Sustainable and reliable energy: How to achieve it?

 
EYE2020

Whether we like it or not, we need energy - and we need a lot of it. Not only do we need a lot of energy, but we also need a sustainable and reliable supply. We are setting goals to reduce our carbon footprints, are moving away from fossil fuels, and are expanding the use of alternative sources of renewable energy. Although sustainability is a top priority, so is the assurance that our energy supply is constant, secure and affordable.

 

How can we ensure all countries have access to affordable, consistent and green energy? Should we better support businesses that are developing and providing cleaner energy production and storage solutions?

Should we encourage education programmes to foster a general public understanding of the global energy challenges and to provide energy and engineering-related training to young entrepreneurs who wish to venture in this field?

 

Wind turbines
Image courtesy of Keith Arkins

 

What do you think?

Try to be as concrete as possible when sharing your idea. The more in depth you go the more impactful your answer will be.

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Anssi Eboreime
  04 September 2019

When it comes to energy there are some points that need to be considered in the context of the European Union. The source of the materials used to generate electricity, the reliability of said energy, the pollution and other effects on the environment from that form of energy and it's viability to provide for everyone.
We should first discuss fossil fuels and why they are bad. The most common argument against fossil fuels is that they negatively affect the environment by causing the degradation of breathing air and by contributing to climate change. Some skeptics may argue against the climate change issue and to them I wish to point out the following: Fossil fuel emissions directly affect our health, even when they do not produce smog clouds or acid rain. In a recent study researchers found micro metals/magnets in brains of deceased individuals most probably created by breathing in fossil fuel emissions in urban areas for years. We do not know what effect they have on us yet though. More to the point is has been shown many years ago already that fossil fuel emission rich areas have higher rates of cancer and heart disease, and by even conservative approximations deaths that could be attributed to fossil fuel emissions number in the hundredths of thousands to the millions per year, not to even mention oil spills and fires/explosions of fossil fuel carriers or storage etc. The benefits of fossil fuels are their convenience and domestic availability, except for natural gas which we import from Russia.
Next we can discuss the so-called renewable sources or "green" sources of energy. These sources of energy pollute very little, except when their components break and need to be replaced. Hydro energy can have sometimes devastating effects on its surroundings, and some of the components to build solar panels need to be imported from countries like China. As for benefits, as mentioned earlier low pollution levels and their efficiency is growing all the time as the technology develops. They are truly the sources of energy of the future. Their final con lies in their reliability. They are the least reliable source of energy from the known sources and depending on who you may ask they may or may not be able to produce all of our energy, and as our energy consumption keeps growing it seems unlikely that their development can keep up with the growth, so some supplementary source is required.
This brings us to nuclear power. A source of energy that has recently been vilified by many due to dramatized series like Chernobyl and events that have taken place not in Europe and have been the result of lax management and monitoring, problems which are much less prominent in Europe. Nuclear energy has its dangers if poorly managed, but Europeans by and large are aware of the dangers and thus most countries in Europe have strong safeguards against any such issues. The second issue with nuclear power is the source of the radioactive materials which often need to be imported from other countries. With countries like Australia this is not a problem, but an issue arises when the source is a country like Russia which may seek to use their exports as a form of soft power over the EU. The third issue is nuclear waste.
Now to address these issues: I have already addressed the first issue of safety, but as for the second issue and third issue they have the same solutions: Investment and development of thorium technology to gain access to a less waste producing and domestically available source of material. The development of Nuclear recycling which would allow us to re purpose nuclear waste to create even more energy. Lastly we require more deep geological storages for nuclear waste, for this we also require a united European Union effort under some EU nuclear waste authority or just a general EU nuclear authority to distribute nuclear waste from countries that cannot build Deep Geological Stores (DGS) to countries that cannot, for some set compensation. We should also look into new Nuclear tech like mini reactors developed in Finland. Ideally we should reach a point where our energy is produced solely from a mix of Nuclear and Green Renewable sources.

For the green energy sources: private industry and making it easier and cheaper (through tax deductions) for private citizens to build/purchase their own personal energy sources, are the key to making this work. For nuclear the projects are so large that they require a concerted government and private industry effort to finance and maintain, and this will also allow for more supervision to make sure no dangerous situations arise.

General knowledge education would be beneficial, but also as mentioned in the question itself education for engineers wanting to enter the energy industry is also important.
We must also understand that moves like Germany's move to shut down reactors leads indirectly to the increased usage of fossil fuels which causes all of us harm.

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