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  • Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy.
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Gas turbines and nuclear power are some of the most complex machines ever built. The clean energy transition is full of technical challenges.

Energy Transitions by Vaclav Smil - Praeger - ABC-CLIO

It also requires transmission lines, energy storage and intelligent operation, to counteract the disadvantages of geographically dispersed, low capacity factor and intermittent renewables. This is the most inconvenient of the four truths.


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Each transition increases the amount and quality of energy we use. Older fuels take a long time to go away. We are still building coal-fired generation today and are recklessly likely to for a long time.

Energy Transitions : History, Requirements, Prospects [Hardcover]

Figure 1 shows the history of US primary fuel consumption. US coal consumption has risen all the way through to the start of the 21st century. Each new fuel has not displaced coal, instead they add to an existing and increasing coal consumption. Figure 1 - U. Renewables already make up a significant part of generation we are building to supply our increased energy demand. Improvements in technology, building of supply chains and know-how mean that mature technologies are often efficient, cheap to build and cheap to maintain.

The Four Inconvenient Truths of Energy Transitions

Having a track record of economic performance also makes older technologies more attractive to investors. Diesel generators are reasonably efficient, quick and cheap to build with a well-understood maintenance schedule. They continue to be built on the kW to multi MW scales. The dependence on doing the right things in the right order means progress is not guaranteed. Variance in causes in conditions combined with path dependency creates different energy systems all around the world.

Coal dominated China, nuclear powered France and hydro blessed New Zealand show that energy systems are not homogeneous.

Energy transitions : global and national perspectives

We cannot only rely on the cost of technology reducing. The path this energy transition takes depends on more than cheap solar panels and wind turbines. What this means for the clean energy transition - there is no guarantee things will move in the correct way.


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The third chapter deals with energy transitions from a national perspective discussing changes in energy supply and conversion in Britain, France, the Netherlands, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The fourth and last chapter deals with coming transitions, providing an overview of the availability of non-fossil energy sources, and their constraints in conversion due to low power density and intermittency. To replace the total of Subsequently the speed at which infrastructure can be altered, the speed with which the cost of alternative energies can be reduced, and expectations for changes in electric engines in cars are discussed.

Vaclav Smil concludes his book with advice that a shift away from fossil fuels is a generations-long process. He believes that a precondition for a successful transition from fossil fuels is that all affluent nations take steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption, through conservation and increased energy efficiently.

In this way, the amount of replacement fuel can be reduced.

Energy transitions and development: learning from history

Or hoping for an early success of highly unconventional renewable conversions jet stream winds, ocean thermal differences, deep geothermal. Affluent countries should thus replace their traditional pursuit of higher energy output and increased conversion efficiency with a new approach that would combine aggressively improved efficiency of energy conversion with decreasing rates of per capita energy use. This combination would be the best enabler of the unfolding energy transition.