Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Vital Spark

Today the Hartwell Group officially releases its new paper, called The Vital Spark. Here is the press release:


“Only general prosperity can produce widespread consent for emissions reductions, and only affordable energy for all can deliver prosperity.”

How to square this circle is the vital topic of a new paper published today (Thursday 11 July). The Vital Spark: innovating clean and affordable energy for all' was coordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and is co-authored by 20 leading experts in energy and climate change issues from England, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, Canada, Germany and the USA, all members of the Hartwell group.

It is now known that Kyoto Protocol-type policy had no noticeable effect on reducing humanity's carbon footprint. Despite this failure, the report argues, we can still hope for a transition towards a high energy, low-carbon economy in which clean, safe, and affordable energy is available to all. The Vital Spark does not describe ‘how to do energy innovation successfully’, because no single prescription can fit all circumstances. Instead, the authors propose 11 building blocks that are the necessary conditions for success in the energy transition that humanity needs so badly for so many reasons. Some may be tough for today’s policy-makers to accept but the co-authors argue that all are essential.

These include the argument that only a high-energy planet is morally defensible or politically viable. But at present, only carbon-intensive sources of energy offer a realistic prospect of this, with obvious hazards to the climate. And current ‘green’ or ‘renewable’ alternatives are still far from viability, despite massive governmental subsidies. The deployment models of the last decade have been badly flawed.

The report analyses climate and energy policy of the past decade 2003-2013. The Vital Spark learns the lessons of those years. Sharply critical of subsidy-driven ‘renewable’ energy, which has failed to perform and has created ‘bubble’ markets,  the report contains a powerful analysis of the shale gas revolution and other unpredicted surprises. It explains why mandated or ‘driven’ energy transitions are difficult and unusual (because conscious energy policy is such a weak and unreliable tool), although not impossible; and it places high priority on the morality of policy if it is to acquire necessary levels of full-hearted public legitimacy.

Co-author Masakazu Toyoda, CEO of the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan and former Japanese chief climate negotiator in METI, said:  'The timing of the publication and dissemination of The Vital Spark in the months before the next COP in Poland, could not be better. I and my Japanese co-authors believe strongly that our arguments on energy innovation will win the day, just as the arguments of the famous first Hartwell paper of 2010 won the day in the highest levels of international diplomacy after the collapse of the Kyoto Protocol model at Copenhagen in 2009."

LSE Emeritus Research Professor Gwythian Prins is the Hartwell group convenor. He said: “We can attain the objective of energy with low environmental impact only if we create a high energy global economy with reliable energy that all can afford to buy. The case for universal energy access is not just a moral one; it is also a matter of political legitimation and pragmatism. It is simply not acceptable to pursue policies that will leave the bottom billion of humanity without the energy services they require for wellbeing and dignity. This paper attempts to form a common foundation which will enable us to provide large quantities of energy at low cost, and with low environmental impact.”

Former LSE Research Fellow Mark Caine is the Hartwell co-ordinator. He said: “The Kyoto process failed to provide the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that it promised because it was unwieldy, complicated, and costly. It was built upon unrealistic assumptions about what nations are willing to or can accomplish, and it invested unfounded confidence in binding international legal agreements. It will not be easy to provide clean and affordable energy to all nations, but we believe these pragmatic Building Block concepts should underpin future attempts.” 

Since the 1980’s scholars and practitioners of the Hartwell group have been researching pragmatic actions that might lighten the human footprint on the planet, and presenting them in policy-ready form. The Vital Spark is the third paper by the Hartwell group. It offers a comprehensive prospectus for how to – and how not to – undertake the vital task of energy innovation and how to drive that agenda in domestic democratic politics, in innovation and invention, in business and in international diplomacy in coming years.

The paper can be downloaded here.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the download requires a facebook account. Does anybody have a link to the paper for old-fashioned people like me?


Anonymous said...

Here it is:,%20G_Hartwell%20Paper%20documents_13_0587%20The%20Vital%20Spark.pdf%20%28LSERO%29.pdf


@ReinerGrundmann said...

Thanks Andreas, now amended link. When I uploaded the paper the LSE link was not available yet. Hope you enjoy the reading.

Anonymous said...

@ Reiner Grundmann

Bin etwas enttäuscht, dass ihr Beitrag nicht zu einer breiteren Diskussion geführt hat. Lag es vielleicht am Umfang des Textes?

Ich wage mal einen Anfang:

Mir ist aufgefallen, dass im Vergleich zum alten Hartwell-Text Fracking und die Entwicklung in den USA einen neuen Schwerpunkt erhalten haben und sehr positiv betrachtet werden.

Ich teile die Ansicht, dass Fracking im Sinne einer Übergangslösung bzw. einer Brückentechnologie viel positives bewirken könnte. Gleichzeitig frage ich mich, was passiert, wenn in etwa 20 Jahren Gas in den USA wieder teurer als Kohleverstromung werden sollte. Folgt dann ohne steuernde Maßnahmen nicht einfach die Rolle rückwärts? Muss man nicht befürchten, dass am Ende Fracking Gas keine Kohle substituiert hat, sondern nur zusätzliches CO2 in die Atmosphäre geblasen worden ist?

Die Risiken sieht man sogar schon jetzt:

"A surge in the burning of coal to generate Britain's electricity last year helped reverse years of steadily declining carbon dioxide emissions, according to data released on Thursday.
Coal produced 39% of the UK's electricity in 2012, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said, up from 29% in 2011, as cheap supplies and the collapse of the price of carbon permits sent power firms rushing back to their ageing coal-fired stations.
With industrial and domestic use added into the figures, overall coal consumption was up by a quarter over 2011. In the same period, carbon dioxide emissions rose by about 4%, after years of steady falls. This will make it harder to achieve the government's climate change targets.


Im Zusammenhang mit "The vital spark" ist folgendes Interview mit Ken Caldeira sehr interessant. Er kennt zwar vermutlich den Text nicht, aber vieles passt sehr gut dazu. Seine Sichtweise ist pessimistischer und kulminiert in

"I see natural gas as a bridge fuel; unfortunately, it is a bridge to a world with high CO2 levels, melting ice caps, acidified oceans, etc."

Meine Frage wäre also, wie verhindert werden kann, dass nach dem Zeitalter des unconventional gas die Rolle rückwärts zur billigen Kohle erfolgt. Dem jüngsten Hartwell-Text kann ich nur eine moderate CO2-Steuer entnehmen, ansonsten scheint die Hoffnung zu überwiegen, dass technischer Fortschritt von ganz alleine zu kostengünstigen CO2-neutralen Energieerzeugung führen wird, was ich als überaus optimistisch empfinde. Hierzu bleibt meines Erachtens das Hartwell-Paper eine überzeugende Antwort schuldig.

Meine persönliche Meinung (der leider kein ökonomischer Sachverstand zugrunde liegt) ist die, dass alles darauf hinausläuft, dass ein Großteil der billigen Kohle im Boden verbleiben muss. Ich glaube auch nicht, dass man dazu die Förderländer über einen globalen Klimavertrag dazu bewegen kann. Erfolgversprechender erscheinen mir globale Vereinbarungen, die darauf abzielen, Kohlenutzung teurer zu machen als die CO2-armen Alternativen. Mein Vorschlag wäre also, weg von einem Klimavertrag mit Reduktionszielen und -verpflichtungen, hin zu einem Vertrag über global koordinierte Besteuerung fossiler Rohstoffe, und danach auf den Markt vertrauen.

Down-top ist mir sehr sympathisch, eine starke dynamische Entwicklung kann aber m.E. nur dann entfaltet werden, wenn zugleich ein globales top-down-agreement die Weichen in die richtige Stellung gebracht hat.

Viele Grüße

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Andreas, many thanks for your comment. My reply is in English in order to facilitate communication with non German speakers.

The Vital Spark is a longish text which means that people may have put it aside for the time being but (hopefully) will read it on the beaches or mountain retreats, in the gardens or beer gardens in the next few weeks.

You say you have sympathy for shalegas as a bridging technology. But you want assurances that it will stay cheap in order to avoid a return to coal. Therefore you deem global regulations necessary, and you single out taxation as an important instrument. (‘Ich teile die Ansicht, dass Fracking im Sinne einer Übergangslösung bzw. einer Brückentechnologie viel positives bewirken könnte. Gleichzeitig frage ich mich, was passiert, wenn in etwa 20 Jahren Gas in den USA wieder teurer als Kohleverstromung werden sollte. Folgt dann ohne steuernde Maßnahmen nicht einfach die Rolle rückwärts? Muss man nicht befürchten, dass am Ende Fracking Gas keine Kohle substituiert hat, sondern nur zusätzliches CO2 in die Atmosphäre geblasen worden ist?)

No one can give assurances what the prices of fuels will be in the next 30 years. Your proposal of a global carbon tax is an obvious one and has been made by several economists. It would be the most simple and elegant solution if it could be achieved. But the problem lies with the word IF. There are no indications (let alone guarantees) that the UN process (or any other global process comprising the main polluters) will come to an agreement on this. And even if they did, the implementation problems of such agreements should never be underestimated.

Your hope that the market could solve the problem given the right financial incentives will not work UNLESS we have technologies that can deliver low carbon energy for the world population, including the poorest and the fast developing countries. This is the premise of the Hartwell Group and must be taken into account if we want climate policy is going to be acceptable to the world community.

I think the crucial point is to realize that we do not have the energy technologies needed for the energy demand of the coming decades. And therefore we need a massive push for innovation.

I agree with you that the market is important and will favour cheap energy sources. Which is why the task is to develop cheap low/zero-carbon energy sources in order to avoid the roll-back to coal (assuming that shale gas will be introduced as bridging technology).

Anonymous said...

Is 'innovation' all there is to it? Can this really be the simple answer to a very complex question? How would one go about implementing this advice? Which steps should one take? And where should one start? And who should start?

@ReinerGrundmann said...


many questions, maybe worth reading the text of The Vital Spark? There are some answers...