VIDEO: Are the Paris Climate Change Talks a Ball and Chain for Manufacturing?

Global cap & trade, taxation systems not the answer. Why not mass-produced modular photovoltaics?

Right now in Paris, France, the world’s leaders are meeting at the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP21.

The global media are all over this event, branding it as the “last chance” to reduce carbon emissions and keep global temperature increases within the limits that current science demands, in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

It’s yet another massive United Nations bureaucracy-fest with numerous communiqués, press releases, position papers, soundbites and press analyses.

This time, however, things are different.

Discussion on whether or not it’s the consumption of fossil fuels causing global climate change is essentially over.

Regardless of whether you agree with the premise that fossil fuel combustion causes climate change, CO2 reduction has become a global meme. This alone makes it, for all intents and purposes, fact.

The COP21 conference intends to establish rules for reducing the amount of atmospheric CO2 in industrial nations. This has major implications for manufacturers worldwide.

Manufacturing needs power; lots of it, reliably and at the lowest possible cost. Right now, the combustion of fossil fuels is the cheapest and most reliable way to power modern economies.

Nuclear, Wind, Solar and Photovoltaic Alternatives

The nuclear industry is stagnant, with the shadow of Fukushima and Chernobyl hobbling any public relations effort to generate support for new, more promising nuclear technologies.

Wind power has always been driven by geography, and is too intermittent to generate the considerable baseload required by industry. Geography and geology similarly constrain geothermal and tidal renewable energy sources.

So what about solar?

It is getting cheaper, but solar technology is nowhere near cheap enough to power manufacturing industries on a large scale.

There are some manufacturers moving toward solar, however. A recent example is machine tool manufacturer DMG Mori, whose Pfronten, Germany plant is partially powered by both photovoltaics and a wind turbine.

However, for the majority of the manufacturing industry off-grid alternatives are still not a viable economic option.

Environmentalists, of course, claim that these systems would be viable if fossil fuel-based energy sources included the environmental costs of the pollutants they emit.

This is probably true, but it papers over the ugly reality that making energy much more expensive means less disposable income for the majority of the world’s population – and a lower standard of living for everyone.

I believe this fact is irrelevant to the elites who are meeting in Paris right now.

They know they can’t confiscate your car. But they can make it significantly more expensive to operate, which will have the same effect on CO2 reduction.

The goal appears to be creating an even deeper global manufacturing recession, then declaring victory as the resulting lower energy consumption reduces atmospheric CO2 levels.

In effect, carbon pricing punishes ordinary people for simply living their lives.

There is a better way.

What’s needed is not a global cap and trade or taxation system.

What the planet does need is photovoltaic technology that’s installed at $0.10 a watt.

I’ve been following photovoltaics as an alternate energy source for my own home for 30 years and it has certainly become cheaper. But like fusion energy, it always seems 20 or 30 years away from viability.

If the UNFCCC was truly serious, they would turn to member nations to fund a massive global-scale “super Manhattan Project,” with the goal of mass-producing modular photovoltaics that are an order of magnitude cheaper than the products available today.

If I could power my entire home with $4,000 worth of solar panels, I would do it tomorrow.

But I won’t do this at $40,000. It is the same for industry.

So, why won’t the UN and world leaders do this?

Mainly because the world leaders are drawn from a political class that seems to exclude scientists and engineers. They are legislators, not problem solvers.

If the UN were serious, they would assemble a panel of 10 or 20 of the world’s best manufacturing and production engineers, then build a network of giga-factories around the world.

Tesla is taking a small step in this direction, but for true economies of scale a manufacturing system needs to be much, much bigger.

The Paris Conference, by adopting a strategy of carbon pricing, will slam the brakes on this manufacturing innovation and set us back at least a decade toward the goal of renewable, clean energy.

Decades from now, historians will think we were idiots.

To learn more about COP21, visit

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.