Satisfying the twin demands of providing energy to meet the needs of a rising population while reducing carbon emissions is one of the biggest challenges facing the UK, as well as other governments and business globally. The stakes at play are high.
In the first interview in our Perspectives on Energy series, we described the growth in demand for energy that stems from catering to a global population of seven billion today, a figure predicted to exceed nine billion by 2050. The vast majority of these people will be living in cities. That could call for three times more energy than we need now.
As sources of fossil fuels diminish – a situation exacerbated by increasing shortfalls in renewable sources to make up the deficit – we will need to find innovative responses to the new energy challenges. Though scientists in both the private sector and academia are making advances in our understanding and application of potential technological solutions, these are not yet fully equal to the task. As Bruce Levell points out (see right),
the short-term future of energy provision is that we will continue to rely on fossil fuels as we deepen the contribution to overall supply from renewable sources.
Governments have a leading role to play and can support these moves by making and encouraging improvements in areas such as public transport, to reduce our reliance on cars; educating consumers to use energy more efficiently; and equipping business to view defossilisation as an opportunity for economic growth. All these activities have a role to play in helping the UK attain its target of an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
But as it can take in the region of 30 years of sustained growth for a new technology to cover even 1-2 per cent of the system, we need to start developing these technologies now. Governments, business and the consumer will all be important to the process. The question is, will they act in good time?