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Nuclear fusion may change our world but renewable energy sources will save it: experts

Harnessing nuclear fusion could take more than 40 years, while some solutions already exist

Rossland News, Jan. 8, 2023 By Rachel Morgan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer

We are living through unprecedented times……………. we are also.. living through unprecedented technological times…….

But experts are already warning that `nuclear fusion’ technology, suddenly being heralded by many as the panacea, the great answer to our planetary climate problem, should not distract from the critical role renewable energy sources are already playing in our quest to cleanse Earth.

While some forms of renewable energy have been used as far back as 2,000 years ago when the Greeks built water mills to turn grains into flour, modern renewable energy technologies first began to take shape over the 19th and 20th centuries. It wasn’t until the turn of the 21st century that technologies like wind turbines and solar panels reached the point of viability as wide scale sources of energy. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable sources of energy are now, collectively, on track to surpass coal as the number one generator of electricity by 2025.

A month ago, everything changed. Suddenly, the entire conversation around alternative energy has been shifted, forever……………..

When news broke [of a “breakthrough ” in nuclear fusion] there was a sigh of relief across the globe. Immediately, articles began circulating about salvation for the planet as fusion would, inevitably, power a clean energy grid.

But as the novelty of the remarkable breakthrough begins to wear off, researchers and scientists are already wary of the potential negative consequences.

“I was not overly optimistic,” Jean-Thomas Bernard, a visiting professor in the Department of Economics and the Institute of the Environment at the University of Ottawa, says. His expertise deals with the economics of energy use and he addressed the potential of nuclear fusion. “It is a good idea to proceed with developing, doing research on that line. But we are very far from seeing commercial plants being built.”

His concern, like many others in the growing fields dedicated to finding solutions for the most pressing environmental issues, is the danger of being distracted by a silver bullet, especially one that might arrive too late.

It could take more than 40 years before nuclear fusion can be harnessed and scaled to create the amount of electricity needed to change the game. Meanwhile, alternatives that are already doing this, could be suddenly overlooked, in favour of a technology that won’t be ready before catastrophic climate change alters Earth, forever.

Currently, there is research and testing into two different methods to create the type of nuclear fusion the California experiment produced. Both rely on heavy forms of hydrogen which are compressed until they fuse together emitting energy that can create steam to turn a turbine. The process used at the NIF lab relied on laser beams directed at the elements, which needed about 99 percent more energy to actually operate them than what was ultimately produced (the ignition event only measures the energy gain from the laser output, not the electricity required to run the laser machines).

Another process being experimented with across the globe, including in British Columbia, uses magnetic force to create the pressure and heat needed for the elements to fuse. It is unclear which process will result in the biggest gains, using the least amount of initial energy input. It’s also unclear which of the two methods might be realistically scalable, to use for global electricity production. Scientists have also said it is hard to predict how long it will take to advance current technology around each method to the point when nuclear fusion can be widely generated to create energy for everyday human use.

Experts agree it could still be decades before we see fusion contributing to our electricity grid…………

One fear is the nuclear fusion breakthrough will siphon off investments and detract attention from current renewable alternatives, just as those technologies are becoming more and more viable.

Late last year the International Energy Agency released a report with an accompanying article, headlined: “Renewable power’s growth is being turbocharged as countries seek to strengthen energy security”.

…….. Global renewable power capacity is now expected to grow by 2,400 gigawatts (GW) over the 2022-2027 period, an amount equal to the entire power capacity of China today, according to Renewables 2022, the latest edition of the IEA’s annual report on the sector.”


January 8, 2023 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, renewable, technology

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