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Pathways for Climate Solutions: Assessing Energy Technology and Policy Innovation

24 February - 28 February 2014

Workshop Chair(s):
Jae Edmonds
Hal  Harvey, H.
John Katzenberger

 About the Workshop

Untitled Document

Pathways for Climate Solutions

Assessing Energy Technology & Policy Innovation

Jae Edmonds, Hal Harvey, and John Katzenberger
Version 2. Updated 11.18.2013


Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC and the Aspen Global Change Institute will collaboratively host a workshop in early 2014 to build an updated assessment of which technologies offer the most promise to reduce carbon emissions.  The workshop will cover three and a half days, and it will include a discussion of energy generation, efficiency, storage, and grid management technologies, and the role they can play in achieving a low-emissions future energy system.  We will anchor the discussion by placing technologies on their development pathways, so we can also discuss which government policies can best make these technologies affordable and ubiquitous.  The meeting will form the basis of a paper that discusses the major findings and lays out a concrete strategy for action.

Meeting Logistics


The meeting is scheduled 2/24/14-2/28/14 and will last three and a half days.  The first event will be dinner on a Monday evening, and the final session will be Friday morning.  This enables people to travel on Monday and Friday.


The meeting will be held at the Aspen Meadows Resort.  This location offers meeting space and hotel accommodation conveniently located in Aspen.


The meeting will operate under Chatham House Rules.  However, non-public notes from the meeting will include speakers’ names, so that the writers of the papers resulting from the meeting (see below) are able to ask for permission to include attributed statements from the person who made those statements.  Attributed statements will only be used with permission.

Pre-Meeting Issues

Represented Technologies

This will be a meeting of experts in energy generation, efficiency, and other enabling technologies.  A relatively broad range of technologies should be represented, but all technologies should have a realistic chance of contributing to carbon reductions in the near term. This excludes, for example, space-based power systems, room-temperature superconductors, etc.  Technologies that do not contribute to a genuine (e.g. long-term, sustainable) solution are also excluded, even if they reduce emissions relative to business-as-usual (e.g. natural gas).  Each technology will be represented by at least one expert (but not necessarily a dedicated expert, as some experts may represent more than one technology).

Primary Energy Technologies

  • Renewable electricity generation
    • Wind (onshore and offshore)
    • Solar (PV, CSP)
    • Geothermal
    • Marine/hydrokinetic
    • Biomass/bioenergy
  • Renewable thermal generation
    • Solar thermal
    • Waste heat recovery and thermoelectrics
    • Co-generation/combined heat and power
  • Renewable/alternative fuels
    • GM plants for efficient production of traditional (starch-based) ethanol
    • Cellulosic ethanol
    • Direct production of fuel molecules from photosynthetic microorganisms
    • Electrofuels (fuels produced by microorganisms without photosynthesis)
    • Alternative transportation fuels (electricity, fuel cells, maybe hydrogen)
  •  Nuclear fission
    • Conventional
    • Advanced

Enabling Technologies

  • Energy efficiency
    • Building technologies (windows, envelope, HVAC, appliances)
    • Cars and trucks
    • Other vehicles (ships, airplanes, etc.)
    • Industry (boilers, process heat, machine drive, etc.)
    • System energy efficiency, system optimization (including “Internet of Things”)
  • Carbon capture and storage
    • CO2 from concentrated streams
    • Other
  • Energy storage
    • Pumped hydro
    • Compressed air
    • Chemical batteries (dedicated and distributed via an electric car fleet)
    • Other
  • Grid management
    • Demand response
    • Any sufficiently important grid control (e.g. “smart grid”) technologies

Pre-Meeting “Homework”

In preparation for the meeting, each participant will be asked to prepare a contribution for the workshop discussion. Workshop co-chairs will be in touch with participants about their “homework” assignment after attendance is confirmed.

Discussion Overview

The meeting will have three sections.  We will open with a discussion in which we define the nature of the “climate challenge,” in terms of global annual or cumulative emissions of CO2e.  The second section, which will take up the majority of the conference, will be devoted to discussion of which technologies are best positioned to help reduce emissions at a scale and in a timeframe compatible with meeting this challenge.  (Mechanisms that do not reduce anthropogenic CO2e emissions are out of scope for this meeting.)  The final portion of the discussion will focus on policies to hurry these technologies along their development paths, from the laboratory, to demonstration projects, to the marketplace and widespread adoption.  Each of these sections is described in greater detail below.

Defining the Climate Challenge

Allotted Discussion Time: ¼ of a day

The first focus of the meeting will be examining the climate challenge so that we may pinpoint the requisite scale and timeline for technology solutions.  The goal will be to identify a specific objective (target level of emissions, by what year) that can be met through plausible technology pathways.  This section will be informed by contributions from experts in scenario development, climate impacts, and achievable rates of economic decarbonization. We envision two scenarios to help with this re-framing:

  • “Smart start” scenario: prompt but realistic deployment of carbon-cutting technologies and policies leads to a near-term halt to rising global CO2 emissions and sets the foundation for progressive declines in carbon emissions.  This scenario limits likely atmospheric GHG concentrations to a level that is tight but achievable without heroic R&D advances or large-scale economic mobilization.
  • “Late start” scenario: further lags in deployment of carbon–cutting technologies and policies lead to continuing increase in CO2 emissions globally. In the near to medium term, clean energy technologies and industries continue to develop slowly and struggle to achieve price parity with fossil fuels.  Over time, the onset of climate impacts and concern about additional future impacts mobilize policy to effect an aggressive transition away from carbon-based energy sources.  Emissions are reduced, and atmospheric concentration of CO2 peaks above the threshold established for the “smart start” scenario.

The purpose of this conversation is to set the stage for discussion of technology and policy in the later parts of the meeting.  In the next section, experts will be asked to indicate if their preferred technology can be sufficiently mature, market-ready, and scalable to help achieve the “smart start” scenario, or if the technology is still far enough from widespread use that it could only be useful in the “late start” scenario.  (In other words, this is not an assessment of a technology’s eventual promise, but its utility in achieving specific, meaningful climate futures.)

It is important to note that neither scenario represents a continuation of business-as-usual technologies and policies, which would fail to achieve a peak in atmospheric CO2 concentration.  A technology that is useful only in the “late start” scenario may nonetheless be promising and worth pursuing, as long as people understand that that it likely will not be helpful in achieving substantial emissions reductions on a short time scale.  That is, people must be aware that such a technology is a long-term bet, but not necessarily a bad bet.

Technologies: Feasibility, Scale, and Cost

Allotted Discussion Time: 2 and ¼ days

The second focus of the meeting will be on the energy technologies that can help to lower emissions and reduce the magnitude of climate change.  Each technology will be discussed in the context of the “smart start” and “late start” scenarios, to identify which are the most promising and what research directions should be pursued to further each technology.  Participants may share their findings from their pre-meeting “homework,” locating each technology on its development path and their predictions for where it will go in the future.  Uncertainty in these predictions will also be discussed.

learning curve
Finally, important obstacles to the success of each technology will be noted.  Obstacles could be technological (e.g. the need to develop a new type of material with particular properties), natural (the potential for strengthened hurricanes to damage offshore turbines), geopolitical (the need for social and political stability in sunny parts of North Africa), social/psychological (the strongly negative perception most people hold of nuclear power), economic (the need for very high investment to innovate in nuclear or CCS technologies), etc.


Policies: Barriers, Opportunities, and Surprises

Allotted discussion time: 1 day

 The third focus of the meeting will be the policies that will drive technology development and improvement.  The process of successful technological change can be divided into three stages: Research, Engineering, and Commercialization (see Figure 1).  Each phase is necessary for success, but each requires its own unique skills, programs, funding approaches, and connections between the public and private sector.  Tools that work for one will not always work for the others.  Additionally, different political and economic environments may require different tools. Furthermore, it’s understood that additional factors beyond cost per unit and production quantity shape the pathway of technological progress for energy technologies and thus their climate mitigation potential.

For each promising technology identified in the previous section, meeting participants will discuss which policy tools would be effective, indicating of technology development these tools will make the most impact and highlighting any “valleys of death” that need to be overcome.  The discussion will seek realistic (e.g. politically feasible) policies that should be expected to move technologies through these three phases, including demonstration and commercial deployment on a scale that meaningfully impacts energy use or emissions.  (This is defined as a minimum of a 2% reduction in nation-wide energy use or emissions from a given technology, but preferably much more.)

The policy discussion should be confined to policies that advance these particular technologies along their development pathways and help them achieve widespread market deployment.  More general policy discussion (such as the merits of a carbon tax) is out of scope for this meeting.  We acknowledge that there is a gray area between these two extremes, and general policies might have the effect of helping technologies develop based on demand signals or pricing changes.  Moderators will help to keep discussion focused on ways in which policies benefit technological advancement (rather than their other effects) and will ensure that no one policy dominates the discussion.

Meeting Report

Following the meeting, staff will produce two documents: a technical report and a shorter paper aimed at lay-people.  The technical report will attempt to reflect the majority viewpoint on each topic while noting objections and contrary viewpoints if such views are held by more than one or two experts present.  The short paper will be a summary that hits the highlights and refers readers to the technical report for details.
Complementing these papers, we may encourage journalists to write articles about the meeting or the written products produced from the meeting.

As noted in the “Rules” subsection above, statements from individuals and direct quotes will be attributed to individual speakers where useful and when permission is granted, but the meeting will operate under Chatham House rules.

A public relations and outreach effort will help to promote the technical report and the lay-person paper, getting them into the hands of people who are in the best position to make use of the information they contain.