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Bridging the gap to renewables

Many renewable energy sources have seen a dramatic increase in both their cost efficiency and their uptake by developed and developing economies. [1] European countries have done particularly well, with some exceeding their 2020 target during 2018. Yet, despite this, such sources can still only provide a small fraction of our total energy requirements and they do not meet our increasing electricity demand – except on the sunniest or windiest days! There are also questions concerning the long-term environmental impact of some ‘green’ energy projects. Issues of deforestation, construction-based pollution and poor long-term durability have been raised in recent years.[2]

As more sustainable projects are developed, countries will need to rely on the established thermal gas generation capacity and the remaining nuclear reactors for a ‘base load’. Yet, while some new nuclear capacity is in development, particularly in Eastern Europe where older Russian reactors are nearing the end of their working lives, the changing public sentiment in the West means that new projects here are less and less likely to see the light of day.[3] Even the much-heralded and long-awaited advent of fusion power has seen further delays and the first commercial scale test rector (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)) is unlikely to begin tests until 2025.[4] Even then, it will only test the potential system without generating any electricity; the earliest commercial producer is still many years away.[5]

It is a sad but undeniable fact that, without these alternative high-capacity and low-carbon sources, Europe will remain dependent on natural gas for both domestic heating and electricity generation for at least the medium term. For nations such as Germany, being tied to fossil fuels in this way has continued to bring both public and political opposition. This is particularly sensitive as it perpetuates a politically contentious dependence on Russian gas, the supply of which is soon to be greatly increased through the controversial Nordstream 2 pipeline.[6] So, here we must trust that strong political leadership will maintain an environment conducive to these intermediaries, even as our overall goal must be to move towards less contentious and more local alternatives. An intelligent energy plan can help countries extend the present reduction in demand for energy and restart economies focused on local, sustainable solutions without a return to the culture of ‘energy on demand’… read more in the GEAB 146


[1]      A good set of graphics illustrating the growth in renewable energy usage can be accessed here: OurWorldInData, 05/06/2020

[2]      Some of the issues raised recently in a documentary by Michael Moore. Source: Forbes, 21/04/2020

[3]      Source: Bloomberg, 28/07/2019

[4]      Details if the ITER project can be found at ITER and Wikipedia, 05/06/2020

[5]      Elizabeth Fernandez outlines some of the steps we still need to take to reach reliable and commercial fusion power. Source: Forbes, 26/03/2020

[6]      Nordstream 2 is nearing completion by Gazprom following multiple attempts by US governments to block the project. Source: Bloomberg, 13/05/2020


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