Comment by joris on a black swan energy prize · 2019-04-02T13:44:56.431Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Another good point, though the relative neglectedness of the field suggests we could use the help of a Prize to "awaken possibility" with potential innovators and investors. Challenging them to think about (and act on) ideas that they've never allowed themselves to further develop.

Paradoxically, vast wealth can also be an inhibitor for sharing one's progress once attained. Especially when innovators come from unusual backgrounds, discussions with possible investors may never be successful due to a lack of trust and/or an overwhelming difficulty of "putting a price" on an invention. There are precedents of this ; some potentially valuable inventions have never made it beyond the lab of the original inventor for such reasons.

Perhaps the true value of the Prize, however, is scientific recognition. There are several inventors / startups today who struggle to find investors despite promising technological advances. If any of those were able to win the prize, which implies thorough scientific scrutiny, then raising subsequent capital would become much easier. (A sizeable cash amount would still be needed to give the Prize sufficient standing).

It is also possible that the winning technology is not (yet) sufficiently commercially interesting for private investment, but sufficiently convincing to warrant a major international research effort.

Finally, a Prize is also about simply trying something new. If clean energy is one of our greatest challenges, then formally asking the question whether anyone has some potentially important technology would seem to be a rational thing to do.

Comment by joris on a black swan energy prize · 2019-04-02T13:00:37.274Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

This is a good point, that is often made. There are several aspects to this :

1. a Prize in this space is seen as a complementary instrument to direct funding, not replacing it.

2. Prizes are known to have leveraged money flowing into the field. The Ansari XPrize was 10 mln$, but inspired 100mln$ collective funding into the companies vying for the prize. Similarly we'd expect the existence of a Prize to galvanise momentum for exotic energy research.

3. The Prize design will select for relatively low-complexity solutions. E.g. it's unlikely that Tri-Alpha, a 500mln$ fusion startup, will participate in this Prize. Instead, it is geared towards the smaller, much more accessible lab setups all the way down to individuals in their garage. This maximises the chances that *if* something is found, it is likely to start low on the cost-curve and hence be useful to society.

4. There is also a possibility that the winning technology is already (almost) out there, and really just needs a small nudge to meet the Prize criteria.

Comment by joris on a black swan energy prize · 2019-04-02T12:46:18.068Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

This a good illustration of why a prize in this space might add value.

The majority of people "remain unconvinced" about cold fusion and other forms of breakthrough energy, and they are statistically more likely to be right than wrong. The crux is to understand whether that makes the search for new energy "highly neglected for extremely good reasons". How high would the probability of success need to be in order for that search to be worthwhile ? One-in-a-thousand, one-in-a-hundred, one-in-ten ?

A prize, in particular, is for the unconvinced. Would it not be reasonable for society to commit 5 mln$ (+ a success fee) for a 10% chance to find a new energy source ?

Energy storage technology is indeed also of interest, though of a different order than finding completely new energy sources. Moreover, the area of battery research is much less neglected, with billions flowing into the field every year.

Comment by joris on a black swan energy prize · 2019-04-02T12:11:02.155Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you, I wasn't sure whether posting something relatively specific, as opposed to the more meta-discussions, would be appreciated on this forum. It's good to see some discussion around the subject.

a black swan energy prize

2019-03-28T23:34:59.762Z · score: 0 (6 votes)