Billions and Trillions

First the good news from last week: Richard Branson pledged approximately $3 billion in future profits from his various businesses to develop carbon-neutral energy supply technologies.

CNN Article on Branson

It would be great if other members from the recently released Forbes 400 would play “me-too”, since the main sources of joy for many of these billionaires seem is from topping their peers.

But the good news from Branson was overshadowed by last week’s announcement of a new study suggesting that $3 billion for new energy technologies may be three or four orders of magnitude too little, too late.

According to the work of Robert Hirsch, a senior analyst at SAIC — a think-tank sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy — about $1 trillion should be invested to develop innovative energy technologies each year for the 20 years preceding the peak rate of oil production to avert a severe and prolonged global economic crisis when energy supplies “hit the wall”.

SF Chronicle Article on Hirsch

Based on the oil statistics and analyses I’ve seen, it’s hard to imagine that we’re not already within the 20 year horizon of peak oil production, meaning that (if Hirsch is correct) somewhat more than $1 trillion annually needs now to be diverted to developing new energy technologies. Since revenues from the global energy sector are approximately $5 trillion per year, R&D must therefore approach 20% of industry revenues. Alas, the energy sector has traditionally plowed back less than 1% of its revenues into new technologies.

Does anyone see a 20x increase in energy R&D coming?

1 reply
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    'Trillions' is an almost inconceivable concept. How about a trillion dollars as it relates to 300 million Americans? It's $3,333 per year. For my wife and our 3 kids…family of 5 = $16,666 per year. That's a big number.

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