Climate change

July 1, 2010

Thinking Critically about Sustainable Energy (TCASE) – the seminar series

In the Thinking Critically About Sustainable Energy (TCASE) series — currently up to 10 parts on my blog — I consider the challenges we face in scaling up renewable or nuclear energy technologies to replace fossil fuels. The blog serialisation of TCASE will continue here, but the format is now also moving into a new communication medium — interactive seminars. In collaboration with the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus), I have been planning — and will act as host and moderator — for the ‘TCASE Live’ series, launching next week on Wed 7th July 2010. The event is sponsored by the Environment Institute’s Centre for Energy Technology (of which I’m a member), and the Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources.

To book your (free) seat at the first event, click here. Do it soon, to avoid disappointment (the venue can only hold about 130 people). Each session will be held at the Science Exchange in Adelaide (Google Map link), and will also be broadcast soon after each event on the internet (tune into my Twitter feed to keep updated with the podcasts, vodcasts and slides).

Here is the context statement and sequence of events for the 6-part series, run monthly through to the end of 2010:

Thinking Critically for Sustainable Energy: the seminar series

The ability to harness natural resources and transform them into sources of useable energy has been essential in the development of modern society. As a result the supply and consumption of energy has now become central to the economies of developed nations and is vital in sustaining agriculture, construction, transportation and communications.

Since industrialisation, fossil fuels have represented a readily available and inexpensive source of energy. But as more countries become industrialised and the competition for these finite resources begins to increase exponentially, we are now facing the real threat that supply of these fuels may not be able to keep up with demand. Additionally the mining and burning of these fuels has been shown to have many adverse environmental effects. In particular the threat of anthropogenic climatic change due to the combustion of these fuels is now a major global concern.

While it seems obvious that we need to find a solution to these immediate problems, there are many questions that still need to be answered. Is there a single workable solution that will solve the looming energy crisis? Can we really replace fossil fuels with resources such as solar, wind, geothermal or nuclear power? And if we can, what sort of time frames should we be looking at?

As the urgency for us to find new sources of sustainable energy increases, all of us must start searching for answers from a variety of perspectives. In this series of 6 public forums hosted by Professor Barry Brook, we ask the experts to examine a range of alternate energy sources, and discuss the potential of each these technologies to deliver a sustainable energy solution.

Part 1: Fossil Fuel Future (6 — 7:30 pm, Wed 7 July 2010)

Part 2: Established Renewables (11 Aug 2010)

Part 3: Future Renewables (1 Sept 2010)

Part 4: Nuclear Energy (6 Oct 2010)

Part 5: Energy Storage and Demand Side Management (3 Nov 2010)

Part 6: Energy Futures (8 Dec 2010)

(all dates are tentative, except for Part 1 which is confirmed)

Part 1, next Wednesday, has all speakers confirmed. Here are the details:

Fossil fuels have a high energy density and provide an excellent source of energy when burned. However during the combustion process a number of pollutants are released such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and carbon dioxide. Can we continue to burn fossil fuels and hope to cut the emissions of these environmentally damaging by-products? How far advanced are carbon capture technologies and are they a viable means of reducing carbon emissions in the face of climate change? Join Professor Barry Brook as he invites his expert panel to discuss our fossil fuel future. Professor Bassam Dally will discuss the potential for the next generation combustion systems that burn fossil fuels in cleaner and more efficient ways how they can be integrated into our existing systems. Likewise, Professor John Kaldi, will explain the various options available for the geosequestration of CO2 and how these carbon capture and storages mechanisms will work within our existing infrastructure. This event is one of six public forums aimed at providing a comprehensive examination of sustainable energy technologies and critical evaluation of their potential for reducing carbon emissions. Come along, hear what the experts think and ask your own questions about our fossil fuel future.

Part 2 will cover wind, hydro and solar PV. Part 3 will look at solar thermal, geothermal and wave energy. Part 4 will consider both Gen III and Gen IV nuclear energy. Part 5 will evaluate thermal, chemical and potential energy storage, as well as smart grids and biofuels. Part 6, the wrap, will look at various ‘visions’ for energy systems in 2050 and beyond, and what must be done to arrive at the short- medium- and long-term energy goals in a world beyond emissions-intensive fossil fuels.

The format will follow the ‘Socratic’ style methods I describe in my post “The gentle art of interrogation“. To explain: the evening will begin with me, as host, providing a short overview of the topic. Next, the first guest speaker will deliver a 10 minute synopsis of their area of expertise and comments on the topic. I, as ‘devil’s advocate‘, will then spend about 10 min ‘interrogating’ them, in order to probe their assumptions and evidence (using a series of short, sequential questions). The other guests can potentially join in at this point, if they have particular, targeted critiques to raise. A similar format will then follow for speakers two (and three, where applicable). The whole ‘panel’ will then briefly discuss the set of issues that has been raised, after which the floor will be opened to the audience for questions, for the remainder of the session.

I look forward to those based in Adelaide joining me on this little adventure. And to my interstate and international readers, I hope you can still get something out of this via the vodcasts.

In the meantime, if you have any comments on the proposed content of the 6-part series, or on the methods being used to develop understanding and critique these issues, I’d be delighted to hear it.

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