World Climate Summit: Technology must improve quickly or fossil fuel reliance will grow

ITProPortal managed to catch up with Dr Christoph Frei, the secretary general of the World Energy Council, at the World Climate Summit, and racked his brains on fossil fuels and the future of sustainable living.

According to Frei, a bright future is possible but – if current trends continue – improbable.

He thinks that, while renewable energies continue to rise in popularity, innovation needs to speed up if we are to ease our reliance upon fossil fuels.

Solar power is an example. Despite all the hype around this clean source and the fact that prices have collapsed (from $4.70 to $0.60 in five years, according to Frei), he says that it makes up a measly 0.2 per cent of all the energy we consume. By 2050, he believes this figure could grow to between six per cent and 16 per cent, making it a part of what he calls "the big league" and representing a massive increase.

That might initially sound impressive but "That's not enough to solve the climate issue," according to Frei, and the reason is clear.

"By 2050 we will still have not only a dominance but even absolute growth of fossil fuels," he continues. "Today, 80 per cent of the system is fossil fuels – by 2050 it still would be somewhere between 60 per cent and 75 per cent.

"What needs to happen so that we actually can get close to climate objectives? What we see today, we simply are not going to get there."

Frei thinks that technology companies are only partly to blame for this failure. He believes that they are doing what they should be doing – making money from innovation and leading the market – but could always try harder to make resounding changes.

"The question is, do we see enough innovation in critical breakthrough areas?" he asks. "Not enough," is his frank answer.

According to Frei, there are three key areas to look out for: electric storage, carbon capture and storage, and energy-efficiency. However, once again his outlook is not particularly optimistic. In regards to electric storage and carbon capture and storage, prices are still sky-high, which makes any sort of mass rollout impossible. He says that energy-efficiency improvement rates are slowing down too.

However, there is something all members of the public can do without having to rely on input from the big organisations: become a part of the 'sharing economy'.

Echoing professor Klaus Toepfer's speech at the Samsung Memory Solutions Forum last month, Frei said that there is a growing trend where people are recognising that ownership is not everything. Frei himself is a member of a car-sharing system in Switzerland, where he rents a vehicle whenever he needs to and then pays a bill at the end of the month.

Automobiles are just the start, he says. Renting could have a huge role to play in the future.