What should we be doing today to enhance world energy security, in order to reach a sustainable global energy system?


April 2018:

(1)   Solar power: Since March of 2015 (the month after my retirement from NSF), I have served on the international advisory committee of the national Solar Energy research Consortium (SERC) of Chile. Because Chile has the world’s best economic opportunity to expand solar energy, this has been a wonderful experience. In 2016, for a major talk at Enersol 2016, I delivered a paper analyzing that economic opportunity in some detail. This year, I delivered an updated version of that talk at the historic Senate building in Chile.

(2)   Intelligent power grid and cybersecurity: See AI Intelligence for the Grid 16 Years Later: Progress, Challenges and Lessons for Other Sectors, a new paper invited and sponsored by the French company RTE and by INRIA. In addition to the core use of “the new AI” in electric power, the paper gives information on very urgent threats and opportunities in related areas which even Congress does not seem to appreciate as yet (like cyberattacks to burn out US generators and the poison which will be coming out from the oceans). My wife Luda told me to watch the new movie Geostorm, on the downside risks of the geoengineering I am calling for, but the cybersecurity and international approaches which I propose would prevent such downsides, if we get that far in time. The paper also reviews the real economic and political issues with renewable energy in many regions of the world.

(3)   Energy issues from smart grid and solar power to transportation fuel in Korea: Click here to the see the slides I presented to the Millennium Project  Korea node, supported in part by them and in part by KAIST, in November 2017. By the way, they did mention Donald Trump’s threat of military action if the peninsula were not denuclearized. They laughed, but when I mentioned that Linday Graham assessed a 30% probability that it really will happen, and that it was not just Trump, they seemed very serious indeed – and of course they were quite creative and intelligent.


Why no other action on transportation fuel security since my retirement (aside from the work on electrification discussed in the paper)? Unfortunately, the older papers posted below on that challenge are still very much up to date. When I worked for the office of Senator Specter in 2009, our office planned to introduce a bill which would have been a win-win situation for the US oil industry, the environment and for national security. But Senator Reid and certain oil lobbyists were afraid of change, and shot themselves in the foot by making electrification (with amazing new cars and batteries) coming from China the only game in town. In theory, there is still time to do better, but (1) and (2) are more urgent.


August 2011:


(1)   New Smart Grid papers in US: At that time, I was serving on the Smart Grid Committee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC),

one of the main White House councils. NSTC stimulated me to recently put together a relatively complete statement of my technical/market vision of the fourth generation intelligent grid: P. Werbos, Computational Intelligence for the Smart Grid – History, Challenges and Opportunities, IEEE Computational Intelligence Magazine, feature cover story, August 2011. This is cited in the new White House policy on the smart grid.

(2)   Keynote Talk In China: Provided a keynote talk on energy from space to the China Energy and Environment Summit (CEES)

of the NDRC. NDRC is similar to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors in the US, and to the old Soviet Union organization which defined and enforced five-year plans across the entire economy. 


March 2010: Yes we can – the technology is here which would allow complete OECD independence of oil imports from OPEC, in about 20-25 years. Click here to see the slides for a talk showing how we can and why you should believe this. The talk was given at the Herzliya conference, a very high-level international policy conference. However – if we only do the kinds of things we are doing now, and pass the kind of climate/energy bill which passed the House of Representatives in 2009, EPA and DOE predict that the US will be using just as much petroleum in 2050 as we do now! (See the official predictions.) Of course, we would also be emitting the same CO2 from that sector as we do now. 


November 6, 2009: Climate Change Legislation: Job Creator or Job Killer? The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), working with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, held a major briefing in the Capitol Building on “Can Addressing Climate Change Provide Economic Benefits?” Included on that web page are my three slides on that subject, and an MP3 transcript of the entire session. (My own comments begin at minute 35.)


September 27, 2009: How We Could Change the Energy Game With NEW R&D (i.e. what it takes, concretely, to capture unmet opportunities for major near-term breakthroughs that could change the world energy picture). (With links to APRA-E “request for information” and my detailed response to the same.)


August 2009: How to break our addiction to imported oil (a comprehensive 19 page proposed bill in proper legislative language, two-page bulleted summary, slides on the overall strategy and the links to specific technologies and intelligent systems, and discussion of the important role this could play in addressing current economic problems.) 


August 19, 2009: Updated view of our best hope to make it through the political morass of cap and trade, based on lots and lots of direct inputs from how the process is actually working…

March 4, 2009: one-page outline of what I personally would propose for an optimal cap-and trade law for the US (and China). (Important revision and extension inserted March 15, 2009.)


October 28, 2008: Getting to >500 Miles Per Gallon of Gasoline––How to Achieve Total Independence from Gasoline At the Soonest Possible Time. (Updated 15-minute talk – 3 pages worth of words, with the 17 slides I used in the 15 minutes, given at the Energy Summit in Chicago of the Set America Free coalition, http://www.setamericafree.org/. 2 megabytes pdf. New slide on the Pickens plan.)


August 10,2008: Technological Solutions for Energy Security and Sustainability

(Comprehensive strategy -- complete text with citations and URLs. This link goes to a brief citeable file maintained by Nature magazine, giving you a choice of Word or pdf, only 228K.)


April 16, 2008: Click here to see slides (200K, pdf) on “who will win the race to control the new automobile industry,” with discussion of China’s new energy independence plan.  I gave this talk at Rayburn 2218, the hearing room of the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, under the invitation of the House Oil and National Security Caucus and the Set America Free coalition. At the same event was an important talk by Greg Dolan of the Methanol Institute, and an important dialogue among high-ranking players in the room; click here for some highlights.


August 5, 2007: History in the balance: a report on energy bills passed yesterday by the House, what they mean, and what comes next.


May 2007: 20 slide updated strategy: immediate actions needed to slash US oil dependency as deeply as possible by 2025, and zero out net CO2; click here for interactive slide presentation, or here for (300K) color-printable version with text and sources. July 2007: IEEE/ASME/IAGS invited me to give another Congressional presentation in the Rayburn Building giving more details on the part of the strategy which involves plug-in hybrid cars; click here to see the slides. (IEEE-USA reported over 100 attendees, from House and Senate side both.)


2004: Global Energy Sustainability, a comprehensive text paper, was written for the CD ROM of the State of the Future 2003, and slightly updated. It asked questions about the long-term goal of true sustainability, which remains important to this day. It includes discussion of how to achieve “win-win” balance between oil producers and oil consumers. It may be cited as “in Chapter 1 (Energy Challenge section) of the CD ROM of State of the Future 2008.”


The attached powerpoint presentation is more detailed and up-to-date than the 2003 paper, from the viewpoint of policy. (4 megabyte file, last updated 2/23/06. Unfortunately, the powerpoint text shows up in Explorer but not in Firefox.). It is an expanded and updated version of a talk I was invited to give for Congressional staffers, at the Rayburn House Office Building, on January 25, 2006, arranged by the office of one of the top Congressmen in the House leadership, based in part on prior efforts by IAGS, by IEEE and myself. This was part of the preparation for the famous 2006 State of the Union speech on our need to overcome “addiction to oil.” This file includes slides from three other talks given on the Hill within that year. An updated version of the 2003 strategy, formulated more explicitly in terms of optimal rational decision theory, is in press, in a new book planned for about January 2009, edited by Korin and Luft. It is interesting how mathematical concepts from computational intelligence can provide guidance on how to formulate a rational strategy, while also providing technology tools needed to implement it.


2006: a condensed two-page summary of what actually needs to be done, most urgently, in the US, in order to act on this bigger picture, and move the entire human species onto a more sustainable, secure pathway. In addition to those personal, unofficial views here are some additional important pieces of information:


  1. July 2006: a simple two-page overview of JTEC, a major potential breakthrough in efficiency for cars and solar energy, and an updated slide show on the global situation reflecting this and other updated information. (No text for these slides.) At that time, NSF announced a small new award to support this technology. October 2008: Since then, articles have appeared in Popular Mechanics and (IEEE) Spectrum magazine on JTEC; tests so far have been favorable, and a full working prototype at low temperature is expected relatively soon.

Solar farms for electricity utilities are the only form of earth-based renewable energy which definitely has the capacity to meet all the world’s needs for daytime electricity. But the best-known and most popular forms of solar power simply can’t compete in the utilities market today because they cost too much, per kwh. Cost is everything, for a “fungible” commodity. The one exception is solar thermal energy based on Stirling engines, which is now the cheapest reliable source. See Stirling Energy Systems and a recent news report on their progress. But the new technology here (JTEC, item 1) and more advanced Stirling (item 5, below) should allow even lower costs, by a large factor, and faster scale-up of generation capacity.


  1. September 2006: a one-page response to the question: “What are the real facts about hybrid cars and what they mean for US energy security?”


  1. A review of the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? – including an email response at the end from a guy who (at GM) once said “It was me.”


  1. My personal response to the question: “How much would we cut CO2 emissions by shifting to fuel-flexible plug-in hybrids cars?” (A factor of 4 or more, but only if we do things right.)


  1. The latest personal unofficial views (April 2006) of Al Cavallo of the Department of Homeland Security on the “peak oil” issue, summarizing a recent workshop at the National Academy of Sciences on that issue, posted with his permission. Some of his earlier papers and my current views are in the presentation linked to above.


  1. A paper/prospectus on the possibilities for next generation Stirling engines, written by the Sobey/Johansson team. Johansson is essentially the one inventor who succeeded in developing a workable, mass-producible Stirling engine, when many others with big teams and deep pockets were not creative enough to do the same. Johansson has a plan to raise the efficiency to 40% and then 55% -- which is highly credible, and would allow earth-based solar systems to beat electricity from natural gas on price, and would provide a highly credible, cheaper and far more flexible alternative to fuel cell cars for a sustainable world energy systsem. (See my slides for the strategic importance of this. Also, here is a brief summary of why this technology is one of the really crucial unmet opportunities both for short-term energy security and long-term sustainability.)


For material on the space solar power option, go to my space page.


One key point: if we work hard and immediately to increase fuel flexibility in cars, not just to ethanol but also to the full range I call “GEM,” we substantially increase the amount of fuel we can get from biofuels (and other secure sources), and also increase the sustainability, efficiency and profitability of biofuel production. Attached is an initial email which the author at USDA gave me permission to post in 2006. I would predict that strong incentives for a properly defined version of GEM flexible cars would initially lead to huge expansion in sales of ethanol and methanol both (methanol mainly from remote natural gas); after a few years, all the ethanol that people can produce would still be sold, but there would be a huge increase in the sales of “Fischer-Tropsch” liquids from gasified coal and biomass; and then, with time, low or zero CO2 liquid fuels would start to penetrate the market, and reduce CO2 even more. Dupont sells the stronger gaskets and hoses, which are the main (inexpensive) upgrade needed to provide the full GEM flexibility, once G/E gasoline/ethanol flexibility is achieved. (Most new cars sold in Brazil already have G/E flexibility.)


Ford sold thousands of GEM-flexible cars in California in the 1980’s, at no extra cost for the flexibility. Ford’s experience was summarized in:


Roberta Nichols, The Methanol Story: A Sustainable Fuel for the Future, Journal of Scientific & Industrial Research, Vol. 62, January-February 2003, p. 97-105. (Almost one meg, posted with permission of the journal JSIR.) Nichols, on behalf of Ford, estimated $300 per car as the real cost of the full GEM flexibility, but technology has improved substantially since then – and I plan to post more technical details on that soon.


I would also like to give special thanks to all those members of the Planning Committee for the global State of the Future effort, and IEEE members,  who have arranged for me to give versions of this talk in other nations, and for me to learn about the diverse needs and viewpoints which exist on these matters all over the world. There are many others as well to whom I owe special thanks, but perhaps this is not the place for a long condensed list…


In the future, I also plan to post some of my papers on energy-economic models, which range from systems tools to substantive findings. Just for starters, I can now post one of my old papers on energy modeling and econometrics – explaining how some very sophisticated-looking formal models can turn out to be a case of “garbage in, garbage out,” and giving some simple-sounding rules to overcome the pitfalls:


P.Werbos, Econometric Techniques: Theory Versus Practice, Energy: The International       Journal, 15 (3/4), 1990,  p.213-236