Challenges for future energy usage
Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universitätsstr. 1, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany
In the last 2000 years the world's population and the worldwide total energy consumption have been continuously increasing, at a rate even greater than exponential. By now a situation has been reached in which energy resources are running short, which for a long time have been treated as though they were almost inexhaustible. The ongoing growth of the world's population and a growing hunger for energy in underdeveloped and emerging countries imply that the yearly overall energy consumption will continue to grow, by about 1.6 percent every year so that it would have doubled by 2050. This massive energy consumption has led to and is progressively leading to severe changes in our environment and is threatening a climatic state that, for the last 10000 years, has been unusually benign. The coincidence of the shortage of conventional energy resources with the hazards of an impending climate change is a dangerous threat to the well-being of all, but it is also a challenging opportunity for improvements in our energy usage. On a global scale, conventional methods such as the burning of coal, gas and oil or the use of nuclear fission will still dominate for some time. In their case, the challenge consists in making them more efficient and environmentally benign, and using them only where and when it is unavoidable. Alternative energies must be expanded and economically improved. Among these, promising techniques such as solar thermal and geothermal energy production should be promoted from a shadow existence and further advanced. New technologies, for instance nuclear fusion or transmutation of radioactive nuclear waste, are also quite promising. Finally, a careful analysis of the national and global energy flow systems and intelligent energy management, with emphasis on efficiency, overall effectiveness and sustainability, will acquire increasing importance. Thereby, economic viability, political and legal issues as well as moral aspects such as fairness to disadvantaged countries or future generations must be taken into account as important constraints.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag, 2009