Pool global resources on renewable energy
Beijing has committed hundreds of billions of dollars towards renewable energy, including fusion power; the rest of the world should join this effort to confront the dangers of global warming
It seems only yesterday that China was bent on burning coal as its primary energy supply, regardless of the environmental consequences. Yet, in a much-praised abrupt U-turn, the country has gone full steam ahead into alternative energy sources. As part of this state-directed policy, mainland scientists have jumped into such unconventional sources as so-called flammable ice (frozen natural gas) deep under the sea, and fusion power.
The development of fusion technology – particularly the idea of applying it to nuclear reactors to generate clean energy – has been held back by the difficulty of containing the chain reaction so that heat is released in a slow and controllable manner.
But researchers have taken a significant step forward this month. Their latest experiment simulated plasma – which merges two hydrogen atoms with one helium in a process that releases a large amount of energy with heat three times hotter than the sun’s core – and controlled its reaction for more than 100 seconds. The project’s leaders believe the time they are able to control the release of energy from the plasma will double every 16 months.
This is, of course, a proof of concept. It’s still a long way – years if not decades – to making it safe and commercially viable.
Still, the search for reliable and environment-friendly energies must be a multipronged approach.
By slowing coal use, China is on track to reach its carbon emission goals under the Paris climate agreement, according to international monitors. The country plans to spend more than the equivalent of US$360 billion through 2020 on renewable energy, primarily with solar and wind as power sources. But wind and solar power can be unstable, hydropower is overexploited and uranium ore will be depleted, not to say controversial.
Fusion power holds great promise. But the undertaking is so great that here is an opportunity for countries to work together and share their science and technology towards this mutual goal. China is taking the lead. The United States and Europe should also pool resources as part of a global cooperation to confront the dangers of global warming.