The Equinox Energy 2030 Summit (2011) has now concluded, and I’ve arrived back in Australia. It was an enthralling and exhausting experience, and I befriended a wonderful group of people — members of the Forum (aged ~25 to 30 years), Advisors (including me — for generalist critiques and ), Quorum (advocates for specific technologies) and the WGSI and Perimeter Institute teams. I’d like to express my sincere thanks to everyone for giving their time and personal energy to this summit, in a spirit of camaraderie, critical thinking and practical direction setting.
On the final evening of the summit, I was part of a panel of experts on Steve Paikin’s show “The Agenda“. He’s a terrific host/moderator, and it was a really worthwhile event. (I wish Australia had a panel show of this quality!). Unfortunately I can’t embed flash videos in WordPress, so to watch the video (53 min), click on the image below to go offsite to TVO.org:
At the TVO website where the video is hosted, you can also find the list of the four other energy programs that The Agenda hosted during the summit, on the problems we’ve created and how we live, move and share. They’re all worth watching (maybe do one per night!), and include special commenters such as Vaclav Smil (energy policy), David Keith (geoengineering) and many others.
The Flickr photo feed of the Equinox event — day-by-day action — can be viewed here.
I obviously can’t cover off here on all of the wide-range discussions/debates we had during the week (there were some doozies!), although much of this material is now being reviewed and will subsequently be presented in the forthcoming ‘Equinox Blueprint‘ (being prepared by the WGSI team). But I will (in the coming week or so) blog here on BNC on a few key ideas that emerged — well, at least those which I found particularly exciting and thought provoking. This includes first electrification for 2.5 billion people using new technologies like organic solar, ultimate potential (and limits) of chemical storage batteries, lower-temperature thermochemical hydrogen production, and integrated plans for future urban and rural low-carbon communities.
As a prelude to the production of the full blueprint, a 4-page communiqué of core ideas and themes was produced at the end of the summit. You can download the printable PDF here, and it is reproduced below. I hope you find something in it to agree with — and to argue over! It certainly includes some bold thinking (and no doubt some blind alleys). But it’s a vision, and moving forward, we (both the summit participants and the wider community of decision makers, entrepreneurs, and general public) need to start making this happen. Sustainable energy must underpin all of our futures.
Energy is humanity’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and our appetite for electricity is growing faster than for any other form of energy. Transforming the ways we generate, distribute and store electricity is among the most pressing challenges facing society today.
Over the next four decades, global energy demand is expected to almost double from 16.5 terawatts to 30 terawatts. If we want to stabilize CO2 levels in our atmosphere at 550 parts per million, all of that growth needs to be met by non-carbon forms of energy.
Reducing the amount of fossil fuel we burn to generate electricity would make a substantial contribution to the goal of addressing climate change. In the wider context of peak oil and the rapidly growing global population, there is an urgent need for action.
The Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) was established to help bring science to bear on the most difficult problems facing our world. Over the past week, 36 scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and future leaders from around the world came together to explore how science and technology might serve as a catalyst for the urgent change that is needed.
VISION FOR 2030
This Communiqué identifies a group of technological approaches and implementation steps that have the potential over coming decades to accelerate the transition of our energy systems toward electrification and in the longer term toward an energy future where our dependence on fossil fuels is greatly reduced.
Given the right support, the six priority actions identified below can catalyze change on a global scale, from the cities of the developed world, to the billions of people who live in towns and villages that lack adequate access to electricity.
REPLACING COAL FOR BASELOAD POWER
Many of the world’s towns, cities and industries rely on a consistent supply of “baseload” power, most of which is currently generated through the burning of fossil fuels. Among a range of options, the Summit has identified three alternative means of providing that power that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
· Geothermal energy is a large resource capable of providing a significant proportion of the global energy demand. Costs for geothermal electricity generation can be a competitive resource if deployed on a large scale.
· The fundamental challenge is that subsurface resources can only truly be understood by undertaking major drilling programs.
· Several large demonstration projects would be required to deliver certainty about the exploration techniques, and engender confidence in production costs, potentially advancing geopower to the terawatt scale.
RENEWABLES ENABLED BY STORAGE
· The world needs its sources of power to be reliable and efficient. But wind, waves and sunshine do not always meet these criteria. We could change that by turning our attention to a long-neglected aspect of the power system: storage.
· Electrochemical batteries, including vanadium redox flow batteries, have proven utility in a limited number of real-world situations, but substantial initial investment is needed to reduce costs and commercialize a range of these technologies.
· Large-scale demonstration projects in countries with high penetrations of renewable energy sources are recommended.
ADVANCED NUCLEAR POWER TO CLOSE THE FUEL CYCLE
· Nuclear energy has proven capacity to deliver, on a large scale, low-carbon baseload power, but there are still concerns regarding safety and radioactive waste.
· Accelerating the development of forms of nuclear power that close the nuclear fuel cycle, including an effective solution for managing long-lived nuclear waste, and a widely available fuel supply, would be transformative.
· To achieve significant and timely uptake of these technologies, we propose international collaborations to develop the first commercial demonstration of the integral fast reactor with a fully closed fuel cycle (full recycling of uranium and plutonium), and experimental demonstration of novel accelerator-driven thorium-based systems.
URBAN ELECTRIC MOBILITY
· As countries become more urbanized, demand for transportation will increase. Transportation contributes 40% of humanity’s global greenhouse gas emissions currently, a problem only likely to worsen as these cities grow.
· Replacing gasoline-fuelled vehicles with electric ones has the potential to reduce emissions significantly. We could amplify this benefit by designing transit and vehicle-sharing schemes that integrate information and communication technologies to enable a shift in focus from ownership of vehicles to access to mobility.
· Within a short time it could be possible to demonstrate the benefits of combining ICT and battery powered electric vehicles in a small number of representative cities around the world.
MAKING CITIES ENERGY-SMART
· Expanding, dense urban areas have an unsustainably high carbon footprint. The world is becoming increasingly urbanized, with predictions that by 2040, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in cities.
· Our buildings and infrastructure in cities need to be smart enough to incorporate renewable energy solutions such as innovative quantum-based solar technology, smart metering, superconducting conduits and systems for intelligent data collection about building performance and behaviour.
· Pilot demonstrations in carefully selected neighbourhoods that combine these technologies could provide the knowledge needed for the developing world to leap-frog the inefficient and unsustainable designs of the past.
RURAL ELECTRIFICATION WITH FLEXIBLE SOLAR CELLS
· Approximately 2 billion people around the world have no, or very limited, access to electricity or other modern energy services. The negative consequences for their human rights, including health, education, and economic development, have been recognized as a significant barrier to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
· Although many options to alleviate poverty exist, lightweight, durable and flexible photovoltaic technologies that are currently being developed offer a technologically and economically feasible solution for remote, off-grid deployment. Both the photovoltaic and battery storage technologies needed for these applications are three to four years from commercialization, and still searching for markets.
· Creating partnerships locally and internationally could facilitate the roll-out of integrated micro-grid systems based on renewable resources to provide basic energy needs such as lighting, communications and medical refrigeration.
The ideas outlined in this Communiqué will form the basis of a detailed document that will be produced in coming months – the Equinox Blueprint: Energy 2030.
Equinox Blueprint: Energy 2030 will paint a picture of the challenges faced by society in energy, detail forecasts from various global and national agencies for the likely state of affairs in 2030, and list the Equinox Summit’s recommendations and proposals to address these.
Equinox Blueprint: Energy 2030 will be aimed at informing, advising and inspiring science and technology influencers, government and industry leaders globally. It will focus on how science and technology can contribute to the challenges faced. It will offer practical, real-world solutions – based on the latest scientific thinking – and offer recommendations for investment and focus, and for the coordination of national and international scientific and engineering efforts which may, over the next 20 years, help address energy challenges in a meaningful way.