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Possible solutions

Tim Flannery addresses the sustainability crisis

What are the possible solutions?

At present, we have an over-reliance on fossil fuels which in turn produce high levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. There is a lack of convenient and affordable energy in underdeveloped countries.

Professor Smalley stated that we need to find the “new oil” – a material or technology that will produce energy prosperity that is as enabling as oil and gas have been but without the accompanying environmental damage.

This material or technological solution will need to produce twice as much energy as we do today. Where could that energy come from? The future solution will likely see us become less reliant on oil, coal and gas with natural sources of energy such as solar, wind and geothermal becoming the main contributors.

There are many other energy sources that may also contribute such as biomass, wave, microhydroelectric and nuclear but until many of the technical and societal issues associated with them are resolved, it is unlikely that they will be major contributors. For example, biomass and hydro compete with food and water resources.

If we are realistic about nuclear power as a carbon-free solution to the Terawatt Challenge that requires about 40 terawatts more electricity by 2050, let’s do a calculation: The output of a large nuclear reactor is 4-8 gigawatts. We would need to build 5,000-10,000 reactors worldwide in the next 30 years or about 1 every 1-2 days. Planning for a nuclear reactor on average takes 5 years and they need to be based close to the cities they will supply. These issues along with safety and environmental concerns appear to make nuclear power as a contributor to solving the Terawatt Challenge an unrealistic proposition.

As can be seen in the image above the amount of energy available from the sun, dwarfs what we can get from any other renewable source or even finite non-renewable sources.(1)

Professor Tim Flannery suggests that PV (photovoltaic) solar cells and wind generators are the equivalents of the Edison light bulb; the start of a century-long process to “solve” the energy problem. In terms of raw energy, the sun delivers every one and a half seconds enough potential energy to power the global demand for a year. But how can we harness this?

Given this information and your own experience do you think you renewables could be the answer?

  1. Solar Energy [Internet]. 2019, Futureforall.org. 2019 [cited 15 October 2019]. Available from: Future for all
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How to Survive on Earth: Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future

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