Emissions of air pollutants have plummeted in France since 1990. But progress is yet to be made, especially in urban areas, in industrial zones and paradoxically in the countryside: these pollutants, which have become less visible and more subtle, are carried by winds and across borders. In this area, rigorous scientific analysis is required to allow to devote our collective and individual resources to share the actually most effective actions for our well-being.
The development of renewable energy since the early 2000s should continue and intensify in the coming years, changing significantly the electricity mix of the future while reducing the associated environmental impacts. It is therefore crucial to study the environmental impact of the different production sectors.
Tesla's PowerWall is the first mass-produced individual electric storage solution to hit the market. But does it offer any true ecological benefit? Is it cost-effective enough to be sustainable? Two specialists discuss these issues.
The proven limits of individual efforts and the difficulty of managing collective dynamics make energy transition an extremely challenging task when approached through consumption. Fortunately, technologies can change the game: smart consumption is on the rise. But whose smartness is it: machines', electricity suppliers', or ours?
As noted in a previous article, the very notion of a responsible consumer faces certain limits. The truth is, significant changes in the energy mix cannot be achieved through the goodwill (or conversely, the guilty conscience) of individuals. Does that leave us with no other choice than following decisions from above or waiting for technological solutions from daring entrepreneurs like Elon Musk? If we wish a new, more sober way of life to emerge, we should also trust social imagination, based on the dynamics of sharing and pooling.
Who exactly will be the actors of a coming energy transition? Industry and the major power operators will naturally, of course, be prime contributors but the end-consumers themselves will also have a role to play. The question is: can the latter really tip the balance?
Wind turbine and solar power sources now represent a significant fraction in the electricity generation mix of industrialized countries. How did they achieve such a breakthrough successfully? European countries use differing models, which all show their limits, for transition from a subsidy-intensive economy to a market-driven logic is complex. The question remains: will renewable energy sources soon be proven profitable?
Storing electricity? Some old solutions to this old problem are gaining momentum nowadays, thanks to recent improvements. Among these solutions, using electricity to obtain hydrogen and reconverting it later into energy or heat via fuel cells. The advantages are numerous: the possibility to store the excess production of electricity generated by renewable energy sources, to mix the hydrogen with natural gas (methane), to power electric vehicles… But there are as many challenges ahead if we want hydrogen to be a significant part of the future energy mix. Actions are under way. Let us discover them!
In an industrial facility, the key-concept is reliability. It is all the more true in utilities such as electric power companies, since one must be able to trust the electricity provider 24/7, year in, year out. It is even crucial when it comes to nuclear power production, where one should expect high sustainability and total safety. In this industry, rigorous mastering of the production tool is thus a necessary condition for the technical and economic performance. The heart of this industrial model is engineering.
Rising energy consumption round the world, rarefaction of fossil energy sources, climate change, the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions… The development of new and renewable energy sectors, emitting few or zero GHGs has become primordial. Faced with this inevitable energy transition phase, nuclear fusion could be justified, provided we can prove its feasibility, thereby enabling a move to industrial fusion power production. This is the challenge assigned to the ITER international research facility.
Achieving an energy transition is obviously necessary in the long run, but the situation is much more confusing in the short and mid-term perspectives. Between technological breakthroughs and geopolitical changes, evolutions are difficult to predict. The energy transition has begun and will continue. But if we wish to draw up an overall picture, it is the ambiguities and uncertainties that prevail.
There is a merciless war ongoing now in companies round the world to reduce production costs. Some have a major advantage when they can display improved energy efficiency of their commercial vans and trucks. The energy efficiency factor is now increasingly integrated in the augmented performance assessment that the brands emphasize for their shareholders, their customers, their suppliers, analysts and notation agencies. Some companies have moved faster than others to fight energy waste. The USA, with its huge, continental dimensions, lends itself well to energy scales of economy. Major transport companies, such as UPS or FedEx, are making remarkable progress, but the prime interest goes to the distributor Wal-Mart Stores Inc. On several occasions, President Obama singled out Wal-Mart as a model in terms of energy savings.
The energy mix can be defined as the distribution of primary energy sources consumed to produce various types of energy used in a given country. For different reasons, running from availability of the resources to policies enacted in the fight against global warming, national energy mixes will necessarily evolve over the coming decades. However, the natural inertia of history and the political and economic costs make the changes difficult. What are the most promising routes to transition?
The electricity transmission network is the backbone of the electrical system, a key asset in the energy transition. It must both adapt to new means of production and meet changing consumption needs. Today, the rise of renewable electricity and solidarity between territories are the main drivers of the evolution of this electricity network. The stakes are high.
The objective of the EU is to instate and implement a unified energy market by 2015. But opening markets and connecting grids may sound contradictory with unilateral decisions such as Germany's accelerated energy transition. Thus we see that there are two logics in Brussels, and with the increasing fraction and importance of renewables, they are now diverging more and more. It's time for the EU to look for technical as well as political solutions.
Small modular reactors are seen as presenting a possible route to future nuclear power production, especially in developing countries. Some manufacturers even started to design subsea power stations. In terms of advantages, costs and risk management, it's a completely new equation.
In 2011 Germany decided to abandon nuclear power and switch to renewable energy. Two years later, lessons have been learned: financial cost, industrial implications, social acceptability, political tensions shape a new landscape. Who is paying what, and for whom? What is the environment iompact of the new policy? How to manage such a turn?
Could solar power provide some of the needed energy of the future? The much improved availability of natural gas and the crisis that the photovoltaic industrial sector has been experiencing since 2011 serve to make us cautious, viz., not to be over-optimistic. On one hand, we can witness the strategic policies chosen by China and, on the other, the expected advent of new PV cells, could together change the scene. Consequently, we must carefully examine and assess the economics, their dynamics and the supporting technologies.
Generation IV reactors raise many hopes and expectations, in terms of optimised use of resources, reduced wastes, better safety factors. They are still on the drawing-board today, but may replace, somewhere in the future, Generation III reactors (the EPRs) considered as more efficient than today’s PWRs (pressurised water). Physicist Dr Daniel Heuer is currently studying one of the 6 concepts pre-selected in 2008 by the yearly Generation IV International Forum (that set the priority orientations), viz., the concept of molten salt reactors (MSRs) associated with the thorium cycle. What exactly are the advantages of this new technology? Will MSRs earn their place in nuclear power production?
One year after Fukushima, several European countries have decided to gradually abandon nuclear energy. What are the prospects for this sector? Two executives from world's number 1 group share their views on the new directions taken by a market unlike any other. Increasing safety requirements, predictable upmarket rise of Asian constructors, the dynamism of the small reactor segment and the slow ripening of the third gen reactors: all of these factors draw a new map of this industry.