National Science Board Issues Draft Report on Sustainable Energy

April 16th, 2009

Posted by: admin

The National Science Board, the advisory board for the National Science Foundation, released a draft report titled Building a Sustainable Energy Future. It is open for public comment until May 1st, click the report link to find out how to submit comments.  The report provides guidance to the National Science Foundation on how to “increase its emphasis on innovation in sustainable energy technologies and education.”  It also recommends that the government “develop and lead a nationally coordinated research, development demonstration, deployment, and education (RD3E) strategy to advance a sustainable energy economy that is significantly less carbon-intensive.”  The press release announcing the report is somewhat vague on the recommendations, but the report provides many more details.  It’s a product of the NSB Task Force on Sustainable Energy, formed in October 2007.  It held three roundtable discussions in 2008 with various stakeholders.  The report’s specific recommendations (from the executive summary) for NSF after the jump.

1. Coordinate sustainable energy activities.  Collaborate with other Federal agencies through an interagency working group on sustainable energy that will work under a new Presidential Sustainable Energy Council.

2. Strengthen systems approaches in research programs.  Develop and strengthen interdisciplinary “systems” approaches for research programs in the natural and social sciences that focus on environmental, social, and economic issues fundamental to the future energy economy.  Examples of systems approaches that could be applied to the energy economy include the use of ecosystem life-cycle and whole-system analyses; consumer behavior information; and economic net value of technologies, applications, and systems.  Enhance interdisciplinary research programs that develop environmental accounting techniques that can utilize both biophysical and economic values in parallel.

3. Strengthen science and engineering partnerships.  Support partnerships for building clean and sustainable energy science and engineering initiatives among states, universities, and the private sector.  International entities should be an essential part of many of these partnerships.

4.  Support education and workforce development.  Create new and strengthen existing programs to train students, researchers, and technicians for a sustainable energy workforce.  Promote interest in the fields of science and energy in K–12 education by developing and disseminating programs designed to teach students about energy, the environment, and related technology and economic issues.  Support, in conjunction with other Federal agencies, technical training programs in community colleges and undergraduate institutions that include support for science and engineering teachers, technicians, and professional development activities.

5. Collaborate internationally.  Encourage international collaboration in sustainable energy RD3E, including through the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering and through partnerships with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

6. Promote public awareness and action.  Foster societal literacy about energy-saving practices and technologies and encourage efficient and effective use of energy by enhancing existing programs and by developing new sustainable energy education programs for students, NSF-funded researchers, and the public.

Remember, the Board is looking for public comment, so make the effort and comment by the May 1 deadline.

19 Responses to “National Science Board Issues Draft Report on Sustainable Energy”

  1. Celebrity Paycut - Encouraging celebrities all over the world to save us from global warming by taking a paycut. Says:

    [...] David Bruggeman at Prometheus has the story: [...]

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  3. jae Says:

    Whenever I see the word “sustainable” my hackles raise. Can anyone define this word? Can we “sustain” humanity? Can we sustain the polar bears, if we don’t shoot a few? Can we sustain the salmon-eating seals and sea-lions, without some control? The word “sustainable” is just as naieve as the word “green.” It means absolutely nothing but what the reader interprets it to be. It is 1984 Doublespeak, big time. It is a “politically correct” piece of shit! The Human Race is definitely not “sustainable,” according to the green-freaks on this Planet, yet they have so far been proved wrong for at least 50 years! Someday, we have to get real. Maybe the poverty which is being created by the present Administration will speed it up.

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  5. jae Says:

    Sustainable energy is an especially STUPID concept. According to what I’ve read, it takes from 100 to 200 years for a solar cell to “recover” the energy that it took to produce it. But the solar cells only last a MAXIMUM of 30 years! How sustainable is that? I am SO sick of the PC words “sustainable” and “green,” because they are a joke, at best, and a crime, at worst.

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  7. jae Says:

    And then let’s look at WIND POWER. I keep challenging the blogosphere to give me an estimate of how many years it takes for a wind turbine to recover the energy spent in manufacturing it and maintaining it. No response, so far. Then, let’s add the energy that it takes to construct the power lines to put the windmills into the grid. And the “backup” that is necessary for the 75% of the time that the wind isn’t blowing hard enough to move the rotors. Maybe it pays off in the year 5000? I doubt it. I know there aren’t many Liberals who understand Economics 101, but there should be at least a FEW who can think about this simple pay-back question. I am rapidly being forced to admit that we (USA) have one of the stupidest publics of any nation. We even have a Congress that votes for a 700 + BILLION Bill without even reading it. And a President who campaigned against “earmarks” that signs a Bill with hundreds of them. The rest of the World must be having a hell of a laugh.

    Maybe I’m just senile?

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  9. dean Says:

    “I keep challenging the blogosphere to give me an estimate of how many years it takes for a wind turbine to recover the energy spent in manufacturing it and maintaining it. No response, so far.”

    I suppose that’s because you’re asking people to do what you should be doing in a few seconds. Upon reading your above request, it took me less than two minutes to find this on the AWEA site:

    Even emissions from the manufacture and installation of wind turbines are negligible. The “energy payback time” (a measure of how long a power plant must operate to generate—“pay back”–the amount of electricity required for its manufacture and construction) of a wind project is 3 to 8 months, depending on the wind speed at the site – one of the shortest of any generation technology.

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  11. dean Says:


    You might also consider these links:

    Also, on a different subject – studies on mitigation plans, comaprisons, costs, etc, on a post that has dropped well down on this blog’s list of posts, folks should focus on the IPCC Working Group II reports. Much detail there.

    Climate Change 2007 – Mitigation of Climate Change aims to answer essentially fi ve questions relevant to policymaking worldwide:

    • What can we do to reduce or avoid the threats of climate change?
    • What are the costs of these actions and how do they relate to the costs of inaction?
    • How much time is available to realise the drastic reductions needed to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere?
    • What are the policy actions that can overcome the barriers to implementation?
    • How can climate mitigation policy be aligned with sustainable development policies?

    This latest assessment of the IPCC provides a comprehensive, state-of-the-art and worldwide overview of scientific knowledge related
    to the mitigation of climate change. It includes a detailed assessment of costs and potentials of mitigation technologies and practices,
    implementation barriers, and policy options for the sectors: energy supply, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste
    management. It links sustainable development policies with climate change practices. This volume will again be the standard reference
    for all those concerned with climate change, including students and researchers, analysts and decision-makers in governments and the
    private sector.

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  13. blgaarder Says:

    AWEA = American Wind Energy Association? No doubt an unbiased source…

    If the payback for a wind project is so short, why do they need subsidies?

    It sounds like better returns than Bernie Madoff claimed.

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  15. dean Says:

    AWEA is indeed not an unbiased source, but in my quick search I found similar answers from many other sources. Do you have a source that suggests a longer time-frame?

    They need subsidies because the structure of utility financing is based on a tradition financial model which includes high fuel costs. The cost of wind energy is almost entirely up-front since the wind is free. Washington state (where I live) has a detailed report (which I have in paper) on ramping up wind in its windy eastern regions and discusses the challenges of building extensive wind production based on a utility pricing structure that was designed for a different technology, and which requires a very bureaucratic process to change.

    I would add that even completely mature technologies like oil and nuclear claim that they need subsidies, which they get in spades. Maybe if we got rid of all of those, wind wouldn’t need subsidies to compete. And maybe if the societal cost of climate change weren’t externalized for fossil fuel, wind really wouldn’t need subsidies.

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  17. Mark Bahner Says:

    “According to what I’ve read, it takes from 100 to 200 years for a solar cell to “recover” the energy that it took to produce it.”

    What you’ve read must be from the 1960s.

    The energy payback period for a photovoltaic system is 1 to 4 years, depending on the type of system:

    As dean points out, one can find this in less than a minute using Google.

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  19. jasg Says:

    Ah Dean you got there before me. There is a lot of misinformation about wind energy floating around and I’m extremely suspicious that it stems from the nuclear advocates since it always has in the past! Nuclear cannot truly be costed favorably against renewables when every real cost is properly counted so they have to actively discredit the others. I’ve been in the nuclear industry and while I’m still pro-nuclear (with sensible bounds) their blatant dishonesty is very annoying.

    Jae, I respect you, but you have been conned. It seems quite easy to con a conservative though (Iraq) ;-) But check out for the FAQ to find out that, perhaps surprisingly, there isn’t a great deal of downtime and backup fossil plants aren’t really needed. This is real life experience. Yes it’s another advocacy site but there are always two sides to every story and you aren’t well informed if you only get the one. There’s another bit of misinformation on the icecap site now – based on a single, biased and generally poor report by a second rate economist (cough, spit).

    Meantime check out the subsidies that have been and are continuing to be funneled into nuclear and fossil fuel industries for generations, particularly nuclear and see if wind energy is especially favored – bearing in mind the fuel is free.

    Regarding cables being set up in remote locations – most power stations are in remote locations and those that aren’t really should be. However, most of them also need their fuel dragged to that remote location by trucks and ships. Wind fuel by contrast is already in situ.

    I like the phrase sustainable energy. I take it to mean roughly “the energy we’ll need to sustain 9 billion people by 2050″. It’s got to come from somewhere!

    As for economics 101, I find that economics 201 contradicts it, and economics 301 contradicts 201, and real life tells us all these darn simplistic theories are wrong anyway. Adam Smith is the only fellow worth reading – at least he had humility and didn’t pretend to understand the unpredictable.

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  21. jasg Says:

    As for the subject of the post. I’ve read the report and found that it says almost nothing except meaningless platitudes. Probably the best thing to do is cut it into squares and hang it in the toilet. Eco-friendly that’s me!

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  23. jae Says:


    “I would add that even completely mature technologies like oil and nuclear claim that they need subsidies, which they get in spades.”

    Pray, tell me just how fossil fuels are subsidized. In the case of oil, they are in fact taxed extremely heavily–the total opposite of a subsidy. To compare oil with renewables, you have to add that tax to the cost of the renewable. The renewables are not cost-effective, even without adding the taxes. If renewables were cost-effective, we surely would not need all the governmental “help” to get people to use them. Come on, dreamers!

    I certainly don’t believe facts put out by AWEA! This German study shows that wind energy is extremely expensive:

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  25. jae Says:

    Well, a little further searching shows that the feasibility of wind power seems to be much a matter of location:

    “Depending on the location, the median economic payback periods ranged from 2 to 132 years, 41% of the locations had median payback periods less than 10 years, and 63% less than 15 years, Considering a typical turbine lifespan of 15-30 years, wind turbines are not economically viable at all locations, At locations with favorable wind resources, wind turbines are likely to be superior to electricity production using natural gas or coal,”

    So, I’ll back down and say that SOME wind generation schemes seem to be worth looking at (if the environmentalists don’t block their deployment, LOL).

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  27. jae Says:

    Is there really anyone out there that thinks this kind of scenario makes sense?

    “Vaclac Klaus from the Czech Republic in his book “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” asked the question “Could the Czech Republic replace the power output from the Temelin nuclear power plant by wind?” Using conservative estimates the answer is yes but it would take 7,750 wind turbine power plants requiring 8.6 million tons of material and would cover a 413 mile long line of turbines 492 feet high, corresponding to a distance from Temelin in the southern Czech Republic to Brussels in Belgium or in the US, the distance from Concord, NH to Washington DC.”


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  29. dean Says:

    “So, I’ll back down and say that SOME wind generation schemes seem to be worth looking at (if the environmentalists don’t block their deployment, LOL).”

    Clearly wind is side-dependent, no wind advocate denies that. There are vast wind resources available to be tapped – if we can build the transmission infrastructure and restructure how wind utilities are financed. And I can’t comment on wind resources for the Czech Republic. Spain however is now a world leader in wind. I think that the greatest amoung of investment right now should go into efficiency.

    And the issue of environmentalists blocking it is a real problem. I am an environmentalist, an active hiker, and live in a windy area where wind development is popular. I chose not to renew my membership in a local environmental group because I thought they were too anti-wind. There was also a virulent anti-wind letter from the head of a local chapter of the Audubon Society. While siting policies need to be intelligent, as a hiker, I am willing to accept the “visual pollution” of windmills if that’s what it takes. I read that Iowa has now passed California on installed wind capacity. Somebody I know in California said the time required for the permitting process is the reason.

    Here in Washington state, they are about to pass two laws which will streamline the permitting process for small wind energy sites. It’s about as bipartisan as anything can get. The more liberal urban populations love the environmentalism, and the economic boon from turbine land rental payments in the rural areas is enormous. Although some environmental groups are opposing these laws, last I saw, their initial votes are getting unanimous support in the state legislature.

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  31. jasg Says:

    Heres a report on the true cost of gasoline:

    Somewhat out of date but it does give another picture of the accounts. The taxes claw back some of the initial subsidies. However here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that oil was not required. Would there have been any gulf wars? If not, then you have to add those military costs in too.

    But then subsidies aren’t bad. Subsidised power and infrastructure enables all other industries and endeavors to take place. Let’s just be sure it’s a level playing field though.

    Here’s an article on the true cost of coal:

    For my money, geothermal and natural gas are the ways to go. With a little wind and solar where abundant. If we can get inexpensive liquid sodium thorium reactors soon then that would almost be the holy grail.

    As for the Czechs’s replacement of one nuclear power station story. I’ve heard this line many times before from the nuclear industry. It’s always been based on bogus accounting. They did the same with wave energy in the 70’s and killed that off too. I’d hazard a wild guess based on prior experience of this propaganda and say that they were exaggerating by about 10 times. I’ll check though. The nuclear lobby is very good at convincing politicians about how bad the alternatives are but they aren’t so forthcoming about the true costs of nuclear.

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  33. EDaniel Says:

    ooops, dean, maybe you want to get an update on Spain:

    Each of those will make use of the usual http://www.

    Have you estimated recently how many wind turbines with a nameplate rating of 2.5 MW are needed to replace a 1000 MW station supplying base load electricity generation? It’s an interesting number, imo.

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  35. jasg Says:

    I see problems with that Spanish paper:
    a) The number of green jobs created is a misleading idea. By one economic measure – productivity – it is preferable if fewer workers are needed. The cost of each such job to the public purse is important though but that has to be costed on a level playing field, which leads us to:
    b) The cost of green jobs in the paper seems to be calculated on the overcost of subsidies for green investment calculated by comparison with buying the megawatts on the open market. This ignores the fact that fossil fuel and nuclear plants suffer from exactly the same issue. You simply cannot create a new power plant without a capital cost. Buying electricity from places where that capital cost has already been incurred (by previous subsidies) is incorrect accounting. Anyway, the installation cost of a plant is considered as a depreciating asset not a liability. They are therefore just comparing the cost of building a power plant compared with the cost of doing nothing. Even if they had properly compared against the subsidies for a gas or coal plant and had found it to be cheaper then they’d have to also consider that fossil fuels are likely to rocket in price from the coming rising demand. Wind fuel remains free though!
    c) Lastly they say certain other jobs were lost because the money could have been spent somewhere else. That is a fallacy based on the usual economists ideal rational world. If instead that same money spent to prop up ailing banks or industries – as has indeed happened – then it is not creating any jobs at all. At least with a power station, as with any infrastructure investment, there are definite paybacks.
    d) The parting shot about nuclear power being the better option only tells us that the study was likely funded by the nuclear lobby. Wind and nuclear construction cost have been independently calculated as roughly the same per megawatt but wind is quicker to install and the fuel is subsequently free. Nuclear plants are supposed to last longer but only if you spend extra maintenance money. Then there are the decommissioning costs, which are always far greater than accounted for.

    And on the calculation of the number of wind turbines to replace a power station, it’s not too difficult to see that the Czech’s numbers are grossly overblown, however you calculate it. Again, he had been (mis)informed by another nuclear industry report.

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  37. EDaniel Says:

    dean and jasg, I think you need to do a little simple arithmetic. Many of us who read this blog have already done that.

    And jasg, YANS (Yet Another Naked Strawman) doesn’t cut it here.

    As someone said long, long ago, “Those who refuse to do arithmetic are doomed to talk nonsense.” And, if you haven’t done the arithmetic your plans and schemes are doomed to failure.