Oct 23, 2007
Are efficiency and technology the key to sustainable energy?
According to the International Energy Agency, worldwide oil consumption is set to soar by 40% by 2030. That increase could boost carbon emissions by 55%, so it’s clear that finding sustainable energy sources is both urgent and imperative. With this in mind, the InterAcademy Council’s Lighting the way: Toward a sustainable energy future report aims to create a “consensus science roadmap” for global energy development along the lines of the IPCC reports on climate change.
The report was assembled by an international panel of scientists and co-chaired by Nobel Laureate Steven Chu of the US and Brazil’s José Goldemberg and commissioned by the Chinese and Brazilian governments and released on 22 October. Raj Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC was also on the 15-strong panel. The InterAcademy Council itself, meanwhile, represents national academies of science, engineering and medicine from around the world.
The finished document calls for concerted efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce the world economy’s "carbon intensity" – the ratio of carbon emissions produced to goods and services provided.
Speaking at a press conference to mark the report’s launch, Chu said: “Conservation and energy efficiency is, and will remain for the next couple of decades, the most important thing the world can do in order to get on a sustainable energy path.”
The experts also call for the worldwide introduction of price signals for carbon emissions, the development of technologies for capturing and sequestering carbon from coal and other fossil fuels, and the acceleration of the development and deployment of renewable-energy technologies.
“Governments, united in intergovernmental organizations, should agree on realistic price signals for carbon emissions – recognizing that the economies and energy systems of different countries will result in different individual strategies and trajectories – and make these price signals key components of further actions on reducing carbon emissions,” stated the report’s executive summary.
The panel believes that price signals of around US$100–150 for each avoided-tonne of carbon equivalent – US$27–41 for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent – will be needed to induce the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage. “Price signals at this level would also give impetus to the accelerated deployment of biomass and other renewable energy technologies,” adds the report.
What’s more, in order to make progress, a doubling of public and private expenditure on critical energy technologies is likely to be needed, along with cutting subsidies to established energy industries, reducing incentives for excess consumption and increased international collaboration. The responsibility for action is widely spread – the report highlights multinational organizations such as the UN and World Bank, governments, the science and technology community, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, the media and the general public all as potential “actors” that can achieve results.
Given that about two to three billion of the world’s 6.5 billion people have access to only primitive forms of energy such as burning coal and wood, and 1.6 billion people don’t have any access to electricity, Chu says that “the energy problem means different things to different people around the world”. The panel concluded that the poorest people on the planet should be supplied with basic, modern energy services.
“Developing countries don’t have to follow the path taken by the developed countries that led us into this nightmare of local pollution, environmental pollution of all kinds and global pollution,” stressed José Goldemberg. “Developing countries can introduce best practices – that is energy conservation and modern technology – early in their process of development. Leapfrogging is a great opportunity for them.”
In this way, energy infrastructure could follow the example of communications, where many developing countries now use mobile phones and have completely missed out the stage of installing fixed-line telephone networks that more developed countries passed through first. “It’s up to the leadership of the country to choose these technologies adequately,” said Goldemberg.
But the last word should go to the panel as a whole. “Long-term energy research and development is an essential component of the pursuit of sustainability,” they said. “Significant progress can be achieved with existing technology but the scale of the long-term challenge will demand new solutions. The research community must have the means to pursue promising technology pathways that are already in view and some that may still be over the horizon.”
So if you’re an energy researcher, please stop reading this and get back to work. Thankyou.