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CEEESA Seminar

Abstract: Energy use is related to quality of life. Currently, our energy supply is primarily derived from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, when burned. While there are uncertainties in the models involved in climate science, continued burning of fossil fuels is likely to have negative consequences. With only 1 billion of the earth’s inhabitance within the quality zone, another 5 billion people will need to be brought up to this standard. This will require a tremendous amount of energy.

From where will this energy supply come? It is not possible to conserve one’s way out of this situation. Energy will still be required to meet daily use. One possible energy mix that might meet the needs of the next 100 years is 20% fossil fuel, 40% renewables, and 40% nuclear. To implement such a mix, solar, wind, and nuclear energy will need to grow dramatically. Unfortunately, this is not a trivial task and it also comes with its own set of potential unintended consequences.

This talk will cover the expectations of the electricity grid. It will cover the potential difficulties involved in increasing the energy supply from nuclear and renewable sources to provide for a low carbon future. We cannot move to a low-carbon electricity grid based on engineering or economics alone. While these play an important role, we must also consider the consequences of rebuilding the grid to other species, farming, and quality of life. These are all subjects that tend to be a little more difficult to address than engineering and economics. We will almost certainly need input from scientists, engineers, ecologists, social scientists, and economists to develop a reasonable plan for accomplishing the transi­tion. No one is going to be happy with every suggestion, and we will have to accept some tough but pragmatic solutions, but if we do it right, maybe we won’t need to rebuild the entire system after another 100 years.

Bio: Jeff Terry is a professor of physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where his main research focus is on energy systems. His group works to develop new ways to deal with radioactive waste; to understand radiation damage mechanisms in materials; and to synthesize novel materials for energy storage and conversion. He also simulates the economic costs of building new energy systems, including small modular nuclear reactors. Terry received his doctorate in chemical physics from Stanford University in 1997 after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1990.