Our Changing World: Reshaping our world with New Energy Systems

Our Changing World lecture by Andy Kerr on 27th October 2015; summary by Marlena Segar, 1st year student in Social and Economic History with Environmental Studies

Energy underpins our modern world and its hypermobility has allowed us to develop dramatically. However, Andy Kerr highlighted that due to our unsustainable energy demand and sources, the energy world is in turmoil. Whilst it was coal that powered the industrial revolution allowing us in the North to gain the title of being ‘developed’, our continued use of fossil fuels; in particular oil, needs to change. Meanwhile another industrial revolution is taking place across Asia where a huge spike of coal use in the 1990s pulled 200-300M people out of poverty. Whilst it appears that coal demand is beginning to level off, nations like China still depend on coal for at least two thirds of their energy supply.

Kerr stressed the importance of renewable energies in replacing our current energy sources. With the current unexpected huge growth in renewables, he provided a very optimistic outlook that they will become our main source of power within the next few decades. However, renewables still provide intermittent power and the technology is not yet advanced enough for us to become completely dependent on them. Kerr argued that this is because there cannot be just one single ‘silver bullet’ solution and whilst technological innovation is crucial there is currently a lack of practical application; i.e. the idea that people matter and what works in theory doesn’t always work in practice. For a greener future, sustainable energy systems need to be embedded in our infrastructure but new approaches have to be trialled in ‘living labs’ to ensure they work. When asked what nation is the closest to having achieved sustainability, Kerr responded that the greatest successes are on a sub-national scale because to solve this energy crisis there has to be adaption at a local level. There is no one glove that fits all answer.