Something I have blogged about before but seems all the more pressing since taking part in the 2050 Pathway debate, and playing with Prof David Mackay's 2050 calculator. Far from having to batten everything down to prepare for a world of extremely expensive low-carbon energy and possibly limited supplies, what if we end up with a glut of the stuff?
Press the nuclear option Button 4 on the calculator and it's immediately apparent that we are producing far more energy than we need without insulating a single house or fitting a single heat pump anywhere. OK, it's electrical energy and there are dozens of applications (mostly transport) which would struggle to cope with electricity as a fuel right now, but if we could gradually shift most of this across to electricity by 2050, we'd be home and dry. Well, not quite. I can't somehow see electric planes taking off, but just about everything else can be run on either electricity or fuel cells. Which require bucket loads of hydrogen, which is energy intensive to split from various compounds, but in a world of energy gluts, we have no problem using excess electricity to manufacture hydrogen.
But nuclear power? It's not sexy, is it? It's very expensive to build nuclear plants (but is it any more expensive than any of the other options?). And there are problems with nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste. And with uranium supplies. I know all that. But are these problems insurmountable? How about using thorium as a fuel instead? There's lot's of it and it's difficult to use it for nuclear weapons.
What's clear to me now is that it's going to be extremely difficult to reduce carbon emissions without using nuclear, even if it's only a partial solution. It involves getting lots of newish technologies to interact with one another and also involves managing intermittent supplies. Technically, it's all possible but it's not without huge risks too.
The problem of signing up to the nuclear Button 4 option is (for a housing blog) that it makes an awful lot of the demand-reduction stuff (which is my meat and drink) redundant. No more worrying about insulation and airtightness, nor about heat pumps or biomass or district heating. We could just plug electric boilers in everywhere and be done with.
It all seems extremely inelegant. But maybe it is the future? In a world where we are all mentally preparing to live the Good Life, the Jetsons will triumph after all.