What energy short­age?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

If we were able to cap­ture and use the energy from just two min­utes of sun­light fall­ing on the earth, it would be enough to fuel our cars, light and heat our build­ings, and pro­vide for all of our other elec­tric­ity needs for an en­tire year. Sim­ply put, we hu­mans are not fac­ing a short­age of energy. We are fac­ing a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge in cap­tur­ing it and de­liv­er­ing it to con­sumers; and one of the most ef­fi­cient ways to meet that chal­lenge is to in­vest in bet­ter ways to store it.

Many of the world’s prob­lems to­day can be traced to energy use, from con­flicts over oil sup­plies and con­cerns about green­house-gas emis­sions to lost pro­duc­tiv­ity and out­put stem­ming from short­ages and black­outs. In many of the poor­est parts of the world, the lack of energy sti­fles eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Glob­ally, more than 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple have no ac­cess to elec­tric­ity; and some 2.6 bil­lion have no ac­cess to mod­ern cook­ing fa­cil­i­ties. More than 95% of these peo­ple are in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa or de­vel­op­ing Asia, and 84% live in ru­ral ar­eas.

Dur­ing the run-up to the re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Nige­ria, for ex­am­ple, a woman was asked what she wanted the can­di­dates to de­liver. She replied with a one-word an­swer: “Light.” Elec­tric­ity, a ba­sic com­mod­ity, would al­low her to con­tinue to work and her chil­dren to study.

Un­re­li­able or un­avail­able energy is a prob­lem in much of Africa and the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent, as well as some other parts of Asia. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Energy Agency, im­prove­ments to the energy sec­tor could pro­vide the equiv­a­lent of a decade of growth in some of the poor­est parts of the world.

Our global energy cri­sis has been ag­gra­vated by a lack of in­no­va­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a study by the United States gov­ern­ment’s Lawrence Liver­more Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory, more than 60% of the energy we use is lost be­tween the time it is gen­er­ated and the time it is con­sumed. This in­cludes the in­ef­fi­ciency in con­vert­ing fos­sil fu­els to elec­tric­ity, losses dur­ing trans­mis­sion, waste­ful con­sumer be­hav­ior, and the need to main­tain a re­serve to pre­vent black­outs.

A new wave of in­no­va­tion is re­quired, one that can elim­i­nate waste, re­duce pol­lu­tion, and broaden ac­cess to energy around the world. That means fo­cus­ing on ef­fi­cien­cy­boost­ing tech­nolo­gies such as wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ma­chine-to-ma­chine com­mu­ni­ca­tion, smart me­ter­ing, and bet­ter pro­duc­tion man­age­ment.

Re­new­able energy sources, in­clud­ing so­lar and wind power, are well po­si­tioned to con­trib­ute to energy needs in both ma­ture and emerg­ing economies. But, be­cause the sun does not al­ways shine, and the wind does not al­ways blow, energy from these sources is un­sta­ble and in­ter­mit­tent. And this will con­tinue to be a prob­lem un­less, and un­til, we are able to store power from re­new­able sources ef­fi­ciently.

Stud­ies by the US Western Elec­tric­ity Co­or­di­nat­ing Coun­cil have found that find­ing bet­ter ways to store energy could cut to­tal waste by about 18% and boost the ef­fi­ciency of elec­tric­ity use by up to 11%. Bet­ter energy-stor­age meth­ods would also make it eas­ier to de­liver elec­tric­ity to hard-to-reach ar­eas that are cur­rently un­der­served, as well as help make the best use of of­ten-scarce sources of power.

One well-tested method for stor­ing energy is to use ex­cess ca­pac­ity to pump wa­ter into reser­voirs, so that it can be used later to power tur­bines when de­mand is high. But this ap­proach is prac­ti­cal only in moun­tain­ous ar­eas, mak­ing it un­suit­able as a mass-mar­ket so­lu­tion. Promis­ing ar­eas of re­search in­clude grid-scale bat­ter­ies with the abil­ity to charge and dis­charge tens of thou­sands of times and data an­a­lyt­ics to op­ti­mise the use of the bat­ter­ies and make the grid as ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble.

It is not enough to gen­er­ate energy. We must also use it ef­fi­ciently, and the wide-scale adop­tion of state-of-the-art stor­age tech­nol­ogy will be an es­sen­tial part of the so­lu­tion. En­sur­ing that the world’s energy sup­plies are sta­ble, ef­fi­cient, ac­ces­si­ble, and af­ford­able will take time. But break­throughs are on the hori­zon. Our task is to keep our sights there.

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