Playing with the energy balance

I blogged some time ago about David MacKay’s excellent book on the energy choices facing the UK – Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. Well, Professor MacKay is now advising the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and they have produced an interactive website based on those hard choices given the stated target of reducing CO2 emissions to 20% of 1990 levels.

At My2050 you are given control of various aspects of energy supply and demand through simple sliders, with your changes registering instantly on bar graphs above to show whether you’re producing sufficient energy to cover demand, and the impact on CO2 emissions. For example, you can move the Onshore Wind Power slider up to ‘20,000 onshore wind turbines by 2050’ – you are given the comparative figure of 3,000 in 2010 – and the CO2 chart drops from 100% to 93% of 1990 levels. Wow, that’s a lot of wind turbines to build and still such a long way to go to hit that target of 20%.

OK, let’s look at the demand side and see if we can make some major savings there. Let’s try moving the Transport Fuel slider up from ‘Most cars are like those you see today, but more efficient’ all the way up to ‘All cars are electric or run on hydrogen. All trains and most buses are electric.’ That ought to help… except it doesn’t! My CO2 meter has gone up to 94% and my electricity demand bar is flashing red to show I’m not producing enough to cover it. Of course, I’ve still got the Oil, Gas & Coal Power slider all the way up (default position) so I’m producing electricity for all those vehicles using fossil fuels. Blimey, this is tricky.

But it is possible – you can balance supply and demand and hit the 20% CO2 target. What the website makes clear is just how much we need to change the way we live, work and travel, as well as our energy sources. There are hard choices to be made.

The urgency of making those hard choices is further highlighted if we believe the statement in the latest IEA World Energy Outlook (2010), which tells us that Peak Oil was in 2006: “Crude oil output reaches an undulating plateau of around 68-69 mb/d by 2020, but never regains its all-time peak of 70 mb/d reached in 2006”. We will have to play the My2050 game for real – radically changing how we produce and consume energy – since these choices will be forced on us in coming years, whether we like it or not.

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