Sustainable Energy and the quest for sustainability
Gert Jan Kramer
Shell Global Solutions and Leiden University
In this lecture I will share my view on the unfolding energy transition and put it in the context of earlier transitions. If previous energy transitions were driven by greater utility of the new energy sources and energy carriers – coal in the 19th C and oil and gas in the 20th C – the present transition is not solely driven by the opportunities of renewable energy, but at least as much by the need to reduce the CO2 emissions resulting from the present energy system. Thus, the present transition, unlike previous transitions, is a complex mixture of the development of a new energy system and the simultaneous fixing of the problems of the existing system.
When reviewing the implications hereof in the light of the techno-economic possibilities in combination with the urgency of the climate problem, one can see two lines of thought. The techno-optimist line of thought emphasises the opportunities of the new in surpassing the utility of the existing system; a limits-to-growth line of thought stresses the imperative of change in our pattern of energy use. I will use this framework to elucidate the challenges in the concurrent development of renewable, nuclear and clean fossil energy pathways, drawing on analysis of technologic progress rates and energy scenarios.