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.