WATT THE FRUIT: Energy Transition as a Sustainable 'Diet' for Our Planet
Esteban Fernández
Esteban Fernández
7/8/2023

WATT THE FRUIT: Energy Transition as a Sustainable 'Diet' for Our Planet

WATT THE FRUIT: Energy Transition as a Sustainable 'Diet' for Our Planet

Dare to immerse yourself with me in an exciting journey that will take you from the explosion of the Industrial Revolution, where the genius of James Watt made contributions to electrical engineering that still resonate today, to the imperative energy transition we are undergoing today. It is a journey as essential as the air we breathe, as intimate and personal as our own biology.

In the midst of the whirlwind that was the Industrial Revolution, James Watt reinvented the steam engine, amplifying its efficiency and functionality, laying the foundations for the electric generation turbines we know today. At the same time, he introduced the term 'horsepower' to establish a comparison between the power of these machines and the strength of horses, which until then represented the main source of energy. The importance of his contribution is such that we still pay tribute to him today every time we switch on a light bulb and measure its consumption in watts.

However, just as Watt's breakthroughs marked an era, today we are facing a new frontier, a challenge that demands all our ingenuity and capacity for innovation: the energy transition. To understand this challenge more deeply, I invite you to make a comparison with our own organism and the nutritional challenges we face every day.

In our previous article, we drew an analogy in which we shared that just like a human body that needs a balanced and healthy diet to function at its best, our electrical system requires a true energy transition, a "dietary shift" to a more diverse and sustainable energy mix. 

And why do we need a diversity of sustainable and balanced energy sources, rather than simply choosing the best option? The answer depends on a number of factors that are vital to consider. Let's break them down one by one, taking the example of our diet to illustrate each of them.

First, the technical aspects:

  • Energy availability can be compared to access to certain nutritious foods. For example, cherries and mangoes are excellent sources of vitamins, but their season is short. Similarly, some energy sources can be intermittent, such as solar and wind, which rely on the sun and wind, respectively. We need to find energy sources that are reliable year-round, just as we need to diversify our diet to get the vitamins we need.
  • Dispatchability, or the ability to keep up with demand, think of beef jerky. It can be stored for consumption when needed, unlike other nutritious foods that expire soon. Similarly, we need energy sources that can be stored and used on demand.

Now, let's look at the economics: 

  • The costs of operating and maintaining a farm can be compared to the costs of operating and maintaining a power plant. Some energy sources are like crops that require sun, water and fertilizer; others are like raising livestock, which requires much more input and attention.
  • The initial investment cost, think of the cost of acquiring land, materials, machinery and labor to turn a piece of land into a farm. Likewise, power plants have initial costs that must be amortized.

Likewise, let's look at the environmental point of view:

  • Emissions during operation: A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from a healthy dish or junk food. The same goes for energy, a kWh is a kWh, but the collateral impact on the environment can be very different.
  • Emissions for its construction: As in the previous case, we must not forget the emissions associated with the construction of energy infrastructure. Continuing with the food analogy, this would be like focusing on the nutrition of an organic cherry, rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, but ignoring the fact that it may come served on top of a cake full of sugar, flour and unhealthy fats. In the same way, when evaluating an energy source, we must not only consider the emissions during its operation, but also the emissions produced during its construction and maintenance.

Finally, the social aspects:

  • Resource accessibility: Since it is unfeasible to base our diet on exotic foods, we cannot rely solely on regionally inaccessible or inconsistent energy sources.
  • Energy density: Our planet has limits, as does our diet. Imagine needing less space and water to get the same amount of protein from crickets as from pork. This principle of efficiency should also govern our energy choices.
  • Risk: Just as we avoid seafood in hot weather, we must weigh the risks of different energy sources, taking into account potential environmental damage, operational safety and long-term stability of supply.

In short, as nutritious as it is to eat wild salmon, with pesticide-free organic broccoli and a touch of olive oil, if everyone tried to have the same diet, we would wipe out salmon and damage arable land. The same goes for energy. Each region needs a particular energy "diet" that fits its specific needs and circumstances, there are no magic recipes.

At our Center for Research and Technological Innovation in Practical Applications (CIITAP), we are working on projects that seek to address modern challenges in electrical engineering and energy technology. We are committed to exploring the future of energy, just as James Watt did with steam centuries ago. We invite you to learn more about our efforts and join us on this exciting journey. Click here to explore how we are changing our society's energy "diet" for a more sustainable future. We look forward to seeing you!

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