From Where Energy
In the climate debate the question from where to get sufficient amounts of non-polluting energy for our future energy needs is certainly an important point. After all, the city in which we live is still burning ship loads of coal in order to produce the electricity which we need for our living style, and Helsinki deserves already big praise for using the waste heat for the heating of the city (instead of, as e.g. in Germany, disposing of it into the atmosphere and the available bodies of water as a matter of course).
Still, the output of CO2 will have to be reduced further, and even a switch to gas, which is MUCH cleaner than coal, would still be insufficient. And if we look, instead of small Helsinki, at the world, the problem is the same: huge and still growing energy needs, well-established supply lines to cover the needs by means of fossil fuels, and mostly very small and often only slowly developing sources of alternative energy. And my intention is to have a look at the possibilities to cover the energy needs of ALL the big economic units (such as EU, USA, India, China, Russia, etc.) in climate-friendly ways.
Beginning with Western Europe (without Russia), I should say that the biggest source of energy could well be floating wind power. If one looks at the map and assumes that it should be reasonably easy to anchor the units in the sea floor if the depth is not more than 200 m, it turns out that there are simply HUGE areas of sea where wind power units can be installed, certainly quite enough to cover the main needs of Western Europe. The Itämeri is too shallow for the presently available models of floating wind power units, but there are already 3 different models on my mind which it should not take many years to develop (plus a model of flying wind power for use inland) which could easily be used off the Finnish coast.
The USA would have quite a bit of areas fit for solar energy, and in the plains wind power could at least be tried out, but there is still one possibility which should URGENTLY be considered: A short while ago I found in my inbox an invitation to invest into a source of clean energy which was advertised with big words and little information, but about which it was anyway said that Las Vegas (unclear which one of the two) was sitting on a huge supply of it and about which it was also claimed that it could cover all of the USA’s energy needs for the next 30,000 years. Well, nice, big and smooth numbers, but: (a) the source was said to be under ground, and (b) I was myself already saying many years ago that the USA should hurry up with using the geothermal heat (because this will presumably be that advertised source of energy) under the Yellowstone Park. The hope would be that one could take off and use so much of the geothermal heat there that the magma bubble which is rising under the park would NOT reach the surface – because if it did, large areas of the USA might well become uninhabitable. Thus, actually there would be some hurry, and masses of energy would be available as a byproduct.
Canada is a bit very far north for solar energy, but in the plains there might be usable wind, and then there would be the Hudson Bay, i.e. a huge body of water with a very narrow connection to the ocean. And I think that the resulting tidal currents could provide HUGE amounts of energy.
China is of course already doing VERY much for the development of alternative energy, but it has also HUGE numbers of inhabitants with still growing energy needs. But if one looks at the map one could think of Tibet, which is a VERY large area with not many inhabitants but (in spite of its cold climate) presumably VERY large amounts of sun radiation which could be used.
All of Africa, India, Central and South America, and of course Australia, should have more than enough sun radiation for covering their present and future energy needs (although it may in certain areas be more practical to use some other sources of energy – in the Caribbean e.g. the power of the Trade Winds, or in the deep South of South America the west winds around Cape Horn).
The only area I see which might have serious difficulties to cover its energy needs in climate-friendly ways is Russia. It is too far north for sun power, too far from the sea for large-scale wind power (at least it the available steppe should not offer enough wind), so that Russia would have to think hard about its possibilities. In the long run it might settle for nuclear power and biomass plus ”local sources”.
In all these considerations there is the problem that at least in the northern areas and China the electricity would have to be sent over long distances, but if the political circumstances are sufficiently peaceful this should work. It will NOT work in areas where militants will blow up any infrastructure which (according to their opinion) symbolizes values which are not theirs. – This is one of the obstacles to Europe importing solar energy from the Sahara. I do have ideas how to deal (in the long run) with religious fanaticism, but I do not want to begin about that here. And luckily the areas of the world where this is a serious problem are, so far, not THAT large.
But aside of religious fanatics there are other obstacles to the realization of the technical possibilities: In at least all of the Western societies the governments are dependent on a STEADY flow of tax money into the coffers of the government. Thus, to switch the system to new sources of energy becomes an EXTREMELY complicated matter which, even if the political will should be there (in the USA it is not), is hindered by the fact that our democratically elected politicians are pretty much amateurs, who in addition are exposed to the advice and comments of people who owe their influential position to the money they make by less environment-friendly forms of energy. The Australian government insists, in spite of heat waves and raving bush fires, on expanding the export of coal, Poland has insisted on a special (coal-friendly) status which excepts it from the climate-friendly plans of the EU, and countries whose income relies, e.g., on the export of oil will think similarly. Thus and altogether, the technical solutions for providing (and even storing, though I did not mention those) energy are visible, but the switch to the climate-friendly solutions will still need MASSES of thought.