The 1000 Year Energy Challenge: Part 2
EV World's publisher continues his conversation with Sesh Velamoor, the program director for the Foundation for the Future.
By Bill Moore
As discussed in Part One of our conversation about the future of energy over the next thousand years, the Foundation for the Future chose to tackle the question by dividing it up into three time scopes: one generation or 25 years, ten generations (250 years) and 40 generations or 1000 years. The panel of experts in energy, policy and future studies who participated in the workshop last Spring, reached some obvious, as well as provocative conclusions.
You can listen to part two of the nearly hour-long interview by using either of the two MP3 players above, or you can download the 4.6 MB file to your computer for transfer and playback on your favorite MP3 device. You are, of course, encouraged to also listen to Part One and Part Three, when the latter becomes available.
IN BRIEF: Synopsis of Interview Part Two
Generation One -- the next twenty-five years -- is likely to have to depend increasingly on fission nuclear power, despite concerns over safety and management. But continuing effort and funding needs to be expended on the development of renewable energy systems, which currently contributes only about 8% of the world's energy needs (largely from hydropower). Here investment in terrestrial-based solar will be important. Coal -- assuming its many drawbacks, including safety, pollution, carbon emissions , can be solved -- may also continue to play a large part because of the extent of the available reserves, projected (based on incomplete and out-of-date information) to be extractable for hundreds of years at present use rates.
Hydrogen-based energy systems are technically feasible in the short term, but not necessarily practical because of important issues that include efficient, cost-effective production and infrastructure obstacles.
Generation Ten -- the mid-term or next 250 years -- includes, curiously enough, Zero Point Energy, which Velamoor concedes he added to the agenda "as an element of mischief". ZPE envisions tapping into the background energy of the invisible universe, which theoretically underlies all matter and known forms of energy. Despite the protestations and 'eye rolling' of some of the more conventionally-grounded panelists, Velamoor thought it important to expose the group to these ideas, a decision which seems largely vindicated when a few weeks ago scientists at St. Andrews University proposed a way to use the Casimir Force to create levitation at the nanotechnology level, instead of the "sticky" properties usually associated with the effect first proposed by H.B.G. Casimir in 1948.. This macroscopic quantum effect is believed to be one manifestation of Zero Point Fluctuations, which researchers are attempting to tap into as a source of infinite energy.
Beyond ZPE, the majority of participants saw space-based solar as a likely candidate for providing power for the future inhabitants of Planet Earth sometime during the next 250 years. Fusion-based nuclear power was still considered "far future", well beyond even the next ten generations.
Regardless of the philosophical or technical orientation of the workshop participants, they were unanimous in the view that the planet needs the energy future equivalent of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Where the IPCC studies the impact of global warming, a comparable "Intergovernmental Panel on Energy" or IPE, would study the problem of powering the planet into the near, mid-term and far future, in essence, picking up were the Foundation for the Future's workshop left off.
The proposed IPE would have several "arms" or groups that would focus on the following:
- Technological evaluation
- Sociological, political, economic and environmental impact of each technology option
- Deployment analysis that looks at each option in terms of the needs for public education
- Implementation policy and procedures
Such a competent body is needed -- just as it was for global warming -- to bring rational discussion to a topic over which there is equally wide divergence minority views pitting energy cornucopians against peak oil doomsdayers.
Related to the question of which energy pathways to take, are those which immediately follow-on: how do you produce it, store it and distribute it down to the individual? This is the second of the three critical issues agreed upon by the assembled scholars
The third and final critical issue was the urgent need for public education, awareness and involvement down to the elementary school level because the energy situation isn't going to "go away" in the next ten years. It is a trans-generational concern. And this educational effort has to include business and government leaders, showing them how energy and climate change are inter-related problems that must be tackled immediately.
To help identify these three most critical issues: technology evaluation, societal adaptation and public education, Velamoor divided the workshop into small groups and asked each group to identify and reach a consensus on the three most critical issues. Each group then discussed one of the three previously identified issues, while the other groups listened from outside what the program director calls the "fish bowl" (See Part 3 for photo). Only after the matter was thoroughly hashed over, were those outside the "fish bowl" allowed to comment or ask questions. The process is repeat for each of the critical issues.
Part 3 To Be Continued