More than 200 energy experts from 15 countries have gathered in Washington to discuss energy policies, in particular, the conflict between the need to safeguard the environment and our need for energy to power our modern economies. Discussions ranged over renewables, nuclear waste, and security.
Development of renewable energy sources is regrettably slow and there is no realistic prospect of energy from renewable sources replacing energy from fossil fuels in the near future.
Said Mohamed Bin Dha’en Al Hamli, the Energy Minister United Arab Emirates: “I think now fossil fuels are dominating the world; it’s going to be maybe for the next forty years.”
African countries like Angola have increased oil production to around 1,800,000 barrels, but according to the country’s Petroleum Minister the country is also investing in the development of clean energies.
Angola’s Petroleum Minister Jose Maria Botelho De Vasconcelos said: “In Angola, besides the importance of oil, we keep working in order to diversify our economy. I’m referring to the increase of the production of hydro-electric energy, I am referring as well to bio-fuel projects and other energy sources like the sun and the wind.”
The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was also discussed in depth at the summit. It was the largest marine oil spill in the history of the oil industry: more than four million barrels of crude oil leaked into the sea. But experts maintain that deep water drilling is indispensable to global economies and that the priority is damage limitation rather than accident prevention in the first place.
James Noe, the Senior Vice President of Hercules Offshore said: “One of the big lessons learnt is that we need specialised, specially built, especially dedicated equipment and containment devices that are sitting on the beach should a sub-sea oil blow-out occur. It is not necessarily a technological development, as it is equipment development and having that equipment ready to go should there be a need.”
Another topic under discussion was nuclear energy in France. 77% of the country’s needs are met by energy from nuclear reactors. In 20 years, 58 new reactors have been built, and as a result energy in France is 40% cheaper than in Germany. But there are problems – like security and nuclear waste management.
Catherine Cesarsky, the French High Commissioner For Atomic Energy told euronews: “Today, we put liquid in the reactors, to slow the neutrons down, so that certain reactions can work better, but the result is that we burn only 0.7% of the uranium. If we could use fast neutrons, we could multiply by 50 or by 100 the amount of energy that we could produce from one bar of uranium. There will always be some part of the waste which will not be reusable, but that will be really really small volumes, in the framework of generation IV.”
The American Clean Skies Foundation is a non-profit organisation aimed at fostering America’s energy independence and a cleaner, low-carbon environment through increased use of natural gas, renewables and efficiency.
Claudio Rocco of euronews asked: “After this Washington summit, an increased use of renewable energies seems really far away. What do you think about that?”
Jerry Hinkle, the Vice President of American Clean Sky Foundation answered: “Yes, in a general sense I have to agree with you. We need to work. A lot of the engineering problems are solved, but making these things commercial is the real challenge.”
The European Union’s target for renewable energy is 20% by 2020 and this remains achievable. But the Washington Summit concluded that, for many other countries that remains an impossible dream.