Energy Crisis might be two words that the average person would not necessarily put together. Sure, much has been made of the climate issues in the last decade and oil’s fluctuating prices have alerted people to the notion of finite resources, but the reality is much more serious. Peak oil’s ‘alternative’ siblings are just stalling the inevitable – where will we get out energy in the future?
CNN has run a fascinating series of articles on new energy sources being developed to combat our reliance on carbon-producing fossil fuels. Recently, Steven Cowley, Director of the UK-based Culham Center for Fusion Energy, posited that nuclear fusion, a form of energy that produces heat ten times that of the sun, could be the “perfect energy source.” Already seven international partners are feverishly working in France in a project called ITER – one that promises to delivery this potential miracle source far quicker than other alternatives like solar power, which are unable to be rolled out for large-scale use. Without going into the scientific complexities of Fusion Energy, Cowley sums up the mechanism as “Sea water provides millions of years of fusion fuel. Fusion reactions are safe, they emit neither radioactive waste nor greenhouse gasses and fusion reactors would take up relatively little space.” But, the down side is that building a device to create the energy necessary to propagate this reaction is very hard to do, with ITER hoping to have it’s facilities open by 2020, and operational by 2030.
The other hurdle that Cowley and his colleagues face in this new energy frontier is – affordability. Commercial viability is always a brutal caveat in any innovative scientific program, and Fusion is no exception. But, even in these difficult economic times, it is essential that new energy research continue to be funded and the figures are such that “The world energy market is approximately €5-€10 trillion ($6.5-13 trillion) a year, and the total world spend on energy research is about 0.5% of this,” writes Cowley. Once again, it seems the populace needs to put pressure on policy makers to not only continue investments, but rather increase them, if we are to survive in the future; political short-termism may be the largest hurdle of all in this struggle.