What should we be doing today to enhance world energy security, in order to reach a sustainable global energy system?
(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.
(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.
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…
2009: one-page outline of what I
personally would propose for an optimal cap-and trade law for the
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
(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.)
2008: Click here to see slides (200K,
pdf) on “who will win the race to control the new automobile industry,” with
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
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
2006: a condensed two-page
summary of what actually needs to be done, most urgently, in the
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
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
Ford sold thousands of GEM-flexible cars 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