Dr. Michael Bevis, Ohio State University
"Can we decarbonize the global economy fast enough to avoid climate catastrophe?"
The case for transforming our global energy systems so as to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, and thereby mitigate climate change, is well known. This talk focuses on whether or not it is actually possible to decarbonize our economies fast enough to 'save' our climate system and our economies. In fact, we have already entered a new industrial revolution focused on the generation, storage and smart utilization of energy. The most dynamic areas of the renewable energy industry are built around solar panels, wind turbines and the nascent energy storage industry (high tech batteries). The cost of solar and wind energy has been dropping very rapidly for several decades. Solar panels and wind turbines now constitute the cheapest source of energy over a large fraction of the world. This cost advantage will continue to grow. This is because the 'fuel' used by solar and wind systems is free. The cost of deploying these technologies is dominated by their manufacturing costs. I will explain Wright's Law of manufacturing and the concept of Experience Curves, and show that the competitive advantage of renewable energy will grow inexorably in the coming decades. A related development - the transition to plug-in electric cars - will simultaneously challenge the oil industry's sixty plus year dominance of the transportation sector. I will review the way in which the energy investment and finance industry is responding to these changes, and show how the rise of renewable energy industries are producing rapid growth in employment (in sharp contrast to employment in the coal industry which has been dropping for many decades after reaching its peak in about 1920). I will make the case that renewable energy will rapidly displace fossil fuels - especially coal and oil - not primarily because this change is desirable on climate grounds, but rather on the business merits.
Michael Bevis co-developed a large, multidisciplinary general education course "Climate Change: Mechanisms, Impacts and Mitigation" at OSU, which is co-taught by him, a biologist and an historian. He also developed a module on 'upstream energy technologies and business' for an energy-focused Executive MBA program at OSU's Fisher College of Business.