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The Global Energy Prize annually honors outstanding achievements in energy research and technology from around the world that are helping address the world’s various and pressing energy challenges.

How to build a modern industrial society at the lowest possible cost with minimum damage to the environment

September 19, 2017
INTERFAX

The humanity is facing a challenge – how to build a modern industrial society at the lowest possible cost with minimum damage to the environment. The annual Global Energy Prize Summit was held under the slogan of Three E (Economics, Ecology, Energy). As a result of the discussion, another “e” was added – energy efficiency.

Steady growth

As everybody understands, the population that has reached 7 billion people within quite a short time will continue to grow and expand their energy needs, and not only straightforwardly, for seemingly direct purposes – e.g. plugging into a socket a large number of telephones, - but there also exists underlying growth of energy consumption in the process of manufacturing everything for human life – from residential houses to a plate of soup. According to the scientists’ estimates, energy consumption will be increasing by 1.3% a year.

The key question is: what energy sources should and will prevail? At present, the superiority of the fossil energy sources is obvious, however, environmental changes, such as global warming, and various natural calamities will force the mankind resolve this problem coupled with ecology issues. Thus, last year, the Paris climate agreement for reduction of carbon emissions was signed. Now each member state has to decide which way to go – what type of fuel to consume depending on its resources (natural and financial), geopolitical situation, degree of technology development, etc.

The countries that focused on development of green energy sources are forced to spend more, since these are new and by now expensive technologies.

For development of renewable energy sources (RES), either governmental grants or higher taxes on traditional types of fuel are needed, stated Rae Kwon Chung, adviser to the Chair of the High-level Panel of Leaders and Experts on Water and Natural Disasters under the UN Secretary General.

In the context of the scientists’ confidence that fossil fuel sources, such as *oil*, *gas* and coal, will continue to dominate in the global energy balance of the current century, some speakers proposed not to look for new ways, but to improve the existing ones.

Thus, Scientific Director of the Institute of Catalysis of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Laureate of the Global Energy Prize – 2016 Valentin Parmon emphasised that catalysts make it possible to use raw materials that could not be used before, and also help to save energy. According to him, catalysts are vital for resolving environmental issues, since they may settle energy problems, e.g. generation of clean energy from dirty sources, in particular, coal, as well as for utilization of renewable energy sources, such as biomass.

V. Parmon stresses that in spite of the prevalence of hydrocarbons and hydrogen, at least within the present century, the structure of fuel types in the energy balance will change. In particular, the reduction of gasoline consumption will be associated with the use of electric vehicles. “From the point of view of a chemist, it is necessary not only to design and upgrade electric vehicles, but also to increase ecological cleanness of combustion-engine cars. Different fields of science are competing, and it may happen that after some time a traditional car will be better than an electric vehicle”, believes the Russian scientist.

At the same time, as D. Fache noted, some countries declare that they would switch to 100% use of electric vehicles, however, this does not solve one problem – what sources of fuel would be used to charge them.

The energy industry has to be economical

It is common knowledge that access to energy is the reason of the most military conflicts on the Earth. Countries that have no access to energy have to purchase it from others at rather a high price or to search for them inside the country, or to develop technologies, including energy-saving ones. All this takes time and money.

One of the methods of increasing cost effectiveness of using existing energy sources is energy storage. “The one who will find the solution to the energy storage problem should get two Global Energy Prizes”, believes former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Enel Russia (MOEX: ENRU) Dominique Fache.

In particular, the scientists’ efforts are aimed at reduction of the cost of lithium batteries and invention of a method of storing energy in nets. Acting Vice President for Research at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology, Vice President for Research at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology Steven Griffiths suggested creating car batteries that would make it possible to store energy in the whole electrical supply network, which would help in case of supply problems.

Other measures of commercial stimulation of affordable and at the same time green energy industry, in the scientists’ opinion, include various economy mechanisms, such as sales by auctions. “Any source of energy can be cost efficient, as long as it is developed properly”, believes S. Griffiths. According to him, a critical role here can be played by trading in quotas for carbon emissions.

Taking into consideration the high price of energy resources, the summit participants believe that developing countries should be given some time before obligating them to switch to green fuel. However there is no doubt that consumption of renewable energy sources is growing alongside with technology development and cheapening.

Checkmate

Obviously, the decision is not found yet. “We are going round in circles! Let us get out of it!”  exclaimed one of the delegates. In this context, it seems reasonable to start the reform from below, changing the people’s behaviour. “The population is growing at a gigantic speed, with increasing industrialisation, and middle class, so the number of gadgets, vehicles, etc. is going up. That is why the amount of consumed energy and food will be increasing at a great rate”, underlined advisor to the Aggroinova Scientific Committee of the University of Turin Martha Bonifert. She calls for explaining children how to live properly, relying on the support of religious figures.

She is echoed by Managing Director of Asia Renewables William Il Byun: “Is it really necessary to produce more and more food? Maybe we should start considering how many calories we are consuming? Maybe the time has come to switch from consumption growth to sustainable consumption?

According to him, it is necessary to explain to children who often play computer games how much energy that takes and how seriously the environment is damaged thereby. In his opinion, it is also necessary to resolve the problem of incentives for investments in waste management projects in large cities.

Some people believe that, taking into consideration the population growth rate, in the future it would be impossible for everybody to have their own car – in all likelihood, electric buses will be appearing, and there are such cases already. 

Thus, as long as the equation is not solved, not only governments, but also each member of the society should think about their small “Paris agreement”.

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