are governments of the world trying to avert an energy crisis? fusion energy expert says, 'not entirely'

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's recently released International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO2016) projects that world energy consumption will grow by 48% between 2012 and 2040. Most of this growth will come from countries that are not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Administration

By Justin K. Thomas

June 11, 2017

Many nations throughout the world aren’t trying to avert an energy crisis, even though they have the power to do so, said Saskia Mordijck, an assistant professor of fusion science at the College of William & Mary. However, she said that there are nations that are trying to be responsible.

“Some nations are choosing short-term profit over long-term cost,” Mordijck said. “This will eventually lead to a global crisis. Somebody will be paying the price for our choices to push economic progress.”

Currently, China uses most of the world’s energy, followed by the United States. India, Russia, and Japan round out the top five highest energy-consuming countries in the world, according to data published by the 2016 Global Energy Statistical Yearbook.

Mordijck said that a country’s population size and its gross domestic product (GDP) determine, on average, a country’s energy use. However, the choice of how this energy is generated is determined by the level of technological and economic development that country has attained, and what natural resources are available.

“Some countries are ‘inefficient’ and use more energy for the same amount of GDP, than other nations,” Mordijck said. “Typically, the GDP of a nation is used as a measure to indicate whether a country is prosperous and, by extension, whether its people are too. Countries like China and India, with populations of over 1 billion citizens respectively, will require more energy to improve the quality of life for their population than the United States and other western countries. So, population and quality of living are two of the most important factors that will determine the energy consumption rate of a country.”

An article published by the Council on Foreign Relations explains that the push for China to become more industrialized has brought about significant environmental and health concerns ranging from poor air quality to water contamination and scarcity in the major cities of the nation.

MIT Technology Review says that the government of India wants to grow its economy and make universal access to electricity a national mandate. India currently is trying to bring 300 million of their 1.25 billion citizens power. However, in doing so, India is now the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, and has negatively impacted its own ecological systems.

However, in doing so, India is now the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, and has negatively impacted its own ecological systems.

“Typically, the Scandinavian countries rank high on being ‘green,’” Mordijck said. “On average, European countries perform best in comparisons. These countries aside from having nuclear power plants invest heavily in renewable energy sources and energy conservation. They do this by enacting stringent laws restricting pollution as well as creating incentives to replace older and inefficient technology.”

Mordijck said that better government control over energy consumption will alleviate some of the problems, but it will take time and may come at an inconvenient price.

“This is where economics come into play,” she said. “In Europe, energy is much more expensive than in the U.S. If you look at the economic crisis of 2008, there was clearly a reduction in energy use throughout the Western world. Similarly, when oil prices increase, people drive less and buy cars that have better fuel efficiency. The government can provide incentives for its citizens and companies to make better choices, through tax breaks and subsidies. On the other hand, the government can also levy higher taxes on energy resources or technologies that cause more pollution.”

Mordijck acknowledges that her solutions involving the creation of taxes and nuclear power facilities may not sit well with many people, but, she said that it is a relatively small price to pay to keep future generations of humans in good health.

“None of these are attractive choices,” Mordijck said. “But eventually we [or our children or grandchildren] will have to pay for polluting our environment. Changes in climate will result in changes in sea water levels; it will affect our food chain by killing off our crops. It will ultimately lead to spreading diseases to other regions."

As a fusion energy scientist, Mordijck knows that energy demand on earth will continue to increase over time. However, her research into effectively achieving nuclear fusion and using it as a more viable option for sustaining power on the planet is not just for today but also for the future.

“While nuclear fusion is still something that sounds like an idea that’s out of a show where a giant spaceship travels the galaxy at the speed of light,” she said, “it has an enormous amount of potential. I am looking further ahead than meeting our energy demand now; which, if successful, will benefit future generations.”