Continuous research and development of alternative energy could soon lead to a new era in human history in which two renewable sources, solar and wind, will become Earth's dominant contributor of energy, a Nobel laureate said at a special symposium at the American Chemical Society's 240th National Meeting.
Walter Kohn, Ph.D., who shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, noted that total oil and natural gas production, which today provides about 60% of global energy consumption, is expected to peak about 10 to 30 years from now, followed by a rapid decline.
"These trends have created two unprecedented global challenges", Kohn said. "One is the threatened global shortage of acceptable energy. The other is the unacceptable, imminent danger of global warming and its consequences."
Safe, clean and carbon-free energy
Kohn noted that these challenges require a variety of responses. "The most obvious is continuing scientific and technical progress providing abundant and affordable alternative energies, safe, clean and carbon-free," he said.
Because the challenges are global in nature, the scientific and technical work should enjoy a maximum of international co-operation, which fortunately is beginning to evolve, he said.
The global photovoltaic energy production increased by a factor of about 90 and wind energy by a factor of about 10 over the last decade.
He expects vigorous growth of these two effectively inexhaustible energies to continue during the next decade and beyond, thereby leading to a new era, the Sol/Wind era, in human history, in which solar and wind energy have become the earth's dominant energy sources.
Problems in developed countries
Another important issue, incumbent primarily on developed countries, whose population has pretty much levelled off, is reduction in per capita energy consumption, Kohn said.
"A striking example is the US per capita consumption of gasoline, approximately five times higher than the global average," he said.
"The less developed world, understandably, aims to bring their standard of living to a level similar to that of the highly developed countries; in return they should stabilise their growing populations."
Kohn noted that he is impressed by students on his campus who spent their own collective funds to fully solarise an athletic building.
"When it comes to providing leadership by young people in the area of energy conservation and energy efficiency and global warming -they are fantastic," he said. "It is a major social commitment for our times." (EurekAlert, September 2010)
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