ETH, STP

Cornerstone Course – Day 2: Energy Transition I

What is energy?

A state of excitation of matter. At the highest excitation level it changes to waves. But this is too abstract for our use.

Thermodynamics is about the transfer of energy. Energy cascades down to lower to lower level which in turns entropy (e.g. disorder rather than chaos). Fundamentally it is about how the level of excitation of matter. Energy is the transfer of excitation. Work describes the transfer. Power is needed for industry. You need something that changes and work provides change.

The sun is the core of your energy supply. The fusion taking place in the sun is the major source of energy (minus nuclear power supply).

An industrial base takes fuel (stored work) into something useful. The impacts on society are in terms of quality of life, economics and environmental impact.

The following countries experience specific energy challenges and we will illuminate a few of them: Colombia, Argentina, Finland, Iceland, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, New Zealand, and Fiji.

Any policy change will only show its results two to three generations later making it hard for politicians to act.

Primary fuels

Coal, oil, gas, combustible renewables & waste are carriers of energy rather than energy. They drive a thermodynamic cycle to perform work.

Energy is used most for transportation, electricity and heat. They can be considered the 3 main pillars. Oil contributing 52% in 1973 / 36% in 2009 is mainly used for transportation.

The energy sector is the biggest economic sector on the world. It dwarfs food, military or anything else. It is slow-moving and has a linear trend slowly increasing . The consumption of primary fuels roughly doubled from 1973 to 2009 ( from 4674 Mtoe to 8353 Mtoe [Million tonnes of equivalent oil]. The OECD changed from 3741 Mtoe to 5413 Mtoe in the same period. China has contributed to the biggest rise with a per capita growth rate of 10% whereas Europe has around 2%. India grows at around half the pace of China.

Around 4% of primary fuels are in bunkers which means in transit or used for airplanes.

Nuclear grew steadily until Fukushima, but since then it has been reduced in the OECD. Nuclear energy is mostly maintained to have the capability to construct nuclear weapons.

Energy Demand

Forecasts differ at around 2 percent.

Developing countries basic demands consist of transportation, light and food/medicine storage. China left these needs behind in the last 20 years and now has comparable needs to the developed countries.

In 2006 25% of the world population had no access to electricity. The number dropped recently due to the fast pace of urbanisation.

Heat needs in non-electrified areas are fulfilled by wood and the burning of wood causes around 1.5 million deaths per year due to carbon monoxide poisoning (ahead of Aids or Malaria).

In the developed world energy demand is about economic consideration. In the developing world energy demand is limited by resources.

The current demand hotspot is Southeast Asia. Indonesia currently has a need of 80 Gigawatts per year and will add 8-10 Gigawatts per year over the next years which is equivalent to the total consumption of Switzerland. Malaysia hosts the fastest-growing energy demand in the region around Singapore.

The large population growth in developing countries drives the energy demand for the next few decades. The fuel-consumption shifts from wood to liquid fuels and electricity.

Atmospheric CO2

Visible light enters the atmosphere and when hitting the Earth transforms to infrared. Infrared is absorbed by CO2 and therefore heats up the atmosphere. With less CO2 in the atmosphere more infrared light would escape the atmosphere.

Fossil fuels represent solar energy accumulated over 600 million years. Currently, we convert back 1 million years of CO2 storage per year.

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