While riding his electric bicycle from the Norwegian North Cape to the South African Cape of Good Hope, Gijs Stevers explores the possibilities of renewable energy.
Fact: Every day the earth receives five-thousand times the energy it needs from the sun.
This might be a random fact, yet it is the random fact which inspired me to cycle 22,000 km on an electric bicycle. I started on April 12th from the North Cape, Norway and will cycle down to the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. During this journey I want to explore our renewable energy future.
The first people I visited were Hans and Aurelien, who work at Havoygavlen – the northernmost wind-park in the world. That day they went up to the wind-park by snowscooter and climbed one of the 80 meter high towers to clean the slip-ring of one of the turbines, which ensure that Norway is the country where already 100% of the produced electricity comes from renewable sources.
Hans and Aurelien are just two of many who regard renewable energy to be exciting, necessary and profitable. It is people like them who I want to meet during my journey. I want to listen to their stories and share the things I learn with others. Because producing renewable energy requires science, but above all, it needs bright motivated people.
Our renewable energy future needs bright people
Fact: The yearly subsidies on fossil fuels are almost four times the subsidies received by the renewable energy industry.
History shows that energy revolutions take time. Even though oil had clear benefits over coal it still took the transportation industry decades to shift from one to the other. Currently we are in a similar situation where electricity generation from renewable resources is about to take off. Yet, the vested interest of the fossil fuel industry is hindering this, both directly and indirectly. With both amazement and shock, I see how current young talent is still so attracted to a fossil fuel industry which extracts our resources at such a fast pace that there will be nothing left for our grandchildren.
I would understand this choice if there was no alternative, but there is one and it’s fantastic. Wind turbines are becoming more powerful, solar cells more efficient and the sales of electric cars are skyrocketing – it must be great to work in such an industry.
Actually, the costs per kWh of solar and wind power have halved several times over the past 10 years. It has come down to such a level that they are very competitive to conventional methods of electricity production. Now that science gave us the solution to a prosperous and clean world it is still people who need to implement this future. A shift in investment from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy will only come when more people start believing in a future without fossil fuels.
As the current youth will be creating and living in our renewable energy future I will give workshops around this theme at secondary schools along the route. With help of LEGO bricks the students will try to change the energy towers of 2030, the bricks represent units of energy. The workshop gives a good insight into the possibilities and challenges which we will face while changing our energy systems.
Renewable energy and e-mobility
Fact: Recently an electric car reached a top speed of 250km/h – on ice!
The high energy density of gasoline and diesel did give us the possibility to drive more than 500km without having to refuel. Soon this will also be possible with electric cars, yet, do we really need this 500km range? As an example, the UK Department for Transport estimates that 93% of all journeys in the UK are below 40km. For most people – including speed junkies on frozen lakes in Finland – the electric car is already a viable option. At the same time, though, together they could become an essential part of a future based on renewable energy production by acting as a gigantic battery.
The nice thing about fossil fuel is that it was both an energy source and carrier. The challenge of most forms of renewable energy is that the energy needs to be stored one way or the other – as it is not always sunny or windy. The electric vehicles which are (still very) slowly replacing the fossil fuel powered vehicles could be the solution and store surplus energy for some time. As an example, when there is not much wind I could use the energy from the battery package of my electric bike to iron my shirts, when there is more wind a smart system makes sure to charge the battery so it is fully charged at the moment I need to continue my journey.
I have studied Environmental and Natural Resource Economics in Copenhagen and worked at the sustainability department of Maersk. Even though I heard a lot about renewable energy and e-mobility I never installed a solar panel, smelled any bio-diesel or drove an electric car. Cape to Cape 2012 will give me a good practical insight in an industry which will be developing extremely fast with many opportunities. Aside from the fact that I like to see my parents grow old in a world with clean energy I am doing this project for myself. I believe it will prepare me well for starting a business in this sector and – as an added bonus – I will be outside breathing fresh air for a year.
Gijs Stevers (‘08), while working for the shipping company Maersk, obtained his MSc in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics from the University of Copenhagen. He is currently biking somewhere between the North Cape and Cape Town, to explore the future of renewable energy.