Thursday, April 2

Plan B for Energy: 8 Revolutionary Energy Sources

Plan B for Energy: 8 Revolutionary Energy Sources
If efficiency improvements and incremental advances in today's technologies fail to halt global warming, could revolutionary new carbon-free energy sources save the day? Don't count on it—but don't count it out, either
Editor's Note: We are posting this feature from our September 2006 issue in light of the Obama administration's renewed focus on how to power the country without overloading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

To keep this world tolerable for life as we like it, humanity must complete a marathon of technological change whose finish line lies far over the horizon. Robert H. Socolow and Stephen W. Pacala of Princeton University have compared the feat to a multigenerational relay race. They outline a strategy to win the first 50-year leg by reining back carbon dioxide emissions from a century of unbridled acceleration. Existing technologies, applied both wisely and promptly, should carry us to this first milestone without trampling the global economy. That is a sound plan A.


Sooner or later the world is thus going to need a plan B: one or more fundamentally new technologies that together can supply 10 to 30 terawatts without belching a single ton of carbon dioxide. Energy buffs have been kicking around many such wild ideas since the 1960s. It is time to get serious about them. “If we don’t start now building the infrastructure for a revolutionary change in the energy system,” Hoffert warns, “we’ll never be able to do it in time.”

But what to build? The survey that follows sizes up some of the most promising options, as well as a couple that are popular yet implausible. None of them is a sure thing. But from one of these ideas might emerge a new engine of human civilization. Read more to find out what they are...

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