Sylvain David: What sources of energy from here to 2050?

World energy production reaches 10 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) each year. It is mainly provided by oil, gas and coal, in a very unequal way at the level of the planet. If the rich countries waste, many developing and very populated countries legitimately tend to massively increase their consumption in the decades to come. The energy scenarios predict a 50 to 300% increase in world energy production by 2050. It is already obvious that such an increase cannot be done on the current model, based on fossil fuels , whose reserves are limited, and whose use leads to massive CO2 emissions responsible for a major climate change.

The development of new energy sources is essential today, whatever efforts we can make in controlling demand. These alternative sources are well known and relatively well quantified. Nuclear appears to be the only rapidly available large-scale source, but requires significant mobilization of capital and public acceptance. Solar energy is an important source, but its implementation remains extremely expensive and complex. However, it is already competitive in areas without electrical networks. Wind energy represents a limited deposit and will probably not exceed 10% of electricity production, and always intermittently and randomly. Biomass is an interesting but difficult path to develop on a large scale. The other sources (geothermal energy, waves, tides, etc.) seem unable to meet strong demand. Energy storage (especially hydrogen) is far from being mastered. It represents a major technological challenge, and could make intermittent energies more attractive in the future. Finally, thermonuclear fusion represents a massive source, but may not be available until the end of the century.

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If the development of electro-nuclear at the global level is undoubtedly the fastest way to fight against the greenhouse effect, this will in no case be sufficient. The energy and climate challenge that we face requires the capture of CO2 emitted by power plants using fossil fuels and the sustained development of renewable energies. The alternatives to fossil fuels have their own disadvantages, but it is not certain that we still have a choice "

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Sylvain David has been a Research Fellow at CNRS since 1999 at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Orsay

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