Mendeley Brainstorm – The Future of Energy

Britain stopped using coal for a day; will a day come when it is no longer used?

On the 21st of April, Great Britain experienced its first day without burning any coal since the 19th century. According to the National Grid, the energy was provided by natural gas, followed by nuclear and renewables. Given this example, what will our future energy mix look like? We are looking for the most well thought out answer to this question in up to 150 words: use the comment feature below the blog and please feel free to promote your research! The winner will receive an Amazon gift certificate worth £50 and a bag full of Mendeley items; competition closes June 14, 2017.

Making a Fossil of a Fuel

Coal powered the industrial revolution in Great Britain. However, as of the 21st of April, it was clear that the country is no longer dependent upon this once ubiquitous fuel. Britain’s energy on April 21, in descending order, came from natural gas, nuclear, wind, biomass and solar.

Back to the Past?

Not everyone is so keen on this development. In March, US President Donald Trump lifted a temporary ban on coal leases; his popularity in states like West Virginia was based on the promise to bring coal mines back into operation.

Powering the Future

However, the continued use of fossil fuels has a significant environmental cost. The World Health Organisation estimated in 2012 that up to 7 million deaths in that year were attributable to air pollution. Additionally, most climate scientists state that burning fossil fuels is wreaking havoc with the Earth’s climate.

What Next?

Given that Britain has shown that we can stop using at least one fossil fuel, what’s next? What will be the energy source of the future? Tell us!

About Mendeley Brainstorms

Our Brainstorms are challenges so we can engage with you, our users, on the hottest topics in the world of research.  We look for the most in-depth and well thought through responses; the best response as judged by the Mendeley team will earn a prize.


Fears, D. (2017). Donald Trump promises to bring back coal jobs but experts disagree. The Independent. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 May 2017].

Golson, J. (2017). Britain goes a day without coal-fired power for first time since the 1880s. The Verge. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 May 2017].

5 thoughts on “Mendeley Brainstorm – The Future of Energy

  1. Nuclear, as Great Britain’s example shows, is a part of the solution.

  2. Folks, I write from the viewpoint of a mountain-born, high plains of Alberta raised, retired Seismic Surveyor. For ye Urb-folk, this means that I experienced heating using coal & wood, thru adding large Coleman Heaters burning diesel fuel, on to Natural Gas heating the water in a low-pressure (<25psi) steam radiator system, thru forced-air heated by natural gas, with an excursion to All-Electric Sleigh Camp (supplied by Borek Construction, of Dawson Creek, BC, Canada fame). All Electric heat, at temperatures below -30°C, suffers from DiHydrogenMonoxide's nasty Hoarfrost Trick, which formed on the grid over the intake fresh air opening, and choked it off! The fuel consumption, of the 4 diesel-driven alternators, really drove home the efficiency hit that converting a hydrocarbon to electricity, then the electricity to heat, makes on your fuel stocks, be it on the High Arctic Ocean Ice, or be it 65 miles south of High Prairie, Alberta, in -40°C (and colder) temperatures. Yes, I experienced that Camp twice. I can easily imagine how Great Britain's pensioners were making the harsh choice, between freezing to death, or starving to death, when the pricing of Electricity soared!
    In the long term, Orbital SolarEnergy collectors, transforming the sun's energy to microwaves that traverse our atmosphere thru the Low-Loss Window, are the simple solution. The Rectenna Farms may be placed on top of 15 meter tall supports, allowing farm machinery, and domestic animals free passage. The antennas of the Rectenna Farm do not block very much of the incoming daylight, allowing farming, dairy cows, and ranch animals the growth of useful plants. In treed areas, using the tops of hills makes logical sense, and only requires poles 25, or 30 meters high, so tree farming can carry on with little to block the growth of trees.
    I see the soy-distant 'Fast Charging' of current battery-powered vehicles as risible.
    For _real_ fast charging, a pair of 4" diameter copper cables, well insulated, and solidly clamped to massive granite blocks (reinforced concrete's rebar would not react well to the electromagnetic fields made during real fast charging), would have to have coolant circulated under their insulation. The Battery in the vehicle would also have to be connected to a powerful coolant circulating system during charging, which must be left doing cooling until the battery had settled down!
    In winter, ordinary batteries suffer a performance hit from cold temperatures.
    The battery must also supply energy to heat the passenger cabin, plus defrosting air that must be heated, and blown across the glazings, so the driver may see where he/she/it is going.
    Self-driving vehicles must be able to 'see': I suggest a multi-spectral arrangement: across visible light; IR; and a useful short wavelength radar, to enable distinguishing among solid ground, snow-covered ground, and either snow, or ice that has naught but air beneath it.
    The 'battery' that uses propane, CH4, or H2, as fuel, the Fuel Cell, is actually a better bet than a mere battery bank, due to the exothermic nature of the Fuel Cell's work = in winter, especially in Arctic Winter, Propane will effectively stop self-converting to propane gas, because the tank's environment is not supplying enough heat! The simple device that controls the pressure-drop, from Tank to Fuel Cell's fuel line, has a bellows. That bellows gets warmer/colder than the ambient air, thus collecting H2O, which freezes, and may build up enough to stop the work of the Bellows. Which is why you see 100W incandescent light bulbs carefully arranged under duct-taped cardboard windshields affixed to each Pressure-Reducer device, to keep the Bellows warm, and free from ice.
    I challenge the Fuel Cell folk to create a device which keeps each Fuel Call vehicle from dribbling water along the road, thus enhancing the black ice cover for following vehicles to cope with!

  3. Ironic today Brittan’s biggest source of pollution are their diesel motor vehicles. NOX, and diesel particulates have been known to cause lung diseases including cancer contributing to many deaths yearly. EU6 emissions controls starting January 1, 2017, are finally on par with California’s EPA emissions enacted over 6 years ago. EU, with a late start, was advised extensively by US and California EPA about locating emission sources distant from non compliant which were blown from areas in compliance. California EPA started eliminating NOX in early 1970s. Drop in fuels made from coal, with low pollution levels similar to natural gas with more energy are available.

  4. As I’m a physician, my answer in this topic may sound amateurish and bizarre. But sometimes you may need someone with random mindset for inspiration.

    As earth cannot produce it’s own energy, we are always reliant on the energy from the outer space. We absorb and release heat, but never truly produce it. Even waterfalls, which power large portion of our electricity, is actually powered by sunlight, as it evaporates water and gives it kinetic energy. Plants change the power to chemicals, and some of these get buried deep down and turn into fossil fuel.

    Cutting off plants does not actually increase our planet’s heat. It just decreases energy storing process and results in increased free energy. We actually don’t lack energy, it’s all around roaming free and wasted.

    I think the best solution is by intercepting the source, which is sunlight. If we build large amount of solar panels or use something less space-consuming, there are plenty to take. For example, we can build thin towers surrounded by solar panels. We may even be able to tamper with photosynthesis to create plant-based energy plan (sorry for the bad pun). Electric car is currently too slow for our busy life, but we may be able to develop something faster in several decades. Or we may be able to create solar panel tower reaching to outer space.

    Nuclear energy is abundant, but in a century or so, we may end up running out of source, as we don’t produce it ourself.

  5. Ideological political disputes and trade – protectionism will slow down the transition toward renewable energy based infrastructures but will not be able to reverse the course of development. The EU will likely adopt energy union with tight ties to China and Russia to foster the diffusion of green energy infrastructures. This platform will bring about new sources of synergies for transportation and climate change – mitigation mega projects.
    1) Llewelyn Hughes & Jonas Meckling (2017). “The politics of renewable energy trade: The US-China solar dispute”, Energy Policy 105, 256–262
    2) Caroline Kuzemko & Catherine Mitchell & Matthew Lockwood & Richard Hoggett (2017). “Policies, politics and demand side innovations: The untold story of Germany’s energy transition”, Energy Research & Social Science 28, 58–67
    3) John A. Mathews (2016). “Competing principles driving energy futures: Fossil fuel decarbonization vs. manufacturing learning curves”, Futures 84, 1–11

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