The Role of Physics in Energy and Environment
Energy technologies are deeply rooted in the science of physics. Physics provides the theoretical foundation for essentially all of the technologies and processes involved from resource exploration and extraction, conversion, transmission and distribution to providing the energy services demanded by our societies. Without thermodynamics there would be no heat engines that from the mainstay of the world’s current electricity generation or transportation systems; without the laws of classical mechanics, classical electro-magnetics or relativity theory, there would be no nuclear fission, photovoltaics or fuel cells.
In the past, the extensive use of energy technologies, especially when utilizing fossil energy resources, has also generated undesirable by-products, wastes and pollution that threaten human health, climate and ecosystems. The fundamental laws of physics tell us that there is no technology without wastes, risks and interaction with the environment. Again, physics has been instrumental in our understanding of the adverse impacts of energy production and use ranging from climate change, the interaction of the atmosphere and the oceans to the abatement of pollutants in flue gases.
Understanding and assisting in putting to use the laws of nature for the transition towards a sustainable energy system is the fundamental challenge of today’s and tomorrow’s physicists. One of the greatest challenges ahead is to connect the 1.6 billion people in developing countries currently without access to modern energy services in an environmentally benign manner. Other challenges include the ongoing urbanization throughout the world creating higher and higher energy demand densities, increasing demand for mobility, especially in developing countries, and additional energy needs for new processes such as desalination. Clearly, without a proactive contribution of physics and physicists working along with engineers, economists, sociologists, etc, this challenge can not be met.
Objective of the Session
Against the backdrop of differentiated future regional energy needs and environmental constraints, this session will identify areas of concrete action – research, development, demonstration, transfer, commercialization - particularly suitable for physicist working in the applied fields of energy-environment modelling, energy planning, engineering, technology development and diffusion, and education/training. Partnerships between technology development laboratories in the industrialized countries and physicists and associated institutions in developing countries will be sought for know-how and technology transfer.
Talking Points of the Roundtable
a) World Energy Retrospective and Outlook
Finding better ways to meet the energy needs of billions of people in the developing world is critically important. Here we (i) review the historical development of global energy production and use with reference to key contribution of physics, and (ii) provide a glimpse of where the energy system is heading focusing on the key dilemmas, drivers, challenges and opportunities (provided by physics) ahead.
b) Energy-Environment Interaction
Insults of energy production and use on the environment. Materials are taken by the energy system from and then returned to the environment. Climate change, air quality, regional acidification, etc. and the role of physics in understanding the energy-environment nexus plus what physics can do for abatement and mitigation of the adverse environmental effects.
c) Power to the people: a decentralised generation “off the grid” overview
A new paradigm for approaching energy generation is unfolding, but what is it and how does it work? Here we explain why decentralised generation is increasingly important in today’s environment, especially in a developing world context. Decentralised generation is an umbrella term for a wide range of technologies, so it’s important to know what this spectrum encompasses. To help survey the field we will focus on six DG areas: turbines, fuel cells, solar, wind, biomass, and other renewable energies. We’ll learn about what these technologies are, what new needs and demands they meet, under what conditions and geographies they work best in, what physics can do for their commercialization and market penetration and identify RD&D requirements.
d) Fueling the Mega-Cities – A continued need for centralized energy production
Providing affordable and clean energy services to the “unconnected” in rural areas is a prerequisite to poverty alleviation. In rural areas, energy densities of decentralized technology often match demand densities, a situation which is distinctly different from the situation in the mega-cities of the world. Globally, it is expected that soon more than 50% of the population will be living in metropolitan areas. Centralized conventional fossil, hydro power and nuclear technologies will continue to supply the bulk of the energy needs. Here we present and investigate the technology options for the decades ahead, how these can comply with ever more stringent environmental constraints and sustainable energy requirements, and identify key areas for action within the physics community.
e) Capacity building and human resources development
Education and training constitutes a key issue for use and application of the different energy forms. No sustainable use of energy systems can be made without local competencies capable to design, implement and maintain the energy systems. Special focus could be made on decentralised energy generation (renewable energies) were there is need to a specific knowledge to use and maintain the systems by local communities.
Format for the Conference
Day 1 of the conference consists of plenary sessions covering all four themes of Conference (key note addresses per theme and round table). Poster session in the evening will provide an opportunity for participants to present their activities in the field of energy and environment. Day 2 is the time for detailed discussion of each theme carried out in parallel sessions. This is the time for identifying opportunities and needs for further research and development work by the physics community and developing proposals for an action plan regarding energy and environment. These proposals are then discussed and further refined at the plenary sessions of Day 3. The ultimate aim is to have in place an action plan and commitments from participants to do the work.
Proposal for Action Projects, Presentations, and Posters
The Committee on Energy and Environment is looking for Conference participation and ideas for follow-up action projects that are in-line with our guidelines and action plans. The call for Action Proposals and participation in the Energy and Environment Program of the World Conference on Physics and Sustainable Development is now open. Participants and Resource Providers should submit proposals by e-mail to Energy&Environ@wcpsd.org. The proposals should include the following information:
This Proposal is for a(an):