Dialogue — December 2023

December 2023

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Electrical power linesPhoto: Anton Petrus/Getty Images

Power Points

In September, Stanford talked with experts about California’s goal to reach 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045.

Storage technologies are important to develop, but California is doing a disservice not making nuclear a priority as well. It’s safer and cleaner than most people are aware, and even though it’s not technically renewable, it will last a long time. Not only can small reactor technologies play a critical role in future energy production, but technologies can also be developed to produce valuable radioisotope nuclear batteries. Imagine never recharging a phone or laptop in a lifetime. 
Kevin Henderson, ’92
Los Alamos, New Mexico

The cost of decarbonizing the grid with intermittent renewables goes severely exponential long before 100 percent. One of the reasons nuclear energy matters is that it can provide 24-7 reliable electricity. About two-thirds of California’s electric energy is delivered 24-7. Delivering intermittent energy for one-third of the system needs is the “easy” part. Decarbonizing the 24-7 with intermittent renewables is hard—as in “not economical.”

We may yet decarbonize California, but our choices make a difference. If we make uneconomic choices that nobody will follow, then we are not leaders. If we rekindle advanced nuclear, we will reduce our environmental footprint in the deserts and hilly mountains and not need all those transmission lines through our tinder-dry forests. To be guided and blinded by the religion of renewables-only will weaken our economy. We need to be technology-inclusive and economically realistic.
Ross Koningstein, MS ’86, PhD ’91
Atherton, California

The opportunity to engage consumers in the clean energy transition is often overlooked but extremely powerful. Smart, connected consumer technologies such as thermostats, appliances, and water heaters will allow us to consume energy more flexibly and efficiently. This will facilitate the integration of variable wind and solar generation and will reduce the need for a potentially massive investment in traditional power grid infrastructure. Paying customers to act as “virtual power plants” is the only decarbonization option that will put money directly back into the pockets of consumers.
Ryan Hledik, MS ’06 
Lake Oswego, Oregon

The Change

A September story covered Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s resignation as university president and Richard Saller’s appointment 
to the office

Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s fall from grace provides Stanford with a much-needed opportunity to step back and reassess its uncritical pursuit of techno-capitalist wealth and glory. One of the problems for Stanford arising from its neglect of the humanities in favor of a passionate and one-sided embrace of technological capitalism and its monetary rewards is that the institutional organs of the university normally devoted to critically thinking about the implications of this kind of trend become overwhelmed by and subservient to the dominant paradigm. Before another glamorous inhabitant of Silicon Valley gets installed as Stanford’s next president, the current classicist incumbent should be empowered to perform a big-picture analysis of where Stanford is in its historical development, how it got here, and where it wants to go—taking into account factors other than the continued mindless pursuit of money and power.
Stafford L. Smith, ’61
Poulsbo, Washington

As a [former reporter and editor], I’ve been impressed with the professionalism and breadth of the Loop newsletter and Stanford. So I was disappointed with how you gave such short shrift to another talent: the Stanford Daily’s Theo Baker [’26]. You omitted the David vs. Goliath drama almost every other outlet reported: how, as a freshman, Baker became the youngest person ever to win a George Polk Award—one of the highest awards in journalism—for exposing the fraudulent graphics in MTL’s research that the ex-president was in no hurry to correct. This alumnus hopes you will continue the best journalism practices you and your magazine have so clearly shown in other coverage and do a better job of telling important stories like this more fully and fairly for your future alumni readers—today’s students.
Bill Moore,’65, MA ’66
Sacramento, California

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