Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Overton Window for game changing exotic energy technologies

Political scientists invoke something called the Overton Window to describe the range of possible political conversations. Forget for the moment that the political right is trying to control this window.

I want to discuss a different 'Overton Window,' one which involves the possible conversations around truly radical, even exotic, energy sources. A small group of economists, including me, believe that much of what is to be understood in growth and development has a large energy component. So possibilities to radically change the supply and cost of energy causes great consternation. But moving the conversation window even a tiny bit will have great benefits.

Geographically for me, it is truly ironic that in 1989 Professors Pons and Fleischman were tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail over their forced, though admittedly premature, assertion at a University of Utah press conference of low energy nuclear reactions, a.k.a. cold fusion, in their laboratory.

Well, some two decades later several very serious, very credible, scientists have come out of the closet in support of the so-called FP discovery. Scientists from MIT, NASA, and, especially, the US Naval Research and Development arm (SPAWAR), based in San Diego. If you have an open mind, some scientific aptitude, and a life-changing hour, try this. If you want to discuss it, I can follow some of it and guide you, especially around the implications of the high-energy neutron depositions. This is very good and careful science.

Further, at least a half dozen known commercial ventures are underway, one of which (Broullin) received $2 million in venture funding this week. Another, the Andrea Rossi E-Cat project, reports just this week self-sustaining 600C output from their current reactor. The implications of this, if supportable, are profound in two senses: self sustaining implies both electricity output and infinite over-unity possibilities.

Now this sounds all very speculative and even specious, and you may question why it even appears on an Econ blog. Fairly simple in an Overton way: as my research and dissertation leads me to believe there is no more important component of an economy than its energy availability and consumption, these discoveries are game changers, and Economists should try to understand, discuss, and even model the implications. I will leave it there for the moment.

So, if true, we are on the cusp of a radical energy transition. One which 'fixes' global warming and changes all of our Economic growth models. Not a bad time to be an economist. Or a human. Put away your tars, feathers, and rails.


  1. Hello,

    Sorry for the late comment, but was wondering do you know of any academic writings which have considered the economic implications of these kinds of technologies?

  2. Not yet...but there certainly need to be.


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