Researchers at Princeton were deeply involved in national assessments of energy and climate in 2009. Four activities are of particular note:


America’s Energy Future

2009 was the concluding year of the study of energy options for the United States conducted by the National Academies. The study urges that the U.S. government devote the next decade to extensive implementation of energy efficiency in all economic sectors as well as aggressive development of options in energy supply (CO2 capture and storage, nuclear power, biofuels, renewable power), so that their relative merits can govern deployment decisions in following decades. The committee was chaired by Harold Shapiro, former President of Princeton University, and Robert Socolow was a member.

A contract from the National Academies to Princeton University enabled a CMI group (Robert Williams, Thomas Kreutz, and Eric Larson) to develop a set of self-consistent models addressing the technology and economics of electric power and synthetic fuels production from coal, natural gas, and biomass. These models became valuable tools for several components of the overall study.


America’s Climate Choices

Similar in its blockbuster scope and in its attention to policy relevance, and going through its phases about 18 months later, this National Academies study is nonetheless not a sequel to America’s Energy Future. The emphasis is less on technology and more on policies and institutions. Socolow is a member of the committee.


Verifying greenhouse gas emissions for a climate treaty

Yet a third National Academies committee is charged with reviewing current methods and proposing improved methods for estimating and verifying greenhouse gas emissions at national, regional, and global spatial scales, and at annual and decadal temporal scales. The study, soon to be released, proposes a concrete plan to monitor and verify an international climate treaty and provides error estimates and costs. The study bears on the implementation of carbon trading, the setting of emissions reduction targets, and the monitoring and verifying of international treaties (Figure 25). Stephen Pacala is the chair.

Figure 25. NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), which failed on launch in February 2009. The NAS committee determined that the satellite would have provided proof of concept for spaceborne technologies to monitor greenhouse gas emissions, as well as baseline emissions data. Image credit: NASA


Direct chemical capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

The American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) conducts studies intended to sort out the science content of socially relevant issues. In this case the study seeks to inform the technically trained non-expert about the materials and systems challenges that complicate the task of removing CO2 from the air in large enough quantities to be relevant to climate change mitigation and at sub-astronomical costs. Robert Socolow and Michael Desmond (BP) are the co-chairs.