Green

GreenBeat: Live-blogging Nobel Prize winner Al Gore

Straight from VentureBeat’s GreenBeat 2009 event, we bring you former vice president and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. I’ll be live-blogging this session — so it won’t be perfect or word-for-word, but it will be fast! We’ll pull out the gems as soon as we can.

Laura Ipsen, Cisco Systems’ smart grid guru is introducing Al Gore right now, highlighting his many achievements and awards. He’s been a mentor for Cisco in linking climate change to good business. Cisco will be launching its telepresence system at the climate talks in Copenhagen this December. (Incidentally, Gore will be making another cameo on 30 Rock tonight. Don’t miss it.)

He starts by acknowledging his partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, including yesterday’s keynote speaker John Doerr.

- “I am Al Gore I used to be the next president of the United States.” A good opening…

- “Thanks for mentioning my new book, Laura, Our Choice.” All of the profits from the book will be donated to the Alliance for Climate Protection.

- I was advised before coming on stage that the legislation haven’t been discussed in detail at GreenBeat yet.

- Expectations for Copenhagen have been scaled back because negotiators aren’t going to be able to reach agreement on a legally-binding treaty, but the heads of state that are gathering there agree they will seek a binding political agreement with as much specificity as they can muster. To provide a set of guidelines for negotiators to complete their work in the first part of the year.

- They are trying to get this done so it can be announced before Copenhagen to give more impetus to the talks there — the window for passing serious legislation in 2010 will close around the time the spring ends, or even before that, but there is a determined effort by the White House and Congress to get that done and then resolve the international treaty’s details during a conference in June in Mexico City.

- Because the Senate requires 60 out of 100 votes and has grown sclerotic in its approach to anything like reform, it has become a challenge. There is good news, though: Some Republicans led by Senator Lindsay Graham have joined with Senator Kerry and Senator Boxer to arrive at consensus around a bill that will probably add some subsidies for nuclear and some provisions on natural gas.

- There is a chicken and egg relationship between Copenhagen and the legislation working its way through the Senate in the U.S. The climate bill isn’t as strong as I would have wanted but could achieve real reductions in emissions.

- I remember a story when I was a young congressman, 30 years old, I used to do townhall meetings all the time and most weekends I’d do lots. One Saturday I finished my fifth meeting and was driving home in Tennessee listening to the Grand Old Opry. Back in those days there was a famous comedienne named Sarah Cannon — she told a story as I was driving and I almost ran off the road. She told of a farmer in an accident who sued for damages and the driver of the other vehicle hired a lawyer that cross examined the farmer. He asked the farmer, isn’t it true that you said you felt fine after the accident? The farmer says he was driving his cow home and the other vehicle crossed the meridian. The lawyer cut him off and restated the question. The farmer starts over saying the truck hit him right on, throwing his cow out of the car. The cow was immediately shot in front of the farmer. So when he was asked how he felt, of course he said “I feel fine” — at least in comparison to the cow. This got big laughs…

- This relates to the global climate change conversation because it’s not as bad as it could be.

- The ice and snowy regions are in the process of melting — they are definitely beginning to melt at a more rapid rate. If that process crosses a tipping point then the sea level will reach a catastrophic rate. The other impacts, I won’t go through here, but more storms, deeper droughts, famine, tropical disease, a disruption of the basis for the conditions that have been favorable to the rise of human civilization. We really have to act.

- One of the reasons for rapid movement toward a need to act is that in our country, for example, there is a sense that solutions to the climate crisis will help with the economic crisis as well. A set of solutions that also enhance our national security by making us less dependent on the international oil market, controlled by sovereign states in the Persian Gulf which are not transparent about their operations.

- There are a lot of reasons to get very serious about solving the climate crisis. The book discusses in detail all the solutions to deal with the crisis — there is wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, I’m not going to go through all of them and you can come to your own conclusions. Nuclear option will play a limited role, but not as large as its advocates hope for.

- The single largest solution is efficiency and the Super Grid, or the Smart Grid, plays a crucial role in several aspects of a comprehensive plan to solve the crisis. It gives us access to the best solar areas of the South West by giving us more access to the lower-loss transmission lines. It gives us access to the best wind corridors that aren’t being used now. Most of the wind energy is not being produced in the best sites.

- By infusing the grid with intelligent devices and smartness, we will be able to deal more effectively with the intermittancy of these sources, and we can empower consumers to take charge of their energy use and respond to energy waste which is ubiquitous throughout our system. We have such large amounts of waste throughout our energy system.

- The Smart Grid will also empower an entirely new collection of devices and instruments that haven’t even been invented yet — just like when the internet was first born.

- The Smart Grid creates job, reduces our dependence on foreign oil and reduces emissions of global warming-causing pollution.

- The analogy to the internet is close to exact and very relevant. We are moving inexorably toward a widely distributed energy generation and storage model. Right now we’re still locked into the centralized model. But in some countries that use solar more, about 90 percent of solar is coming from rooftops of homes and businesses. New storage devices will make a major difference in connecting these with the Smart Grid.

- We’ve seen an increase in electricity use in the U.S. — the increase in the peak load has been even more. We have huge investments in standby generation just to reach peaks that arrive 400 hours per year, less than 5 percent of the time — more enormous waste and inefficiency.

- Speaking of smart storage, the wave of electric vehicles and hybrids will arguably serve a larger role as energy storage devices than transportation.

- Right here in San Mateo and Northern California, more than 10,000 smart meters are being installed every day — right here is one of the truest Smart Grid developments in the country.

- This new Smart Grid is cost effective in and of itself. Even if you discount some of the future projections, it immediately produces cost savings — proven over and over again. Our current infrastructure is outdated and vulnerable. And it’s costly when you account for unanticipated outages and grid failures like blackouts. Even small outages for some businesses are extremely costly — variations in power quality can even cost a tremendous amount. When you take the competitiveness impacts of these failures into account — our GDP is losing $1 trillion per year.

- Having a very effective Smart Grid is going to be a competitive advantage for the U.S. in the world community. The average transformer is estimated to be 42 years old. That’s unacceptable.

- The steps that are necessary serve multiple goals and should be undertaken for other reasons anyway. It will pay for itself over not many years. The innovation required will drive favorable developments in lots of other areas.

- Still, in many states where regulators and legislators still have antiquated laws and regulations, we are stuck thinking about the grid in terms of these large coal generating plants connected to consumers. The world is passing that model by. Many laws and regulations are just hopelessly out of date — another reason a federal initiative is absolutely necessary.

- We think of the grid as an exciting and wonderful thing. Our electrical system has been described as the most important engineering feat of the 20th century. But just as we’ve benefited from the building of the highway system and the internet, so this vision of a Super Grid with smart feature is going to be one of the most significant achievements of the 21st century.

- We will allow people to use the internet to connect to Smart Grid devices and appliances. Whirlpool will be delivering more than 1 million smart clothing dryers next year. Yesterday, California issued that law restricting use of big screen televisions. It takes 1 percent of the output of a coal-fired power plant to provide energy to televisions that aren’t even turned on in California. A Smart Grid would make it easier to solve problems like this.

- When homes are equipped with lots of smart appliances and new devices that have yet to be invented, we will live in an era where the use of the internet by things will exceed use of the internet by people. It’s already quite considerable.

- The intelligence out there in the world, in these devices is considerable. By giving them IP addresses and connecting them to the Smart Grid and employing strategies to cut energy waste we can accomplish several goals simultaneously. And by calling people’s attention to where savings are to be had on their bills and elsewhere in the system.

- China is building an 800-KW grid to connect every part of China. One of the reasons they are moving so quickly is because they see it will give them an enormous competitive advantage. There is also a program spreading in Europe to connect a transcontinental grid with renewable sources in Africa and the Middle East and consumers in Western Europe.

- This will help them become less dependent on Russian gas, and it creates more jobs in Northern Africa, which is the source and transit point for the largest numbers of undocumented immigrants coming into Europe looking for work, creating a lot of other issues.

- There are proposals to take solar energy from the deserts of India to the heavily populated areas. There are similar plans in China. Australia is starting on an aggressive plan of its own.

- A large amount of the U.S. stimulus project has been allocated to green technology and the Smart Grid. Now there is talk of a jobs bill that could also benefit these areas. But we also need to remember that these previous programs for cleantech are creating thousands of jobs in themselves.

- We cannot wait to begin working overtime to get this initiative completed. Here in this audience people are devoting their lives to making this a reality. A lot of you have exciting plans and ideas. I’ve seen some of them here and I feel the excitement at this conference.

- But in order for anything to happen, we have to deal with the policies involved. We need a federal initiative to remove obstacles, and we have to put a price on carbon. Our over-dependence on carbon runs through all of these issues. It is out of sight and out of mind without a price tag. No wonder we’re pumping 90 million tons of it into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer.

- We have to remove the obstacles that our in our path: Political obstacles, as has ever been the case whenever a large new set of changes are being proposed. The good news is that many business leaders, especially at utilities, have become advocates for change. They have considerable political power in our system and especially in the U.S. Senate. We have to build up the pressure for change so we can overcome those obstacles.

- I want to urge everyone here to become more politically active. Its one thing to change your light bulbs and drive a hybrid cars — but we need to change the laws. [Big applause]

- The other set of obstacles are market obstacles. A brief word on the cap-and-trade system. It’s been demonized but more than half of people support it because it lets us use the marketplace as an ally. It worked incredibly well to reduce sulfur-dioxide pollution, a cause of acid rain. The cost of making those reductions was one-eighth of what is being estimated today, and it happened far faster than what is being projected. It works extremely well. A cap is set and those allocations are made. Those who don’t have enough emissions credit can buy from those companies that have not used up all of theirs.

- Company boards then will have a fiduciary motivation to manage carbon emissions. It is so much less costly to make changes in efficiency than to buy credits — every company will get on board to make the changes needed.

- Reductions have been incredible driven by the cap and trade system — it’s sort of like what Churchill said about democracy — it’s the worst system besides all the other systems that have been tried.

- There are other obstacles in the marketplace — the principal agent problem so that the incentives for decisionmakers are different than the incentives for the people who reap the consequences. There are a lot of people working on improving this situation.

- The final set of obstacles has to do with the way we think about the crisis — this is the most formidable set of obstacles. We have inherited a predisposition toward short-term thinking. Our predecessors survived previous threats, but we face very different threats than can be responded to immediately. Our chances of encountering a leopard are small — but the chance of encountering the climate crisis is 100 percent. We can only respond to this by using forethought, discussion and shared values.

- We have the capacity to create long-term goals and stay on track to achieve them. Cathedrals in the past were built over centuries. The Marshall plan created after WWII was spread across decade and we haven’t had any more world wars coming out of Europe. We have that same capacity but we have to cultivate it and resist distraction. We have to build consensus.

- There’s an old proverb: If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. We have to go far and quickly.

- An infant can recognize faces to a higher degree of accuracy than the largest super computers. We need to be able to visualize what needs to be done. Most people are simply not aware of enormous opportunities to save money, energy and have a higher standard a living at a negative cost — they will actually be making money. This information needs to be pushed out to the people.

- I was in Seattle speaking at Microsoft yesterday and people came through the line during the book signing, and a young man came up to me and said, “You know, we are going to solve this.” And I thought, thank you, I needed that. It made me remember, when I was 13, I heard president Kennedy announce the goal of putting a man on the moon and bringing him back. I heard people call that a mistake in the weeks after. But then Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and that day there was a big cheer at mission control in Houston — their average age was 26. They heard Kennedy’s challenge at age 18.

- The kids out there today need to see the potential, and it’s our responsibility to tell them. The Smart Grid is that important to the clean energy revolution.

- There will be a day when the next generation looks back and asks one of two questions: 1) If they see the climate crisis come to a devastating head, they will be justified in asking, “What were you thinking? Were you watching Dancing with the Stars? Didn’t you hear the scientists? Didn’t you care?” 2) But if they see a world in renewal with millions of new jobs building a new renewable energy platform and sustainable environment — if they feel in their generation a legacy that gives them a sense of purpose with a hopeful future, I want them to look back and say, “How did you find the moral courage to rise and solve a crisis that so many people said was impossible to solve?” I want the answer to be that smart men and women came together in places like San Mateo to make it happen — that they had the political will, which is in itself a political resource!

[STANDING OVATION]

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