Decarbonisation of energy systems

Decarbonisation of energy systems

Sabrina Sartori

This spring I had the pleasure to moderate a panel of discussion in Phoenix about materials needs for energy sustainability by 2050.  Now the podcast of that discussion is available on-line! The recording lasts one hour and a half, so if you want to have a quick idea on the topic, you can follow the extract that I give during an interview.

Around 350 people attended the discussion, in an exchange of ideas between the public and the panelists: George Crabtree from University of Illinois at Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, Cherry Murray from Harvard University, Ellen D. Williams from University of Maryland, and Russel R. Chianelli from University of Texas El Paso.

The starting point was the Paris agreement signed in 2015 by 195 countries, which aims to keep “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C”. An ambitious goal that will require the economies around the globe to decarbonize large parts of the world’s energy system, that is to embark in one of the most profound transformations in its history: a transition of energy supply and consumption from a system fueled primarily by non-renewable, carbon-based energy sources, to one fueled by clean, low-carbon energy sources.

The need for action is pressing. Limiting global warming to 2°C will allow a cumulated emission of energy-related carbon emissions of approximately 900 Gt of CO2 by 2100. At current annual energy-related CO2 emissions of 34 Gt, that ceiling will be reached before 2050.* Transitioning towards a low-carbon economy will need a paradigm shift and large scale investments. The challenges ahead come from several areas: major transformation in energy infrastructures, switching to low/zero carbon energy carriers, improvement of energy efficiency, handling the intermittence of renewable energy sources, and significant materials development.

Is the pace of fundamental R&D fast enough to displace deployment of new, less efficient technologies? What is the role of public versus private R&D support towards the decarbonization goals? And where should the younger generations, aspiring at research or government positions, focus their attention to advance the path towards a clean future? I hope you will find stimulating inputs by listening to the podcast. Enjoy!

* Hydrogen Council, 2017

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