The problem of energy supply has been going up and down the agenda of public debate since the OPEC oil embargo of 1974. In recent times two problems have brought it into focus: climate change and energy security.

We increasingly understand the role that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels plays in warming the planet through enhancing the greenhouse effect and, with respect to energy security, although the debate about an immediate scarcity of fossil fuels has receded, contemporary concern focuses on our reliance on a small number of possibly unstable countries.

The challenge for engineers is to solve these problems and luckily, there is no shortage of possible ways forward.

Joe Kaplinsky will deliver a fascinating insight into the possible solutions at the BA Festival of Science on Wednesday 8 September 2004.

If we are going to do better than just survive, or just scrape by, we need to identify our more ambitious goals. Certainly we want to eliminate fuel poverty that the government has identified as a problem in the UK. But if we are serious our new energy systems should be capable of powering up the whole world, including Africa, large parts of India and inland China where the poor still rely on burning brush wood and dung.

To bring the whole world up to western standards of living will require 3 times as much energy. There are energy savings to be made in the west without sacrificing living standards, but with economic growth, invention and increased population we will also see genuinely new demand. The round figure of 300% gives us an order of magnitude estimate of the extra energy required just to generalise present prosperity.

While this may seem an ambitious target it is worth remembering that both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw primary energy production increase by around a factor of 16. In both cases this required radical innovations, and so it will be in the 21st century.

Joe will discuss conservation, renewable energy (from the sun, wind and water), nuclear power (and its broader social issues), and the longer term engineering challenges presented by nuclear fusion and space solar power as answers to the problem of energy supply continue to be sought.

Supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the whole day promises to be a treat for all those attending with six presentations in total, a panel session and press conference.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. The BA is the UK’s nationwide, open membership organisation dedicated to connecting science with people, so that science and its applications become accessible to all. The BA aims to promote openness about science in society and to engage and inspire people directly with science and technology and their implications.
  3. The BA Festival of Science is one of the UK’s biggest science festivals. It attracts 400 of the best scientists and science communicators from home and abroad who reveal the latest developments in research to a general audience.
  4. The BA Festival of Science 2004 will take place at the University of Exeter from 6 - 10 September 2004, and throughout the city from 4 - 11 September. The engineering session, Where have all the Engineers Gone? takes place on Wednesday 8 September, 09.30 – 17.00, Queen’s Building LT2.

For more information please contact

Dr Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering
Craig Brierley at the BA, tel: 020 7019 4947