People often debate energy and whether a few hundreds of million get spent on some energy research project or not. There is money all over energy, energy research, energy subsidies. Buying energy and building out energy infrastructure are the big items. Energy research and development (angels and venture capitalists) in the USA is about $10 billion per year. Worldwide it is about $50-100 billion (government and industry).
For a $6 trillion per year industry with an average of 2% for research, there should be $300 billion being spent on energy research. We should be trying to get a broader portfolio of research with potential solutions that could actually quickly scale. The problem with ITER (international fusion research) is not that it is hard research that has been running decades late. The problem is that even if it works it would not make energy cheaper and the buildout would take until 2050 to get started and around 2070 to make a significant impact.
People argue about the waste and some company or project not working out. Venture capitalists and angels expect 9 out of 10 investments to not work out. However, they are shooting for the big hits that have the potential to make a difference. Making cars that are 20% more fuel efficient or increasing the efficiency of a turbine by 5%, those are all achievable and low risk and incremental engineering. If we want to change the global energy mix significantly to make them 98% non-polluting or lower energy costs by 5 times within 30 years to boost the global economy then we need to be targeting projects that have the potential to deliver those kinds of gains from the design. We then need to be ready to massively and rapidly scale the true winners.
China success with solar and wind and hydro was not in developing the research. China won by massive scaling of the factories and deployment. Not the billion or two on research but the $100 billion to trillions on scaling.
We should be targeting clean low cost energy abundance. Globally spending $600 billion per year on energy research. The top countries in research (Japan, Israel) by percent of GDP spend 3.5-4.2% on research. Get energy right and the world can double the entire economy. Instead of targeting double the world energy and world economy in 2040, we could target triple or quadruple. With energy that is four times cheaper then we have a lot of energy for clean water and other ways to change the world for the better. We would have the energy and money for space.
Natural gas has become low cost and abundant because of fracking and horizontal drilling. This shows that technology can shift energy markets and the cost of energy within a few years.
We can target transforming nuclear fission energy with factory mass produced deep burn (burn 99+% of the uranium, plutonium or thorium) with a cost of 1 cent or less per kWh. I believe that Terrestrial Energy Integral Molten Salt Reactor could get down to 0.86 cents per kWh.
The 25 MWe version of the IMSR is the size of a fairly deep hottub
Radically redesigned 800 foot tall wind turbines could lower the cost of wind energy by 4 times. There are also kite and other flight based wind power systems.
More fusion energy designs should be researched that would be lower cost and faster to scale. Getting it to work is just the start. Then you have to build the first commercial unit and then you have to scale to build thousands of units.
Lawrenceville Plasma Physics – 4 years commercial after net energy gain proved. Say two years to prove net energy gain. Then 2019-2021 for a commercial reactor (2021 if we allow for 2 years of slippage). Could lower energy costs by ten times.
General Fusion 2020 (targeting 4 cents per kwh)
Helion Energy 2022 (about 5 cents per kwh and able to burn nuclear fission waste)
Lockheed Compact Fusion 2023
Tri-Alpha Energy (previously talked about 2015-2020, but now likely 2020-2025)
EMC2 Fusion (?? No information for the last few years. US Navy is funding the work at a few million dollars per year)
Global research and development (R and D) spending is forecast to grow by 3.7 percent—or $53.7 billion—in 2013 to $1.5 trillion, according to the closely watched forecast by Battelle and R and D Magazine.
The U.S. R and D enterprise—which accounts for 8.3 million jobs—is expecting to see expenditures grow by 1.2 percent to $424 billion.
* US Federal government $129 billion of R and D in 2013 (down slightly from $131 billion)
* Industrial R and D funding in the U.S. is forecast to reach $262 billion in 2013, a slight 2.3 percent increase over the 2012 forecast estimate of $256 billion.
* Total US angel investments in 2012 were $22.9 billion. 7% was in energy
* Global venture capital has been between $40 and 52 billion per year for the last 7 years. About 17% was in Cleantech
* Post tax energy subsidies are 1.9 trillion dollars. This is the equivalent of 2.7 percent of global GDP, or 8 percent of government revenues.
* The global energy market is about $6 trillion per year (buying the electricity and the gasoline for cars etc…)
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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