Home Scott Tinker: Can The World Energy Supply Become Fully Sustainable?

Scott Tinker: Can The World Energy Supply Become Fully Sustainable?

user profile picture Adam Taggart Nov 21, 2018
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As we claim often here at Energy is everything.

Will our global society be able to transtiton off of its extreme dependence on fossil fuels? And if so, can we do so without too much pain?

Scott Tinker is the Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, and founder of the non-profit Switch Energy Alliance, which is dedicated to helping humanity address these key questions.

Tinker remains confident a much better future energy-wise is possible; but will require a tremendous shift in behavoir, investment and technological innovation.

In his eyes, society can make the transition. But will it? That’s a lot less certain…

The transition I care about is not simply from one kind of energy to another. It’s to where everybody has affordable, available, reliable, and environmentally sustainable, secure energy. That’s a good transition.

That introduces things into the world that allows for the empowerment of women, education, and all the basic things that the modern world enjoys and a third of the world doesn’t. That’s an important transition to me.

The kinds of energy that are put in place to do that are going to vary by what the world has access to. Every place in the world has different energy resources. Some are blessed with great oil and gas. Some have uranium, thorium, and nuclear that they can do. Some have wonderful wind. Some have terrific solar. There are places with wonderful tides and waves if they can capture that  energy economically. There’s geothermal in Iceland, Southeast Asia, and other places. We’ll use what we have where we have it to accomplish the transition to a world where everyone has access to secure energy.

The qualifying of some energy sources as “green and good” while others are “dirty and bad” is hindering that progress. It’s causing political division and policymakers to do things that they may or may not do otherwise in a logical technical, economic, or scientific sense in order to meet the politics.

The challenge is with renewables. While the sun and the wind are renewable, the stuff to capture them is not. The turbines and the solar panels are not renewable. We have to mine for all of those metals. We have to mine for the silica, the rare earth elements. The chemicals in metals to make the batteries — and we’ll need lots and lots of batteries. Same with the wires to transmit the electrons where they need to be. And the landfill to dispose them, as they wear out because it’s a low density resource. It takes a tremendous amount of stuff to capture renewable enegy. It hasn’t been concentrated over millions of years by nature like oil, gas, and coal were.

The challenge is how do we make the energy systems of the world environmentally sustainable?

There’s CO2, methane, other greenhouse gases, and local air emissions. The land use for renewables, the mining, and the manufacturing, the disposal, and all the backup systems. The water which is used across many energy systems.

How do you do it in a way that’s much better than what we currently do in a way that also doesn’t hinder the ultimate transition: to secure sufficent and affordable energy for the world.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Scott Tinker (58m:42s).

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