Conference Directs New Energy Ideas at Global Problems

Guelph Mercury | 10 June 2011


By Luisa D’Amato

WATERLOO – Scientists are figuring out how to squeeze more energy from nuclear waste.

They’re also working on ways to drill deep into the Earth to tap geothermal energy, and are creating cheap, portable pieces of plastic cloth embedded with solar panels to provide energy on the run.

These were just three ideas that came from the final session of the Equinox Summit Thursday, a unique conference at the Perimeter Institute that brought together international experts, entrepreneurs and leaders.

The challenge was how to use technology to meet the growing global demand for energy while cutting back on the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. These fuels are widely considered to be heating the planet.

“Climate change is a diabolical problem. It’s not going to be changed easily and it’s not going to be changed quickly,” said Wilson da Silva, editor of the Australian science magazine Cosmos and a host of the final session.

The conference, a collaboration between the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, will be back in two years with another gathering of international experts to solve a global problem.

One of its key features is the “blueprint” of concrete solutions that it produced, which was unveiled on Thursday.

Conference participants, who came from as far as Africa and China, heard that:

  • Nuclear waste still has plenty of energy left that can be used. The technology for this is still being developed, but “nuclear energy can be clean, it can be safe, and it can be sustainable,” said conference participant Jakob Nygard, an energy policy expert from Denmark.

  • Large cities should have transportation systems that let people use electric cars and bikes without having to own them, in the same way that the Netflix service allows you to see movies and TV shows without owning them. This will result in cleaner air and less pollution.

  • More use can be made of renewable resources like solar power. If only 0.3 per cent of the Sahara Desert were used as a solar plant, it could power all of Europe, the conference was told.

  • By drilling three to five kilometres into the Earth, enormous resources of geothermal power can be tapped that are clean and can’t be exhausted. Between 10 and 20 demonstration projects are needed in the next few years to show the risks and possibilities.

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