When I come across an article about the future of energy, I always read that the renewable energies will be the long-term solution and fossil fuels are just the present. The nuclear energy is even described as a dying technology. I think the main facts are actually:
- Nuclear fusion has all the key elements of an optimal long-term solution (sustainable, clean, renewable). The only single (obvious) objections is that it won’t be available for the next 40 years. Moreover, the construction of hundreds of fusion power plants across the world won’t be a sudden process.
- Fossil fuels will last for many decades. This Wikipedia graph [link] shows the reserves vs production ratio. It’s interesting to note that it has increased in the last 30 years. The ratio was only 27 years in 1980, it means that at that time, a massive decrease in oil production was expected by 2010. In fact oil production has increased from 75 to 87 million barrels per day, and the ratio is now 46 years. For gas it’s quite similar, for coal the availability is even bigger. The total proven energy resources of fossil fuels are 36ZJ, equivalent to 65 years of consumption at current levels.
- Fossil fuels contribute to the climate change. How much much each ton of CO2 will impact on the global temperature is not easy to predict, however we can’t afford to increase much more the burning of fossil fuels from the current level.
- Renewable energies and fission-nuclear (traditional and IV generation) are the only energy sources that doesn’t involve CO2 emission and that are available now and in the next decades. A huge improvement is expected but there are several downsides for each source. I will write many articles on renewable and nuclear sources, since I see many misconceptions around them (like bio-fuels, that I consider a completely non-sustainable energy source).
- Energy demand will increase for many reasons. I will write posts also on this specific subject. The developing countries will need more energy than today. Moreover, computational applications (AI, simulations, data processing) will require more and more energy as their application scope will increase constantly.
Given those assumptions, renewable and nuclear (fission) energy sources can be considered a bridge that will allow us to survive until a solution (i.e. nuclear fusion) will come up, without changing in a dramatic way the global climate. The following graph is just an example about what I consider a likely scenario:
Fossil fuels production/consumption will be very stable for decades, renewable sources will sustain the energy demand increase, then nuclear fusion will quickly substitute the other energy sources, creating a dramatic change in the energy market. It will probably be an energy singularity (maybe even connected with the technological singularity).
Finally, as everyone I think it’s very important to invest in R&D of renewable/nuclear energy sources, but we must bear in mind that we are talking about a 40-70 years mission. This must be taken into account, especially when we will need to decide whether we must invest decades and G$ in the development of some technologies, like Thorium reactors, or not.