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Bill Gates on the future of energy
July 7, 2011 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Bill Gates on energy Nuclear is needed, home solar is cute, the rich are useful, and big batteries are very hard to do, among other things.

Previously. (via)
posted by doctornemo (95 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
A quick scan show's he's spot on with my conclusions. Mr. Gates, I approve.
(now fix everything with a new version)
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


There’s this company, TerraPower, which former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myrhvold and I have spun out of his invention group, Intellectual Ventures.

Self-dealing nuclear shill. Bill Gates, head of charity, is every bit as focused on the benefit to be gleaned for Bill Gates as Bill Gates, head of Microsoft, ever was.
posted by rusty at 10:12 AM on July 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Home solar, defined broadly, is a little more than cute. You can save a LOT of energy by proper alignment and design, plus landscaping. Then with PV, say, serving your much-reduced electric needs you'll be drawing a miniscule fraction (if that) from the grid that you previously were.
posted by DU at 10:14 AM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Rusty - I think that's an uncharitable read. Would it be better if he didn't put his considerable resources behind trying to find solutions to these big problems.

If the venture is successful he will make money, that's how capitalism works.
posted by askmehow at 10:15 AM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Left without comment: Slammer worm crashed Ohio nuke plant network
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:16 AM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


And you press the start button when you want to shut the power off.
posted by tommyD at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


“If you gave me the choice between picking the next 10 presidents..." Why do I get the feeling he could actually do this?
posted by hot_monster at 10:19 AM on July 7, 2011


U.S. RENEWABLE ENERGY PRODUCTION HAS SURPASSED NUCLEAR
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energy — biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind — has passed a milestone as domestic production is now greater than that of nuclear power. During the first quarter of 2011, renewable energy sources provided 2.245 quadrillion Btus of energy, 11.73 percent of U.S. energy production, six percent more than that from nuclear power, which provided 2.125 quadrillion Btus. Production of renewable energy, which goes to transportation, electricity, and heat, has increased by 15 percent compared to the first quarter of 2010.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


askmehow: It is uncharitable, I totally admit that. I feel that Bill Gates has richly earned every bit of the cynicism and contempt with which I read him. But he's following in well-worn footsteps, polishing up his legacy with Great Works Of Public Charity. He'll probably be remembered as a great philanthropist, like Andrew Carnegie.
posted by rusty at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Bill, Google LFTR.
posted by sfts2 at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2011


Er, Bing LFTR.
posted by sfts2 at 10:22 AM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


DU: While I agree, if you're going to drill deeper into how much more or less than 'cute' home solar is you should consider that alot of the items you mention are dependent upon location and time of year as well. While a home solar collector in a sunny temperate winter might help cut heating costs, it's not going be of much help in reducing the cooling costs in a tropical summer (or a cloudy tropical winter for that matter). Better building envelope mangement/construction could serve all of those purposes cheaper and easier than retrofitting solar collectors onto a structure not designed for them.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with your points, but I got the impression that Gates was talking about the technical/economic realities of home PV (and to a lesser degree thermal/lighting) installs. Plus, most people wouldn't think of "proper landscaping" as being tied to a discussion on "home solar". Again, I agree with your point, but from most this would draw blank stares until explained.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:22 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"dealing with realities" is what people say when they want to tweak the status quo. That's not going to be enough to solve the problems we have. We can't afford to not explain things to people and avoid blank stares.
posted by DU at 10:26 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Power companies and big corporations are doing everything possible to down play home solar. Their biggest fear is de-centralized power production.

Gates is a big corporation guy. He wants centralized power that a big company can control.

Gates is a business man, in it for profit - not prophet
posted by Flood at 10:28 AM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


WinME ★ M$ BOB - YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.
posted by benzenedream at 10:31 AM on July 7, 2011


Also of great interest: If you’re going for cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. It’s really kind of cool to have solar panels on your roof. But if you’re really interested in the energy problem, it’s those big things in the desert.

Says the man who fundamentally changed the world by putting "cute" little weak and mostly-useless PCs on every desk and in every house. Dude forgot his roots, or learned nothing from them. Now he thinks big big big just like IBM and their mainframes. "We simulate everything on supercomputers!" If any evidence was needed, here's some more that Gates is not and never was some kind of transcendent genius. He hasn't ever even understood the one thing he did that mattered.
posted by rusty at 10:31 AM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sure, I'll get right on properly landscaping and solar panel alignment on my middle floor apartment building.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:32 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Home solar is pretty awesome if you are starting on a fresh plot of land. Retrofitting it into a small plot of land in Michigan, on an old house faced in wrong direction, is not so easy. Effective, bill-shriveling solar is not a simple addition.
posted by adipocere at 10:34 AM on July 7, 2011


I agree, but I thought it was a pretty proper response for the intended audience. I honestly look forward to the day when people are searching out and reaching for detailed explanations of energy efficient design/practices, I just don't think we're to the point where the general public is doing that. So I was happy to see accurate, if not detailed technically, statements.

I've ran technical numbers on this issue as far or farther than most people and I hate to say it but I also agree with the following from him,

We should all grow our own food and do our own waste processing, we really should. But scale has some significant advantages in terms of reliability, and electricity is something you want to be reliable.

*shrug* One day I think I'm going to be lucky enough to own a homestead off-the-grid (in as many ways as possible) but I just don't see how that's possible for everyone given current growth rates and lifestyle expectations. Maybe this interview was somehow insufficient/evil but if so it's definitely the lesser informative option out of many, many more hideous trains of thought.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:35 AM on July 7, 2011


This is just a tiny piece of how fucked up everything is. Who seriously believes that suburbs and hour-long commutes in private vehicles are going to be a growing thing in 20 years, like they were 20 years ago? And if you can't say that, if you don't believe "oh, sure, absolutely the status quo is fine, the American dream is here to stay" then stupid things like Nuclear vs. Solar simply don't matter because there's a tectonic shift coming that makes the question of energy sources rather something like wondering if you should buy turnips or rutabegas for the picnic that will wind up being stormed by an angry mob. Yes, we need to do something about the energy, but the way in which it is used has to change, and that requires that the majority of the population do something different, not that we find a new outlet for the extension cord because a fuse blew.

Okay, it is an important question. I don't like either turnips OR rutabegas.

On the other hand, finding that the sea bed is a great resource for rare earths means that we can go ahead and build electric motors and solar panels like woah rather than worrying about China going apeshit and hoarding them. So: solar and electric cars FTW.

In conclusion: GO NADS.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:36 AM on July 7, 2011


"The solar energy gathered from six thousandths of the Sahara’s 9 million km² can meet the electricity needs of the entire world"

- Mighty fighting words from master engineer Jörg Schlaich, founder of Schlaich Bergermann und Partner, and one of the main proponents behind the futuristic, yet simple Solar Updraft Tower.
posted by lemuring at 10:36 AM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've always thought that solar updraft tower to be right up there with the space elevator when it comes to amazingly awesome things I'd like to see happen in my lifetime.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:38 AM on July 7, 2011


No, you are absolutely right that not all locations are suited for good design. But first of all that's not an excuse to throw up your hands and say "I guess we need something else!" New homes are being built every day. Build them right.

But even then, not every location is ideal for solar of any kind. That's why we need diversified energy sources. Too many discussions of alternative energy sources throw out solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, etc because "they aren't enough". We shouldn't even want a single source even if there were one! Look what a fix we are in right now with a energy monoculture. If fossil fuels were only providing 20% rather than more like 90% of our energy, phasing it out would be so much simpler. Not to mention buffering us from price fluctuation.

If a "cute" energy source provides 25% or 10% or 5%, invite it into the tent. The more the merrier.
posted by DU at 10:39 AM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Rusty: I understand what you are saying, but his personal motives are less important (to me) than the fact that he is putting his weight behind trying to find solutions to important problems.
posted by askmehow at 10:42 AM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


> We’ve got a new nuclear design ... On paper it’s quite amazing.

Nuclear always looks amazing on paper.
posted by scruss at 10:43 AM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, finding that the sea bed is a great resource for rare earths means that we can go ahead and build electric motors and solar panels like woah rather than worrying about China going apeshit and hoarding them

The US has huge amounts of rare earth metals [pdf], and other friendly countries (e.g. Australia, India) have large reserves as well. Our own reserves are equal to over 100 years of China's current production levels. It's just cheaper to import them from China right now so the US mines are dormant.

Furthermore, not all electric motors require rare earth metals. For example, AC Propulsion's motors (as used in Tesla cars) are of the induction type and use no rare earth metals.
posted by jedicus at 10:44 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Something that can be done only by certain wealthy landowners is, indeed, "cute." It'll make them feel really nice, surely. Having some sort of idealized off the grid home is just super for whoever can do it. I'll not, and ol' Bill won't stop you.

But stuff like that is a one-off and doesn't even come close to solving this problem we're looking to solve.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:46 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But first of all that's not an excuse to throw up your hands and say "I guess we need something else!" New homes are being built every day. Build them right.

The thing I love about these discussions is that people seem to think that free range organic magic solar panel shitting fairy unicorns produce PV cells.

It's not the case. Solar is great for a number of reasons and for lots of smaller installations definately a viable option.

However, those solar cells need mined and refined minerals in order to be built. Who here loves large scale mining operations ? Then we're gonna take those minerals we dug up acres of land or seabed to get at, with millions of gallons of poisonous heavy metal tailings and then destroy square miles of natural habitat to site them.


And you say - well, those are solvable problems. And it's true.

But it's also the same thing I say about nuclear power.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:46 AM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are ways to use more intermittent energy sources like renewables that don't require batteries.

(1) Imagine you've a fancy electric car that has only small batteries which it recharges from ground-level power system embedded into all highways. Electricity costs way less than gasoline of course, but electricity prices fluctuate vaguely like gasoline prices used to, except way more often, depending upon the wind and sun.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:47 AM on July 7, 2011


Again, I agree with everything you say. And no one is throwing up their hands saying "Uncle!", at least I'm not.

I also know, for a fact, that if you do the numbers as to putting X amount of capital into either a large scale solar thermal electrical generating plant or that same X amount of capital into as many citizen's hands for new/existing homes as you can for them to install PV panels/wiring/structural support you will not get as much of an output as at the centralized site. Also, you will not, under any reasonable assumption of distances for transmission of generated power, even make up for transmission losses. *

Our worldly capital is limited, and the amount of capital directed towards renewable energy implementation even more so. That's where you're not addressing the realities of what the OP's link did attempt (though shallowly) address.

The one upside putting the PV panels on the homes is that it might provide individuals with a sense of awareness and conservation, which is quite important. I concede that point graciously.

* I'm at work and don't really have time to cite/prove this, so discount it all you like but think of a major natural gas power plant's efficiency numbers vs a generator outside your home and you'll see what I'm getting at here.

On preview what pogo said.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:50 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


RolandOfEid said: I've always thought the solar updraft tower to be right up there with the space elevator when it comes to amazingly awesome things I'd like to see happen in my lifetime.

You may be able to cross it off that list sometime soon. It's being developed with Arup who have my respect for their constant craft and ingenuity in their work.
posted by lemuring at 10:52 AM on July 7, 2011


Power companies and big corporations are doing everything possible to down play home solar. Their biggest fear is de-centralized power production.

Yep. Can't be a rentier if nobody needs to rent what you've got.
posted by notyou at 10:55 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But first of all that's not an excuse to throw up your hands and say "I guess we need something else!" New homes are being built every day. Build them right.

The thing I love about these discussions is that people seem to think that free range organic magic solar panel shitting fairy unicorns produce PV cells.


If you examine my train of comments, you'll see I added PV as an option to well-designed homes. Your quote of me is completely in accurate, since "build them right" is referring to that.

That said, the old canard that PV takes more to build than it saves? Really?
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on July 7, 2011


That said, the old canard that PV takes more to build than it saves? Really?

Do you work for a large corporation that manufactures photovoltaics, by chance?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:00 AM on July 7, 2011


That said, the old canard that PV takes more to build than it saves?

Who said that? I didn't. I said that centralized solar-thermal generating plants are more effective use of capital than decentralized PV installs.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:02 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


(and I got the impression that's what other people were leaning towards as well, sorry to jump on the defensive there if that wasn't direct towards my comment)
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:03 AM on July 7, 2011


The argument isn't against solar, or a diversification of energy sources. The argument is for providing a cheap, efficient and safe source of energy to meet the increasing demands of the world's rapidly growing population. The places that are growing the fastest (Africa, India, China) are also where people are the poorest, and thus small, expensive and inefficient power is not the answer, at least in the present.

Nuclear is all of cheap (when built without excessive red tape and NIMBYism, which isn't to say completely unregulated), efficient and safe (for those who can look past one-off disasters and understand the long-term health costs vs the alternatives). It's a pretty damn good solution to the energy problems of the third-(and first-)world if we do better with regulating design, safety and improving the technology beyond the 1960s.

It's unfortunate we've become so protectionist and self-interested about energy. Being self-sufficient is all well and good when you have the means, but the rest of the world is burning more and more dirty fuel until we decide to pony up a cheap, clean solution.
posted by t_dubs at 11:04 AM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


However, those solar cells need mined and refined minerals in order to be built. Who here loves large scale mining operations ? Then we're gonna take those minerals we dug up acres of land or seabed to get at, with millions of gallons of poisonous heavy metal tailings and then destroy square miles of natural habitat to site them.

There are no easy solutions, and no matter what we find we're going to have to dig up earth to implement it.
posted by JHarris at 11:12 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


DU: That's why we need diversified energy sources. Too many discussions of alternative energy sources throw out solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, etc because "they aren't enough". We shouldn't even want a single source even if there were one!
Yes indeed. It makes for a more complex problem, which is harder to discuss publicly, but that's the only way forward*. The trick is to find the best mix.

I was struck by Gates' emphasis on grid storage for power being a huge problem. Smart grid, grid 2.0, whatever we call it is a huge piece of the puzzle, it seems.

Personally, we've been homesteading for a few years, and electrical power is our worst challenge. We've made progress raising food (crops, animals), heat all year with wood from the land, secured water for as far as we can tell, even broadband internet from our tiny town's co-op (which is amazing). Hot water, that's next, and passive solar plus wood heat should do the trick. But electric? Nothing we can do.

*unless we discover magic, free power.
posted by doctornemo at 11:21 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


U.S. RENEWABLE ENERGY PRODUCTION HAS SURPASSED NUCLEAR

I don't want to derail this into another anti-nuke thread, but to be fair that stat is not about electricity, but all "energy production". Read the linked pdf. Solar, Geothermal and PV have definitely increased in the last few years, but they're only a fraction of what nuclear energy puts out. The bulk of the renewable energy generated in the US still comes from hydro and bio-fuels.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:24 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That said, the old canard that PV takes more to build than it saves? Really?

It is a canard, certainly. That being said, if you dislike the ecological costs of mining - Solar is not a good answer.

My thinking is that it will take a range of solutions - nuclear, solar and wind - to address the issues. All three sources have pretty serious, but manageable downsides and each is reasonably well suited in to a situation where the others are not.

I saw this article posted on another news site and figured it would not be long before the Snarketologists of Metafilter latched onto it. A combination of boogeymen like nuclear power and Bill Gates (M$ $UXXOR$ AMIRITE) is too much to resist, and there would be little substantive debate about the points being made.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:39 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


renewable energy — biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind — has passed a milestone as domestic production is now greater than that of nuclear power.

It's like 1985 all over again!
posted by nickmark at 11:40 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


He'll probably be remembered as a great philanthropist

That's because he is a great philanthropist. Possibly the biggest the world has ever known. That doesn't erase his tenure at Microsoft. But neither does his tenure at Microsoft change the fact that he is a great philanthropist.
posted by Justinian at 11:47 AM on July 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


We love to discuss the pros and cons of solar, nuclear, oil, etc., but we never talk about the underlying causes for all this clamor: overpopulation and selfishness. If we didn't have almost 7 billion people on this planet, we'd not be talking about needing alternatives to oil. If we didn't feel it was our right drive SUVs with just our dog in it and use energy like it was free we wouldn't be having this discussion. But, we do and we are, so there it is. In the end, if everyone who aspires to live like Americans (who use 25% of the world's energy and have less than 5% of the world's population) gets their wish then all the oil and nuclear plants we could build won't do much. We are running out of all sorts of important resources, not the least of which is oil. We've not even started on potable water, clean air, top soil, rare earth metals, etc. We need to talk about population reduction and lowering our expectations for a lifestyle of unrealistic self-indulgence. We need to stop building cities in the middle of deserts so we have to empty aquifers to fill people's pools and water their ornamental lawns. No, these are not immoral practices in and of themselves. But when resources are scarce, you should at least start to pretend you care. All this energy debate is necessary, but I sometimes think of it as a 300lb. kid trying figure out how to grow a third arm because his left hand has a milk shake, his right has a slice of pizza and he just can't figure out a way to scratch his ass.
posted by FrankBlack at 12:10 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


We need to talk about population reduction

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.
posted by aramaic at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pogo, I expected some of that Gatesisevil when I posted, but hoped to see stuff around that. So it's been good to see DU and others talking about the costs/benefits of PV, among other things.

FrankBlack, agreed. overpopulation: didn't Gates support medicine and education in part to cut down on overpop.? selfishness: yes, hyperconsumerism is the beastie.
posted by doctornemo at 12:27 PM on July 7, 2011


We need to talk about population reduction

Funny that people who say this tend not to actually talk about population reduction, only talk about talking about population reduction.

Go for it. Let's hear the plan.
posted by Justinian at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


adipocere: Home solar is pretty awesome if you are starting on a fresh plot of land. Retrofitting it into a small plot of land in Michigan, on an old house faced in wrong direction, is not so easy. Effective, bill-shriveling solar is not a simple addition.

Agreed. It depends where you are. Hence the importance of fixing up large-scale grids, so we can get power from sun-baked areas to those of us in Stygian realms.
posted by doctornemo at 12:45 PM on July 7, 2011


What people must do but will not do willingly will be done to them by force. Whether that force is applied by natural means or by other people is generally a minor detail.

I'm starting to think central planning isn't such a bad thing. Except that it's far easier to exploit by thieves/royalty.

No, yeah, really, we're fucked. Golden era. Enjoy stuff! Woot!
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:52 PM on July 7, 2011


Actually I've been idly thinking about a few hundred watts of solar; not a huge install. It would power the computers handily. Since we've got time-of-use billing on electric now, it might have a fairly quick ROI. I should do some math.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:54 PM on July 7, 2011


Honestly, this seems like one of the first totally frank talks I've seen on renewable energy by a major player.

He's optimistic, but cautious and realistic about what the future holds.

His observations about batteries and small-scale solar also hold a lot of water. We're not approaching the energy density (or cost efficiency) in batteries needed to make our utopic "green future" possible, and we need to start figuring out alternative visions that don't require huge and cheap batteries.

Small scale solar is also great if you live in a big house in the suburbs. Unfortunately, living in a big house in the suburbs is inherently inefficient. Unfortunately, small-scale solar is a whole lot less effective in a big city (although per-capita energy usage in big cities is a mere fraction of what it is out in the 'burbs). It's also still bloody expensive. Hopefully, this will gradually become less so as thin-film solar panels ramp up production, although Gates is right on the money when he says that they're still a toy of the rich.

If you haven't noticed, we're in an economic clusterfuck. As a pragmatist, we're not going to accomplish any environmental gains unless the solutions are cost-competitive. Spending much more on energy is non-negotiable for 90% of the population. As it is, $4 gas has made low-wage jobs literally untenable for anybody who can't bike or walk to work (and housing prices near activity centers have risen in response). I hate to repeat a Republican talking point, but most Americans are stretched thin at the moment.

Gates actually sounds like he's thought about the issues of base load power and variable demand. They're tough nuts to crack, and need to be a part of the solution. This is an intelligent and well-thought-out piece.
posted by schmod at 1:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Go for it. Let's hear the plan.

You wear a condom on your willy.
posted by fleetmouse at 1:05 PM on July 7, 2011


You wear a condom on your willy.

Ok, so population is no longer an issue then. Let's move on.
posted by Justinian at 1:15 PM on July 7, 2011


Go for it. Let's hear the plan.

Are you serious or are you just being a troll? Do you honestly and intellectually believe that this isn't the central cause of our energy and resource issues? Do you honestly and intellectually believe that if we do nothing that we won't reap astounding horrors in some way? The population issue has been discussed for decades and decades. The consumerist lifestyle has been discussed as well. We have this many people because oil allowed us to grow astounding amounts of food. Sadly it didn't allow us to think. I know Earth is very, very large, but it is finite. At some point we will not be able to feed everyone. We will have dug most of the easy to reach resources out of the ground and left a hole. We either deal with this with intellectual honesty and candor or we let nature deal with it. I prefer the former. One way or the other, stasis will occur. As for me, I have one child. I've helped to reduce the population of the world by 50%. My parents had one child (yes, it lived). My car gets over 40MPG and I've been able to get 50 MPG out of it three out of my last four fill-ups as I'm a psycho hypermiler. I grow fruit and veg (yes, not everyone can do that) on my small land and joined local farms to prevent shipping oil-laden food from being shipped from around the world. Many of my friends have opted to have no children. Some have adopted. These are easy things, but they help. Harder to do than bitch and be sarcastic, but easier than what will certainly happen if nothing is done. When the resources become seriously scarce, you can bet it will be the weakest nations that will suffer. The USA has enough muscle to avoid this issue for a while. Those who don't have such muscle will suffer horrid times. I want to avoid that for everyone. That means we have to think about something other than our next Big Mac, Hummer or grapes shipped in from Chile.
posted by FrankBlack at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the problem is that just getting people used to the concept of population reduction is such a hurdle that the plan is to get people to agree to the concept itself. How population reduction might be accomplished is a long way away when "be fruitful and multiply" is still a thing. The plan is irrelevant until the problem is recognized by more than a handful of people. Then you get the folks who say, "We'll find a technical solution" or "we'll go to space!" or "didn't they say that in the seventies? We're still here, right?" or "Malthus, still wrong."
posted by adipocere at 2:13 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


There’s this company, TerraPower, which former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myrhvold and I have spun out of his invention group, Intellectual Ventures.

Self-dealing nuclear shill. Bill Gates, head of charity, is every bit as focused on the benefit to be gleaned for Bill Gates as Bill Gates, head of Microsoft, ever was.


He's only following the "Pickens Plan" which is to pump a new energy economy consisting of pipe dreams and a "bridge" source--in which the shiller has gone long.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:28 PM on July 7, 2011


Are you serious or are you just being a troll?

I'm pretty sure he's serious. You listed lots of things wrong with the world, and the things you yourself have done, but that's not a plan for convincing 7 billion other people, nor does it cover what you are going to do about people who refuse to voluntarily minimize their impact. It's all well and good to say, "I did my part", but completely useless if your 1 child-family is offset by a 10-child family that each has 10 kids.
posted by nomisxid at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Funny that people who say this tend not to actually talk about population reduction, only talk about talking about population reduction.

Go for it. Let's hear the plan.


I've decided not to have children. What's yours?
posted by klanawa at 2:30 PM on July 7, 2011


As for me, I have one child. ... Many of my friends have opted to have no children. Some have adopted.

These are choices that you and your friends have made. Is it your contention that these are the only ethical choices you could have made? Or, to take it further, that your One Child Policy should be applied to everyone everywhere?

How population reduction might be accomplished is a long way away when "be fruitful and multiply" is still a thing.

For me, it's more that how population reduction might be accomplished is very unclear when "human rights" are still a thing.
posted by nickmark at 2:31 PM on July 7, 2011


Population reduction will be implemented as always. Far overshoot the carrying capacity, which will be lower than necessary if we continue avoiding nuclear power, then drastic crashes. It will be brutal, unfeeling, and we will settle far below our current carrying capacity due to the loss of much of the modern infrastructure that supports it in the ensuing wake of destruction.
posted by karmiolz at 2:37 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Indeed! The idea of "I can reproduce as much as I like" is certainly now revered as a human right. Unless we want to keep dropping back to, say, Bronze Age levels, like the Moties, we will end up re-evaluating that as a "right."
posted by adipocere at 2:38 PM on July 7, 2011


adipocere I'm not opposed to this one bit. I say this seriously, if you could make sterilization mandatory to a minimum age, then allow people to apply to have children and reverse the sterilization I would be all in favor. This isn't viable due to the lack of technology necessary to turn on and off fertility, but I would completely support it if it were.
posted by karmiolz at 2:45 PM on July 7, 2011


t_dubs: "...cheap, efficient and safe source of energy to meet the increasing demands of the world's rapidly growing population...."

I'm sorry, but there is simply no such thing. Attempts to pretend otherwise will result in the predictable effects of increased energy consumption overall, and further abuse of the land, air, and water.

As others have pointed out here, world population has grown so much precisely because of the availability of cheap energy. We have to cut back dramatically on per-capita energy use worldwide, or we will suffer serious consequences within the next century. Those consequences of course include cutting back dramatically on per-capita energy use worldwide.

Ain't no Bill Gates gonna change that no matter how much money or brand recognition he has.

You have to look after the real essentials of land, air, and water first. And build public policy around that. Population will be limited automatically to what the region can carry sustainably.

What people can't get their heads around is that yes, in any region, that means some people will go hungry at times. This happens in populations of any species. We like to think "it shouldn't have to be that way" for humans, but that's just silly.

Upon our conviction that nobody should every be hungry is built the ridiculous conceit of nuclear energy and all the other crackpot schemes for riding into the 22nd millennium on our personal vehicles, fed on food we did not grow or gather. This presumption is fully woven into our civilization, which is why our representative democracies and our marketplaces can't "solve" the crisis we're in.

Human rights is a meaningless concept within a civilization that is aggressively undermining the geophysical systems on which our species depends. Note to trolls: I am not advocating mass killings or one-child policies applied in some top-down manner, but it's hard to imagine how many lives are not to be lost at relatively young ages as we come against worldwide limits.
posted by maniabug at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2011


maniabug Nuclear energy isn't really a crackpot scheme. It's a well developed field with practical applications. To say that there aren't other serious limiting factors, as you said land, air and water, would be false. However cheap energy allows us to utilize other technologies to take advantage of previously unusable land and water to increase our capacity. I hope we take advantage of further cheap energy by instead increasing our stability, I'm just not particularly hopeful that we'll do such a forward-thinking thing.
posted by karmiolz at 2:52 PM on July 7, 2011


karmiolz I am not speaking for maniabug, but I am speaking for maniabug :) I am not really trying to dispute the efficacy of nuclear power vs. solar power vs. black power vs. Max Power. This isn't about Bill Gates. It is about looking at root causes. While I am not in favor of nuclear power, I am willing to listen to arguments about the various offshoots of nuclear and even standard plants. Some think it is better to, at least, spend a portion of our arguing energies on the cause of the need for more power. Those solutions are often easier, safer and less damaging to implement than an army of power plants (nuclear or otherwise). When someone comes to a doctor with Type II diabetes caused by overconsumption of refined foods and lack of physical exercises, one can lament the lack of will and funding for a cure for this "epidemic" or one can say difficult things in order to save a life. It is our call. But one way or the other, nature will sort this out.
posted by FrankBlack at 3:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why would anyone listen to him? Whatever Bill Gates is, he is not a great predictor of the future.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


FrankBlack I agree that nature will definitely sort it out haha. I'm simply saying that massive isolated nuclear plants supplying the backbone of a new power grid through DC lines, supplemented by wind, solar, geothermal, where they are viable options is the way to go. I work researching algal biofuels, and the fact is we are still a minimum of 50 years away from anything of that nature being Industrialized.
posted by karmiolz at 3:10 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


karmiolz I hear you. I guess I am just an idealist who wants to avoid all the costs and potential problems inherent with nuclear power when we may be able to wake up and slow things down to the point where we can do things less caustic to the world. At one point in my dad's career he built nuclear power plants for Bechtel Corporation (yes, I forgave him.. hehe). Because of this I know that there are voluminous and stringent safety regulations governing their construction. Even with those regulations there is plenty of room for trouble. I'd rather avoid potential issues and try to snap things back to some sort of perspective. While US population growth apart from immigration is relatively level, we still use WAY too much energy per capita. We need alternatives and perspective. But, yes, I hear you. Dad got out of Bechtel and built a 900 square foot log cabin in the woods because he felt it offset his "collusion". ;)
posted by FrankBlack at 3:20 PM on July 7, 2011


Bill Gates: population reduction
posted by thescientificmethhead at 3:23 PM on July 7, 2011


FrankBlack I think the debate for the ideal solution is an interesting one, justn o the one we are having right now. Practically we do need to be more efficient, conservation minded, and work towards stability in general. In reality that will require more energy as well. Currently we only have one technology that can accommodate that, nuclear. The other possibilities are just nowhere near ready as much as we would like them to be.
posted by karmiolz at 3:27 PM on July 7, 2011


that means some people will go hungry at times. This happens in populations of any species. We like to think "it shouldn't have to be that way" for humans, but that's just silly.


Paraphrasing Robert Anton Wilson: Something becomes a resource when a human mind sees how to use it in a new way. Saying that we are running out of natural resources is like saying we're running out of brain cells.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 3:33 PM on July 7, 2011


He made a very important point about solar power on the roof, acting as a peak energy provider on warm days, essentially off-setting the spike caused by air conditioning in the summer. Those peaks alone is what causes us to build more power plants. His use of the word "cute" to repeatedly describe solar panels signals some sort of macro-development bias it seems.
posted by Brian B. at 3:55 PM on July 7, 2011


Saying that we are running out of natural resources is like saying we're running out of brain cells.

Solution to world hunger:
Eat Brains
posted by LogicalDash at 4:22 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've decided not to have children. What's yours?

I've decided that "overpopulation" is already a solved problem in the developed world and that the way to solve it elsewhere is to encourage human rights.
posted by Justinian at 5:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Child-rearing is a shitty job. Lots of people would prefer to avoid it. But if you don't have any expectation of decent medical care when you get old, or there's absolutely no one willing to move out to your farm and help you with it, it starts to look like a better option.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:18 PM on July 7, 2011


Something becomes a resource when a human mind sees how to use it in a new way.

In that case I have a modest proposal.
posted by FreedomTickler at 6:28 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Home solar, defined broadly, is a little more than cute.

Indeed. The price of PV has been dropping more slowly than the power sources that can be centralized.

That said, it pays to look around for opportunities. Google, for example, is investing in a $300M 10-state SolarCity program where they pay for the cost of installation, and you pay a monthly bill. That's not just cute, it's 4-way smart.

Those nuclear advances that Bill's pimping ("we can simulate them") are untested pie-in-the-sky and at least 10 years off once they have been tested. Like all nukes, even molten-salt reactors produce waste with prodigious half-lives. In the meantime, the rest of the world is investing in wind and solar at a breakneck rate, and financiers find them much more palatable than "cute" promises just-over-the-horizon.
posted by Twang at 6:35 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Home solar, defined broadly, is a little more than cute. You can save a LOT of energy by proper alignment and design, plus landscaping. Then with PV, say, serving your much-reduced electric needs you'll be drawing a miniscule fraction (if that) from the grid that you previously were.

The person upthread talking about grid is on the money here. Solar PV is a great salve for guilty middle class consciences, but as a form of mass power generation is it both hideously expensive and utterly insupportable from an infrastructure perspective.

Put simply, our current power infrastructure - including, but not limited to the grid - is completely unable to cope with the demands of widespread, decentralised power feeding back into it. It will cause meltdowns and blackouts the likes of which you've never seen, not to mention the fires etc.

Our infrastructure was built around centralised power distribution and that's what it does best. Solar could very well be an answer in the future, but solar PV on people's roofs is not going to feature as a major part of most countries' renewable energy makeup in the near future (though Germany is really ploughing ahead with it, and picking the winners on a large scale). It would require an almost wholesale overhaul of existing power distribution networks and further, compared to centralised power - now and in the short to medium term - it is really, really expensive.

Those cheap rebates you get selling your power back into the grid are heavily subsidised by governments. If they paid you the same price the power companies get for their power, solar PV would be a no-brainer.

The other elephant in the decentralised solar room is batteries. We do not currently have the battery technology to make storing power like this safe and cheap. This puts a hard cap on the amount of solar PV that will be worthwhile in the future. It can add to the network, but it can never be a major player in it.
posted by smoke at 6:44 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Scientificmethhead, that seems like a very anthropocentric understanding of the word resource. For wild animals, the primary resources are food and habitat. Those resources can and do run short, with the healthy effect of curtailing runaway growth. That the human mind has been clever enough to dodge that process for a very limited time in no way suggests that the principle does not apply to us.

Karmiolz, because it's well-traveled ground, I think we can set aside for a moment the question of whether nuclear is a crackpot scheme—as I'm sure it will be considered by whatever civilization witnesses the eventual failure of our long-term waste isolation "solutions". You can't just arbitrarily use technology to make more land usable. Just putting the problem in those terms reveals a simplistic notion of what land is all about.

On a small scale, a healthy farm for instance has fields and pastures in various modes of use bounded at some healthy scale of division to maintain proximity to marginal land such as woods, wetlands, and brush. These are critical to the health of the whole land area including those parts under managed production. For example, one reason pesticides are so indispensable to the industrial farm is that the huge open tracts of cultivation are inhospitable to many insectivores. It's a very modern (and I use that term pejoratively) assumption that land can be carved up and repurposed like the space on a circuit board, with any given area put to whatever direct use is desired on an abstract level.

This is in fact how industrial agriculture works, at the awful expense of high inputs of concentrated energy and unsustainable problems such as pollution, waste, desertification, erosion, and water depletion. It is a ponzi scheme, and to hell with it's self righteous cries of "feeding the world".

The sprawl mode of human settlement that coincided with the advent of industrial agriculture has exactly the same basic problem: it damages the land in a very energy-intensive way. The damage we are doing to the land is a much more serious problem than any of the things our politicians and pundits like to blab about.

This isn't about farming specifically, or solar panels, or population. What needs to develop is a consciousness of how these things are interconnected, and an acceptance that there are limits. Sadly, everything about our culture discourages thought in these directions. I see no problem with near-term use of any of the power systems we have, as long as they are used as a bridge to an world of much lower energy consumption. An abrupt change to that world is the stuff of the doomer survivalist, and is as irrelevant as the cornucopian crowd's insistence that technology will let us go on to an even higher energy future.
posted by maniabug at 7:14 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally I'm bullish on nuclear. As far as I can tell it's the only thing that will actually meet the demand of the world -- which demands are, of course, the result of many factors unrelated to the fitness of nuclear power.

We can address the problems and we can address the symptoms. In ten years there will be 10 billion people on this planet. Nothing we do now short of mass murder will prevent that. The only solution to the power problem, the way people are living now, is nuclear. New designs will be way better, and that's no joke. Remember that the original plants were designed on paper, too. Actual paper.

As for the problems of overpopulation, consumer culture, anthropocentrism, etc., etc., those are separate problems with separate solutions. We can talk about those, too, sure, that's a great idea, and even take measures.

But for generating large amounts of power and distributing it from a central location to a dense population of high-draw nodes, nuclear is the only option for the next 20 years. I firmly believe that. Maybe in 2020, 2030, we'll have the batteries, PV efficiency, space mining, god knows what and we can't predict eurekas, but we need to plan for reality first.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:34 PM on July 7, 2011


I'll stick with renewables and a Mac, thanks.
posted by namasaya at 8:39 PM on July 7, 2011


It may feel good to compartmentalize issues that way, but it's unreasonable. They aren't separate problems at all.
posted by maniabug at 8:41 PM on July 7, 2011


If a cat jumps on a table and spills milk on the floor, would you say that the cat and the milk are the same problem? One problem can cause another, yet the two will have separate solutions. You don't try to think of a single solution to both the cat and the milk. In this case, we need to teach the cat to stay off the table, but are you going to wait until then to clean up the milk?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:55 PM on July 7, 2011


I'd agree with Justinian that overpopulation should be handled by encouraging human rights, especially women entering the workforce. Any countries that won't achieve such social reforms soon should be encouraged to adopt a China-like one-child policy, being careful to avoid backlash, ala Sanjay Gandhi. In solidarity, western democracies should adopt a legal limit depending upon their own population decline, i.e. small European countries with declining populations are permitted four or five children but Americans run into legal troubles after three.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:14 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


small European countries with declining populations are permitted four or five children but Americans run into legal troubles after three.

Why this? If we need population to go down why incentivise growth, especially in developed countries where population growth has the most impact?

I reckon one of the easiest ways to begin tackling the issue is eliminating this irrational fear of declining population when said decline is the consequence of a high standard of living. We already overshot carrying capacity once we remove fossil fuel subsidies so attempting to maintain current numbers is unwise.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:52 AM on July 8, 2011


BTW, I should make clear that I'm not suggesting prohibiting anyone to have 4 or 5 children if they personally want, just stopping this paranoia about generations not renewing themselves and the popular belief that's a nasty, nasty thing.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:55 AM on July 8, 2011


Bangaioh, it's not a nasty thing, but it is a disruptive thing. A fairly small population bulge is causing a lot of problems in the US now and in the future with social security and health care costs.

I think the only effective solution for overpopulation is to empower women in the societies and cultures that have fast population growth.

As for solar, there is a great municipal parking lot project that went up across the street from me at the county office of education. Now they can park in the shade, it's providing $12,000/month of power, and there's an economy of scale involved in the building and maintenance of the project that wouldn't be there for individual residential refits. I look forward to more projects like that in the future as solar becomes cheaper, but there is an intense lobbying effort by local power companies to stop the state subsidies and also to keep the state from forcing the power companies to buy the excess power.

DU is right that new housing projects need to be more energy sensitive, and I think a huge win for that would be to force real estate listings and or real estate estimators/assessors to estimate and disclose the per year energy costs for homes. It's ridiculous that we have energy star ratings for $600 appliances, but we can't do the same sort of thing for $600,000 homes.

As for renewables vs nuclear, always remember that nuclear is better than coal.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:19 AM on July 8, 2011


BlackLeotardFront, have you done your math? how many nuclear reactors do we need to "meet the demand of the world"? how many time do we have?

Hint: tripling our nuclear reactors would make nuclear electricity go from 19 to 20% of the electricity comsumption (which is ONLY 16% of total world energy use).

Nuclear power is already declining, we are not building enough reactors to keep the contribution of nuclear electricity flat, so it will decline in the future.

And new nuclear reactors designs doesn't seem to be cured for the traditional problems of the nuclear industry (costs, delays). See The EPR in crisis.
posted by samelborp at 2:21 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bangaioh, it's not a nasty thing, but it is a disruptive thing.

Of course it is, all the more reason to start doing it as soon as possbile, while we still have enough cheap hydrocarbons to soften the blow. The longer we delay the harder it will become to do so in the future.
posted by Bangaioh at 9:04 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd agree with Justinian that overpopulation should be handled by encouraging human rights [...] In solidarity, western democracies should adopt a legal limit.

Yes, I can see how deeply your commitment to human rights runs.
posted by Justinian at 10:28 AM on July 8, 2011


There are small nations with declining populations that wish to maintain their national identity, language, cuisine, etc., Bangaioh. Immigrants won't burry a fish for 12 weeks or whatever.

In fact, there aren't enough people living in all these small nations to bother with, except ..

There are many who've historically proven happy to do their part, set a good example, etc. It might only require recognizing their fears about population decline and cultural erosion.

In particular, India has a disastrous history of botched population control measures, meaning the Americans and Europeans imposing limits might help them along.

In fact, you might even get Europe's racist parties onboard with even a three child legal limit, given all the paranoia about their immigrants having more children than natives.

Btw, Scandinavians emit vastly less CO2 per capita per capita, despite the freezing cold.

posted by jeffburdges at 11:56 AM on July 8, 2011


There are small nations with declining populations that wish to maintain their national identity, language, cuisine, etc.

Fair enough, though I still don't see in what fashion a larger population is required for that, it's not like there wasn't enough cultural diversity 300 years ago when there were less than 1 billion people in the world. Besides, I must admit the whole "we must breed more or else that other group will outnumber us" rubs me the wrong way (as you note in your comment regarding racist parties).
posted by Bangaioh at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2011


Put simply, our current power infrastructure [can't] cope with the demands of widespread, decentralised power feeding back into it.

I believe the proper response to this is: It doesn't need to go on the big-g Grid. It goes on the little-g grid: your neighbors. With solar there's NO NEED for a Grid.

We do not currently have the battery technology to make storing power like this safe and cheap.

Tell that to the city in Alaska (Fairbanks?) that has a large-building-sized battery for back-up power. Anyway, that claim is a distraction. There are countless ways to store neighborhood-size quantities of energy which have already been implemented. So your gloom-and-doom prognostications about solar are clearly dated.
posted by Twang at 6:15 PM on July 8, 2011


It's not doom and gloom, Twang. What it is, is a proper recognition of the full costs association with going down the residential PV route - which people tend to think stops on their roof, but in actuality just started there.

Batteries for back-up are fine - secure datacentres have been doing this for years. But back-up is a completely different kettle of fish from regular demand.

I'm not saying that residential solar PV is a dead technological end for grappling with widespread renewable energy. I am saying that residential solar PV in its current existence is not built for the grid and power infrastructure we currently have, and that is a major barrier to its implementation compared to other renewables that can do it, and do it cheaper.
posted by smoke at 8:30 PM on July 8, 2011


You know, one could easily pass off "our current power infrastructure can't cope with the demands of widespread, decentralised power feeding back into it" as a Julian Assange quote. lol
posted by jeffburdges at 10:35 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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