Energy & Climate Change

Not an optimist but a realist

I try to eradicate ignorance, says Emeritus professor Esko Valtaoja. Valtaoja is annoyed by the fact that the discussion on the production of energy is not based on facts but ideologies.

According to Esko Valtaoja’s vision, the future could look like this: in 2100, the people on the earth are much wealthier than now, as the GNP has increased fivefold. Thanks to technology, people do not need to work as much – or at least not do any work that was considered “real work” in the past.

Much more energy is needed due to the increased wealth. Fossil fuels have been abandoned. Fusion power plants and solar panels in space provide an unlimited amount of emission-free electricity.

– Nuclear power and solar energy are the only realistic forms of energy in the long term, Valtaoja says.

Valtaoja, a retired professor of space astronomy from the University of Turku, writes books and lectures about the development of the Earth and the future.

Political will is the key

According to Valtaoja, we already have in our hands the seeds of a future where energy comes from solar panels in space and fusion power. Solar panel technology is constantly developing and the panels are more affordable and efficient than before.

The introduction of new forms of energy is mostly about ideologies: we will find the means as soon as we decide what we deem important. Valtaoja uses climate change as an example.

– We have been aware of climate change for decades, but we are just now starting to do something about it. Similarly, once we find the social and political will, we will be able to admit that fusion power is actually our future goal, Valtaoja says.

Saving energy is not enough

Valtaoja has been critical of people who offer the saving of energy and the abandoning of economic growth as the solutions for environmental problems and climate change.

– There is no need to waste energy. If we can get everything done with 20 per cent less energy, that’s fine, but it is no solution.

Also in this respect, Valtaoja encourages people to look farther into the future, as the demand for energy in the world will increase. Saving energy is a temporary means when trying to abandon fossil fuels, but on its own it is not enough. Wind power can also be used as an aid, if it is profitable. The amount of available hydropower is also limited. Solar power and nuclear power are unlimited sources of energy.

– It is easy to calculate that one larger nuclear power plant would provide enough electricity for the whole of Finland to start using electric cars. Using electric cars with electricity produced from coal would be pointless.

Valtaoja is annoyed by the fact that the discussion on the production of energy is not based on facts but ideologies. The challenges and risks inherent to the different forms of energy are always the same – the facts do not change.

According to Valtaoja, people who know the least about nuclear waste talk the most about it. Nuclear waste or uranium will be dangerous a thousand years from now mainly because uranium is a heavy metal.

Valtaoja says that nuclear power is the cleanest form of energy when taking into account the entire lifecycle. He believes that Germany took a turn in the wrong direction by deciding to abandon nuclear power. This decision will increase particle emissions. Meanwhile, China is strongly developing its nuclear power grid.

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