Q&A: Energy for a Rapidly Evolving World

Q&A: Energy for a Rapidly Evolving World
May 03, 2006

Video: http://video.mit.edu/watch/energy-for-a-rapidly-evolving-world-9392/

Henry D. Jacoby 
Professor of Management, MIT Sloan;

Ronald Prinn 
SCD '71, TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences;

John Heywood 
SM '62, PhD '65, Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering;

Karen R. Polenske 
Professor of Regional Political Economy and Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning; Head, International Development and Regional Planning group;

Amy Smith 
'84, SM '95, ENG '95, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering;

Leon R. Glicksman 
'59, PhD '64, Professor of Building Technology & Mechanical Engineering, Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Architecture

"The numbers are overwhelming," Henry Jacoby tells us in his overview of the final forum panel. The U.S. consumes one"quarter of the world's energy and emits one"quarter of the world's carbon dioxide. The combined population of India and China is nine times that of the U.S., so what will happen as they approach our level of energy consumption? Responses to this challenge, which must be on an enormous scale, should be weighed with great care.

As large"scale energy solutions emerge, Ronald Prinn insists that we carefully examine impacts on the environment. Using the tool of integrated global system modelling, it will be more possible to assess both the environmental and economic viability of solutions, individually and in aggregate. One area that must be improved, Prinn says, is climate forecasting, with a particular focus on the ocean's role in global warming. This will be "vital to choosing among energy options and adapting to inevitable future climate change."

Buildings play a surprisingly large role in energy consumption, Leon Glicksman reports. In the U.S., the amount of energy used in buildings is 40% greater than in the transportation sector. "It's the biggest gorilla in the room," says Glicksman. Since the lifetimes of buildings can approach the century mark, it pays to find ways of improving their energy use. Key to bringing down the costs of heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation, says Glicksman, is opening buildings up to fresh air, light, and sun. Conserving energy and finding efficiencies require "integrating design functions into buildings from day one," he concludes.

John Heywood wants to be "realistic AND positive" about energy savings in transportation. As the number of vehicles in the world rises from around 800 million to 2 billion in 2050, the amount of petroleum consumed will go up as well. Heywood has some ideas for reducing gas consumption to offset this dizzying increase in vehicle numbers, including: increased vehicle occupancy and public transportation use; more efficient transportation systems; and increased use of alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles. If we can make small dents in a variety of areas, we might well make an impact on transportation energy use overall. While it may appear "simple"minded, it should give us hope," says Heywood.

In her study of coal production in China, Karen Polenske has discovered that changes in coke oven technology have led to reductions in energy use. The Chinese continue to look for new energy technologies to reduce energy use and pollution, including putting hoods on plants, and closing some and relocating other facilities as part of a plan to create energy efficient zones. They also try to make the plants pleasant for workers with park" like settings, says Polenske. While "we can't do it for them," says Polenske, "we need to work with them."

What kind of energy concerns have the billions of people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day, and survive by using cow dung, wood and charcoal for cooking? Amy Smith says that indoor cooking fires cause one million deaths a year in children and that harvesting firewood has led to massive deforestation in some regions. To address this persistent problem, Smith has invented a clean burning charcoal, made from inexpensive materials readily available in many developing countries, like 55" gallon oil drums, sugar cane residue and cassava root. "This is probably one of the simplest technologies you've heard about," says Smith, "but it can have an immediate and significant impact on the lives of millions."

Q&A session participants
Robert C. Armstrong (Moderator)
Susan Hockfield
Vladimir Bulovic
Jefferson W. Tester
David T. Danielson

Host(s): Office of the President, Energy Research Council

Credit: MIT World -- special events and lectures

License: MIT TechTV