Listened through the Open Source segment on China and Climate Change. Most Open Source programs are pretty interesting. Wasn’t too inspired by this segment, but only later realised:

  • Two rich American families are funding 12(?) representatives to live in China and somehow “advise” the Chinese government. Sounds like a good idea, until you think a bit about China - over a billion people, and quite a few very smart and very well-educated. An added 12 Americans seems almost irrelevant.
  • The core problem is energy - first, last, and always. Most of our energy (in China and elsewhere) comes from burning nonrenewable resources. Aside from one clueless caller, no one really focused on the main problem.
  • Somehow the Three Gorges Dam escaped mention.

At 19.2 gigawatts the Three Gorges Dam could produce roughly 168 billion kilowatt-hours per year, which works out to about 8% of China’s current annual electricity production. This should be at least worth a mention.

China is the first large instance of a formerly “third-world” country rising up the economic curve. The main problem is the use of fossil fuels. The problem is common to every developed and developing country, and is by no means unique to China.

Nuclear power is the biggest near-term feasible source of energy. Nuclear power is or was politically unpopular. Poorly designed, maintained, or operated power plants could be a risk. Nuclear waste poorly disposed of could be a risk. Address the risks and nuclear power is vastly better than burning fossil fuels.

Solar power is good for niche applications, and might be good for knocking a couple percentage points off overall usage, but does not look to do much more. Continuing research should payoff in more power from solar - but this does not look to solve the main part of the problem. Conversion efficiency is part of the problem. For more than incidental use, storage is a big problem simply because our need for power is not limited to the times when the sun is shining.

The research on thermonuclear power might someday yield a useful result. Worth a side-bet but by no means a sure thing.

Solar power satellites are a sure long-term solution that seem to have fallen out of mention. Outside the atmosphere sunshine is constant, much brighter, and panels never need cleaning. Large structures can be built in orbit that would be impractical on the surface of the Earth. This notion is by no means new. Finding a solution with acceptable costs will take an effort, but once found this is a essentially a permanent solution to the energy problem.

Cleaning up power generated from burning fossil fuels is only a partial and short-term solution. The problem is to find long-term sources of energy viable for the future where the bulk of the world’s growing population climbs the economic scale. China is just the beginning.