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Towards a Sustainable Global Energy Supply Infrastructure: Net Energy Balance and Density Considerations

Presenter:  Ioannis N Kessides, Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank
Time:   Thursday, April 1, 2010, 12:30 to 2:00 P.M.

Location:  MC3-570

Document (PDF 192kb)

This seminar will report results from a draft paper that employs a framework of dynamic energy analysis to model the growth potential of alternative electricity supply infrastructures as constrained by innate physical energy balance and dynamic response limits.

Coal-fired generation meets the criteria of longevity (abundance of energy source) and scalability (ability to expand to the multi-terawatt level) which are critical for a sustainable energy supply chain, but carries a very heavy carbon footprint.

Renewables and nuclear power, on the other hand, meet both the longevity and low-carbon criteria. However, due to their substantially different energy densities and load factors, they vary in terms of their ability to deliver net excess energy and attain the scale needed for meeting the huge global energy demand.

The lower energy density of renewable energy extraction, and the intermittency and limited storage capability of many renewable sources, limit considerably their current ability to achieve high rates of indigenous infrastructure growth.  These findings imply that the transition to a low carbon economy is likely to prove more challenging than some optimistic projections have claimed.

Ioannis N Kessides is a Lead Economist in the World Bank's Development Research Group.   His areas of specialization are competition, regulatory, and privatization policies in network utilities, market structure and firm conduct, determinants of entry and exit, and contestability analysis.  Prior to joining the World Bank in 1990, he taught at the University of Maryland and was an economist in the Line of Business Program of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.  More recently, he taught at Princeton.  He received B.S.and M.A. degrees in Physics and Plasma Physics form Caltech and Princeton, and a Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton.

Contact: Hua Wang,, 202-473-3255.

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