What will be the new energy breakthrough discovery that will help the current 1.2 billion people in the world that are still off-grid? Being a graduate student researcher in the energy field, I feel responsible for providing the answer to such questions. Yet, the current global energy scenario is everything but simple.
The population growth for the next 30 years is expected to be about 3 billion people. If each person would consume about 3,000 kWh/year, an additional 20 trillion kWh/year would be necessary to satisfy everyone’s energy needs. This is far more than what the world currently produces/consumes and would require about 2,000 new nuclear power plants (3rd generation), or 5,000 coal-fired power plants, or 20,000 gas-fired power plants, or 20,000,000 large wind turbines.
That being said, the challenge of achieving a sustainable development is the driving force behind the search for clean, plentiful, and cheap energy. While developed nations currently switch to the use of natural gas as a primary energy source, nations under development still rely heavily in coal, mostly because coal is a simple primary source, it is easy to mine, easy to transport, and doesn’t require a sophisticated power cycle. Still, natural gas may not be the “bridge fuel” as it was expected and it does not significantly reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. That is because even though natural gas leads to less use of coal, it also discourages the adoption and use of true carbon-free renewable energy sources, by delaying the time they will become economically competitive.
Eventually, the most effective driving force to a sustainable development and emission reductions are climate policies and renewable portfolio goals. Renewable energy sources not only decouple the relation between energy demand increase and GHG emissions, but also increases energy services access in developing countries, energy security, and environmental and health benefits.
As fossil fuels are depleted and their environmental impacts remain, other sources of energy must be considered to generate power. Renewable sources are emerging to play a major role in this regard, and hopefully will lead to a carbon-free economy, putting an end to environmental changes and also avert a forthcoming energy crisis. That is what motivates me to be a researcher in the energy field.