Bill Gates TED Talk on Energy

Bill Gates chose to talk about energy and climate at this year’s TED talks. Here is the video of his talk.

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  1. Robert Steinhaus says:

    Of some interest to Thorium advocates is the fact that Bill made reference to breakthrough innovative “MODULAR – LIQUID” reactors at two points in the talk:
    13:30 minutes
    23:10 minutes and here’s the quote “There’s a liquid-type reactor, which seems a little hard…but maybe they say that about us.”
    They say that people sometime hear what they want to hear but to a true Thorium LFTR believer this “modular, liquid” reactor sounds like a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. Does anyone have a different take on Bill’s statements?

  2. Rod Adams says:

    Bob – I noticed the same comments. I am pretty sure that Gates was referring to molten salt reactors, which he would certainly put into the category of welcome innovation. I like the way that he said that we need 100 projects pursuing that zero CO2 per unit energy goal.
    He was also talking to a very useful and interesting audience. TED talks are given to people with the resources and the fire in their belly that a project like the LFTR needs. I expect that you all will find an interested audience when you have the upcoming Thorium Energy Alliance meeting at the Google headquarters in Mountain View. You will not be far at all from the people on Sand Hill Road, and I expect they will be in the audience listening and asking a lot of hard questions that have some good answers.
    (Aside – just in case you are not aware, Sand Hill Road is a place with a concentration of venture capital firms that take big changes on innovative technology.)

  3. David Lewis says:

    Thanks for posting this. I had heard that Bill did this speech but I wasn’t aware it was now generally available.
    13:30 Bill states: “there are some innovations in nuclear: modular, liquid”, which after hearing it several times I say means he is talking about two separate approaches 1. modular and 2. liquid
    23:10 “in the nuclear space there are other innovators”. This comes after Bill discussed the approach he and Nathan Myhrvold et. al. are taking which he called Terrapower which is a Travelling Wave Reactor. Bill then mentions two other innovators 1. “the modular people, that’s a different approach”, and 2. “there’s the liquid type reactor, which seems a little hard”. So it clearly is not “modular, liquid”, but rather it is “modular”, and “liquid”, two separate approaches, not one.
    Bill is calling for encouraging R&D, i.e. hundreds of companies all pursuing different ideas, to get emissions of CO2, especially from the electricity generation and transporation sectors, down to zero by 2050. I think he has looked very deeply into the subject of climate change. He isn’t claiming he might be on to the great idea with his group’s reactor design, even if he thinks he is.
    The group he’s with or funding has got tens of millions of dollars into it so far. Its going to be hundreds of millions of dollars for them to test materials for their design, possibly they have already made a commitment to do this in Russia, and he talked of a few billion dollars to build either a pilot or full scale demo somewhere, towards which he and/or members of his group are making exploratory contacts at the DOE, and in the other countries that have worked on fast reactors before.
    For now, Bill is politely leaving the carbon capture and storage, wind, solar voltaic, and solar thermal breakthrough to others and putting his money down on nuclear. It is known that he is funding some geoengineering work to the tune of a bit less than $5 million. http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/01/bill-gates-fund.html
    Rod Adams posted on Gates and Travelling Wave Reactors in March 2009 http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2009/03/joe-romm-falsely-accuses-bill-gates-of.html
    Romm is still dumping on Gates. He blogged, very non memorably, the day Bill made this TED speech. Romm is not only a serious anti nuclear make any argument against it you can while pretending you have nothing against it type, but he also disputes whether civilization needs to invent anything new now that it faces what Romm tells us is the greatest crisis of history. He takes Gates to task for not making his TED theme deploying what technology already exists as opposed to saying he thinks it will take the innovators of the world to rally to the cause of coming up with an energy source so cheap it will put the fossil fuel business out of business. Romm is touchy that way – if he didn’t advocate it, its a completely bad idea. Romm calls Bill “bizarre” and “strange” just for recommending Al Gore’s book Our Choice.

  4. Rod Adams says:

    David – Joe Romm is a natural gas marketer, plain and simple. He works for John Podesta who has the same motivation. Both of them probably thought that “the fix was in” by the 1990s when they and people like Tim Wirth and Hazel O’Leary had convinced Americans that nuclear was dead, and that CO2 was important enough to cut it by about 40% by replacing cheap coal with “clean, abundant” natural gas – even if gas costs 3-5 times as much per unit of heat.
    I love the fact that Bill gave his talk at TED, a place where creative people with access to plenty of capital often gather to hear intriguing ideas. My hope is that soon we will be able to respond to Romm’s mentor – Amory Lovins – when he repeats for the ten thousandth time – “Wall Street will not invest in nuclear energy” with the following retort – “Who cares what Wall Street thinks? We have Sand Hill Road investing in nuclear energy projects.”

    • David Lewis says:

      I haven’t been paying attention to Romm for all that long. He’s good for publicizing what is new in climate science.
      Romm doesn’t have gas on his list of what he calls “core climate solutions”, i.e. what would have to implemented by 2050 to solve this problem. http://climateprogress.org/2008/10/22/an-introduction-to-the-core-climate-solutions/ This list actually has a small role for nuclear on it. Joe has the problem broken up into 16 “wedges” a la Socolow’s concept, and he allocates 1 of these, i.e. 1/16th of the “solution”, for the role nuclear can play. Solar in this scenario is 4 “wedges”, 1/4 of the solution. All Joe does everywhere else in his writing is dump on nuclear, but its here, on this list. Gas is not. His vision of what baseload electrical power might be is, duh, solar thermal with salt storage.
      Romm touts gas for the short term. Romm calls the new US gas discoveries a “game changer” for “low cost climate action over the next two decades”, because in Romm’s view a massive switch to gas from coal fired electrical generation could reduce CO2 emissions quickly. He also sees new gas as a political “game changer”, because the gas interests have tended to split away from the coal interests as a price on carbon looms. Gas interests feel they have a future in a world heading for lower carbon emissions until the coal people capture their emissions or disappear.
      What Romm has been marketing lately is the climate/energy legislation Congress has been working on, and the international effort to sign something at Copenhagen. No matter how watered down the emission reduction targets became, no matter how many billions of dollars worth of rights to emit had to be granted to the industries that caused the climate problem, and no matter how dim the prospects became for passage in the Senate, Romm was the most enthusiastic online cheerleader saying all was well and the prospects for passage good. Even when support for nuclear was added to the Senate bill in a last ditch effort to get something passed before Copenhagen, Joe cheered the thing on. After pronouncing the Senate would pass something pre-Copenhagen because key Senators wouldn’t want to be condemned by history for standing in the way of a replacement binding agreement for Kyoto, as Senate action stalled, Joe announced that action was not necessary. Joe even pronounced the failure at Copenhagen a resounding success. Joe calls what he does “messaging”, whereas what people who disagree with him do is lie.

    • katana0182 (Dave) says:

      Solar thermal with salt storage is a far better than the absolute crack-pottery and wishful thinking demonstrated over wind and solar photovoltaic…it could actually work if power prices were high enough. Possibly…
      …but it hasn’t been demonstrated yet, won’t work in the high latitudes (Canada, parts of the US, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, etc.), needs a clear sky, needs a very, very large amount of salt and a very large place to store it in, needs circulators to maintain the salt at a uniform temperature, has corrosion problems (chloride stress corrosion cracking), requires oodles and oodles of material – special alloys, Inconel, Stabilloy, Hastelloy, etc, to handle the heat and the stress placed on the conductive material by the solar furnace…which has several heat up and shut down cycles per day (stress due to heat cycling leading to a severe decrease in the life of the heat exchanger, that is, unless you want to turn your solar furnace into a heat radiator overnight), gobs of insulation for the salt pool (unless you want to use a vacuum-type thermos-flask design, but the size is far too large for such), etc.
      And here’s the fundamental question: rather than having the unreliable sun heat the salt up, why not just skip the sun and use fission reactors? More compact, more reliable, put 2 reactors feeding into a salt pool, and one can be shut down while the other pumps heat into the sink; insert heat exchangers, and have several turbines slaved to the load? Perfect for district and process heating, as the large thermal buffer allows for heat use to continue even if both reactors are temporarily out of operation.
      If the antis had been proposing this solution and been researching and engineering it starting maybe 40 years ago rather than engaging in an infinite crusade/jihad against nuclear power (and with nuclear power, the entire electrical power industry) then maybe we would be in a different place today than we actually are. Unfortunately, for them, they didn’t, and, as such, nuclear power is ready to go, while solar thermal with molten salt storage remains, for now, an illusion, a distraction from real solutions, and a fairy-tale that might as well be fabricated from pure unobtanium.
      There’s a lesson here, people: rather than causing problems, figure out solutions. Solutions are teh win; they gain you suitcases of money, ticker-tape parades in downtown Manhattan, worldwide fame, chix, admiring entries in history books, and the thanks of a grateful nation. Problems just make everyone’s lives that much harder.

  5. Rod Adams says:

    David – Joe Romm is a natural gas marketer, plain and simple. He works for John Podesta who has the same motivation. Both of them probably thought that “the fix was in” by the 1990s when they and people like Tim Wirth and Hazel O’Leary had convinced Americans that nuclear was dead, and that CO2 was important enough to cut it by about 40% by replacing cheap coal with “clean, abundant” natural gas – even if gas costs 3-5 times as much per unit of heat.
    I love the fact that Bill gave his talk at TED, a place where creative people with access to plenty of capital often gather to hear intriguing ideas. My hope is that soon we will be able to respond to Romm’s mentor – Amory Lovins – when he repeats for the ten thousandth time – “Wall Street will not invest in nuclear energy” with the following retort – “Who cares what Wall Street thinks? We have Sand Hill Road investing in nuclear energy projects.”

  6. trkdirect (Rasmus) says:

    re: Romm, Podesta … gas marketers
    This is an interesting parallel to what happened in Germany, where the red-green coalition that ruled from 1997-2003 decided to phase out nuclear energy and replace it with fossil gas (I don’t use the term “natural” gas). Subsequently, former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder took up prominent positions as a fossil fuel advocate (Gazprom, NordStream, BP etc.). Similar, former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer is now a lobbyist for the planned NABUCCO pipeline monstrosity that is supposed to bring fossil gas from Central Asia via the Caucasus via Turkey via the Balkans to Western Europe. These vested fossil fuel interests will keep the anti-nuclear movement going for some time, which may slow down the nuclear renaissance a bit but ultimately not stop it.
    re: Bill Gates
    He really seems sold on the traveling wave reactor and makes it sound like the various fast-spectrum projects around the world were quite successful. But at least he mentions the liquid reactor, which can only mean LFTR.

  7. Rod Adams says:

    @Rasmus – thank you for sharing the term “fossil gas”. I have been looking for a phrase that is descriptive without being a marketing term that provides that warm and fuzzy feeling of “natural”.
    I have done some posting on the connection between Schroeder and Gazprom. I would appreciate any feedback that you have; it seems like you have a more localized perspective. (Search Atomic Insights for Schroeder to find the posts.)

  8. trkdirect (Rasmus) says:

    @Rod,
    I am originally from Germany, now in “CANADU”. I lived in Germany during the red-green era. The uproar about the Schroeder-Gazprom connection in Germany was mostly about loan guarantees that were provided to pipeline projects, hinting at possible conflict of interest. There was very little concern among the public about the nuclear phase-out and the resulting fossil gas build-out, but to me that is a far more serious issue. Apparently, Gazprom-Schroeder and Nabucco-Fischer never liked each other much when they were in power, serving in the same administration. Now they are lobbyists for competing pipeline projects. Putin wants to kill Nabucco. The pipeline is only viable if it carries gas from Turkmenistan, but now it looks like it will flow to Russia and China instead of through the Caspian Sea. Gas from Iran is another option but with the change in US administration, this may now be less likely (Cheney is gone; remember Cheney gave $1B US taxpayer money to Georgia for reconstruction, to stabilize pipeline territory). Anyway, NordStream pipeline through the Baltic Sea to Germany is looking like a go-ahead. Score one for Schroeder.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Rasmus – I agree that the NordStream looks like a go right now, but will there be a market for the gas if Germany continues operating its nukes and eventually, like the US, figures out that a country with a long history of designing and making things for sale should stop fighting a rising tide and, instead, it should try to get some orders of its own that are made easier by building new plants on home soil.

      • trkdirect (Rasmus) says:

        Building the pipeline will certainly come with long-term gas purchase contracts, so I think that Gazprom will have no problem getting rid of the gas. At some point Germany also needs to phase out coal, of which they are still burning a lot. On the other hand, it also looks like Nabucco construction will start in 2011. Some media comments have argued that Nabucco is not really needed, it’s just a piece of pipeline diplomacy, to retain some leverage over Russia. Then again, Russia may actually welcome Nabucco as a way to accelerate the German nuclear phase-out. Then all that’s needed is a new war in Georgia or instability in the Caspian region and Germany is suddenly very dependent on Russian fossil gas. Given these obvious geopolitical realities, it puzzles me why anyone in Germany would even think about nuclear phase-out.
        [cross-post from my Thorium Forum from this morning:]
        For those who have not been following developments in Germany closely, here is an update. After the initial enthusiasm about the center-right coalition’s electoral victory last fall, things are looking less rosy for nuclear power now. The reasons are very specific to the political situation in Germany. There is an upcoming regional election in May in the largest province (by population and economy). Because the liberal democrats (FDP), which had backed license extensions of existing nuclear plants, are doing poorly in the polls, the Christian Democrats (CDU) are now looking at a potential coalition with the Green party for the regional parliament. This explains why some CDU members are now calling for an accelerated exit from nuclear power. I should mention that Germany is totally isolated in this approach.

  9. Finrod says:

    I have been looking for a phrase that is descriptive without being a marketing term that provides that warm and fuzzy feeling of “natural”.
    Methane?

    • Soylent says:

      Natural gas is ~95% methane, the rest is ethane, CO2, nitrogen and some other junk. Getting pure methane would probably be quite a bit more costly than natural gas.

      • Finrod says:

        Natural gas is ~95% methane, the rest is ethane, CO2, nitrogen and some other junk. Getting pure methane would probably be quite a bit more costly than natural gas.
        Sullied methane?

  10. Richard Batty says:

    Good presentation. IMO the hardest part of the Travelling Wave Reactor would be the fuel. In Gate’s computer modeling, that problem seems to be solved. IMO in LFTR, the hard part is in chemical processing of the fuel. While I find chemistry complicated, it is a very old science and the solutions are well known.
    What Gates did not state is how the Travelling Wave Reactor would be moderated and Cooled. Or is it a Fast Reactor? I see the biggest danger in reactors is not the fuel, but mixing the fuel with an explosive or combustible moderator or coolant. Things like high temperature and high pressure water.

  11. trkdirect (Rasmus) says:

    It looks like it breeds in the fast spectrum.
    Video: http://intellectualventureslab.com/?p=687

  12. Kit P says:

    Talking about what you are going to do in 40 years is not innovation. Figuring our how to cut two days off a refueling outage is innovative.
    Innovation is not solving perceived problems while not understanding the basic issues of generating electricity. There is no problem with current LWR technologies that preclude affordable electricity for everyone living on the planet. Looking at South Korea over the last 50 years is a case in point.
    I would like to put the Gates family in a two bedroom apartment in the same apartment building that Al Gores belongs. I am bored with the rich who live the most consumptive life style lecture about AGW and how to make electricity.

    • katana0182 (Dave) says:

      Unfortunately, Kit, there is a problem with LWR technologies. There is the problem of uranium-235, or more precisely, the scarcity of it… light water reactors are the best thing since sliced bread, but they are also inherently limited by the once-through fuel cycle. Eventually, we will have to start adding thorium, start reprocessing and, eventually, start breeding. Indeed, LWRs are only a small part of a very large whole that we have not even begun to explore. By moving to a more advanced, mixed nuclear infrastructure – by practicing the construction and design of the full range of options – we can compare which options work better and be ready to deploy them off the shelf when they make economic sense for widespread deployment.
      Many of those advanced options – for instance, the various HTGRs, the Hyperion and other small PbBi fast reactors – CANDU reactors that can burn previously used LWR fuel with their enhanced neutron spectra – pure heating reactors like the SLOWPOKE – and the interesting hydride reactor – make sense now. The LWR is here to stay, but why not broaden our horizons? It is the small, right-sized, plug-and-play reactor that will make the most sense in the underdeveloped regions of the globe, not the gigantic LWR, or even modular LWRs; LWRs require people who understand them, and an infrastructure to support them – to supply water, to develop the human resources, to keep things running ship-shape at all times, components. Such things are appropriate in the US, where the infrastructure exists, but LWRs can’t be ruggedized to the point they could be deployed in the lesser-developed areas of the Third or even the Fourth World. Other reactor types can be.
      Plus, small, right-sized reactors that can produce both power and heat allow us to do more with less, and thus do more with more.

    • Rod Adams says:

      Kit – I agree with Dave. The example of South Korea is not a particularly useful one when thinking about the challenge of meeting the needs of everyone on the planet. They have developed a vibrant economy from almost scratch based on a strong export market for manufactured goods in the United States. The world cannot sustain that kind of growth for everyone because leads to a tremendous amount of imbalance.
      We have to develop systems that can fit into the world as it exists and improve it from the bottom up, not those that only fit in already developed places.
      I have finally figured your motives out – you are an old guy who has struggled through some pretty tough times and now you see your cherished “dream” job potentially becoming occupied by younger, more nimble players who have not paid their dues. That is just the way the world works sometimes – besides, I know very well how tough the 1990s were in the nuclear world. I resigned my active commission in September 1993 with two elementary school aged daughters to start a company to build systems that I thought would take good advantage of fission heat. I would have loved to do that work in a large company that had plenty of resources and a leadership team that recognized the opportunities that I saw, but there was no such large company in existence.
      By 1999, the most reasonable choice for me to make was to return to active duty. The years between those two choices were not easy, full of riches or even full of friends who understood what we (I did not work alone) were trying to do.
      There are more today.

      • Kit P says:

        Rod since you like sports analogies so much, what more nimble players are you talking about. You are confusing Monday morning quarterbacks with folks who are actually in the game. Worse than that, they did not even watch the game.
        I saw it a lot in renewable energy. You have a great idea on paper but you have no idea of the regulations to put electricity on the grid.

        • Brian says:

          Kit, every idea starts on paper, even the light water reactor. Innovation has to start somewhere and only the truly naive consider innovation unnecessary. You may be correct about the regulations, but it may indeed be these said regulations are obsolete.

  13. Zachary says:

    Finally, people are starting to ‘get it.’ The presentation ends with a link to Kunstler, who predicted in “The Long Emergency” that breeders would be needed. If only Clinton didn’t shut down that IFR in `94… Gates mentioned the Fast Reactor and Molten Salt reactor, he ‘gets it.’ I guess this means that all the problems of the world are the fault of Joe Romm and Hazel O’Leary for brainwashing poor Cwinton that the IFR was ‘unnecessary.’ At least Obama and Chu seem to understand science, finally some leadership in the country. And to think that in `94 we became a majority oil importer, ended the 55 highway law, started rolling out the SUVs, and Gore cast the tie-breaking vote as VP to make corn ethanol our energy direction. Damn.