Can Future Energy Needs be Met Sustainably?

The introductory lecture to the Energy Colloquium, Michaelmas term 2014, was given by Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, Director of Energy Research at the University of Oxford.

In order to allow everyone on the planet to lead decent lives, global energy use will have to increase substantially. The need can be met with fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, but this is not sustainable. Decarbonisation is vital to mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution (estimated to cause 10% of all deaths), and because in the (very) long run fossil fuels will become increasingly scarce and expensive. Lower carbon pathways and realistic energy projections are diverging, and it has become clear that major decarbonisation is not possible with existing technologies at a price society would be prepared to pay. I will review the current situation, and the steps that need to be taken to increase the chance that future energy needs can be met sustainably. They include driving down the cost of low carbon technologies (CCS, nuclear, solar, bioenergy,…), managing demand and improving efficiency (big potential gains are not being realised), and putting a price on carbon.


Chris Llewellyn Smith is Director of Energy Research, Oxford University, and President of the Council of SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East).  He has chaired the Council of ITER, directed the UK’s fusion programme, and served as Provost and President of University College London and Director General of CERN (1994-1998, when the Large Hadron Collider was approved and construction started).  He has written and spoken widely on science funding, international scientific collaboration and energy issues, and served on numerous advisory bodies including the UK Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology. His scientific contributions to theoretical high energy physics and leadership have been recognised by awards and honours world-wide.

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