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Viewpoints: Powering the planet

According to the International Energy Agency the world will need almost 60% more energy in 2030 than in 2002.

But is it possible to meet this growing demand without causing catastrophic damage to the environment?

BBC News asked a range of experts how our ballooning thirst for energy can be catered for.

Reserves won't run out - but they need investment
Dr Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency

Although the world's energy resources are more than adequate to meet demand until 2030 and beyond, meeting it will depend on timely and targeted investment.

Cumulative investment of some $16 trillion from 2003-2030 will be needed to meet the soaring demand.

Developing countries, where production and demand are set to increase most, will require about half of global investment.

But they will face the biggest challenge in raising finance, because their economies are smaller in relation to their needs and the investment risks are bigger.

More vigorous government action could steer the world onto a markedly different energy path.

Coupled with environmental and energy-security policies, faster deployment of energy-efficient technologies could considerably reduce energy demand.

However, a truly sustainable energy system will require technological breakthroughs to drastically alter how we produce and use energy.

Efficiency and renewable technologies can deliver
Steve Sawyer, climate policy adviser, Greenpeace

I don't want to paint too rosy a picture, but I don't think it's as hopeless as many suggest.

There is the possibility of energy efficiency improvements well in excess of 50% in most industrial countries and all rapidly industrialising economies.

In terms of renewable energy, technically, there is potential for renewables to meet global consumption many, many times over - the trick is to do it economically.

The European Renewable Energy Council, which we work with, says that there is potential for nearly 48% of global energy demand by 2040 to be met by economically feasible renewables.

We are generally on track for this in the wind, solar panels, geothermal and small-scale hydropower sectors - although we're a bit behind in biomass and solar thermal electricity, and progress varies between different countries and regions.

I'm not just optimistic that we can reach it, I think we will have to reach it. Current oil price rises are only the beginning. Governments are going to move to renewables more and more out of their own economic self-interest, although the Kyoto Protocol has been and will continue to be a key driver.

Will our lifestyles have to change? If quality of life is measured by the size of the engine of the quasi-military assault vehicle the housewife drives to the shopping mall, then yes, but if we're talking about basic comforts, transport and general services, then no.

New nuclear and coal technologies will save the day
Professor Ian Fells, New and Renewable Energy Centre

Coal could be an important source of hydrocarbon fuel post 2050 provided we can sequester the carbon dioxide produced by burning it in geological strata and stop it from entering the atmosphere. Otherwise, the effect on global warming will be disastrous.

Nuclear power will be an increasingly important element in our energy mix. However, we will have to move to fast-reactor - also known as fast-breeder reactor - technology. This is a design of nuclear reactor which produces more fissile material than it consumes, so is able to generate much more energy from the same amount of uranium.

This will give us a secure electricity supply, world wide, for 500 years. Fast reactors have been operating in Russia for 20 years.

It is unlikely that renewable energy can meet more than 20% of our needs.

Hydrogen - significant, but not the whole answer
Dave McGrath, Managing Director, siGEN Ltd

Hydrogen will make a significant contribution to cleaner energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it's not the whole answer.

For transport, hydrogen has to become the principal fuel source, simply because the amount of CO2 we're putting out direct from burning fossil hydrocarbons in vehicles is way out of proportion. Hydrogen is the only non-fossil fuel available so far that can be carried on a vehicle.

Hydrogen isn't a principal energy source - it's only a storage or conversion mechanism, so it is only as renewable as the source used to produce the hydrogen.

It can be produced from natural gas, which is a fossil hydrocarbon. The Americans are doing this because it makes the fossil hydrocarbons go a lot further.

It can also be made using electricity - ideally generated using renewable energy - to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. And it can be made from biogas, coming from biomass such as sewage or abattoir waste.

How useful hydrogen can be very much comes down to local conditions. In countries or communities with plenty of renewable energy to make hydrogen from, like the UK, the technology will have greater impact.

Developing countries should lead on renewables
Ashok Khosla, founder of Indian NGO Development Alternatives

The world is not harnessing enough alternative energy sources.

At the moment, no more than 2% or 3% of most countries' energy comes from renewable sources. But it has to be done.

China, for example, has a lot of sun, it has a lot of hydro-energy, a great deal of biomass potential - these are all sources of renewable energy.

Unfortunately, these sources of energy haven't been developed in the West, so there are no good innovations available that will solve the problems.

Therefore, much of that innovation will have to be done in China and in India and in other developing countries.

I believe the future lies in choosing those kinds of technologies. But they will not happen on their own. They will have to be actively pursued.

There is a disconnect here between those who bear the historical responsibility for where the environment is today and those who are actually going to end up paying the cost.

The omelette has been eaten and the people whose eggs got broken are somewhere else.

Small changes add up to big savings
Philip Sellwood, Energy Saving Trust

We are facing a global energy crisis. With world oil prices breaking the US$50 (£38) a barrel mark in September, we are being forced to re-think the way we have traditionally used our natural resources to fuel our homes and businesses.

Every time we leave a light on or forget to switch our TV or video off standby, carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere from power stations around the world, causing untold damage to the environment.

While renewable energy sources such as solar photovoltaics, hydro and wind power are the long-term solution to our energy crisis, energy efficiency is instrumental to every household in its bid to reduce energy consumption, save money and help the environment.

On average, UK households waste £96m ($165m) on energy every week. This is enough to give every man, woman and child £84 a year. This money could be saved if only they took simple measures such as installing an energy efficient light bulb or turning down their thermostats by one degree Celsius.

Editorial Notes: Dancing around Peak Oil. -BA

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