Checking out the latest technology in renewable power at the World Future Energy Summit
The World Future Energy Summit is a good place to get a feel for how we might generate power in a post-oil world. Held in Abu Dhabi, it is a three-day conference that starts by setting out the challenges then follows with some solutions.
It's big-picture stuff concerned with the issues at national and international level: if you want to procure a power station then you have come to the right place.
The first day's conference had some big hitters, including our own Lord Stern, author of the Stern review that set out the costs of tackling climate change. He warned of the dangers of doing nothing, saying that the economic crisis may be big but the climate crisis is bigger, and called for a fiscal boost to green policies.
Other speakers, including Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, described a bleak future if we do nothing to tackle the problem.
The second day focused on solutions. There were several different streams, concentrating on the usual suspects including photovoltaics (PV), wind and biofuels.
Lord Stern warned that the economic crisis may be big but the climate crisis is bigger, and called for a fiscal boost to green policies
At the PV session we learned how far advanced Masdar's PV arm was. This is the organisation that sponsored this event and is actually coming up with solutions to climate change including zero-carbon cities, investing in wind farms in the North Sea and now building PV factories.
It has a factory under construction in Germany and will start producing solar panels for large-scale applications at the end of this year.
These streams were also a sales pitch for various companies. The solar thermal stream was particularly unabashed, and was a good demonstration of what happens when a government creates a market for a new, renewable technology.
The Spanish have thrown their weight behind concentrated solar power (CSP), the technology that uses mirror to focus the sun's energy so it can generate steam that is used to spin conventional generators.
This technology will help Spain hit the EU target of generating 20% of its power from renewable energy by 2020. Several Spanish companies, all building plants in their home country, extolled the virtues of their specific technology and emphasised how ideal the Middle East was for CSP.
Now Obama has taken over from arch anti-environmentalist George Bush, this probably represents the greatest hope for all the stuff at this show
The last speaker spun a particularly fine sales line: his technology was already cheaper to build than natural gas and would be cheaper than coal by 2012. I came out thinking that if I had a few million dollars and some spare square miles of desert I would put my money on the table.
Elsewhere I heard a man say that the solution was energy efficiency: his organisation handed out low-energy lightbulbs to the poor. At this event he was a lone voice in the wilderness.
Jeff Chapman, the man who heads the carbon capture storage association, neatly summed up the dilemma his members face: “Why would you invest in carbon capture and storage without a financial incentive in place?” Precisely. In another room you had the opportunity to learn from an earnest Iranian man the finer points of how a solid oxide fuel cell worked. Three minutes was enough for me.
Out in the exhibition hall you could choose any technology you liked to generate green power. Solar panels from China, anybody? On the transport front there was a huge hybrid car from GM – too little, to late for the American car industry.
The antithesis of this was on the Masdar stand: they plan on using automated electric cars to transport people around the city. Think driverless DLR train meets London taxi. The prototype, shown for the first time here, was very spacious and luxurious – complete with leather seats and walnut trim.
Today is the last day, and the outro is being delivered by Tony Blair. Now Obama has taken over from arch anti-environmentalist and old Blair crony George Bush this seems particularly fitting, and probably represents the greatest hope for all the stuff at this show.