxonMobil,
General Electric, Toyota, and Schlumberger
came together really to do a moonshot for
the future of energy. And the idea was to invest
in high risk, high reward technologies that would put us
on this pathway to sustainable energy for everybody. And what was so
extraordinary at the time is it was a $225
million investment over a 10-year period,
so it really definitely filled the moonshot idea. There was no
university elsewhere who had anything close to a
program of that magnitude. So Chris Edwards from the
mechanical engineering department and Lynn Orr set
about building that program. Beginning in 2002, a number
of projects got started, and I came here in 2007
to help run that program. But what we were
seeing is a huge amount of innovation in materials
science, chemical engineering, advanced combustion, entirely
new ideas like capturing the carbon dioxide and pumping
it underground, all of that got going in that time
period, and it really spurred this tremendous
wave of innovation across the School of
Engineering and the School of what is now Earth, Energy,
and Environmental Sciences. And Stanford did
this really long before most other
universities were really starting to pay attention. And so it was really through
the incredible leadership of the folks here that
began to make that happen. So that gets us up
to around 2007 or so. Yeah. DAVID FEDOR: Arun, do we
have all the technologies we need now in energy and climate? Tell us a little bit about
the handoff between university research of the sort
that Sally has described, what you were doing
at RPE, and how that interfaces today with
industry involvement as well. ARUN MAJUMDAR: You know,
to be honest– first of all, happy new
year to everyone. I wish there were
all the technologies that we needed to maintain our
temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, which is what the
United Nations has said. I’m afraid I don’t
think we have that. So what was the
mandate for RPE– let me actually take
you back even further. And this goes back to
the origins of DARPA. DARPA was created
in 1958 in response to the 1957 launch of
Sputnik, at which time it was thought that this
was an existential threat for the United States. And DARPA got created
not because we did not have research already going
on under the Office of Naval Research, in the Navy,
in the Air Force, in the Army, et cetera. It was all going on, but they
needed a new model of research, and that was to blur the
boundaries between science and engineering, to go
basic as you needed to, to go applied if you
needed to, just forget these terms for the time being
and look for breakthroughs that would create a
competitive advantage. That was the whole idea. And the model was to get
the smartest people who are actually doing the research
in the scientific community, in the government, and
give them ownership of creating new
fields of research, but to be time limited so after
a while, you get out of there. You cannot stay there
as a permanent staff. And so that brought in
a freshness of ideas from different people to come
in and create new fields, and many careers got built
by starting new fields and creating an ecosystem,
a community of researchers in that particular field,
which is how things like the internet, the TCP/IP. In fact, Vint Cerf was
a faculty out here, and he left Stanford,
went to DARPA. And in fact, the first
TCP/IP implementation happened out here at Stanford
and a few other places. So that’s the kind of
thing that DARPA created, and it was felt,
as you mentioned, in the “Gathering Storm” report
that the energy field needed that, because there were some
gathering storms in that. Not only because of the
fact of, as you said, access to energy,
because access to energy is a national security
issue, but the fact that the traditional
ways of energy were going on for
a while, and they saw there are some barriers
coming in, whether it’s access or whether it is greenhouse
gas emissions, et cetera. The fundamentals were changing. And so they felt
that despite the fact that the Department of Energy
has a lot of research going on in fundamental science as well
as in some of the applied, there was a gap that
was felt, and that’s why the idea of
ARPE-E was created, to look for breakthroughs
in energy technologies. And I think one has to take
a long-term view on this. Sometimes, ARPA-E is thought
of as a short-term thing. Like, hey, let’s commercialize. I would take a long-term view
and take back even further to how we got into this. We got into this
in a climate issue starting from the
Industrial Revolution. In the Industrial Revolution,
the steam engine started 1776. That was the James Watt engine. Before that was the
Newcomen engine, and James Watt increased the
efficiency from, I think, 0.1% to 1%. And we all know
now that it follows the laws of thermodynamics. Well the laws of
thermodynamics were developed, were finally put into in 1850s. So this was fundamental science
that came after engineering. And so the idea that science
gives you engineering, engineering gives
you technology– that was broken in
the 1700s and 1800s. And I think if you take
that long-term view and ask the question, what
are the new things that we need today? And I suspect that
the technologies that we will be engaged
with, redeveloping, will lead to new science that
we don’t understand today. And I think that’s the
long-term view on this, and that’s part of the
reason ARPA-E was created. Not only to develop new
technologies, breakthroughs, but also blur the
boundaries between science and engineering, and
let’s solve the problem. And in solving the
problem, we will come up with new
scientific principles that we don’t know today. And so that was how
ARPA-E got started. And through that
process, whether it is part of, as you said,
America Competes Act, there’s a global
competitiveness in this that we’ll have to
address at some point, and that’s part of why it
was in the Competes Act. DAVID FEDOR: You mentioned some
fundamental science changes. Can you give us
some crumbs, areas where you think that we’ll make
major discoveries [INAUDIBLE]?? ARUN MAJUMDAR:
Well, for example, we don’t completely understand
the science of photosynthesis. OK? We survive on it. We don’t quite
understand that, right? We haven’t been able to
understand fully or exploit fully how fusion works. And fusion, in the sense
of controlled fusion, it is still a science problem
and we don’t completely understand all the
details of that. And that is a work– and there are many
such examples that you could give where the principles
still have to be developed. And things that we
can’t anticipate right now because we haven’t
quite developed the things. SALLY M. BENSON: Yeah. So I’ll give you, I think,
another example that is not quite so far out as fusion. So if you look at
materials science, and if you look back to– gosh. It must have been around
the 2000 time frame, that there was a real
revolution in materials science, that we realized that the
materials behaved differently in bulk than they do
when you make them into very small nanoparticles. So we opened up this incredible
toolkit of new functionality of materials. So that’s one thing we did. At the same time,
there was a revolution in the ability to characterize
materials using synchrotron radiation, that you could look
at the species of the chemical, you could understand the
structure and function of those materials, so that
was a really important piece. The other thing is that we began
to have advanced computing that allowed us to calculate how
these materials would function from an atomic level using very
advanced theoretical tools. And so the taking together
of those three things and the ability to synthesize
all these new materials has created, really,
a revolution. And you know, we now
have technologies that can take carbon dioxide
and water and a renewable source of electricity, and
they can make a fuel. Now maybe it’s still a
little bit too expensive, and maybe it’s not as
efficient as we’d like, but we can do that. We can make advanced
battery chemistries with these same ideas. We can make thin
film solar cells with these same kind of ideas. So there’s been
this huge revolution that, you know, much like
the human genome, you know, that got going with
the hope that there were going to be all these
medical breakthroughs with that. And it actually took
a really long time before those medical
breakthroughs started to occur with genomics, but they have. And the same kind of
fruition for bringing this new fundamental science
to solving energy problems is here today. DAVID FEDOR: You talk
about distinct technologies sort of coalescing together
into some kind of a breakthrough product. There’s a story of Apple and
the invention of the iPod, and distinct technologies
were floating out there. You had small screens
there you could manufacture for low cost in Asia. Didn’t really know what they
were going to do with it. Then you had, you know,
digital music, mp3s. People were downloading
them or sharing them online. There were a few stores
you could buy them from and there were some
early mp3 players, but you didn’t have a
good distribution system. And so there’s a story of Phil
Schiller coming to Steve Jobs and saying, look, we
have these things, and now we have this new
thing, which is a 1.8-inch miniaturized hard drive. And if you put these
three things together, now suddenly, you– by themselves, they’re
not that useful. Put the three
together, and you get a really breakthrough product
that you didn’t even realize was possible before. I mean, in that way, if you
look back on GCEP, for example, and the hundreds of projects
that really were examined over 10 years, are
there any big surprises in your mind of things that came
up from that that you weren’t expecting, or things that
didn’t work out that you thought might work out? SALLY M. BENSON: You
know, I think we always had huge hope that
good things were going to happen from this investment. I guess what’s encouraging that
we’ve seen is that initially– not to sound judgmental–
but the approach was very sort of Edisonian. You know, there was a
lot of trying and seeing. It’s like, OK. We can make this. Let’s see how it works. What I think is
really surprising is how all of those pieces
have now come together to make discovery and
effectiveness much more deliberate. So I think it’s a really
encouraging result, and I think we’re really at
just the beginning of being able to design materials that do
many things that we would like and need them to do. DAVID FEDOR: Arun, we
talked a little bit about the innovation chain. Could you describe some of
the hand-offs between work that goes on at, say, the
university or national lab, and then how energy innovation
gets out into industry? What does that relationship
look like today at Stanford? ARUN MAJUMDAR: Yeah. If you want to make impact
in energy at a large scale, scale is important
and cost is important. Right? That’s at the macro level. You’ve got to have
large scale, otherwise you’re not going to make impact. And if it’s not
economically competitive, it’s not going to make impact. So both are important. But if you now take one step
deeper as to how to get that, you need R&D to be
able to get to scale as well as reduce the cost. And so one of the
challenges that we have today, going from a
university research which is the laboratory research,
which by definition is not at scale, to an
industrial scale, is that there are lots
of layers in between. And so we need the, I
would say, hand-off sure, but really feedback loops
where we at the university understand what the
major challenges are from the industry. By definition, things at that
scale are not to the industry, so the industry
has to educate us as to what the challenges
are, and frankly, where they are unwilling to
go, where the universities can go because of a risk appetite,
because we have a longer term view than sometimes
the industry. And so that feedback
loop is very important. And for them to take
the things that we do at a university,
and then transition that at different
levels of scaling. I mean, you’ve got to have– in a lab, we have
a proof of concept. We, some way, need to develop
a proof of system, which sometimes we do at
university, but sometimes it has to go outside. It has to have a pilot
operation at some point. And as you go
downstream like this, you will need more capital,
and not quite at a university that we can do that. DAVID FEDOR: Can
you give an example where industry has come to you
as a researcher at university or elsewhere and said,
here’s the problem that we’re dealing with, and we
can’t figure it out on our own? ARUN MAJUMDAR: Tons of examples. GCEP is a great example of that. And now, we are seeing sort
of the next stage of GCEP is what we call Strategic
Energy Alliance. We’re working with
the corporations, large corporations, looking
at issues that they cannot by themselves do, whether it’s
carbon capture sequestration or whether it is renewal’s
integration onto the grid, they by themselves cannot do
it, and they’re coming to us to figure out, what are
the options we have? What are the new ideas
that we could try out? And some of them will
fail by definition because these are
risky propositions, but the ones that succeed
will actually then change the ball game in the future. And so many times, we look
at energy technologies as following what is
called a learning curve. The more you do,
the cheaper it gets. You know, the more solar
panels we generate, we get better at it,
and it gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. One of the roles
of the university is not only to enable that
to happen, but also to look for ways to create entirely
new learning curves that we don’t have today,
that have the shot at becoming cheaper and better
and faster and cleaner than what we have today. The lithium ion
battery, for example, made nickel metal hydride
batteries obsolete. And the question
we should be asking is, what are the battery
technologies that we should be looking at, or
storage in general, that could make the lithium
ion batteries obsolete? And that’s the
role of university. Now industry that is invested
in lithium ion batteries are unlikely to do that. SALLY M. BENSON: Go ahead. But I do have one more
surprise that I think– DAVID FEDOR: Stanford
has a great, I think, history of working with
industry in a constructive way. MIT does that as well. My boss, George Shultz likes
to say Silicon Valley is just a Stanford spin-off,
but I think that allows the work the students do here, I
think, to have a broader impact and really see how what they
do in the lab translates beyond that. Sally, did you have a
point you wanted to make? SALLY M. BENSON: Yeah. I just want to go
back to some surprise, and maybe it’s more
of a lesson learned. One of the things
that we did as part of the Global Climate
and Energy Project is to do energy
systems analysis that would help us make
good investments in those technologies that were
likely to have a big benefit. And we began studying
things like batteries, and in particular, got very
interested in how much energy it actually takes
to build a battery. And so it turns out that if
you choose to use a battery and, for example, pair
that with a solar cell, that sort of your first reaction
would be, well of course it would always be
better to have a battery because when I’m not using
the sunlight directly, I can then save it and
use it until later. But it turns out, for
even simple systems where you pair a
battery in a solar cell, in many cases, because
of the systems effect, you don’t get all the
environmental benefits that you think you’re getting. And just to give
another example, right now, solar
energy, wind energy are really, really inexpensive. Actually, natural gas is
really inexpensive right now. And so especially because solar
and wind are so inexpensive, people say, oh my gosh. Our solution to
the climate problem will be to just
double down on those, just use the most of all
the cheap stuff you can get. But the problem is we rely on
24/7 power, 365 days a year. So when you try
to say, OK, we’re going to limit our choices
to, say two or three choices or those plus a
battery, that you end up having to overbuild the system
so much so that what you think is going to be the cheapest
solution because they’re all the cheapest
component, in fact, may not be the cheapest solution. And some recent work
we’re doing in California has actually shown that
it’s cheaper if you say, OK, well let’s have a little bit
of carbon capture and storage for our electricity system. And the overall cost of
getting to 100% decarbonization is about one third the cost that
it would be if you only said, we’re going to have batteries,
solar, and wind, and hydro. So the systems aspects
are really important, and I think we’re just beginning
to come to grips with that. DAVID FEDOR: And
this is a topic– I don’t know if you saw
Bill Gates’ year end letter this year. He touches on this need for
[INAUDIBLE] technologies as well. You know, to that end, just
before the Christmas holiday, Arun and Sally, you co-authored
an op-ed in the Financial Times– ARUN MAJUMDAR: With George. DAVID FEDOR: –with
Secretary Schultz talking about the need for the
massive investment in energy R&D to deal with today’s
energy and climate challenges. You mentioned the
global energy forum, which took on this
issue, and Bill Gates spoke at that a couple
months ago here at Stanford. Can you give us a little rundown
about what the global energy forum is, why we’re
hosting at Stanford, and where that’s headed? ARUN MAJUMDAR: We
are speechless. I think first of all, if you
look at the role of Stanford, we certainly know that some
of the research that’s– we are amongst the best in
terms of the research that is produced out here,
the scientific research, the technologies that come out,
the policy work that is done, et cetera. But I think Stanford has,
in many ways, a unique role to bring together
an ecosystem that needs to be brought together
to accelerate this progress. I mean, one of the key takeaways
from the Global Energy Forum is the fact that we
don’t have much time. If we are to keep below
2 degrees Celsius, we can emit only about
800 gigatons of carbon. And if you look at the
emission rate today, which is about 40
gigatons of CO2 per year– 800 gigatons of
CO2 as the budget. And if you’re emitting at
40 gigatons of CO2 per year, we have roughly 20
years at flat rate. And then after that,
it has to be 0. DAVID FEDOR: This
conversation is going to be great in
20 years, by the way. ARUN MAJUMDAR: That’s right. So we don’t have much
time left on our hands if we are to keep
it below 2 degrees. Otherwise, it’s
going to go beyond. And there’s a lot of sense
that all this innovation that’s going on in wind and solar
and natural gas and all is terrific. It is terrific, and
there’s a lot of R&D that has gone into it, but
that’s necessary and certainly not sufficient. And I think it is very important
to bring this ecosystem together, as you said, along
this innovation value chain, to bring them together
to accelerate that, to create this feedback loop. And I think Stanford
has a role to play, and frankly, others also
have a role to play as well. So we decided at Stanford
A, to not only showcase what’s going on
out here, but also play that role of a convener. There are very few
neutral conveners that can bring the
community together. The government can
certainly do that. Right now, it’s not
quite happening. DAVID FEDOR: If they want to. ARUN MAJUMDAR: Right. So I think we should
take the responsibility and play that role, bring the
career together, so we can start accelerating this thing. And this is a
global conversation. This is not just a United
States conversation, because as Bill very
correctly pointed out, if China and India
doesn’t get it right, we are toast in
terms of 2 degrees. So it’s that global community
that we need to build. And frankly, GCEP and
all the previous work has provided a
tremendous platform. We need to take
it another level. DAVID FEDOR: Sally, what
should undergrads at Stanford know about how they can be
involved on energy issues, whether they’re on the
hard engineering side or sort of soft policy
folks like myself? SALLY M. BENSON: Yeah. Well I think number one is if
you’re interested in energy, it doesn’t matter what
discipline you want to study. There is something
that you can study. If you want to be a lawyer,
you can work on energy. If you want to be in business,
if you want to be an engineer, an earth scientist, that there’s
really something for everybody, the humanities, economics. So I think that’s number one. So if you think
you’re interested, don’t think that you
have to be an engineer. So second thing is is that
we offer a ton of programs here at Stanford for
our undergraduates. The first thing you can do
is take a fantastic class called Understanding Energy. After that, we have a
fantastic sophomore college, a deep three-week immersion
in geography specific energy issues. Undergraduate research programs,
internships with government. Anyway, it just goes on and on. So find your way to get
involved in that ecosystem. We do everything we can to help. Write us an email if
you can’t figure out how to do it, and
just jump right in. DAVID FEDOR: Thanks. John, Katie, do we have a
couple of minutes for questions from the audience? JOHN: Why don’t you
just take questions from the audience for a little
bit, maybe 10 minutes or so [INAUDIBLE]. DAVID FEDOR: Sure. Any students who want
to know how to engage on energy at Stanford? Student? Yeah. ARUN MAJUMDAR: I
think over there. AUDIENCE: I was just wondering
[INAUDIBLE] in China? DAVID FEDOR: Fusion in China. Will you comment
on fusion in China? ARUN MAJUMDAR: I haven’t
quite followed exactly what has happened out there. Have they shown gain
greater that one? AUDIENCE: Yeah. So they recently broke 100
of their degrees [INAUDIBLE].. ARUN MAJUMDAR: No comment
because I haven’t read up on what they’ve actually done. DAVID FEDOR: I would just
chime in a little bit. One interesting
development in that space is we spent some time
looking at nuclear energy fission at the
Hoover Institution, and there is a lot of new
entrepreneurship happening in this country with
small start-ups. There are a few in the
Bay Area looking at SMRs or more advanced
nuclear chemistries. And for the last few years,
there’s been this idea. Gates has been among
them saying that it’s quite hard to do
testing for some of these new
nuclear technologies given the strict regulatory
framework in the US, and so maybe we’ll go
abroad to do this testing. We’ll do it in China. He had a group, TerraPower,
with a traveling wave reactor that they were going to build
a prototype for in China. But with some rising trade
tensions and concerns on IP actually this
October, I think DOE said we’re actually
going to control the export of civilian
nuclear technologies and limit cooperation with
China on these issues. And TerraPower said,
that’s it, so we can’t work in China anymore. Maybe we can work in
the US, maybe not. I’m sure that DOE would be happy
for them to do it in the US if DOE could provide
some funding to do it. But I think it
gives a sense– you know, Arun talked about
sort of a global community and dealing with some
of these issues that need to be able to scale across
the world colliding with some of the more short-term
geopolitical issues that come up and have
always come up in energy. Any other questions? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] DAVID FEDOR: And I
pose to the panel, can that be done in a smooth
way or is it going to be ugly? SALLY M. BENSON: I mean,
I think it can be done in a really disruptive way. I think that honestly, there
is a lot of that afoot. I think that there are some
people who basically believe the only way we can solve
any of these problems is with disruption. Right now, our electric
utility industry is really being weakened by a
whole set of policies, market structures, and so
forth that disadvantage the kind of traditional
generating resource assets. On the other hand, one can
strategically and deliberately choose a path of
investment that is designed to minimize disruption. I think no matter what, there
will be some disruption. But I think it’s really
incumbent upon all of us who are interested in the
security of our energy supply to understand, learn,
educate ourselves, and advocate for pathways that
keep our energy system very, very strong. Because I’ve spent a lot of
time in emerging economies with very weak energy
systems, and that’s not a good way to live. ARUN MAJUMDAR: I think
there’s one over there. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
I’d like to ask, between developing countries
and developed countries, this issue of clean energy. Could there be
different solutions, not in terms of approach,
because I think, by the fact that there is a disparity
between the two, their way of solving that problem
will be different? ARUN MAJUMDAR: Well,
let me just say that I think we should not be
putting the burden on climate change on those countries that
don’t have access to energy. I think that’s a big mistake. At the end of the
day, people need energy for their own prosperity,
economic development, et cetera. And the top 20 economies– I mean, I know that
Paris Agreement required 190 countries or 170
countries to come together to come with Paris Agreement,
to reduce the emissions to keep below 2 degrees. For mitigation
purposes, you do not need 170 countries to do that. You need the top 20 countries
to reduce their emissions, and it is really their
responsibility to do that. For the adaptation
to climate change, you do need the 190 countries
because they will have to adapt to the climate change. For those countries
that are undeveloped, electrification, for
example, is a big deal. Today, we seem to have the
tools with solar being cheap, with storage reducing in
cost, and some micro grid solutions that are coming in,
that technologically, this may actually be possible. But there are other barriers
in terms of governance, in terms of pricing,
in terms of the policy. There’s financing. Trying to get to microfinance
and connect the microfinance, distributed finance to
the financial system that we have today, which
is macro, is non-trivial. We have a sustainable finance
initiative here at Stanford to be able to enable that. But those are the
kinds of issues that we should be caring about
as far as developing economies, developing countries
are concerned. SALLY M. BENSON: Just to
say a little bit more about that, I mean, one
of the things we see is a lot of investment in coal. And the reason people do
that is it’s often, in and of itself, it has
the appearances of being the cheapest form of energy. But if you, for example,
combine solar energy and wind energy with natural
gas, that can actually be as cheap or
cheaper than coal. But you have to look
at it as a system and it becomes more complex,
and you need a better grid in order to manage that. But it can also
position a country to have a much stronger,
robust system in the future than making a big bet on
coal as a primary source of electricity. ARUN MAJUMDAR: Just to add to
that, I think, in many ways, those countries that do not
have the infrastructure today have the opportunity to leapfrog
and to get to the 21st century grid. So they can go from 19th
century to 21st century, and I think that’s how we
should be thinking about it. DAVID FEDOR: Right
here in the front. AUDIENCE: My question
is, [INAUDIBLE]?? DAVID FEDOR: Yeah. And actually, I think that’s a
story that doesn’t always get told, but it very much happens. You know, especially
when you have industry that is making a lot of
revenue in a certain field, they can then actually
have a very high rate of technological
development in the field and they’re iterating
very quickly. That’s what we saw with
natural gas fracking. We see that with
enhanced oil recovery. Sally, I don’t know if
you have comments on that, but the efficiency of what has
happened in terms of ability to extract and the cost
at which we can do so is a pretty amazing
story if you’re looking at providing
energy services around the world for sure. SALLY M. BENSON: Yeah. I mean, certainly, the
industry invested a huge amount in hydraulic fracturing
technology, which has made us have abundant
natural gas supplies, abundant oil supplies. So there is actually
a lot of investment. But to speak more
directly, in the short run, it’s very beneficial to have
much more efficient processes that use fossil fuel
because, as Arun said, we have 800 gigatons of CO2 that
we can emit into the atmosphere before we’re guaranteed to
go over 2 degrees C warming, but we’ll burn through
that in about 20 years. So in the not too
distant future, when you’re maybe
45 or 50 years old, we’re going to be in a situation
where global warming will have been exceeding
internationally agreed to targets. And I think we’re going to find
that a world with 2 degrees C warming is not a very
comfortable world to be living in, particularly
with regard to extreme weather. ARUN MAJUMDAR: Can I just
add one point to this? DAVID FEDOR: Yeah, and
we’ll end with this. ARUN MAJUMDAR: I
think, you know, this 1 degree, 2
degrees– you know, the global average
temperature is 1.2 degrees above what we
had before the Industrial Revolution. And that’s absolutely
accurate, and we are trying to keep it below 2 degrees. However, I think as far as
communicating issues related to climate and energy,
it is a mistake to talk about the average. Because around this average,
there is a distribution. And the tail of the distribution
has a disproportionate effect on our lives, whether it is
our agriculture, whether it’s our livestock, whether
it’s hurricanes, or for that matter, fires. So I think it’s very
important that when we speak to a general
public, that we talk about not only the
average, but the tail of the distribution. And we have to say that if
the tail of the 1 degree distribution is this
bad, you can just imagine what the tail– that tail of the 2 degrees
is going to wag the dog. And I think it’s very important
to make sure that we all, not just here at Stanford,
but the general public understands that. DAVID FEDOR: With
that benediction from Reverend Majumdar, I
think we’ll close it out. We’ll be around if anyone
wants to talk to us some more. I know we boiled the
ocean here today. PRESENTER: Professor, I
think we need to wrap up, so let’s thank Sally
and Arun [INAUDIBLE].. [APPLAUSE]

2 comments on “Energy Seminar | Sally Benson Arun Majumdar David Fedor

  1. i found it very interesting that the moderator's voice sounded like a tuning fork with tones going up and down. Just kidding.
    Lets strive to keep that Global Temp. less than 2 degrees. Thx Stanford for these types of Talks. I always watch these Energy Talks.

  2. The moderator didn't need a panel, and his voice can be used as a sleeping aid. Enough self-aggrandizement. Let's get on with the business of producing advanced biofuels at scale and competitive cost. The world needs it. The science is there. Why isn't it even mentioned? Shultz is involved. It's a game changer.

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