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June 10, 2011

Plans for Decarbonizing Sources of Electricty over the next twenty years

Experts from around the world today unveiled a six-point game plan for "decarbonizing" the world's sources of electric power over the next 20 years.

The Equinox Summit's closing communique (5 pages) The ideas outlined in this Communiqué will form the basis of a detailed document that will be produced in coming months – the Equinox Blueprint: Energy 2030.

Over the next four decades, global energy demand is expected to almost double from 16.5 terawatts to 30 terawatts. If we want to stabilize CO2 levels in our atmosphere at 550 parts per million, all of that growth needs to be met by non-carbon forms of energy.



The recommendations touch on advanced power-generation technologies as well as strategies for using that power more efficiently:

Advanced nuclear power: International collaborations can accelerate next-generation nuclear technologies, such as accelerator-driven, thorium-based systems and integral fast reactors with a fully closed fuel cycle. Closing the nuclear fuel cycle means that the nuclear waste from one cycle is folded into the fuel for the next cycle. "Nuclear waste can fuel our energy future," said Danish policy researcher Jakob Nygard. Passive nuclear safety systems reduce the risk of a Fukushima-style reactor leak.

Geothermal power: Power companies are already starting to take advantage of the heat stored in the earth, but more could be done. Robin Batterham, former chief scientist for the Australian government, said 50 percent of the world's baseload power could come from geothermal by 2050. "The key question to me is, why isn't geothermal happening faster? ... The answer is fairly simple: The larger and more extensive resources are very deep," he said. To tap those resources, drillers might have to go 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles) deep. The summit task force recommends developing 10 large-scale, $1 billion drilling projects "to demonstrate what the real risks are," Batterham said.

Rewewables enabled by Storage
· The world needs its sources of power to be reliable and efficient. But wind, waves and sunshine do not always meet these criteria. We could change that by turning our attention to a long-neglected aspect of the power system: storage.
· Electrochemical batteries, including vanadium redox flow batteries, have proven utility in a limited number of real-world situations, but substantial initial investment is needed to reduce costs and commercialize a range of these technologies.
· Large-scale demonstration projects in countries with high penetrations of renewable energy sources are recommended.

Smart cities: Two-thirds of the world's population could be living in mega-cities by the year 2040, said Marc McArthur, manager for the Ottawa Cleantech Initiative, and that suggests that initiatives such as smart metering, "intelligent buildings" and superconducting conduits have a big role to play in making future energy use more efficient. Neighborhood-based pilot projects would serve as "a bridge to the future and also a catalist for change," McArthur said.

Urban electric mobility: Information technology can help match up city residents with appropriate modes of electric transportation, ranging from buses and light rail to shared bicycles and automobiles. Felipe De Leon, a Costa Rica-based consultant for Anaconda Carbon, said the success of ventures such as Netflix and Zipcar, and the rise of concepts such as cloud computing, demonstrates the appeal of "access without ownership" — an approach that can easily be applied to urban mobility. "The trend is moving toward increased access and sharing," he said.

Rural electrification through flexible solar power: The electric-power challenge isn't limited to urban areas. "Quite a bit of stress has been laid on the necessity to provide a leg up to the nearly 2 billion people on the planet who do not even have electric light," Canadian-born nuclear physicist Walt Patterson told me. The summit task force put special emphasis on organic solar cells that could be as flexible as a sheet of plastic and produced on glorified inkjet printers. "There are a lot of industry players who are spending billions on this," the Global Governance Institute's Aaron Leopold said. He envisioned the development of cheap solar-powered battery packs that could produce enough electricity to run a small appliance, and yet would be so portable "you can wrap it up, put it in your backpack and carry it 50 miles down the road."


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