Editor's Summary

14 August 2008

Electricity without carbon: capture the sun and it can be done


Electricity generation is responsible for a sizeable proportion of global carbon dioxide emissions. We have the technologies to generate electricity without net carbon emissions from fuel, an obvious response to the predictions of global warming, but one that has so far had little take-up on a global scale. If carbon-free electricity is to become a more practical proposition the various sources of carbon-free generation need to be scaled up to power an increasingly demanding world. In a News Feature special this week, Nature's reporters ask the big questions. First, how much carbon-free energy might ultimately be available? And second, how do the rival technologies compare. The alternatives include traditional hydroelectricity, tidal and wave power, nuclear, solar and a few others. A lot depends on how the technologies develop, but on balance, don't discount a 'solar' future.

EditorialA task of terawatts

The world has an abundance of renewable energy to offer, the question is how to harness it.

doi:10.1038/454805a

NewsFour wheels good?

With the world's love of cars showing little sign of abating, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to make vehicles less polluting and oil dependent. Duncan Graham-Rowe explores some of the technologies that could keep us on the road.

Duncan Graham-Rowe

doi:10.1038/454810a

News FeatureElectricity without carbon

Electricity generation provides 18,000 terawatt-hours of energy a year, around 40% of humanity's total energy use. In doing so it produces more than 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide every year, the largest sectoral contribution of humanity's fossil-fuel derived emissions. Yet there is a wide range of technologies � from solar and wind to nuclear and geothermal � that can generate electricity without net carbon emissions from fuel.
The easiest way to cut the carbon released by electricity generation is to increase efficiency. But there are limits to such gains, and there is the familiar paradox that greater efficiency can lead to greater consumption. So a global response to climate change must involve a move to carbon-free sources of electricity. This requires fresh thinking about the price of carbon, and in some cases new technologies; it also means new transmission systems and smarter grids. But above all, the various sources of carbon-free generation need to be scaled up to power an increasingly demanding world. In this special feature, Nature's News team looks at how much carbon-free energy might ultimately be available � and which sources make most sense.

Quirin Schiermeier, Jeff Tollefson, Tony Scully, Alexandra Witze & Oliver Morton

doi:10.1038/454816a