Importance of Natural Resources

Energy Myths: Climate, Poverty and a Reason to Hope | Rachel Pritzker | TEDxBeaconStreet

Translator: Huyền Trần
Reviewer: Leonardo Silva So, quick question: is energy use good or bad? This is what’s considered
modern energy access in the developing world: enough to power a fan, two light bulbs and a radio, for just a few hours a day. What would your life be like
with that little energy? We’re all here today because we have
access to a lot more energy than that. From a human perspective,
energy use is good. It allows us to live healthy,
secure, modern lives. But from an environmental perspective, I think we could all agree that the way
we generate energy today is pretty bad. There are a lot of negative consequences: air pollution, damage to ecosystems, and, most daunting of all, climate change. One of the biggest challenges
we face in the 21st century is how to move billions of people
in the developing world out of poverty, without catastrophically
warming the planet. It sounds impossible, right? I don’t think so. Not only is there reason to hope,
but I believe it is possible, just not in the ways
most of us might think. JFK once said: “The great enemy of truth
is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent,
persuasive and unrealistic. We enjoy the comfort of opinion
without the discomfort of thought.” So, ten years ago, I started a foundation to support new ideas for addressing
some of the world’s key challenges, namely climate change and global poverty. Working with some of the world’s
foremost experts, I learned how inextricably linked
these issues are. Once I understood this, I realized that most
of the comfortable truths I had believed about what it would take to power
a planet were actually myths, myths I needed to question. What you might not guess about me is that I was raised
on a goat farm in Wisconsin, by hippie parents who met on a commune. So, we built our cabin
and grew all our own vegetables, and to this day, my parents speak proudly
of how we cooked and heated with a wood stove. We believed that modern high-energy living
was ruining the planet and that we’d all be better off
living more like our ancestors did. While my family
lived this way voluntarily, for as many as 2 billion people
on the planet today without access to electricity, this lifestyle is not a choice and it can be really, really difficult. I saw this first-hand when I studied and traveled
in rural Latin America after college. While there, I met women
like Silvia and her family in the Peruvian Amazon. Like everyone in the area,
they relied on wood for energy, which she and her daughters
had to gather and haul. They cooked over open fires,
breathing smoke for many hours a day. Time they might have spent on their
education or on starting a business was instead devoted to manual labor. We all want to end poverty but we don’t seem to understand the ways
in which energy is necessary for doing so. Reliable 24/7 power is essential for hospitals, schools, businesses
and entire cities to thrive. So, most estimates show
that energy use will double or even triple in the coming century, as people in the developing world strive for the same energy-rich lives
that you and I enjoy. And we could help
make that a reality for them without overheating the planet. But it’s only going to work if we’re able to generate clean, cheap
and reliable energy across the world. I was raised to believe
that we could power the planet with renewables
and energy efficiency alone. But the deeper I looked,
the less convinced I became. Renewable energy sources,
such as wind and solar, have experienced exponential growth due to massive public support
and trillions of dollars invested, but, despite this rate of growth, wind and solar still make up less than 3%
of the global energy mix. So where does the majority
of our energy still come from? A four-letter word
you can’t say on television: coal. So, even though it’s incredibly bad
for the planet and for our health, it’s cheap, it’s scalable,
and unfortunately, it’s on the rise. More than 2,000 coal plants
are currently being planned worldwide. Now, you might be thinking
that, with continued innovation, solar and wind will soon replacing coal
and other fossil fuels in large quantities, but here’s the fundamental challenge: there’s no solar energy
when the sun isn’t shining, and there’s no wind power
when the wind isn’t blowing, and sometimes,
due to the seasonal fluctuations, they provide very little power
at all for weeks. We don’t yet have the ability to store energy during off hours
on any meaningful scale. In other words, wind and solar
are inherently unreliable. And reliability is really important
when it comes to energy. We rightfully expect the lights to come on
when we flip the switch, or the electricity to work
when we end up in a hospital. So, you may have heard that Germany
is powered mostly by renewable energy, but the reality is Germany still gets more
than half its energy from fossil fuels, and, as Germany has tried
to scale up wind and solar, their electricity rates have tripled. Germany may be able to afford
really expensive energy, but do you know who can’t? Countries like India, Kenya and Ghana, that are trying to rapidly move
large populations out of poverty. So, while wind and solar have a place
in the global energy mix, it’s highly unlikely these technologies
will ever fully power the modern world, and almost definitely not in a time frame that matters for addressing
climate change. If we’re going to address climate change and give people like Silvia
a shot at a better life, it’s imperative
that we dramatically scale up the technologies uniquely suited
for this purpose. The good news is there are technologies that bring us much closer
to a realistic solution. The bad news is you might not
like the sound of them. I know I didn’t. Ironically, one of the most controversial
of these technologies has been around for decades. Nuclear power. Before you all have a meltdown,
let me tell you where I’m coming from. For most of my life,
I was vehemently anti-nuclear. In fact, one of my earliest memories
is of holding on to my mom’s bell-bottoms at an anti-nuclear rally. But the deeper I looked at what it’ll
actually take to power the world the more I was forced
to take a second look. And what I found surprised me. Nuclear provides a tenth
of all global energy and it also provides about a third
of all carbon-free power. Nuclear also provides
a lot of reliable energy. A piece of uranium
about the size of my fist could provide all the energy
I would need for the rest of my life. Rain or shine, day or night,
nuclear is always on, and for all our fears
about nuclear energy, it’s in fact dramatically safer
than fossil fuels. In the entire history
of commercial nuclear power, less than 5,000 people have died
or are even expected to die prematurely from radiation exposure. In contrast, nearly 20,000
people die every day from air pollution, much of that from burning fossil fuels
and wood for energy. While unreliable energy sources,
such as wind and solar, probably can’t power our modern society, we know that nuclear can, perfectly, up to today. French currently gets 75%
of its power from nuclear, and has some of lowest energy prices
and emissions in the modern world. France’s success is even more dramatic considering they’ve done it using
really outdated nuclear technologies. What will happen when we really
begin to innovate? Dozens of promising
advanced nuclear designs are beginning to answer this question. These designs cannot melt down, and most of them can actually run
on existing nuclear waste. And there’s enough nuclear waste
in the world today to power the planet for the next 70 years. Prototypes of these designs
are up and running already in Rusia, China and India. Here in the US, innovative new start-ups backed by investors
like Bill Gates and Peter Thiel are working on major
nuclear energy breakthroughs to help this reliable power
be even cleaner and cheaper. You can imagine the interesting
dinner conversation with my family when I first shared
my new views on nuclear. (Laughter) But once I started
re-examining my assumptions, I began to wonder what else I was missing which is how I came to this shocking fact: nothing has closed coal plants or reduced emissions faster
in the US than natural gas. Compared to burning wood, diesel or coal,
it’s a much better option, especially in developing countries,
in parts of the world like Africa, that have huge gas reserves. And although it’s fossil fuel, it emits half the carbon of coal
and is far less polluting in general. Plus, it’s cheap
and it can be deployed rapidly. For those who worry about the extracting
and burning of the natural gas, here’s a dirty little secret: wind and solar rely on natural gas. In much of the world, it’s what provides power
during the long periods of time when wind and solar are offline. So it’s in our best interest
to make sure these technologies are well regulated and running
as cleanly as possible, but even with nuclear and natural gas,
and wind and solar, coal isn’t going away anytime soon. Each time a new coal plant goes online, it’s likely to remain online
for the next 40 or 50 years. Once we accept this reality,
we’ll realize how crucial it is that we continue to explore ways to make carbon-capture technologies
more cost-effective, so we can reduce the emissions
of burning fossil fuels. But ultimately, it isn’t about
any individual technology. These are all just a means to an end. If we want to address the dual challenges
of climate change and global poverty, it’s imperative that we step back
form the myths we’re steeped in so we can see these challenges anew, which, I can tell you
from personal experience, is not easy. Leaving my old beliefs behind
has meant losing friends and colleagues, and even created rifts in my family. So, for me, the price has been high. In fact, I’m pretty sure my mom
thinks I’ve gone to the dark side. (Laughter) But I believe we have a moral obligation,
to people across the world, to wrestle with our own discomfort
so we can see these issues with clear eyes because we don’t have
to leave anyone behind. We really can create a world in which everyone can enjoy
healthy, prosperous lives on an ecologically vibrant planet. So let me ask you again: is energy use good or bad? If you have more questions now
than you did 15 minutes ago, welcome to the club, but don’t just take
my word for any of this. Go find out for yourself. Letting go of our myths may be difficult, but only by doing so
will we find a real reason to hope. Thank you. (Applause)

Reader Comments

  1. No thank you. Do you want the waste in your backyard or the materials mined near your home? Please consider the vehement opposition to communities where extraction is taking place. Fracked gas is not well regulated. Carbon capture is a complete failure and extremely expensive. The challenge I see anew, is that of incentivizing renewables and research in clean, green energy.

  2. Thought provoking and eye opening! I hope people listened carefully and start understanding we need high power density to provide low impact, cheap and reliable energy.

  3. Wonderful talk, which will hopefully Go Viral soon!

    While Mark Jacobson's Solutions Project also provides a brilliant messaging tool, it does not identify a socially feasible, clear path towards compliance with all targets in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, EPA Clean Power Plan, and California Assembly Bill 32:

    Until we complete the work outlined in these comments to the California Energy Commission, billions will continue to live in poverty, and tens of millions will die each year from energy poverty and air pollution:

    If we focus the Climate Change discussion on adopted energy production targets and emission mandates, nuclear power production will clearly be the only option for timely compliance. It's the law, and our only hope for clean air and water, sustainable communities, and prosperity, for billions, forever…

  4. She spot on! Regardless of your opinion about climate change, this transition to nuclear, especially molten salt reactor nuclear is probably the most important advancement needed globally. Energy has to be cheaper than coal, clean, safe and reliable to be adopted by developing nations, only modern nuclear energy can do that.

  5. Thank you, Rachel, for your contributions to the national discussion. Abundant inexpensive energy is not a luxury but the fundamental ingredient of modern life. Even agriculture to support an estimated worldwide 2050 population of 9 billion is dependent on energy as is the production and movement of water. Beyond fossil fuels the only high energy flux density power sources are nuclear fission today and perhaps fusion energy by mid century once the science is fully understood and new technologies mastered. My only concern is that far too much money is being dissipated on AGW – climate change study and green energy solutions which simply cannot solve the problem. Much more money needs to be invested into correctly solving energy and climate change caused by man will take care of itself…one way or the other. Again this was an outstanding talk and it is crucial that the public begins to understand the science of energy.

  6. There is also the prospect of utilizing Helium-3 mined from the moon. From what little I have heard and read on the subject, it sounds like a "game changer". For instance: one 25 ton space shuttle cargo hold of this substance could power the US for a year; displacing all other forms of energy. (according to what I have read)

  7. [cont 3] XXXX "2000 coal plants currently being planned around the world" XXXX
    Coal use declined markedly in 2015/16. Many plants on drawing boards are being put on hold and PV and wind farms being built instead. China and India are turning away from coal and have made this very clear in policy statements, legislation and procurement plans for renewables. Mind boggling amounts of PV and Wind going in over the next decade in India and China and Sth America. Many new coal plants in China are actually replacing much more efficient and dirtier plants in the same location. Many others are not getting started or finished.

  8. [cont 5] XXXX "Wind and solar rely on gas" XXXX
    No more so than coal and nuclear "relies" on gas. Increasingly sa nations take decarbonising more seriously and move to high penetrations of RE we'll see that gas will be delivered from power2gas using renewable energy to power electrolysis for H2 and then converted to more stable fuels or used onsite. Once a price is put on carbon it's bound to happen, gas is cheap in USA but not so internationally the market is three times the price it is in USA, when USA opens export hubs (coming soon) you'll be exposed to that price too. But guess what, it's not just gas that is used to do power balancing, in 75% Nuclear France, 25% Hydro is used to balance, plus coal from Germany is imported (and some nuclear is exported too). Pumped Hydro Energy Storage can use clean renewable power to pump water to a high dam and then it's dropped using conventional hydro turbines to generate power. The round trip efficiency is pretty good at 80-90% (higher if evaporation is avoided by using underground or ponds covered in PV).

    So no, another false claim. Concentrated Solar Thermal can store energy in molten salt storage tanks to be used at night or the next day if it's cloudy. They are being built on every continent on Earth now (even though USA invented it under Pres.Clinton, Bush II killed the program and it was Spain who revived it, now USA is back in the game).

  9. [cont 6] XXXX "Each time a coal plant goes online it stays on for 40 to 50 years" XXXX
    Not any more. No way on Earth and as soon as the USA, Russia, China and a few others stop blocking a global price on Carbon (oh and admitting CC is happening and is extremely dangerous to mankind in the case of USA and Russia) coal cannot compete in an open market with wind and solar. New wind and new solar are already cheaper than new coal and new gas most places in the world. Especially developing countries who want cheap power, because in the case of PV it can eliminate the need for a grid, so even if coal power was free, it would still cost less to have rooftopPV due to the expensive of building transmission and networks being more expensive than solar and modest microgrid batteries.

  10. [cont 7]
    XXXX "Nuclear provides a tenth of global energy" XXXX
    7.7% in 2014 and falling as no new nuclear come online since then and several half built cancelled and/or being reviewed due to construction problems. Imagine spending $20billion on a plant and then the govt saying 'just stop, this is getting obscene'. Flamanville and others in trouble also. Japan and Germany both decommissioning at a rapid rate that outpaces life-expectancies for these plants.

  11. [cont 8] XXXX "Probably can't power a modern society from renewables but we know that nuclear can" XXXX
    I guess you'd be calling one of the the most industrialised regions in the world, northern Germany not a modern society then. But hey, what's factual accuracy between friends? Scotland well on the way to being 100% RE as is Chile. Denmark not to far behind.
    Even in France they import coal power from Germany and use a lot of hydro (could become a problem in a warming world) to balance nuclear because nowhere in the world do nuclear plants ramp every day to load follow. Another meaningless generalisation that's not only false, but reflects little understanding of the subject of energy generation in general.

  12. [cont 9] XXXX "France has cheap power using 75% nuclear" XXXX
    France has low energy prices because they sunk a king's ransom into a state owned nuclear power and hydro industry then privatised it. Effectively it was a huge subsidy towards these low power prices. In a government study commissioned by the French govt and released last year researchers found that they can go forward to 95% RE by 2035 for less cost than BAU just maintaining existing nuclear power plants and replacing them as they retire with new nuclear. They have already legislated to reduce, I'll say it again —reduce — nuclear power to 50% of their mix just on economic grounds alone.

    Nuclear enjoys high social licence in France so this can be debunked as a popularity driven issue. So if the worlds poster child for the NPP industry is turning it's back on nuclear it sure makes you question where all this innovation is headed. Sth Korea, Japan, Germany and USA all moving away from nuclear, some towards renewables, some unfortunately towards mostly coal (Korea and Japan).

  13. [cont 11] XXXX "Nothing has closed col plants faster in USA than fossil gas" XXXX
    This is correct. Also impacting economics of nuclear power plants for that matter.

  14. There's some real derp memes in this talk. It's basically propaganda it's so unbalanced and full of cherry picking. I'm all for leaving existing nuclear running until we get to zero emissions but this talk is seriously unhelpful. I'll tackle some of these motivated "debunkings" that spread more misinformation than they clear up one by one below.

  15. Nuclear is not cheap especially in countries that lack the infrastructure. for you to set up central station and build the infrastructure from scratch in terms of dollars it's hundreds of billions. So your nuclear idea is really not feasible specially in sub-Saharan and Central Asia countries.

  16. Energy consumption goes far far beyond simply what you use to keep your home electrified. There is energy content in EVERY single tangible thing of modern life. Including the air we breath and the water we drink. Energy input is required to bring you every single tangible thing that you enjoy. EVERY SINGLE THING ! What we use to power our homes is but a minor fraction of the total.

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