Global energy use is increasing rapidly, driven by rising living standards in developing countries. Although the percentage of primary energy provided by burning fossil fuels is falling slowly from its current value of some 80%, their contribution is rising in absolute terms and is expected to increase by around 25% by 2035. This is bad news given the need to decarbonise (to reduce air pollution as well as to moderate climate change): is it inevitable?
After briefly reviewing trends in energy demand, supply and efficiency, I will focus on the potential and outlook for the major low carbon energy sources - in order of decreasing current importance: bioenergy, hydro, nuclear, wind and solar. Together, they are sufficiently abundant to replace fossil fuels, which would presumably happen if they were economically competitive. I will discuss how close low carbon sources are to being competitive (which in the case of wind and solar depends on the cost of integrating large-scale intermittent supply), and the technical, economic and political challenges that will have to be met in order to meet future needs sustainably.
In two lectures in the Academic training programme (on Monday 14 September and Wednesday 16 September at 11:00) on ‘The Outlook for Energy Supply and Demand’, I will discuss some topics in more detail, and explore additional issues, including how energy is used and the outlooks for improved energy efficiency and fossil fuels.