As the planet gets hotter, engineers are racing to find ways to store energy on a massive scale, clearing the way for a transition to renewable electricity.
How to fix the world’s energy emergency without wrecking the environment
Even as they firefight, governments must resolve the conflict between safe supply and a safe climate.
This year’s energy shock is the most serious since the Middle Eastern oil crises of 1973 and 1979. Like those calamities, it promises to inflict short-term pain and in the longer term to transform the energy industry. The pain is all but guaranteed: owing to high fuel and power prices, most countries are facing soggy growth, inflation, squeezed living standards and a savage political backlash. But the long-run consequences are far from preordained. If governments respond ineptly, they could trigger a relapse towards fossil fuels that makes it even harder to stabilise the climate. Instead they must follow a perilous path that combines security of energy supply with climate security.
For some, nuclear power may conjure images of mushroom clouds or bring back memories of disturbing nuclear disasters like Chernobyle and Fukushima. But despite public fear around nuclear power, the technology has proved to be an emission-free, reliable way to produce large amounts of electricity on a small footprint.
As a result, sentiments about the technology are beginning to change. Both the U.S. government and private companies including X Energy, NuScale and, Bill Gates-backed, TerraPower are pouring money into developing, what they say will be smaller, safer nuclear reactors. CNBC visited Idaho National Laboratory to see the Marvel microreactor firsthand and learn what such developments could mean for the future of nuclear power.
After humankind discovered nuclear fission, the first applied use was the atomic bomb. The study of fission for electricity production came later. In December 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his fateful Atoms for Peace speech, an impassioned plea to reconstitute the power of the atomic bombs dropped in World War II for a more noble cause.
“Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and the hope for peace,” Eisenhower told the United Nations. Almost 70 years later, the tension between those end uses still underlies the space today. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the United States dramatically increased its nuclear energy generation.
But the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and Chornobyl meltdown in 1986 changed the landscape, spurring fear that nuclear energy could not be controlled safely. Since the 1980s, nuclear energy capacity and generation in the U.S. has largely stayed flat. Today, the country’s fleet of nuclear power reactors produces only 19% of the country’s electricity, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.
In more recent times, the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan in 2011 — and earlier this year the capture of nuclear power plants in Ukraine by invading Russian forces — have added to public concerns. But despite its fraught origin story and the psychological effect of high-profile accidents, nuclear energy is getting a second look. That’s largely because nuclear energy is clean energy, releasing no greenhouse gasses.
Meanwhile, the world is seeing more of the effects of climate change, including rising global temperatures, increased pollution, wildfires, and more intense and deadly storms. “We need to change course — now — and end our senseless and suicidal war against nature,” Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said in Stockholm on Thursday. “There is one thing that threatens all our progress. The climate crisis. Unless we act now, we will not have a livable planet,” Guterres said. “Scientists recently reported that there is a 50-50 chance that we could temporarily breach the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next five years.”
A selection of three essential articles read aloud from the latest issue of The Economist. This week, the first big energy shock of the green era, how covid-19 will move from pandemic to endemic (11:29) and our Charlemagne columnist assesses the odds of “Polexit” versus a “dirty remain” (17:21).
We react to the G20’s latest meeting in Italy, as the member states hope to solve the deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Plus: Europe’s energy woes and the latest on Poland’s rule-of-law debate.
A.M. Edition for Oct. 6. WSJ’s Rochelle Toplensky explains what went wrong in Britain’s energy transition and what other countries can learn from this. The Senate prepares another vote on raising the U.S. debt limit.
New Zealand raises interest rates as more central banks worry about rising inflation. Hundreds more join the oil spill cleanup in California. Plus, how the world’s biggest toy maker, Lego, stayed popular during the pandemic. Peter Granitz hosts.
It’s been hailed as fuel of the future. Hydrogen is clean, flexible and energy efficient. But in practice there are huge hurdles to overcome before widespread adoption can be achieved.
Video timeline: 00:00 How hydrogen fuel is generated. 02:04 How hydrogen fuel could be used. 02:46 Why hydrogen fuel hasn’t taken off in the past. 03:40 Is hydrogen fuel safe? 04:31 Hydrogen’s advantage over batteries. 05:00 How sustainable is hydrogen fuel? 06:13 Why the hype about hydrogen may be different this time.
The energy islands and the wind farms with a combined capacity of 5 GW are expected to be commissioned by 2030.
The North Sea energy island will have an initial capacity of 3 GW which could potentially be further scaled up to 10 GW offshore wind. This will be an artificial island.
Bioo is generating electricity from the organic matter in soil and creating biological batteries to power agricultural sensors, a growing $1.36 billion global market. Eventually, Bioo envisions a future where biology could help to power our largest cities.