The energy problem is one of this century's greatest challenges. Fossil fuels are in danger of running out, and carbon dioxide emissions due to the burning of oil and gas are causing too many environmental problems. So the race is on to find sustainable energy sources.

Energy saving

In the short term, a great deal can be achieved by energy saving. ICT is an important aid in this respect. Smart meters can switch on domestic appliances when there is a surplus of electricity in the electricity grid. Software can monitor how much wind energy is being supplied to the grid, and how much of it should be stored for later use. Or how much power a household with solar panels on the roof is feeding back to the grid, and how much of a difference that makes to its energy bills.

Fundamental importance

For the longer term, alternative sources of energy are needed. New technologies and scientific breakthroughs are crucial in order to arrive at a sustainable solution, in the following areas:

  • Solar energy
    The current technology used to make solar cells is not yet competitive enough. In addition, we need new ways of making solar cells. Solar cells that use less material, capture light more effectively and convert it as efficiently as possible into electricity.
  • Solar fuels
    Solar and wind energy are extremely variable in supply terms. The electricity generated fluctuates depending on the wind speed and amount of sun. Solar fuels are one option for storing a temporary surplus of electricity. These are fuels that are produced from sun or wind directly and without greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Bio-energy
    Biomass can be used as fuel in a variety of ways. Bio-ethanol, biodiesel and biogas are the best-known examples. But another option is producing fuel with the aid of algae.
  • Smart grids
    To guarantee a stable electricity grid based on sources that do not provide a constant supply of energy, such as sun and wind, so-called smart grids are vital. NWO is mobilising computer scientists, mathematicians and technical scientists to work on this.
  • Social acceptance
    We need new technology to be able to make the switch to new forms of energy. However, success is assured only if consumers are prepared to switch en masse to something new. Within the NWO theme Sustainable Energy, scientists are studying the factors we need to consider to effect a successful change in behaviour.