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Professor Michael Kelly: Future energy needs and engineering reality

Prof Michael Kelly

30 June 2017

Renewables don't even come close to a solution to the global energy crisis we're facing according to Professor Michael Kelly, Prince Phillip Professor of Technology at Cambridge University. In his public evening lecture delivered at SCI this week, Professor Kelly, who is a Fellow of the Royal Society and was Chief Scientific Officer to the Department for Communities and Local Government, revealed figures which show that by 2065, the world is going to need four times as much energy as it does now.

He said it was a mistake to assume that alternatives to fossil fuels were in any way going to meet this colossal demand, giving the example of Germany where a proliferation of wind farms contributes only three per cent of the total energy available to the national network.  He also showed that solar panels typically take twenty five years to pay for themselves.

Professor Kelly accused governments worldwide of falling into the QTIIPS trap (QTIIPS = Qualitively Trivial Impact and Intense Political Symbolism) principle when it came to investment in what he described as "inefficient" renewables. He urged the deployment of energy technologies only when they are mature and shown to be economic. He said that subsidising alternative energies meant that the cost was passed on and that the poor everywhere often picked up the bill.

He welcomed the movement towards "megacities" - a global trend towards increased urbanisation that can reduce personal energy consumption because of efficiencies such as public transport and food self sufficiency. It's estimated that half the world's population will live in a city by 2050.

He also said that one of the most effective ways to reduce energy consumption would be to change personal behaviour and attitudes. "We should start to sneer at people who drive Lamborghinis in the same way that we show our disapproval of smoking and drink driving".
Adapting to our energy needs like the Dutch have adapted to their landscape is something that people will have to do in the future. He added that he thought there would be a backlash against scientists if they insist on promoting renewables when it becomes clear that these cannot be the solution.

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