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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.

“Humanity Today Uses All Available Energy Sources”

December 22, 2017

RBC

Igor Lobovsky, President, Global Energy Association, spoke to RBC+ about Russia’s place in the global energy market and prospects of utilizing alternative energy sources.

Q. What is Russia’s place in the global energy market today?

A. Russia is the world’s biggest energy power, one of major energy producers, consumers and suppliers on the planet. Looking at various vectors of the energy industry and at the fuel and energy balance, it becomes clear that oil, traditionally, is the country’s main energy resource with reserves to see depletion in the foreseeable future.
Gas is a more promising energy source, more environmentally friendly than other hydrocarbons, and there lies its strength. According to all forecasts, its use will only be expanding, and the proportion of gas may reach 28 percent by 2020. Moreover, in the opinion of laureates of the Global Energy Prize, the ratio of gas in the planet’s fuel and energy balance will be as high as 21 percent by 2100, which is quite a lot, considering many things can happen within the next 80 years.

Gas is a more promising energy source, more environmentally friendly than other hydrocarbons, and there lies its strength. According to all forecasts, its use will only be expanding, and the proportion of gas may reach 28 percent by 2020. Moreover, in the opinion of laureates of the Global Energy Prize, the ratio of gas in the planet’s fuel and energy balance will be as high as 21 percent by 2100, which is quite a lot, considering many things can happen within the next 80 years.

Russia today is one of major gas suppliers, and, notwithstanding the EU’s attempts to limit Gazprom’s influence, the company’s sales are only rising. We lag behind in the LNG segment somewhat, but even there, Russian companies manage to make significant progress, first of all within the framework of a unique project called Sakhalin LNG. Chinese, Japanese and Korean companies are ready to buy that product from us even as we speak; it is especially important in view of activity on the part of the U.S., which is building a special fleet to carry LNG. According to the annual global outlook of the development of the fuel and energy balance, LNG sales add five percent every year; it is a serious figure, given multibillion volumes.

Q. How would you describe development of renewable energy sources in this country?

A. Traditionally, renewable energy is not our strong suit, but certain developments have emerged in recent years in that area as well. In particular, it is a meaningful fact that at this year’s Russian Energy Week not only leaders of the OPEC and of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum were sitting beside President Vladimir Putin, but also the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA. It is a very important signal.

Not so long ago, “energy mix” as a term originated in energy science. It means that there is no such notion as “hydrocarbon era” or “steam energy”; the world has changed once and for all, and humanity today uses all available energy sources. The main thing is that a source should be in the right place in the right time.

Few people know that Yakutia sees more sunny days a year than any other region of Russia; the country’s coldest region is also the sunniest. Deploy solar cells here, and you can improve the environment. And there are plenty of options and ways! For instance, just recently, I saw a power plant in a small English town near London, with 100,000 residents. It uses biofuel — waste from a local sawmill. An unmanned power plant leased by the municipality in Austria and paid for out of utility bills of local residents. Similar solutions can be used in Russia, as we recycle no more than five percent of the waste produced by the wood-processing industry.

Q. This year, the Global Energy Prize was awarded to Michael Graetzel, a specialist in solar energy. To what extent is the area of activity a factor in the choice of laureates?

A. Our panel of judges, the Global Energy Prize International Award Committee, does hard work. Those are twenty people from thirteen countries; by their level and authority, each one of them is not much inferior to those of our winners. They are tasked with selecting the most outstanding contender out of 100 to 150 scientists nominated for the award.

The prize regulations specify in detail the criteria for the selection of laureates, but the main factor is the benefit derived by our civilization from the discovery or solution proposed by a particular scientist. Decisions are adopted by secret ballot, and sometimes arriving at a decision takes three, four or five rounds, if none of the nominees get the required number of votes. At least two-thirds of those present and no fewer than one half of members of the committee need to cast votes for the laureate.

This year’s winner, Michael Graetzel, is the most renowned scientist in the field of solar energy, and bestowing our prize on him was a powerful decision. What is his difference from the others? He set himself a goal: to make solar energy accessible to every person on the planet, and he managed to create a new type of solar battery.

Before him, most solar batteries were silicon-based, and their efficiency performance ranged from 20 to 21 percent. The Swiss scientist found an alternative option — to produce energy using photosynthesis, and he uses organic dye for the purpose. At present, the efficiency performance of such batteries is slightly lower than that of silicon-based ones — about 15 percent, but they are three times cheaper. Moreover, Professor Graetzel is still working on his “Graetzel cells” and was able to enhance their performance to 20 percent. Furthermore, they do not break, they can be rolled and dyed different colors — for instance, in Europe, solar cells installed on tiled roofs can be dyed in matching colors.

Q. Just recently, you developed, in association with the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, a universal platform that picks nominees in an automatic mode. How does it work?

A. Global Energy Prize is a Russian project of the new millennium, and we believe it should be technology-based. It took us a long time to find a partner — we turned to large Western and Russian companies, but they thought the assignment was too bizarre.

We ultimately found our partner, it is the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, and thanks to Academician Nikolai Kudryavtsev, its president, we created that platform. We use the Nobel Prize principle that precludes self-nomination. Only a scientist who is a universally recognized expert has the right to nominate a person to the prize. Only this can ensure a high level of nominees.

The nomination pool today consists of 3,000 people from 90 countries. Understandably, the bigger the net the more fish it catches and the higher the probability that an especially big or rare fish is caught in the net. So, one of the main missions set before a working group of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology was the task of searching for new nominators in an automatic mode, using Scopus, a global database of scientific knowledge. In the end, the platform produces a long list of nominees in accordance with the points awarded by experts. After that, members of the International Award Committee set to work, and then they select laureates by secret ballot. For us, development of a technology-based platform is a must, which makes the competition totally transparent, and hardly anybody can outrival us in openness.

Q. This year, the prize turns 15. Which of the laureates were most memorable to you?

A. We believe it is fundamentally important to tell about scientists who had to fight for their ideas. Among them was Japanese Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of light-emitting diodes. Today, it is impossible to imagine a phone or a lamp or a car without his discovery; however, for a long time, Nakamura could not find recognition in the firm where he worked after his university graduation. He was about to be fired, but it turned out all of a sudden that his new academic paper on the discovery of blue light-emitting diodes was a real sensation!

Although the company’s senior executives had changed their mind about firing him by that time, Nakamura quit and sued for moral damages, won a large amount of money and left for the U.S. He later became a winner of the Nobel Prize and of the Global Energy Prize. He was not afraid of picking a fight, believed in his star, and half of our winners chose the same path. It is absolutely fantastic!

No less challenging was the career of Philip Rutberg, a Russian scientist and academician who developed a low-plasma technology of disposal of all types of waste, including medical waste. To be honest, in science, as in life in general, nothing is ever easy.

The article is available by the link - http://www.rbcplus.ru/news/5a3c472c7a8aa963b02053df

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