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Pathways to 2050 – towards an ‘all’ electrical society May 10, 2006

Posted by Hans De Keulenaer in carbon management, efficiency, nuclear, renewable electricity, roadmap, security.
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Challenging climate change caused by carbon emissions is such a many-sided problem, involving many actors from all over the world, that it is absolutely necessary to set clear and realistic goals. That is what the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) did in its paper Pathways to 2050 (pdf – 3 MB).

The WBCSD unites 180 international companies who share the commitment to sustainable development through economic growth, ecological balance and social progress. In their paper on energy and climate change (December 2005), they describe three paths to 2050.

emission paths

Business as usual

If we don't react, global carbon emissions will rise from 7.8 Gigatons in 2002, to some 12 Gt in 2030 and 15-16 Gt by 2050. In that case, the atmospheric CO2 concentration will rise up to 1,000 ppm. The resulting temperature rise cannot be predicted accurately, but it might be as high as 3-4°C by 2100 and up to 6°C by 2300. It goes without words that such an enormous temperature rise will have far-reaching consequences.

An optimistic scenario

A figure that is sometimes postulated is to reduce the global carbon emissions to half of its current value. In that case, the carbon concentration is expected to rise to 450 ppm, causing a temperature rise of 1 up to 2.5 degree C by 2100. Bearing in mind that the global energy demand will at least double, even if we put a lot of effort in energy efficiency, this is clearly an optimistic scenario that would require far more drastic measures than the ones we are applying today.

A realistic scenario

More realistic would be – according to the WBCSD – to bring back the carbon emissions to the current value by 2050. This would limit the atmospheric concentration to 550 ppm and the temperature rise to 1,5 up to 3° C by 2100. It would allow carbon emissions to increase in the medium term, and require a global downturn by 2025, followed by a continuous decline. Realistic but ambitious, this scenario would still require sectorial shifts and significant changes in energy production and use.

The energy mix for electricity production

In the realistic scenario, the WBCSD sees the share of electricity in the total energy consumption double by 2050. The growing importance of electricity is the result of following trends:

  • improvements in electrical applications, and substitution of fossil fuels in end use
  • increasing number of electrical appliances
  • information technology and the internet
  • urbanisation

energy share

Since the total energy consumption itself is expected to double by 2050, this means that the electricity production should quadruple. The energy mix for the power generation could be as follows:

energy mix

Source % in mix Growth compared to 2002
Wind (+ geothermal, tidal, and wave energy) 25% x 160
Solar 12% x 300
Biomass and waste 5% x 18
Hydro 8% x 2
Nuclear 10% x 2
Natural Gas 20% x 3
Coal with Carbon Capture and Storage 20% x 2

Half of the electricity production will come from renewable sources. To realize this, solar, wind and biomass should see a very steep and continuous growth. Mind that coal fired power stations are still in the mix, but are equipped with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) systems. Also nuclear energy is still growing according to this scenario, meaning that the currently operating plants will have to be replaced and new capacity should be installed.


20 years after Chernobyl – lessons for the future May 1, 2006

Posted by Hans De Keulenaer in nuclear.
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On April 26, Andris Piebalgs, Europe's Energy Commissioner made this speech for the European Parliament. Having been personally affected by the Chernobyl crisis, the speech is naturally cool on nuclear technology, focussing on the European Union's efforts for reactor safety and waste management.

“It’s controversial. It’s expensive. And it might just save the Earth” April 26, 2006

Posted by Hans De Keulenaer in nuclear.
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Remembering Chernobyl after 20 years, National Geographic tells the story on nuclear, once more.

It's not the first time – for an almost 30 years old article, still relevant today:
Weaver, Kenneth F. "The Promise and Peril of Nuclear Energy." National Geographic (April 1979), 458-93

A leading environmentalist changes his mind (on nuclear energy) April 25, 2006

Posted by Hans De Keulenaer in nuclear.
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“Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.”

Patrick Moore, who was one of the co-founders of GreenPeace in the 1970s, helps making a case for going nuclear in the Washington Post of April 16, offering a view on the most important issues surrounding the civilian use of nuclear technology:

  • economics: nuclear energy is, in fact, one of the least expensive enrgy sources, at 2 cents per kWh
  • reactor safety: in fact, Three Mile Island was a success story in preventing any radiation from escaping into the environment. As for Chernobyl, it was an accident waiting to happen. Its 56 direct casualties, should be seen in comparison to over 5,000 coal-mining deaths that occur worldwide every year
  • waste: within 40 years, fuel has less than a thousandth of the radioactivity it had when removed from the reactor. Reprocessing greatly reduces the amount of waste
  • vulnerability to terrorist attack: a containment vessel protects the reactor from outside as well as inside
  • proliferation: probably the major issue for nuclear energy today, one that can and needs to be managed

The conclusions are very similar to our own briefing paper on nuclear technology, based on literature research and expert interviews (see Can Nuclear Power Deliver?).

A change of heart can also occur in the other direction – see Mal de Terre (Hubert Reeves – in French) for a nuclear scientist disenchanted by nuclear technology.

Can nuclear power deliver? April 24, 2006

Posted by Hans De Keulenaer in nuclear, technology.
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'Can Nuclear Power Deliver?' has been based on literature review and expert interviews, and provides an overview of arguments in the nuclear debate:

Nuclear peril
  • Waste: technical solutions exist, but lack of a political agreement
  • Proliferation: can and needs to be managed
  • Nuclear safety: an issue for older nuclear plants, but promising 'passive safety' designs for new reactors
The nuclear promise
  • The power of the atom: a fistful of matter holding enough energy to power a city of a million for a year
  • Climate change mitigation: each major nuclear power station saves 6 million tonne of greenhouse gasses per year compared to fossil-based electricity generation
  • Energy security: abundant energy supply when using advanced reprocessing and fast neutron reactors
From peril to promise
  • Public opinion – taken hostage by extremes
  • Technology: extremely complex scientific & technical challenges need global cooperation and a 'man on the moon' momentum

Nuclear technology needs to address its problems, and holds tremendous promise if it does. The 'nuclear option' does not represent a single option, but offers many choices on building additional reactors, a moratorium ( no new reactors), phaseout (reduce existing reactors), reactor types, waste processing and R&D expenditure.

When excluding all nuclear options, a plan is needed how to build an energy system without it. The fact that we yet have to see such a (transparent) plan may relate to the fact that the numbers simply do not add up without the use of nuclear energy.

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Keeping (British) lights on April 22, 2006

Posted by Hans De Keulenaer in efficiency, nuclear, security.
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The Commons Environmental Audit Committee in the British Parliament has filed a report called "Keeping the lights on" and that is strongly advocating energy efficiency improvements and renewable fuels for the future. It also argues that carbon sequestration technologies should be considered and promoted, but dismisses nuclear for a variety of reasons not the least security.