Davos: Solar power key to future

2011-01-27 22:27

Davos - With repercussions of the global financial crisis straining government budgets and energy costs rising in many countries, the search has intensified for green energy that is widely available and widely accessible at low cost.

Ernest Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative and a member of President Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, said that solar power "is ultimately the real game changer".

At the moment it's too expensive for large-scale projects, but he said MIT is doing research in many areas, including trying to utilize advances in material science and biology.

"Eventually, we want the sun not only to make electricity but to make fuels," Moniz told a breakfast on Thursday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum highlighting MIT's research.

"This is not science fiction... The sun can take care of our mobility needs."

He said "the big Achilles heel" of solar electricity is that the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day, so ways have to be found to store it to avoid disruptions.

He said MIT is doing research on a "Liquid Metal Battery" to store electricity which is showing progress.

De-carbonise electricity

Moniz said "a game changer" would also be finding an economical way to capture carbon dioxide.

He stressed the necessity of de-carbonising electricity, and predicted "this is not far away".

Moniz also stressed that reducing demand for carbon-fuelled electricity is critical in the coming years.

"I would say there is no credible alternative," he said. "We just have to do it."

Kristala Jones Prather, an assistant professor in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering, said she is also "optimistic on battery technology".

Among the areas she's researching is the possibility of engineering organisms to help make biofuels.

Amy Glasmeier, head of MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering, described research on how to make residential and commercial buildings, cities and regions more energy efficient.

Reformulate materials

For example, she said, researchers are taking existing materials like cement and trying to reformulate them to be energy efficient, they're examining how buildings interact to see what structure is more energy efficient, and they're looking at regional co-operation and behavioural changes.

Also at Davos, Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of General Electric, presented a survey of 1 000 business executives in 12 countries, which found a widespread hunger for more collaborative innovation, bringing in original thinkers, encouraging collaboration between corporations and governments and small business, and developing products tailored to the needs of local markets.

Also, she told The Associated Press there was a sense of idealism - that the most important innovations not only make profit but address a human need: "Innovation has to have some kind of mission - but it has to make money."

Among GE products that fit that mould, she cited "hybrid rail technology; the cleanest jet engines on earth; an ultrasound that fits in your pocket; a $500 heart monitor."

Read more on:    switzerland  |  climate change

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