Transitions to Sustainable Energy and Material Systems-Outline of Principles for Scenarios

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Abstract

There is more or less consensus around the problems related to the existing energy systems in the world. Most focus has been on the negative environmental effects of using fossil fuels. However, looking at the development there seems to be important barriers for change. Many papers and reports conclude that the renewable energy sources have the potential to run the world and the technology needed to do so is available. A relevant and important question in this paper is then why is this potential only marginally utilized? Often the high prices of renewables are said to be one barrier and that technology change will gradually increase the advantages of renewable energy. However considerations based solely on thermodynamics and energy systems analysis, no matter how simple they are, lead to a very serious conclusion, namely that the utilization of renewable energy does not support continuous growth as we know it. In order to develop pathways for change, scenarios can be used to support decision making involving all key actors in society. In this paper we outline the driving forces why we ended up in the energy systems we have today. The competition between fossil fuels and renewable energy must be analyzed at a more fundamental thermodynamic level. This analysis has also to include the links between energy and material transformation. Understanding this we can outline possible roadmaps for transitions to more sustainable energy and material systems starting from primary energy sources. The strong dependence on fossil fuels now will require long transitions periods for change. However it is important to start the transitions taking small steps forward. The problem related to fossil fuels and climate change will not be solved in due time. The only realistic options here is Carbon Capture and storage together with climate change adaption. One difficulty in making scenarios is to handle changes in technology and people's behavior. By developing evolutionary forecasting scenarios (EFS) different roadmaps can be evaluated, including continuous and discontinuous technology change. The key parameter that will determine the inevitable transitions in energy use and the future of our civilization is the emergy yield ratio we can obtain from the renewable energy sources. For material transformation conservation of low entropy states will be of high importance.

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Wang, Z., Wang, Q., Wennersten, R., & Sun, Q. (2015). Transitions to Sustainable Energy and Material Systems-Outline of Principles for Scenarios. In Energy Procedia (Vol. 75, pp. 2683–2693). Elsevier Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egypro.2015.07.671

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