What role should technological optimism play in thinking about the energy transition?
In arguments about the best route to a greener energy system, people sometimes seem to be selective about their technological optimism. Some are more optimistic that the true* cost of pairing batteries with renewable energy will fall below the cost of operating a gas turbine. Some are optimistic about future costs of nuclear power, or CCS, or geo-engineering, etc.
Recently the New York Times published on the same day two Op-Ed pieces addressing climate change. One, by Al Gore that was brimming with technological optimism, and argued that “the evidence now indicates that we are in the early stages of a sustainability revolution that will achieve the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the digital revolution.” The other, by Duke political philosopher Alex Rosenberg, was not pessimistic exactly, but was much more circumspect about a technological solution:
“Will it happen? Can it happen? Could its arrival be hastened? Philosophers have spent a lot of time studying science. They’ve come very firmly to the conclusion that there is no logic of scientific discovery, no recipe for the next breakthrough and so no algorithm for improving our technology. Scientific discovery is serendipity. All we can do is enhance science’s chances of getting us out of this mess: Educate scientists, support pure research, disseminate it freely and reward it with immortality, not just money.”
Shouldn’t we just focus on either taxing or limiting emissions and let these technologies compete to be cheapest without favoring one over another?
*My premise: Individual bids or contracts at low prices are not a good basis for general conclusions about the relative costs of technologies. I rely on broader LCOS estimates. Am I mistaken in doing that?