Currently showing: Sustainable energy

31 Oct 13 10:09

Nuclear energy was a late but highly controversial topic during last night's "Connecting generations: Meeting the Energy challenge" at the Centre for Global Dialogue in Rüschlikon, Switzerland. The discussion saw a wide range of opinions on these main clusters:

Legislate clean energy or let markets lead to success?
Do we have to break up the energy oligopolies markets to have a green energy revolution?
Why should I invest in clean energy, if there's a chance to lose money? And if I invest, what will offer me the best return?
Why don't we start today by just buying more energy efficient technology now?

The topics were triggered by a presentation by Prof. Fahrni, who outlined the challenge but also pointed out that a less carbon heavy energy supply is doable. At a later point in the evening, Claire-Michelle Loock of Ben Energy said that decision making on a cleaner energy system is not necessary rational. This also became clear when a quick vote in the room showed that everybody is very well aware of their gasoline bills but most have no idea what they spend on power.

While these were the topics in the room, in the social media arena other points popped up. From questions and proposals on the storage of renewable energy to how to use everyday activities like walking to generate power to - yes - let's go for nuclear.

The nuclear option also gained success with 10 percent of the audience in the house in an audience poll - and also triggered some intense responses and discussions at the end of the event and afterwards in the networking area.

The results of our snapshot poll are above. What would be your preference to make our energy system more sustainable. Add your thoughts below.

Connecting generations: Meeting the energy challenge | Swiss Re - Centre for Global Dialogue

Energy innovation has given us reliable heat, light, transport and...

Category: Sustainable energy


Alicia Montoya - 31 Oct 2013, 12:11 p.m.

Hmmmm, that's a really tough question, because of course, we probably need all of the above to meet our growing energy needs.

I think we all agree that we all want clean energy in 2050. I think we all also agree that we want access to energy for all the +9 bn expected 2050 population. And we all echoed that energy efficiency can play a huge part in limiting our impact.

Where last night's event participants disagreed was on the role of policy, the need for nuclear and how to change consumer behavior. I guess the question is, until renewable energy can meet all our needs and be cost-competitive with fossil & nuclear (this will vary by country/ region and... could take a while), can energy efficiency make up the difference and replace nuclear?

This leads me to my choice: Education! Countries like Switzerland engage citizens in decision-making through their brilliant direct democracy model. In other countries, we vote for parties (e.g. Greens, Republicans, Labour...) that are in line with our beliefs including our energy preferences. But are citizens really in a position to knowledgeably vote on these issues?

I worked in the energy industry for several years and I'm still unsure of the real cost of energy, I have yet to have access to a full, unbiased picture that takes all externalities into account, and I am still struggling with grasping the unintended consequences that arise from some of our choices, e.g. as somebody in the audience raised, if we use 30% of our land for solar, what will that do to agriculture and food security? Bill Emmott and Allan Savory look at the need for holistic thinking and better education around these complex, interconnected issues here:

Oliver Werneyer - 31 Oct 2013, 12:48 p.m.

I really enjoy the discussion around nuclear as I think people only see the pollutive after-effect of using nuclear energy. It is pretty safe nowadays, so that would not be a major discussion point for me. Is it clean? Actually, yes, very clean up until the radioactive material needs to be disposed of. that is the biggest issue.

I believe that nuclear can and will play a big role in the future and a big breakthrough will happen once we can use renewable energies to re-enrich uranium (and other materials) so that they can be re-used and the nuclear waste is not an issue anymore.

This is where renewable energy could really make a big difference. It might take a while but it could be economical. That would then have the energy to power industry again.

On a personal note though, as long as energy distribution and generation remains at utility levels we will never have energy independence, get prices down or get power to all people on the planet. Luckily I know there is some great stuff being done on that front ;)

Neil J - 31 Oct 2013, 4:38 p.m.

I must admit I found it difficult to choose between some of them.

In the end I went for the last option (Education) as it is clear we do not know enough about all the impacts..

C02 emmisions, has not worked as we already have something in place.

Incentives - there are already incentives, but I don't believe they are sustainable or smart (replacing agriculture with PV farms or for Bio fuels will only lead to higher food prices and shortages) when there are many better solutions or locations for PV technology that does not make destroy the countryside (along or over motorways, open car parks, buildings...

Increasing prices - what about reducing subsidies making alternate solutions more affordable (in comparison) - however changing devices/appliances for more energy efficient one's has a lower rate of return due to the current prices.

More Nuclear - Well this is a 'necessary evil', not sure if we need more but for now not less until such time that we have viable alternatives.

some interesting links:

PV Farms in UK:

Nuclear Future:

Urs Bolt - 1 Nov 2013, 10:09 a.m.

From a holistic point of view it is clear that the efforts of the last few decades to reduce carbon emissions failed. I don't expect that the global community of nations will agree on common goals. Enforcing by the UNFCCC and other international bodies does not work. To avoid endless debates, we need to change the approach by allowing the nations to define their own best solutions. I believe market economics need to play a crucial role. Subsidies, taxes and policies will have to guide but not to drive it.
Energy cheaper than fossil fuel would motivate nations and businesses to act in their economic self-interest. It would force the fossil fuel industry to move and allocate their huge financial resources into new technology.
To produce abundant and cheap energy for the world's poor people without harming the planet we need to change mindset, too. Unfortunately renewable energy sources have physical limitations to do this. Energy density and scalability are key. Thorium instead of Uranium could be one option (see the link in Neil's post).
Rapidly moving forward with advanced nuclear technology to substantially reduce the carbon emissions and poverty is key. But we need to use current technologies, too. The current 3rd generation nuclear reactors are inherently safe, the probability of accidents is extremely low (already today the chance is higher to be hit by a meteorit than die in a nuclear power plant accident). Future 4th generation reactors will recycle the used nuclear fuel as resource and largely solve the waste and proliferation issues.
I recommend the book "Thorium - Energy Cheaper Than Coal" by Robert Hargraves (it will be available in German soon). You will learn about the energy and environmental challenges as well as the costs of energy without subsidies. Robert's recommended solution is a 4th generation molten salt nuclear reactor, already productive as a research reactor at the ORNL in the 70s. Producing small modular reactors at much cheaper costs than today will make it attractive for private financing.
I urge participants and blog readers to open their minds and think about all possible solutions. We are too framed in the German speaking countries.

Neil J - 1 Nov 2013, 12:21 p.m.

I've read about using Molten salt as a storage media for solar power but not in nuclear reactors. The problem with many of these technology is storage, with the exception of Hydro, Nuclear, (and Tidal) as with the exception of Tidal they can be fully controlled and available 24/7. Tidal just has a short window of times as the tides turns where power won't be generated.

Urs Bolt - 2 Nov 2013, 6:36 p.m.

There is no storage issue with MSR reactors. The produced energy is always available, abundant and clean. This weeks Thorium Energy saw noble prize winners and former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix calling for support of Thorium fuel. (
But I am not a nuclear engineer. I can loop in some knowledgable persons if you want.

Neil J - 6 Nov 2013, 9:34 a.m.

Found an electronic copy of the book: "Thorium - Energy Cheaper Than Coal" by Robert Hargraves, and started reading it last night. Sounds like this is a viable solution. In the end we need solutions that can be reliable 24/7 and can be controlled (turned on/off with ability to vary output). The only two solutions I can think of are Nuclear and HEP. I see Solar, Wind, Tidal, Wave etc... as supplementing these, and there are not many countries where HEP is possible. So I would fully support the move to Thorium Energy reactors while also working on installing and improving Solar, Wind etc..

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