The Hartwell paper advocates an increase in research on new energy to cover the future world energy demand from the rapidly developing countries in Asia and, as a matter of world justice, from the less developed countries in Africa and else where as well. The energy demand in the developed world in the next 30 years will be very small, according to the International Energy Agency: 95% of the growth in energy demand will occur in the developing world. The research boost should be financed by a small carbon tax - if I understood properly- of the order of magnitude of $5-$10 per tonne of CO
But where is the innovation in new energy sources going to come from ? And more generally, where does innovation come from ?
I am unsure as to whether there is a unique answer to that question, but I am absolutely no expert on this field. I feel also a bit disoriented about where to look for answers. In my personal experience, I do not have the feeling that forced innovation, i.e. a deliberate search for new inventions, has been very successful in the past. The only example that comes to my mind, not considering defense projects, is the Apollo project. In other cases, say the internet or mobile electronic devices, or further back into the past the steam engine, it seems that a real need in some fields combined with serendipity in other fields gave rise to a 'perfect storm' of rapid development, which often has no other real goal than 'to do new things'. I recall when I started to use the internet back in 1992, and to be honest nobody at that time seemed to have the feeling or the foresight that the internet would develop into the giant web that we now everyday use. The internet, as far as I know, was indeed created by public instances- well, we all know who created the internet- but not for the purpose of advancing worldwide communications of facilitate the explosion of blogging. It would be curious to know whether the 'engineers' tinkering with the first steam engines were aware of the industrial revolution they were about to trigger.
On the other hand, since when I was a physic student in Spain, the talk about nuclear fusion was all over the place. I recall listening to talks in the early 80's about inertial confinement of tritium pellets which invariably ended with the promise of an unlimited supply of cheap energy in a very short time span. A couple of weeks ago a radio show still featured an upcoming breakthrough experiment to be conducted in the National Ignition Facility in California. A huge amount of funding has been thrown to nuclear fusion research so far. In an unprecedented step, the US, the EU, Russia, Japan, Korea, China and India agreed to build an experimental fusion reactor based on magnetic confinement in Southern France, which no need to say is horribly delayed and already over budget.
The Economist this week includes an interesting article about global scientific productivity and research funding. In general Asian countries are devoting a growing share of GDP to research spending, as the US does. The US figures are always distorted by the huge volume of research spending on defense, but theoretically a real innovation on energy could also stem from 'defense innovation'. Research spending by the European Union as a share of GDP is however flat- it has not grown in the last 15 years and it is rather now declining. The share of GDP spent on research typically range between 1.4% of GDP spent by China to 3.4% of GDP spent by Japan, with the European Union and the US lying between these figures. So a spending boost of 0.6% of GDP from the carbon tax will not be negligible.
Another interesting quantity is the number of scientist. Globally there are about 7 million scientist, of which the US, the EU and China each host 1.5 million. China is thus already at par with the great science powers. in the its number of scientist. It can be argued that due to the much larger Chinese population the proportion of scientist, at about 1 per thousand, is still very low there. But obviously, each Chinese scientist does not innovate just for his/her one thousand compatriots. The production of Chinese scientists will spread countrywide. A more important figure would be the research spending per scientist, for which the Chinese figure is about one sixth of the US spending.
Roger Pielke Jr. seems to advocate in the Climate Fix to give a serious try to carbon capture and storage. This appears the technique that can be put up in place most quickly and at lower cost. If carbon-capture turns to be feasible at global scale, I wonder if perhaps by 2040 the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide could be controlled at will. But if the 'optimal' concentration is different for the USA and China, if for instance one of them benefits (or suffers) more than the other from higher temperatures, then we will have a problem.