Rhein on Energy and Climate

Humanity will be unable to combat climate change without profound transformations in the way it generates energy.

Two such transformations have been recently announced, one in Singapore, the other in USA.

In Singapore, a team of scientists of the Nanyang Technological University have developed a new type of ultra-fast recharging batteries which are claimed to charge a car battery up to 70% of capacity within five minutes. This breakthrough will revolutionise e-mobility in terms of range and costs and make electric cars superior to the most efficient diesel vehicles.

European manufacturers should therefore urgently reassess the situation and adapt their proven, but old-fashioned engine technology at the risk of losing out to US and Chinese competitors.

The new batteries will provide us with truly clean motor vehicles and give a powerful boost to solar and wind energy, because millions of cars may form big energy storage systems helping to overcome the inherent intermittences of renewable energies.

Separately, the US defence company Lockheed has announced a breakthrough in fusion energy. Within a year it will build a test reactor to be followed five years later by a prototype of a 100 MW reactor of tiny dimensions (2×3 meter!).

Assuming the problems linked to nuclear fission, in particular safety and waste storage, to be solved this might usher in an era of non-fossil electricity generation based on wind, solar, biomass and nuclear fusion.

The demand for oil and gas will also fall dramatically as the global car, shipping and possibly even aircraft industry will phase out the internal combustion engine, say by 2050, reinforcing the decline of C02 emissions.

Add to these two technological breakthroughs the introduction of a magnetic super high-speed train by the Japanese railways until 2045.

Running at a speed of up to 500 km/h the train will largely replace domestic air transport, also a significant source of C02 emissions. The Japanese industry will no doubt export the new train to other parts of the earth, from North America, to Brazil, Argentina, Russia and Europe, with the consequence that there too it is likely to replace domestic air traffic on distances of less than 1500 km.

The news from Singapore, USA and Japan unfortunately show that Europe has lost its momentum in coming up with courageous technical and political solutions both to tackle climate change!

We are closer than ever to technical solutions allowing for a largely emission-free future. By establishing strict emission targets heads of government will help accelerate the technological breakthroughs that are arising on the horizon.

In conclusion, one year ahead of the World Climate Conference in Paris, there is reason for guarded optimism, provided policy makers will show the courage to fix ambitious long-term targets and avoid getting again lost in minutiae.

Brussels 20.10 2014 Eberhard Rhein

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