Powering the Planet (Full program)

Uploaded by Etheoperatorsmanual on 22.04.2012

Male Narrator: Earth's population
has now passed seven billion.
And world energy consumption is projected to increase
more than 25% during the next 15 years,
and may nearly double by the year 2050.
But how much energy we need, and how we get it,
depends on choices we make now.
And those energy choices have consequences
for Earth's climate.
We already see the promise of 21st century renewables.
But, today, most big nations still rely
on 19th century technologies.
Lykke Friss: At a global perspective,
we simply know that the age of cheap energy is over.
Narrator: Innovative projects prove
that wind can power entire communities.
And conservation and efficiency can cut
projected world energy demand thirty per cent by 2030.
Richard Alley: But how to get there?
That's not just a technological question of solar cells
and wind turbines, but depends on choices
made by real people living in the real world.
And that means economics and politics,
national security, jobs-- why we do what we do.
I'm Richard Alley.
I'm an Earth scientist, a parent and a professor,
concerned for my kids', and my students' future.
I've studied our planet's changing ice sheets
and climate history,
and tried to come up with numbers for how much
renewable energy our planet offers.
Narrator: Geologist Richard Alley
is one of the 97% of climate experts who believe
current energy practices are warming the planet.
But that the answers are out there,
Blowing in the wind,
Shining down from above,
And in the minds of inventors and engineers.
Soren Hermansen: Technology is easy, we'll find solutions.
It's a matter of making decisions.
Narrator: Building a nation's energy
infrastructure takes decades.
Now some energy insiders wonder if America
is still up to the task.
John Hofmeister: You need to think of energy
in a 50 year time frame.
And our elected officials are thinking of energy
in two-year election cycles.
That's ridiculous!
Richard Alley: But I'm optimistic
we can get to a world with more people living better
while using cleaner and more sustainable energy.
And that's why we call this program Powering The Planet.
Announcer: Powering the Planet- Earth: The Operators' Manual
is made possible by NSF, the National Science Foundation,
where discoveries begin.
Narrator: Planet Earth is awash in renewable energy.
The oceans store heat and offer wave and tidal power.
Plants harvest sunlight and store its energy.
The Sun warms the atmosphere and sets air in motion,
and we're getting better at tapping wind power.
But the biggest and most promising energy source
is the nearby star that lights our days and warms our world.
Sunlight reaching the Earth's surface offers
about 120,000 terawatts.
If the Sun's energy were spread around the world,
it would average around 240 watts per square meter.
Richard Alley brings that huge number down to earth.
Alley: If I walk out into this little patch
of this great desert, and I hold out my arms about like this--
And then another of me does the same thing--
And each of me is holding two 60 watt
incandescent light bulbs, or 10 compact fluorescents,
that's 240 watts per square meter that I'm marking out here.
That's a lot of energy.
And averaged across the globe, day and night,
summer and winter, that's how much sunlight
is available to power the planet.
Let's see what it takes to turn that vast potential
into energy we can use.
Doesn't take a genius to know that a mirror reflects the Sun,
but it does take an inventor
and engineer to make the next step.
Use the mirror to focus the Sun's rays
on a tank filled with liquid to make steam,
to drive a turbine, to make electricity,
and you have concentrated solar power.
That's not a new idea, but one that a little-known
American inventor, Frank Shuman, pursued around 1910.
Narrator: In his Philadelphia workshop,
Shuman invented safety glass for skylights and automobiles.
He also came up with designs that could concentrate sunlight
on metal tubes, heat liquid, and drive a steam turbine.
But in Pennsylvania, back then, it was all about coal.
Shuman had difficulty finding local backers.
So in 1912 he set off for Egypt.
His prototype solar farm used parabolic troughs
to concentrate sunlight and boil water.
The steam ran a 75 horsepower engine that pumped water
from the Nile to irrigate cotton fields.
The idea was right, but ahead of its time.
Hobbled by both lack of government support
and adequate private capital, the experiment ended
with the outbreak of World War One.
These parabolic troughs look very similar
to Shumans' designs, though they didn't come online
until a century later.
This is Solnova 3, at one of the world's
first commercial solar power plants.
Just as in Shuman's experimental station,
the troughs concentrate solar radiation on a pipe
that contains a heat-bearing fluid.
When completed there'll be three almost identical plants,
each with an output of 50 megawatts,
large enough to support about 26,000 households.
While the Sun powers the Solucar platform, it was
the Spanish government that helped develop solar power.
The central government set a specific target
of 500 megawatts of concentrated solar power
and committed to price supports for 25 years.
That in turn unleashed inventors and industry
to prototype plants like this one.
The technology works, though changing government
policies and the budget crisis have impacted the industry.
But, Abengoa, the company building Solucar,
is a part of a consortium planning the world's largest
solar power project.
Formed by a group of European and North African companies
and the Desertec foundation,
this consortium has energy ambitions that are
revolutionary for both Europe and the Middle East.
Unlike some of its neighbors, Morocco has little oil
or other fossil fuels.
But it does have sun, sand, and empty spaces.
The Moroccan government has encouraged the use
of distributed solar power
by small businesses and individuals.
Already, out on the edge of the Sahara,
you can see photovoltaic panels on top of tents.
But the Desertec vision goes beyond this
by including concentrated solar power plants,
photovoltaic installations, and wind turbines,
linked with low-loss, high efficiency
transmission cables back to Europe.
The Desertec project estimates that solar power
from the Sahara could provide more than 80%
of North Africa's needs,
and 15% of Europe's electricity, by 2050.
In a single generation, Morocco's young and growing
population could go from energy poverty
to energy independence.
The energy created by this proven technology
could generate both electricity and income
for some of the world's poorest nations.
And updated versions of Shuman's century-old designs
and a smart grid, could go a very long way
toward meeting our species' need for energy.
Collecting just 10% of the Sun's energy
from a 600-mile-square of low-latitude desert would
supply roughly twice today's human consumption of energy.
There are other ways to harvest sunlight.
It's estimated that biomass, plants growing through
photosynthesis, offers 11 times current human energy use.
And one nation has already proven it's possible
to Grow Your Own.
In the United States, for every thousand people, there are
more than 800 motor vehicles-- cars, trucks and buses.
If developing nations follow that path, there'll soon be
close to 6 billion motor vehicles on the planet.
And if they're burning gasoline and diesel,
they'll be pumping out nearly 12 billion
additional metric tons of carbon dioxide every year,
assuming there's enough oil to keep them on the road.
One nation doesn't have that worry.
Carlos de Brito Cruz: If for some magical reason,
every molecule of gasoline in the world would disappear,
I guess that the only country that would keep
its cars running normally would be Brazil.
Narrator: That wasn't always true.
As in every other industrialized nation,
the two oil shocks of the 1970's
brought gasoline shortages to Brazil.
Its government, then a military dictatorship,
decided to do something revolutionary.
Jose Goldemberg: Military dictatorships are bad
for many, many things, but the military dictatorship
in Brazil realized that science and technology was
an instrument for development, for independence.
Brito: In 1975, the Brazilian government
created the Pro-Alcohol,
an ethanol substituting gasoline program.
Goldemberg: I think it did it for nationalistic
reasons, too, which was one
of the characteristics of military regimes.
Narrator: Although a nuclear physicist,
Jose Goldemberg worked with agricultural colleagues
and wrote a paper for the journal, Science,
proposing ethanol made from sugar cane
as an alternative to imported gasoline.
Goldemberg: People were quite surprised
that there were options to gasoline, you know.
Until that time, gasoline dominated
completely the picture.
Brito: Producing alcohol from sugar is something
that humanity has done for more than 3,000 years,
so it's not really a new idea.
Goldemberg: Ethanol from sugar cane is
really solar energy turned into liquid.
Sugar cane proved to be the best raw material
for the production of ethanol.
That doesn't have to do with Brazil
or nationalism or anything.
It has to do with photosynthesis.
Narrator: Though nature may have blessed Brazil
with rain and sunshine, it took high-level policy
and investment for this nation to grow its own fuel supply.
Goldemberg: That took a decision from the government.
So it was not only natural resources,
but a deliberate attempt by the government
which created the conditions to do that.
Of course, in the beginning ethanol was expensive.
And the government understood that.
But everybody knows that in the beginning,
technologies are expensive.
Automobiles were very expensive
when Ford came into the game.
Narrator: And, more or less, it worked.
Goldemberg: For 10 years, then,
Brazil was the only country in the world
that had automobiles that could use 100% ethanol.
That required a complete distribution system
for pure ethanol.
Brito: And at some point, by the end of the 80s,
most of the cars were pure ethanol cars.
Narrator: Manufacturers like GM Brazil responded,
and tooled up to support pure ethanol.
Henrique Basilio Pereira: We were selling
about 97% of our cars during that period, on ethanol.
Narrator: Then oil prices crashed,
and subsidizing ethanol no longer seemed so wise.
But Brazil was still a major sugar producer.
Could engineering innovations find some way to build cars
that could use either gasoline or ethanol?
Pereira: In the end of the 80s,
beginning of the 90s, we started thinking
about having a car that could run on both fuels.
But during that period we did not have
a technology sufficient to run a flex car.
Narrator: A new kind of dual-fuel engine
had already been invented in the United States,
back in the 1980s.
But in 2003, the first mass-produced flex car,
a VW Gol, rolled off production lines
not in the U.S., but in Brazil.
Once again, the Brazilian government,
by now civilian, had stepped in.
Brito: In 2002 the Brazilian government
organized an initiative for reducing taxes
for the automakers if they would make Flex-fuel cars.
So you see the government policy reversed and changed,
and still the policy worked.
Narrator: And once again, natural resources
and human planning came together.
Pereira: Here at General Motors de Brasil,
we are producing, right now, a hundred percent
of the passenger cars as flex fuel.
Narrator: Now Brazilian consumers
have a choice, trading off the higher cost,
but higher energy of a tank-full of gasoline,
against the lower cost, but lower energy of ethanol.
Brito: And 95% of the automobiles
sold every month in Brazil are Flex fuel cars.
That makes Brazil a very unique country
in terms of substituting gasoline.
Brazil, last year, used more liters of ethanol
than liters of gasoline.
So it's not a small experiment, it's a large experiment.
Narrator: Brazilian researchers claim they could expand
their nation's production of biofuel ten times over,
using only abandoned farmland and under-utilized pastures,
while still protecting the nation's forests.
Brito: Biofuels will only be
a sustainable alternative, not only if they do not compete
with the production of food, but also
if they do not cause harm to the environment.
Narrator: Looking back, it may seem like a straight path
from imported oil to energy independence,
but the Proalcool program was an on-again, off-again process,
before ending up with Flex cars using flex fuels.
What was constant was a nation focusing
on its unique capabilities and natural resources,
assets that inevitably vary nation by nation.
For Jose Goldemberg, present at the creation of the push
for sugar-cane ethanol, the story has one main lesson.
Goldemberg: You have to adopt a solution,
and then have the courage to stick to it.
Narrator: Are there other examples
of communities and nations that have begun
the transition away from fossil fuels?
What does it take to welcome the turbines and solar farms
of the new energy system, and say, "Yes, In My Backyard."
This is the story of two communities
that at first look very different.
Samso is a small island off the Danish mainland.
West Texas is a vast, dry expanse in America's South.
What both have is abundant wind.
At times, Samso produces more electricity than it uses,
exporting surplus power to the Danish mainland.
And Texas wind now generates as much power
as the next three U.S. states combined.
Samso and West Texas both solved
the NIMBY, not in my backyard challenge
that has stymied so many renewable energy projects.
It's not easy, but with patience, and persistence,
and the efforts of the right people, it can be done.
Soren: Okay-- My name is Soren Hermansen,
and I am the Director of the Samso Energy Academy.
Samso means, in Danish, means the Meeting Island--
when you make a circle around all of Denmark,
then Samso is right in the center of the circle.
Narrator: But it wasn't geography
that brought Lykke Friis, then Denmark's Minister
of Climate and Energy, here in mid-2011.
It was why and how this community had turned NIMBY
into "Yes, in my backyard."
Lykke Friis: Well, Samso is a pioneering project,
in the sense that Samso, way back, decided
that Samso should become independent of fossil fuels.
Narrator: Before its transformation,
people thought of Samso as just a cute tourist community,
busy in summer, empty and desolate in winter.
Now people come here not just to see the turbines,
but to understand the process that got
the community to welcome wind energy.
After a national competition, Samso was selected
by the Danish government to be a proof of concept
for how to transition from fossil fuels.
But it was up to individuals like Soren Hermansen,
with the passion and skills to effect change,
to figure out just how.
Soren: So when we won, the normal reaction
from most people was, "Yeah, you can do this project,
that's OK, but just leave me out of it."
Narrator: Samso has a deep attachment
to its past and values its traditional way of life.
Soren: But gradually we won their confidence
in establishing easy projects to understand,
and also easy projects to finance.
Because basically it's all about, "What's in it for me?"
Because it's not convinced idealists
or green environmental hippies who lives here.
Narrator: Soren, a native of the island,
convinced some of his neighbors to become early adopters.
They found success, and spread the word.
Jorgen Tranberg operated a large
and profitable herd of milk cows.
After initial reservations, he invested
in a turbine on his own land.
When that went well, Jorgen became part owner
of one of the offshore turbines.
Soren: Farmers, they have to invent
new things and be ready for changes.
So when they see a potential, they look at it,
no matter what it is.
They look at it, say, "Could I do this?"
And if they see fellow farmers do the same thing,
they are quick to respond to that.
So even being very traditional and conservative in their heads
I think they have this ability of making moves and do things,
because they have this independency in them.
A farmer is a free man-- maybe he owes a lot of money
to the bank, but he's still a free man in his thinking.
Narrator: It was seeing what was
in it for them and for their community,
that won over landowners in West Texas.
And it took one of their own, a man whose family
had deep roots in Roscoe's cotton fields,
to educate them about wind farming.
Cliff Etheredge: Well, I'm really a farmer-farmer, you see.
I farmed for almost over 40 years.
We're in-- right in the middle of the Roscoe Wind Farm.
And we've got about 780 megawatts
of production, that's per hour,
enough electricity for about 265,000 average homes.
Narrator: Roscoe had no oil and faced hard times
in the early 90's, but it did have wind.
Cliff: When this land was acquired
there was absolutely no value to the wind.
Fact is, it was a severe detriment,
because of the evaporation of the moisture.
Narrator: Cliff, like Soren, had to work
with his neighbors to get them ready to accept wind turbines.
Cliff: The first thing farmers want to know is,
"Well, how much is it going to cost me?"
It costs them nothing.
"What's it going to hurt?" Three to five percent
of your farmland is all it's going to take up.
You can do what you want to with the rest of it.
Then it came down to, "Well, how much money
is this going to make me?"
Narrator: Cliff did his research and checked
his numbers with wind experts and the Farm Bureau.
Cliff: Then I was able to go
to our Landowners' Association and show them,
where they had been receiving 35 to 40 dollars an acre,
then the landowners could expect somewhere
in the neighborhood of three times that.
Narrator: In fact, farmers stand to make
10 to 15 thousand dollars a year, per turbine,
just from leasing the wind rights.
Cliff: There was no guarantees in it
from the very beginning, but sure enough we've got,
I think, in the neighborhood of 95 or more percent
of our area that accepted the wind farm.
Narrator: In both Samso and West Texas,
individuals saw economic benefits.
But the whole community, beyond the investors
and land-owners, benefited too.
Cliff: Because of the wind farm, now,
and the people working in the wind industry,
now we've got jobs available and opportunities
for young people to come back from college
or from technical school or from whatever.
It's just been a Godsend.
Narrator: For Kim Alexander,
superintendent of the Roscoe school district,
that godsend translates into dollars.
Kim Alexander: In 2007, prior to the wind values
coming on our tax roll, our property values
were at about $65 million.
And then, that wind development, they jumped
to approximately $400 million, to $465 million.
Narrator: The school district will get
more than $10 million dollars over a decade.
That guaranteed revenue stream unlocked additional funding.
School buildings, some dating from the 1930's,
could be updated, and computer labs added.
Cliff: This is an indication to me
of what can be done for rural areas, and will be done,
all the way to Canada-- bringing life and prosperity
back to these rural communities
that are suffering just like we have.
Narrator: The same oil shock
that got Brazil started on ethanol,
got Denmark started on manufacturing wind turbines,
just in time to compensate for a decline
in its ship-building industry.
Lykke: And it's also good
for the economy, in terms of export.
I mean, 10% of Danish exports comes from the cleantech area.
Narrator: Energy and environment always require
tradeoffs, such as clear vistas versus clean energy.
It's something that communities
have to make time to work through.
Cliff, for one, believes it's worth it.
Cliff: Everything, the schools,
the churches, the civic organizations,
all the businesses will benefit from this.
It will increase, hopefully, our town's populations,
and our economics.
Kim Alexander: My granddad used to say,
not realizing he was prophetic,
but "If we could sell the wind, we'd be wealthy."
Well, who would have ever thought
we'd be able to sell the wind?
Narrator: For Samso, Denmark and Texas,
clean energy brought economic benefits and energy security.
But replacing fossil fuel emissions with wind power
has other advantages.
Lykke: And let's not forget,
also good for climate and health, and such,
and that's a very important argument.
Cliff: We've got a constant wind resource here,
that's tremendously valuable, and as opposed to oil and gas,
it'll last forever, and it doesn't pollute anything.
Narrator: Burning fossil fuel
emits black soot and other pollutants
that fall out of the atmosphere quite quickly.
But it also releases carbon dioxide, which remains
in the air much longer, to influence Earth's climate.
Richard Alley's ice core research shows that sometimes
the Earth experiences abrupt climate changes,
known as tipping points.
And if we keep on burning fossil fuels
without capturing CO2 emissions, we may increase
the risk of pushing Earth's climate over the edge.
It might be wise to Look Before You Leap.
Richard Alley: The Earth's climate system
is usually well-behaved--
a little more Sun, a little more CO2,
and we get a predictable amount of warming.
This is the pattern of natural variability of the climate
our planet has experienced over the past 400 thousand years,
as recorded in the physics and chemistry of ice cores.
The regular ups and downs in temperature are the result
of changes in Earth's orbit around the Sun,
and their subsequent effects on levels of carbon dioxide
and other heat-trapping gases.
You can think of this natural variation
as the Ice Age roller coaster.
As a geologist, I'm at home in the vast expanses of time.
So let's take a ride, cresting hills
and rolling through valleys,
following the more-or-less regular pattern
of changing climate, over hundreds of thousands of years.
Here we're down at 180 parts per million of CO2,
and in an Ice Age.
Now we're climbing to 280 parts per million,
a warmer interglacial period.
Then down to a cold 180 and up again, to a warmer 280.
Then repeating 180-280, the natural cycling
of the climate roller coaster.
But if we look in greater detail at 100,000 years
of Earth history, and specifically
at the ice core record from Greenland,
it's obvious our planet's climate hasn't always
had smooth ups and downs.
Occasionally, we cross some sort
of a tipping point, and the Earth evolves
really rapidly to a new state which is very different.
Over the last 100,000 years of the Ice Age cycling,
we've had a couple of dozen of these large, abrupt,
widespread climate shifts, almost as if the Earth
was bungy-jumping off the climate roller coaster.
Of course, you'd have to be a little nuts
to bungy off a roller coaster.
Which is why I'm leaving this to my computer avatar.
But these abrupt climate changes are real.
Here's one of the largest and most recent.
About 13,000 years ago, as the Earth was climbing out
of the last Ice Age, the North passed a tipping
point and rapidly slid back into a cold millennium--
drying monsoon regions of Asia where huge populations
now rely on rain, and warming the South.
There was weather and climate disruption world-wide.
But then, another tipping point was reached,
and in ten years or so, temperatures in Greenland rose
by about 10 degrees Centigrade, 18 Fahrenheit--
numbers we know with high confidence
from the ice core record.
Today, whatever climate model we use to project the impact
of rising levels of CO2, you see a relatively smooth curve,
heading upward, but in principle
a change we could adapt to.
But Earth's history shows us that Earth's climate
doesn't always work this way.
Sometimes it really does get as crazy and unpredictable
as bungy jumping off the climate roller coaster.
An abrupt climate change could be really bad for people.
We're optimistic that we won't have one, but we're not certain.
And the science suggests that the harder and faster
we turn the CO2 knob, the more likely we are
to cross a tipping point and trigger one.
Yet here we are today, racing up a hill to who knows where.
As burning fossil fuels means we've blown past
390 parts per million, without slowing down.
Will our ascent be smooth and manageable?
Or will our ride come off the rails?
If we wanted to take out insurance
against the possibility of such a change,
we could look at slowing down now before we tip over the edge.
Narrator: One way of ensuring a more manageable climate
is to research and deploy ways to burn fossil fuels
without releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide.
And, surprising as it may be, some of the most innovative
work to meet that urgent 21st century goal is happening
in the land of one of Earth's most ancient empires.
China was first unified as a nation
in the 3rd century B.C. by the Emperor who had this
army of Terracotta Warriors built to guard his tomb.
These figures represent state control, and mass production
in the service of a master plan, extending from this life
into the hereafter.
This is a wonder of the ancient world.
But when China wanted to showcase
its National Treasures for a contemporary audience,
it placed one of the Emperors' majestic chariots
as a centerpiece at the 2010 Shanghai World EXPO.
This EXPO, however, was focused more
on the future than the past.
One entire floor of the massive Chinese pavilion
was devoted to renewable energy and low-carbon living.
Here there was no doubt that CO2 emissions
were driving climate change.
And that clean energy was the solution.
All World's Fairs are exercises in self-promotion,
if not propaganda-- but hard numbers tell the story.
In 2010 China invested more on renewable energy
than any other nation on Earth.
Germany was number 2, and the U.S., number 3,
committing roughly half as much as China.
Julio Friedman: China's being aggressive
on all the clean energy fronts.
They're building 100,000 megawatts of wind.
They're putting up 10,000 megawatts of solar PV--
50,000 megawatts of nuclear.
Narrator: At the U.S. Department of Energy's
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California,
geoscientist Julio Friedman
is in charge of its Carbon Management Program.
He uses some of the world's fastest supercomputers
to study how to store CO2 underground.
And he's an expert on U.S.-China energy collaboration
Julio: They're not putting all their eggs
in one basket, either.
They're trying to cover, comprehensively,
all the clean energy options.
Narrator: And that includes an old and dirty fuel that
China both mines and imports at world-record levels.
Julio: China is the world's largest coal producer.
It's the world's largest coal user.
They're not going to abandon coal any time soon.
Narrator: The city of Xi'an is home
to the Terracotta Warriors, and was once
the capital of China, starting point for the Silk Road.
Now, it's a modern city that illustrates the forces
that will shape China's energy future--
and, inevitably, impact the entire planet.
Xi'an is also home to the Thermal Power
Research Institute, T-P-R-I.
Thermal power in China is shorthand for coal,
which supplies 3/4ths of this nation's electricity supply.
In the U.S., it's about half.
And worldwide, burning coal produces about one quarter
of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Julio: If you look in the past coal,
is mighty-- built our country.
It is filthy-- soiled our land and atmospheres.
In the future I think coal can be mighty,
and can be clean, and can be benign.
Narrator: Clean coal may seem like a contradiction,
but if it's real, it has implications
not just for China, but also for the U.S.
and many developing nations.
TPRI is owned by Huaneng Power,
one of the largest utilities in the world.
They've renamed this key national laboratory
the Clean Energy Research Institute.
Xu Shisen is the Director.
Xu [translator]: Coal-fired power plants account
for 74% of China's energy production.
It's the main source of power generation.
Narrator: Coal is dirty, but cheap and abundant.
The Institute's new mission is to develop innovative
technologies and processes that can burn this hydrocarbon,
in cleaner, safer ways.
Julio: Coal is half of the world's power today.
It's half of the emissions that the U.S.
and China put into the atmosphere.
We just have to tackle coal directly.
There is no solution to climate change
that doesn't involve China reassessing its coal markets,
and its coal conversion technology.
And they're doing that.
Xu: China started researching and developing
clean coal technology back in the early 1990s.
Narrator: Technology developed at the Institute
is used in this pilot carbon sequestration facility,
outside Shanghai.
It's attached to the giant Shidongkou #2
generating station, also owned by Huaneng Power.
This plant uses a process called Post Combustion Capture,
P-C-C, where coal is first burned in a more or less
traditional manner, and then the CO2 is captured.
Julio: So Shidongkou is remarkable in every way.
They're capturing 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide, and they've
been doing that now for about 18 months successfully.
Narrator: Shidongkou sells the captured CO2
for use in soft drinks and chemicals,
turning it into a resource.
In the future, they'll scale up and begin sequestering
the CO2 deep underground.
Julio: Already, that means that it works and that the cost
and performance are pretty well understood.
So, if it can be widely applied, then it creates
the new benchmark that will define
whether or not this works anywhere else.
Narrator: If this new technology works, any existing
coal plant can be retrofitted and run more cleanly.
Xu: But it is more about
the economic feasibility because the cost is very high,
which increases the price of electricity by about 20%.
Julio: Nobody wants to pay more for power,
but nobody wants to have contaminated rivers and skies.
If we can pay 20 percent more to get Carbon Capture
and Sequestration deployed at scale in today's fleet,
I would be a very, very, happy guy
if we could get away for that.
Narrator: Shidongkou Number 2 demonstrates
what can be done at many older power plants.
But the Greengen construction site near Tianjin,
about 70 miles south of Beijing,
represents a completely new approach to turning coal
into energy with minimal pollution and emissions.
Albert Lin is an American venture capitalist.
Together with his colleague, Bill Douglas,
from Houston, Texas, they've licensed Huaneng technology
for what they hope will be
a clean coal plant in Pennsylvania.
They visited Greengen in July 2010.
Albert Lin: A year and a half ago
when I was here, this was just cleared land.
And so this kind of a project,
of this size at this pace, is unprecedented.
Narrator: By October 2011, the physical structure
was completed, with commissioning tests ongoing.
Lin: This is the world's most advanced coal gasifier.
Narrator: This structure, at the heart of Greengen,
burns coal converted into what's called syn-gas,
and emits far fewer pollutants than a traditional plant.
Xu: The ultimate goal for GreenGen
is to generate 400MW of electricity.
At the same time, we want to capture 90% of the CO2.
Narrator: Once Greengen is fully operational,
the CO2 will be pumped offshore to be used
in enhanced oil recovery.
Julio: If it works as advertised
and if the costs are competitive with other clean energy,
it creates a technology option that's new for the world.
Narrator: And Greengen should cost about one half
of the similar project planned for Pennsylvania.
Julio: It's not just green washing.
They expect these things to operate for thirty years,
they expect them to perform as advertised,
they expect them to be clean.
And they expect them to be a solution to the country.
Narrator: It's no secret, especially to anyone living
in a big Chinese city, that air quality is often dangerous.
And clean coal proponents like Lin and Friedman
recognize the harm that increasing levels
of carbon dioxide do to climate.
They think that paying now is better than paying later.
Lin: The reality is that if climate were not important
or were not a factor, we would not be doing any of this.
Because it is cheaper to pollute and do it the old-fashioned way.
But what we're saying is
there's a better way out for every one
because sooner or later we are going to have to address
the climate issues, and the pollution issues,
and the things that have been associated
with a growing population.
Friedman: I think it's pretty clear
to everybody that China is going for the gold.
They want to be number one in all these areas.
And they're committing to it in the same way
that an Olympic athlete commits to that goal.
They're using every resource they have to move ahead
for their population's needs, and for their economy's needs.
Narrator: China's breakneck development may seem chaotic.
But behind the seeming chaos there's literally
a plan in their energy policies.
China's 12th 5-year Plan, announced in 2011,
set ambitious goals for how much power
must be generated by renewable energy.
Of course, top down direction is easier
in an authoritarian state, but CO2 emissions per unit
of economic output are targeted for a 17% reduction by 2015.
Friedman: I think the most important thing to learn
from what China is doing these days
is that it's good to have a plan.
You can quibble with their plan, but they have one.
Having that plan, having that long arc of commitment,
is what's really going to deliver the goods.
Narrator: Will the result of all China's plans,
and incentives, and subsidies, be more blue sky days--
where traditions endure, and people
eventually enjoy cleaner air?
Will sustained policy and state planning
result in abundant energy and technological achievements
to rival those of the first Chinese Emperor?
But all that won't matter much to the planet's climate
if China, the United States, India, and others
decide to keep coal and other fossil fuels
a major portion of their energy mix--
without paying the price to burn them cleanly.
Richard Alley: So, the Earth provides
lots of choices for clean, low carbon energy.
And Brazil, China and Texas show there are ways forward.
But can we afford it?
Can society make the kinds of changes needed?
Well, we've done it before.
(Bagpipes play)
Let's take a walk through history in Edinburgh, Scotland,
but it could be many other big cities
a couple of centuries ago.
Here's what a visitor from London wrote in 1754--
[Man with English accent] "When I first came
into the High Street of that city,
I thought I had not seen anything of the kind
more magnificent-- the extreme height of the houses,
which are, for the most part, built with stone,
and well sashed..."
Alley: It's evening, time for a wee bite!
Scottish taverns, then as now, were noisy places,
buzzing with good conversation and high spirits.
The visitor from London dined well and drank a few glasses
of fine French claret, but then his new friends
did something that was second nature to them
in the 18th Century, but seems very strange to us today.
[English accent] "The clock struck ten,
then the company began to light pieces of paper,
and throw them upon the table to smoke the room..."
Alley: Lighting those pieces of paper
was meant to mix one bad smell with another.
Chambermaid: "Gardyloo!"
Alley: You see, ten o'clock was when you could
empty brimming chamber pots down into the streets.
Chambermaid: "Gardyloo!"
Man: "Hud your haunde"/ Hold your hand!
Alley: The London visitor safely dodged
the terrible shower, but then he was forced to hide
between his bed sheets to avoid the smell
pouring into his room from the filth.
And yet the people had gotten used to this,
to the inconvenience and disease, and some people
made a living hauling away the human waste.
The English visitor thought all this simply had no remedy.
[English accent] "Anything so expensive as a conveyance
for the waste down from the uppermost floor
could never be agreed on.
Nor could there be made, within the building,
any receiver suitable to such numbers of people."
Alley: So, what do chamber pots
have to do with carbon dioxide and sustainable energy?
Not to mince words, we're pouring CO2, another form
of human waste, into the public space, and we'll have
to deal with the consequences if we don't clean it up.
Today, of course, most of us have conveyances
down from bathrooms, and sinks to wash in,
and receivers for our waste.
What happened?
Look around your house.
How much did the porcelain throne
in your bathroom really cost?
It took a considerable investment for all those pipes
bringing water to wash with, and to take the waste away.
The revolution in hygiene involved an extensive
infrastructure of toilets in homes,
sewers underneath our cities, water treatment plants.
Today we might call it the Sanitation Smart Grid.
So, how much did all this cost?
Not that much, if you consider the millions of lives saved
with clean water, prevention of diseases like cholera
and typhoid-- something like 1% of the economy,
in very round numbers.
And that's more or less the estimated cost
of switching the world to a sustainable energy system
that doesn't dump fossil fuel CO2 into the public space.
Cleaning up the cities took decades and even centuries,
and we're trying to do things a little faster,
but the revolution in waste management shows
that we can do big things to get benefits
that none of us would ever walk away from.
Narrator: Old energy technologies can be cleaned up.
New ones can come online.
Other nations are moving ahead.
What will it take to keep the lights on in the United States,
and Avoid The Energy Abyss.
There's no question that transitioning to clean
and renewable energy is going to be a huge task.
But America has done similar things before.
Take the Hoover Dam, and the electrification program
of the 1930s.
Or the building of the Interstate highway system.
Hofmeister: Well, I am optimistic.
John Hofmeister is a former oil man, based in Texas.
He headed up Shell in the United States.
He also wrote a book entitled Why We Hate The Oil Companies,
and he's worried that today America isn't making
the right decisions about energy.
Hofmeister: You need to think of energy
in a 50-year time frame.
And our elected officials are thinking of energy
in two-year election cycles.
That's ridiculous!
And it is going to take us, as a nation, to an energy abyss,
because you can't design an energy system
to replace the 20th century, which is growing old,
and running out in some cases, you can't replace that
with two year cycles of decision making.
Narrator: Other nations have changed.
Look around Copenhagen and you see pedestrian walkways
and bikes as a major form of transportation.
In response to the Oil Shocks of the 1970s, Denmark
turned away from fossil fuel and toward sustainable energy.
Soren: In Denmark we had car-free Sundays
where nobody was allowed to drive their cars on Sundays.
And there was a rationing of fuel and gas.
Lykke: These are sort of things that people remember,
"Well, we need to change."
Narrator: The U.S. also experienced the Oil Shocks,
with gas lines and angry citizens.
And for a while, America got serious about exploring
alternatives to imported gasoline and fossil fuel.
Here's the energy share of all Federal, non-defense
R&D investment from 1957 through 2011.
Investment ramped up in the Oil Shock,
but then went down, down, down.
And without serious new commitments,
the 2009 stimulus funds for energy,
will just have been a temporary upward blip.
Hofmeister: We're not making the decisions
at the national level that need to be made,
in terms of the next decade,
and the next several decades after that.
Narrator: Hofmeister and other experts
look around the world and see other countries
moving ahead to defend their nation's energy security.
Hofmeister: Places like China have a clear plan,
and they are driving forward.
And they are building an energy infrastructure
for the 21st century, which will perhaps
one day supply energy to the world's
largest economy-- China, not the U.S.
Narrator: In America, energy policies
change with each new Administration, if not sooner.
Since our interview, Denmark's government has changed parties,
but now former Minister of Climate and Energy,
Lykke Friis, doesn't expect energy policy
to change that much.
Lykke: Even if we are kicked out of office,
this will not lead to a huge change in our energy policy.
Hofmeister: We need decisions that go beyond a single term
of a President, that go beyond a single Congress,
with a Republican or a Democratic majority.
And we're not doing it.
Other parts of the world are.
Lykke: All countries have to embark
upon this transformation.
And the lesson is, it can be done, because Denmark,
we've had also growth rate by 80% since the 80s.
But our energy consumption and CO2 emissions
have been more or less stable.
Hofmeister: We're going to find ourselves as a nation,
entering third world status when it comes
to the reliability of our energy system, within a decade,
if we don't get with a different program.
And I don't see any inclination now to make hard decisions.
I see divisiveness, I see partisan paralysis,
I see short-term political time thinking,
and I see dysfunctional government.
Narrator: America may lack consensus
on a national climate policy, and about building
a new energy system, but some states and cities
are moving ahead, with new ideas and new technologies.
Call them, Laboratories Of Low-Carbon Living.
Here are three examples of communities actively engaged
in reducing their carbon footprint.
In rural Alaska, trees are harvested from rivers
to power biomass boilers, cutting the cost
of shipping in diesel, generating local jobs,
and keeping dollars in the community.
Dennis Charley: The community cuts wood
and brings it in and everything.
So instead of all the money going to the oil companies,
it's a community thing now.
Narrator: Baltimore, Maryland, is tapping what some call
the fifth fuel-- conservation and energy efficiency.
Experts think saving energy can cover almost one quarter
of U.S. needs by 2030.
Robbyn Lewis: We want Patterson Park neighborhood
to be the most energy efficient, greenest, most sustainable
neighborhood in the City, and by signing this pledge
you join like 120, 130 other people who already signed.
Narrator: In their second year, the Baltimore Neighborhood
Energy Challenge saved more than 2 million kilowatt hours
and nearly 7% on gas and electric bills.
In Kansas, America's heartland, the Climate and Energy Project
used federal stimulus dollars to fund four prizes
of $100,000, to be awarded to the communities
that conserved the most energy.
That resulted in savings of more than two million dollars
in 2011, savings that are expected
to continue each year for the next decade.
Nancy Jackson: We're looking at energy efficiency
and presenting it as a win-win-win,
because it allows people to save money in their homes
and their churches and their businesses
and their communities.
It allows them to build their local economies because
it employs lots of people, installing insulation
and windows and appliances.
And at the same time, it insures a much more robust
and healthy energy future.
Narrator: But Richard Alley believes
building a clean and sustainable future
takes a sustained and national effort.
Alley: It took more than one hundred years for Shuman's
ideas of concentrated solar power to come to scale.
It took thirty years for Brazil to develop
a national infrastructure for sugar cane ethanol.
China needed six five-year plans to go from a poor,
agrarian society to a world leader in clean technology.
And the choices we make today
will shape America's energy future.
And what happens in China and Chicago, India, and Indiana,
will shape the planet.
The clock is ticking.
The longer we ignore what's needed to move forward
with non-polluting energy sources, the more it'll cost,
in cold cash, and a warmer planet.
Earth's history and solid physics tell us
the climate our kids and grandkids could see
if we keep burning fossil fuels and releasing the CO2.
But all of us are able to make the plans and choices
we know will work to discover and develop new ways
of Powering The Planet.
For "Earth: The Operators' Manual", I'm Richard Alley.
Announcer: Powering the Planet - Earth: The Operators' Manual
is made possible by NSF, the National Science Foundation,
where discoveries begin.
Female narrator: For the annotated script,
with links to information on climate change
and sustainability,
online tools to help you save money and energy,
educator resources, and much more--
visit PBS.org/ E-T-O-M, ETOM
Powering the Planet is available on DVD and Blu-ray disc.
The companion book is also available.
To order, visit ShopPBS.org
or call us at 1-800-PLAY PBS.
Richard Alley: To feed Earth's growing population
we may need to double our food supply.
And that may not be easy if we're burning
a lot of our food for fuel.
At NREL, D.O.E.'s National Renewable Energy Lab,
they're engaged in aggressive research and development
to try to extract sugars to make ethanol
from non-food sources.
So what are the big issues?
How much is available?
Jim McMillan: The challenge is economics,
and it's projected that in the United States,
we could be producing over a billion tons of this material,
dry matter, on an annual basis.
Richard Alley: NREL calculates that would convert
into 80 billion gallons of ethanol,
potentially replacing one third of all gasoline
used in U.S. transportation.
And that would cancel out all America's oil imports
from the Middle East, Nigeria and Russia.
Jim: We've heard a lot of articles about biofuels
being done wrong, but if we do it right, biofuels
can be a very significant part of the solution.
Narrator: Modern sugar cane plantations like this one
use machines for as much as 75% of the harvesting.
Unlike the old days, planting is the only activity
relying on manual labor.
Jose Goldemberg: You know, the system became
very efficient and used a lot of mechanization.
Therefore, to use mechanization, you need
a trained labor force and good machines.
And sugar cane generates jobs.
In Brazil, the sugar cane industry generates
one million jobs of good quality,
better than in other areas of agriculture.
Narrator: Worldwide, there are legitimate concerns
about diverting food and water into biofuels,
and cutting down CO2-absorbing trees.
But in recent years, rates of rainforest loss
to agriculture in Brazil have fallen by close to 50%--
and 90% of water used to fertilize
and irrigate modern sugar cane plantations is recycled.
Uncle Sam began building the Hoover Dam in 1931,
and it was completed in 1936, under budget,
and two years ahead of schedule.
While the dam impacted the river ecosystem,
it created jobs, provided water and power to millions,
and has more than paid for itself.
The Interstate Highway System was championed
by President Eisenhower to support national defense.
At more than 400 billion dollars,
it's one of the largest public works projects in history.
Some say it led to America's over-reliance on cars
and under-funding of mass transit,
but it helped power decades of economic growth.
And when the Defense Department, and later NSF,
funded the development of what became today's Internet,
some called it the Information Super-Highway.
It's hard to think of America without rural electrification,
Interstates and the Internet, and it's impossible to deny
the critical role of the Federal government
in building them.