Bridging the energy gap

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report predicts the formation of a “supergrid” which would allow Europe to operate using 100% renewable electricity by 2050. This would involve offshore grids in northwest Europe and the Mediterranean delivering energy across the continent from northern African solar farms. But 2050 is a long way ahead, and we need to make deep cuts in CO2 emissions now.

Energy efficiency comes first. It doesn’t cost anything: it saves money; and it can be carried out at every level, from individual to corporate to global. But energy efficiency alone won’t hit the right emissions targets. Electricity is not negotiable; it’s a basic right. People can’t make progress without it, and as surface transport switches to electric, we’ll need more.

Two technologies may help bridge the energy gap, both controversial. The proven low-carbon energy source is nuclear power, but safety concerns were reignited by the multiple cooling system failures at Fukushima following the Japan earthquake in March 2011. The environmental movement is divided on whether nuclear has a place as a stopgap to a renewable future.

However, the great science lesson of the last thirty years is that coal-fired power is the world’s biggest killer. The coal industry believes the circle can be squared with a set of technologies that collect CO2 from the smokestacks of power stations – using an awful lot of water in the process. Do the negatives outweigh the positives?

Have your say on nuclear power and carbon capture


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