Equinox Summit day 1: finance in science and energy transitions

From June 6-9, some of the top scientists and environmental researchers in the world will be in Waterloo at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics for the Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) Equinox Summit. These experts will be discussing ways in which the world can chart a course for the future that will involve sustainable, low-carbon energy solutions.

Each day, a scientist or researcher, will give a public lecture at Perimeter Institute, stay logged on to thecord.ca for continuing coverage.

Below are the public lectures from day one.

Bridging the gap between science and finance

Monday morning at 9am, in a packed Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas at the Perimeter Institute, four distinguished speakers were hosted by TVO and the Waterloo Global Science Initiative at Equinox Summit: Energy 2030.

CEO of Borealis GeoPower Craig Dunn, along with Yacine Kadi, project leader at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Greg Naterer, Canada research chair in advanced energy systems and David Keith, Canada research chair in the energy and environment, gathered in a panel discussion and presented innovative ideas on how to solve the growing energy demand.

“It is estimated by 2030 the demand for energy will succeed a trillion megawatts,” said Wilson da Silva, editor of Cosmos, an Australian science magazine. The focus of the panel discussion was to present innovative solutions to solve the impending energy crisis, with the requirement that the energy be clean and sustainable.

Four viable options were presented: Big “G” geopower, thorium-powered ‘sub-critical’ nuclear reactors, wind farms, and hydrogen ‘de-carbonized’ power.

All of these options were noted to be expensive; whether it is the front-loaded costs or compensation costs, all panelists agreed that both time and financing were a factor in the development of new energy technologies. Bringing these new energy technologies from ideas to actual plants that power our lives is something that takes a lot of money, Dunn explained, “we need energy marketing to bridge the gap between science and finance, to get from a great idea to a solution”.

The focus Monday however was on the innovation of research and development, discussing hopes and concerns for new energy technologies. The panel discussion, also a live webcast, ended with participants from Indonesia, Denmark and the United States asking specific questions about these technologies.

By Marcie Foster

The different meanings of ‘energy transitions’

When most people hear the phrase ‘energy transition’ their mind tends to jump to visions of abandoning the world’s current, fossil fuel-based energy supply and moving towards natural forms of energy.

Or as distinguished professor in the faculty of environment at the University of Manitoba Vaclav Smil put it, “Most people think global warming will kill us all and we should move to this nirvana of green energy.”

But that’s not the only way the term should be interpreted, according to Smil’s talk, which was the second of two public lectures on Monday at the Waterloo Global Science Initiative’s (WGSI) Equinox Summit.

In attempting to dispel the notion that the only energy transition possible is to sources such as wind and solar power, Smil discussed simply using fossil fuels more efficiently. For instance, Smil stated that if everyone in Canada was required to have a high-efficiency furnace — which have been available for over 20 years — the country would use 40 per cent less carbon.

“No one thinks of an energy transition as changing one furnace for another furnace,” said Smil.

According to Smil, the lack of efficiency when it comes to fossil fuel use in North America is a significant problem.

“In Toronto you can’t get from the airport to downtown without taking a bus or a cab,” he said. “This is absolutely medieval…. Why do we in Canada have to consume twice as much energy as people in France or Germany?”

Smil also noted that North America’s lack of substantial rapid rail transit and diesel fueled cars contributes to its problems with energy consumption.

“What is the fastest Canadian train?” he asked. “You can’t say because there are no fast Canadian trains.”

Smil went on to say that the average train in Canada goes about 85 kilometres per hour, while in Europe the rapid trains can reach speeds of about 300 kilometres per hour.

While the immediate solution to this problem, as many have advocated for, would be to move away from fossil fuels, according Smil this will be difficult because of the inherent dependence on fossil fuels that exists in North America.

“We’re fundamentally fossil fuel-based,” said Smil, “and a wind turbine is the pure embodiment of fossil fuels.”

Smil went on to explain that it is a fundamental problem that the production of solar and wind energy devices relies heavily on fossil fuels. Furthermore, he believes that the small problems with energy forms like solar or wind are anything but insignificant.

“The sun goes down, simple as that. It amazes me how many people gloss over that fact,” said Smil, emphasizing that current solar and wind power systems cannot store energy efficiently enough to meet demands. “We need electricity when we need it and [storing generated power] is a problem for which we have no solution.”

Smil maintained that he is not against bio-fuels and natural energy, however he just feels the public should be more realistic about the implementation of such systems.

“Give me more wind [power], give me more solar [power], I’m all for these things,” he said. “But don’t have any delusions that they are coming to your neighbourhood any time soon at cheap prices.”

Justin Fauteux