CARACAS, Monday May 16, 2011 | Update
102nd Anniversary
The sun in the middle of the energy order

Nelson Hernández
For over a century, oil has been the main source of energy on planet Earth, but its dramatic effects on the environment force us to think about alternative sources to keep the world going. Electricity generated from a satellite space station is gaining ground and will play a leading role in the next 30 years

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Monday May 16, 2011  06:45 PM

In less than 30 years the world will be very different than the world we know today. The consensus is that the ecological damage that hydrocarbons and CO2 emissions are causing the planet make searching for a new energy patterns a matter of urgency. "We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path," said Albert Arnold (Al) Gore, former Vice President of the United States in his speech of acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

That year, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the peace price to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Change (IPCC) for their respective efforts to spread the effects of climate change and possible measures that should be implemented.

"We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency - a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here," Al Gore added.

Nelson Hernández, an engineer and professor at the Economics and Energy Policies Graduate Studies, Metropolitan University (Unimet), has studied very closely the world energy outlook and affirms that it will be a great challenge in the upcoming decades. "If we do not solve the energy problem, we could be bound to a world like the 19th Century."

How will the new energy order that mankind requires be?
The problem humankind faces is the elimination of CO2 emissions. The world energy system has to be decarbonized. X energy (the energy of the future) has to be inexhaustible, environmentally clean, continuously available, of direct use, low cost and viable in the upcoming thirty years.

There is talk about X energy because the outlook is not yet defined.
X energy is going to be solar, space or satellite energy; it is the Space Solar Power (SSP). The same way we receive today TV signals via satellite, in the future we will receive electricity through a wireless signal; the conversion of solar light into electricity.

They are solar cells set up in the space. Since there are no storms in space, no clouds, nothing, it will work 365 days a year. Space power is continuous and non-contaminant. A day of sunshine received in the earth is equal to the entire energy used up by mankind in one year.

What will happen to biofuels?
This type of energy is finite energy. Biofuels are transition fuels, less contaminant but still burning and generating CO2, even if we already have third generation biofuels.

What will the implementation of such Space Solar Power as the main source of energy depend on?
Economics. It is like if we were piecing together a puzzle with such alternative energies, and the most advanced one is Space Solar Power. Tests have been performed in Switzerland where they receive wireless energy from an experimental satellite. This is technically proven, what it is left to see is its mass implementation.

Can this be implemented throughout the planet taking into account technological inequalities between the most developed and the less developed countries?
It is happening. The problem is that since we are immersed in the process, we are not aware of it. We are dealing with a process. Steam machines went through a process to be displaced by internal combustion engines and machineries. Insofar as electric engines begin to spread, the others will have to adapt themselves for a very simple reason: the time will come when no spares for an internal combustion engine will be found.

What will happen to oil?
Oil lightened the world in the 19th Century; oil moved the world in the 20th Century, and oil will feed the world in the 21st Century. Food can be produced from hydrocarbons; protein can be produced from oil; this is proven technology. The world is yearning for food; there is a food crisis throughout the world. If we already count on the energy change, what will we do with that oil? We are going to turn it into food; we are going to use energy to transform it.

Faced with this outlook, what should an oil-producing country like Venezuela do?
This changed in 30 years. If we have left another 30 years, the first thing to do is diversify the economy and test how to turn oil into protein. No state-run company in any of the (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) OPEC countries is conducting any type of research in this field. And they have to use the years left to diversify their economies. Twenty years from now an economy will not be able to be based on oil because that element is already in the intensive care unit.

The role of a politician who loves his country is to tell people that there is little time left to use oil as leverage for the country's development.

Translated by Mercedes Liscano

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