Energy League Conversation

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Posted by Rezwan Razani on Oct 19, 2011 at 09:16 PM
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The “Fusion League” is a division of the “Energy League,” an entity which does not yet formally exist.  Both Leagues will be structured to clear up the information signal and channel competition into collaboration for the purpose of accelerating energy innovation and improving decision making.  Also, both are designed to make the pursuit of better energy more gameful and positive.

Energy League Call to Action

The race for a sustainable energy future is on.  At stake, the peace and prosperity of mankind, the ecological vitality of our planet and our classification as an “intelligent species” worthy of a planet. 

The contenders, a diverse band of energy sources (fossils, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, bio, fission, fusion) must each overcome some notable flaws (not to mention NIMBY). 

Can any of them individually take us over the finish line to a sustainable future?  If they all work together, will it be enough?  And can they stop their alleged cost-externalizing, subsidy-seeking, data-distorting and trash-talking activities long enough to form an Energy League? 

Help create the League and leverage collaborative competition for the swift realization of a sustainable energy future for all! 

Fusion League: Initiating Broader League From Below

The Fusion Energy League (“FEL”) seeks to develop a broader “Energy League” to bring about effective collective action among all energy sources.  We will not run the League.  Rather, we are “initiating from below”.  We see the “Fusion Energy League” as being a “sub-league” of this broader Energy League.  The FEL can be further broken down into divisions, such as “MCF”, “ICF”, “Aneutronic”, and so on.  Likewise, Solar could have active and passive divisions, or divisions based on the main technological approaches being pursued.

We will develop “Fusion League” materials in anticipation of the eventual establishment of an Energy League, and as a model to inspire other energy Divisions (wind, solar, fossil, fission, and so forth). 

The Energy League idea serves our purposes in that it creates anticipation for fusion solutions, while supporting energy innovation and communication in general.

The Premise:

An “Energy League and Brackets” campaign is a potentially engaging, efficient way to address these problems - to clear up the energy information signal and create buy in for effective collective action.  Taking data and breaking it down with some refereeing into a sports schema can help create a map - a path to a clean energy future, and a way to keep track of our progress through energy innovation as we get there.

Opportunity to Collaborate

A full fledged “Energy League” is a useful vehicle for a diverse range of energy professionals.  It will enable us to work creatively and cooperatively to put our energy pursuits in perspective and communicate the options with the public.  Developing the League will require the collaboration of energy professionals and environmental organizations.  Jointly, we can establish an independent, non-partisan, inclusive “Energy League” that all energy “divisions” (such as wind, solar, geothermal, fission, fusion, fossil, etc.) can be a part of.  The members of the League will then develop protocols and materials for comparing energy performance. 

The “League” idea is a deliberate choice to help structure information using a “sports schema”.  The League, working with each energy division, will develop a statistical template that makes things comparable across energy approaches.  The objective is to set up and agree on a structure that enables the collation and comparison of dense, disparate energy data, in an engaging manner.

The Challenge:

There’s not enough clean energy in the world for everyone, now or for the sustainable future.  Each energy source is flawed in some way (including fusion - the flaw being that it doesn’t supply net energy yet!).  Likewise, the energy “information signal” is flawed:  Champions of each energy source tend to play up the positive qualities of their favorite energy source and vilify the negatives in their competitors.  It’s hard to really know what’s best through all of this noise.  One thing is clear, each source of energy needs to improve dramatically.  Research is required, but hardly pursued:  We have a collective action problem.

To put it simply, our Civilization is at a threshold, marked by an energy crisis and grappling with a collective action problem.  Underlying the collective action impasse is an information problem. 

Information Problem

The Energy Crisis is described in dire, yet vague terms:

All known energy sources are subject to strict limits of one kind or another. Conventional energy sources such as oil, gas, coal, and nuclear are either at or nearing the limits of their ability to grow in annual supply, and will dwindle as the decades proceed—and [pose hazards] to the environment. …There is no clear practical scenario by which we can replace the energy from today’s conventional sources with sufficient energy from alternative sources to sustain industrial society at its present scale of operations. To achieve such a transition would require (1) a vast financial investment beyond society’s practical abilities, (2) a very long time—too long in practical terms—for build-out, and (3) significant sacrifices in terms of energy quality and reliability. - Heinberg, 2009

 
Just how “vast” is the financial investment required?  How close are the limits?  What sacrifices?  Aren’t each of the energy sectors (oil, gas, nuclear, renewables) improving with technology?  How much do they need to improve to take us over the top?  If a miracle is needed, just how big does it have to be?  There is, indeed, “no clear practical scenario” for guidance.  The author of the above piece goes on to suggest “humane, gradual population decline” (Heinberg, 2009) – which we find chilling (Miracle v. Massacre).  To prevent us from doing anything horrible and unnecessary, and to arrive quickly and efficiently at the best course of action, we need to collectively and individually act on the best information possible. 

Energy Information Signal Required

Our challenge, thus, is to produce a strong, clear, resilient, accurate, standardized, calibrated, dynamic and appealing energy information signal which will be the basis of decision making.  We need trustworthy referees!

This is difficult because:

  • Apathy:  Energy information is generally presented in ways that are either alarming or boring, and thus a turnoff to most people.
  • Distortion and the Need for Referees:  The information signal is vulnerable. Ironically the more information and experts there are, the muddier the signal becomes, due to the sheer volume and complexity of the information and also opportunistic behavior on the part of experts and special interests who feel strongly about one energy source over another (especially those they are invested in), and tend to manipulate information to support their position. 

“The greater the complexity of the system being planned, the greater the information burden; the greater the costs of information search; and the less likely it is that imposing planned solutions will successfully yield beneficial order.”  In contrast:  “Simple rules that guide decentralized exchange decisions made on the basis of freely formed local subjective individual information are capable of ordering highly complex systems.”  What you need to do is “create conditions in which a spontaneous, decentralized order can flourish.” (Webster & Lai, 2003).

“Also inherent, and also related to information, are the dangers of opportunistic behavior – rent seeking.  Where experts process information they often have a monopoly advantage over decision makers and can use their power to influence decisions that benefit them one way or another.  Decision makers too can act opportunistically to the degree that they are not held responsible for all of their decisions.” (Webster & Lai, 2003).

Collaborative Tools to the Rescue


Fortunately, there are many tools available to us to produce a better information signal:

  • Data:  There are many excellent sources of data and information on energy, for example, EIA.gov;
  • Algorithms, social media, software and network technology are available now that enable advanced manipulation of complex info and instant, dynamic, comparisons of same.  This is the era of “Government 2.0”;
  • Games and sports are an effective way to motivate people to spontaneously go through a lot of complex information and create the feedback loops necessary to clear up the information signals;
  • Brackets:  There is a long tradition of “Brackets”  in sports to test the predictive powers of sports fans.  Brackets are a great way to engage people in quantitative comparisons.  They can be further incentivized by being turned into challenges, with prize money.
  • Appreciation of Unpredictability:  One of our key goals as an organization is to foster a pro-research ethic, which requires improving people’s relationships to uncertainty.  Sports brackets transform anxiety about uncertainty into curiosity and engagement.  Certainty is not the goal.  “The NCAA men’s basketball tournament always produces its share of upsets, but this year has been truly unpredictable.  Out of the 5.9 mllion brackets submitted to ESPN.com’s “bracket challenge” before the tournament began, only two correctly picked [the Final Four].”  (The Week, April 8, 2011, pp. 20) 

Pulling it together with an “Energy League” and “Brackets”

These tools can be applied to the Energy sector to turn the pursuit of better energy into a game.  This in no way trivializes these serious challenges – rather it boosts the effectiveness of all actors seeking to hasten the improvement of energy technology and the resolution of the environmental crisis.  This is how it would work:

Energy League

  • Establish Leagues, Conferences, Divisions:  Stakeholders come together to establish an “Energy League”.  This is then broken down into sub-leagues such as: The Renewable League (with Wind, Solar, Geothermal Divisions etc.), Fossil Fuel League (Coal, Oil, Natural Gas, etc.); Fission League (Uranium, Thorium, etc.); Fusion League (Neutronic and Aneutronic divisions). 
  • Establish Teams:  Each league and division has teams consisting of companies or research groups exploring specific technologies (“Teams”).  Teams compete for “best in league” along different parameters (efficiency, pollution, worker safety, baseload, etc.). 
  • Baseline data:  The League must first establish a clear baseline information signal.  What is the present state of energy?  This is a challenging baseline to establish, given the conflict of opinion about the external costs of energy (triple bottom line issues – social and environmental costs are contested).  The League can thus have “Standard rules” v. “Global Warming Denial rules” v. “Kyoto 1 rules” and so on, in which you can factor in or out the assumptions that are contested.  The point is to clear up the information signal, and to keep data and assumptions unbundled, but easily compared and applied.  There are many excellent sources of data for the baseline and many attempts being made to do this.  See the Energy Information Administration, David MacKay, Deaths per TWH and radiation charts.
  • Statistical Templates (aka “baseball cards”):  The League must also develop the templates that Teams will use to submit information on their status and developments.  The templates will be designed to include all relevant information in standardized and easily comparable forms (efficiency, materials, cradle to cradle recyclability, costs, subsidies, deaths/TWH and so on).  This can be set up into some overall score protocol, or divided into sub-categories of comparison.  The cards can be made available as an App, which will be updated with real-time information as improvements in each technology are made.  This is one of the key tools for clearing up the information signal and making it available to a broad section of the population.  These energy cards will be a work of art.  They can be linked to things like “Future’s Markets”.

Brackets

Information in itself is not enough.  We need a driver to get people to engage with the information and to apply pressure to improve that information (consumer driven demand as they use the cards to make their own projections and then make suggestions for improvement or correct misinformation, creating a positive feedback loop).  “Energy Bracket Challenges” are a perfect driver.  They will leverage the spirit of competition, sports and play to improve the energy signal.

  • Baseline Energy Bracket Challenge:  Before the League publishes its first analysis of all the information data, people can predict where various Teams or leagues stand with respect to each other.  Once the league publishes its results people can see if they were in the ball park.  This will be the first bracket challenge event.
  • Annual Energy Bracket Challenge:  Thereafter, each division will have a bracket challenge (Best in Division, Best in League), and the League as a whole will have a challenge (Playoffs).  You can enter your bracket in the challenge at the beginning of the season, and at the end, the data on improvements in technology and energy efficiency will be in and you can see how close you got to picking the energy winners.  The idea is to get people to realize that from year to year there will be upsets in the standing in the leagues based on breakthroughs in technology or events in the world (tsunamis, new finds, price fluctuations).  This will lead to people valuing research and appreciating uncertainty – and enjoying uncertainty. 
  • Global Warming Brackets:  It may also be useful to add a bracket to see who comes closest each year to predicting the temperature and other Global Warming parameters. 
  • Miracle - Black Swan Bracket:  The baseball cards and brackets will help clarify the information signal and make it readily apparent what the shortfalls in energy are (depending on your assumptions).  It will show the gap between energy availability and demand, i.e. how big of a “miracle” we need to make up the difference.  (It’s miracle or massacre – you pick).  This should, if marketed properly, lead to greater investment in the long shot potential “black swan” ideas such as advanced fuel fusion.
  • Ideal Energy Bracket:  And we also set an ideal goal:  which of these energy supplies will eventually achieve the highest energy standard (we’re hoping that will be aneutronic fusion - which it will be, if someone can get it to work).
  • Demand App: On the demand side, what does the average person have to consume for there to be energy conservation and equality?  Design an app to show each person how close they are to that and how the demand allowance will change dynamically as improvements in technology are made (or not).  The App will tell you if you are an energy free rider or not.

Brackets give people a vested interest in breaking down information to see who is best at predicting an outcome.  “The NCAA men’s basketball tournament always produces its share of upsets, but this year has been truly unpredictable.  Out of the 5.9 mllion brackets submitted to ESPN.com’s “bracket challenge” before the tournament began, only two correctly picked [the Final Four].”  (The Week, April 8, 2011, pp. 20)

Administration Cost, Bracket Prizes and Revenue Stream

The League will need to establish prizes for the brackets.  Ways can be found to monetize this and fund the work of the league.  Funding is certainly required, because the work load is considerable.  The League will be developing and maintaining the platform that produces the energy signals, and administering the brackets and refereeing, and validating claims of energy improvements at “Energy sporting event demonstrations”.  Ideas for monetizing include merchandising – take notes from Major League Baseball.  Thoughts on how to run the league as a cartel can be obtained by taking notes from the NFL. 

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