The practical approach to cleaner energy

CNBC's morning show Squawk Box host and Energy Opportunities ringmaster, Geoff Cutmore, writes for edie energy on the visions of three key thought leaders in delivering cleaner energy across the globe.

Plans for a carbon-neutral energy mix are still decades off, yet energy demand continues to rise.

Can alternative sources of energy play a bigger part in supplying the global need while also helping to meet the challenges of peak oil and climate change?

As part of the Energy Opportunities chapter on cleaner energy, high profile energy commentators put forward their views on Nuclear and Natural Gas energy.

How can they help lower carbon dioxide emissions and deliver sustainable and safe energy to the world?

Natural Gas – underused alternative?

Cecil and Ida Green distinguished professor of physics at MIT, Erniz Moniz, discussed how the US is rich in gas supplies, but only uses a small percentage of this resource each year.

He says all stakeholders (government, businesses and public) need to get behind a rational system of reducing carbon emissions and natural gas holds the answer.

Mr Moniz says that if Americans were to make use of their underused natural gas combined cycle plants for their energy requirements before coal plants, there would be an immediate 20% decrease in US carbon dioxide emissions.

Nuclear – irrational fear?

Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees and The God Species, put forward his thoughts on nuclear as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the power sector, and minimising the use of coal.

He says fourth generation fast reactors will ensure waste problems are dealt with and provide more sustainable and safer energy resource than ever before.

Mr Lynas thinks there is an irrational public response to nuclear power.

He believes it’s still more dangerous to live in a heavily polluted city than to live close to the Fukushima reactor with the increased radiation resulting from the earthquake.

He concludes that while low level radiation is dangerous and is potentially carcinogenic, it’s less dangerous than things we readily subject ourselves to all the time – such as passive smoking or driving in cars.

Possibility of finding a practical solution

Manhattan Institute senior fellow and author of Power Hungry: The Myths of Green Energy and the Fuels of the Future, Robert Bryce, argues the vast scale of global energy demand, which now totals the equivalent of 29 Saudi Arabia’s’ of daily oil production, along with the limits of alternative sources, will prevent an immediate shift in our energy mix happening for decades to come.

Mr Bryce says concerns about carbon dioxide emissions, pollution and other factors have convinced many that we should stop using hydrocarbons (coal, oil and natural gas).

He says the challenge is not lack of desire but rather basic physics and simple Maths.

For example, Mr Bryce highlights that we use oil because its physics is so compelling.

Despite the allure of electric cars as a cleaner alternative, gasoline contains about 80 times more energy by weight than the best lithium ion batteries.

He notes while wind energy is popular among city dwellers, rural residents and country dwellers are fighting industrial wind projects because they require so much land.

An average two hundred megawatt wind project requires around 120 square kilometres; a nuclear plant with twelve times as much energy capacity covers half as much land.

Mr Bryce asks therefore if the only way we can meet the surging need for global energy is through nuclear and hydrocarbons!

Reaching a decision

Promoting energy efficiency is the easiest way currently to reduce the immediate burden of greenhouse gas emissions.

The debate about the right mix of energy sources will continue for years to come. But the trend towards practical, safe and clean options is on-going and real. Ultimately, all stakeholders must engage to achieve the cleanest outcome whilst keeping the lights on around the world.

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