Solar Power from Space in 2100?

Looking well into the future at which emerging technologies might help power the UK and the world was the subject of the Energy 2100 conference in London this week.

Scientists, engineers, researchers and industry gathered to debate the technologies and do some long-term horizon scanning. Initiated by the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology and presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering, its purpose was to look ahead, in the light of best current knowledge, to the energy supply options which could exist in the UK in 2100.

Speaking at the conference, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said:

"This conference will explore options from wind and tidal power to nuclear fission and fusion, and will also look at more speculative ideas such as space based solar power and nanotechnology to imitate the way plants harness and use solar energy. There is an amazing range of technologies that could provide the planet's energy needs a century from now. Of course, a lot of this will be speculation but one thing we can be pretty certain about is that by the end of this century we will be living in a low carbon economy. We have no choice. Our current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable; our carbon emissions are throwing the climate out of balance.

"Human ingenuity - in particular the ingenuity of scientists and engineers whom we will be hearing from today - will be crucial in developing new energy sources. I am fascinated by some of these technologies; there is enormous potential in areas such as hydrogen fuel cells and tidal power, which we will be discussing today. And I look forward to hearing from the energy companies themselves about their long-term research projects.

"The prospect of finding energy sources to replace fossil fuels and supply them to the world is stimulating the market to great activity, as one would expect. But we cannot leave it all to market forces; there is a role for government too, not least because of the question of timing. Government can help frame the market so that it pulls technologies forward from being the stuff of science fiction to real world demonstration and commercial viability, as well as pushing new technologies through support such as that given by the Research Councils.

"Our current Energy Review is looking at the balance between "push" and "pull", and I look forward to presenting my recommendations to the Prime Minister this summer. The Review is focussing on UK energy policy from 2010. But today is about looking beyond the medium term and I relish the opportunity to do a bit of blue sky thinking with some of the country's top scientists and engineers."

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