Matt Ridley: Future technology that could power a city with a device the size of a shipping container may prove a better bet than harnessing the wind. In a key milestone on the road to harnessing fusion power, Lawrence Livermore laboratory announced this week that it had extracted energy from an object the size of a lemon pip at the rate of 10 quadrillion watts (joules per second), albeit for only 100 trillionths of a second. That’s roughly 500 times faster than the entire human population consumes energy. The experiment is a reminder that the energy density achieved when atoms merge is vastly greater than anything in a lump of coal, let alone a puff of wind. It is also far bigger than can be achieved by nuclear fission and much safer too: no risk of meltdown and with much less high-level radioactive waste. The problem, of course, is that reliable fusion power stations were 50 years away in 1950, and were still 50 years away in 2000, so milestones on the road to fusion are greeted with sceptical yawns. But almost everybody in the industry now thinks that jibe is out of date: the stopwatch has started, as one insider put it to me. We are probably less than 15 years away from seeing a fusion power station begin to contribute to the grid.
Matt Ridley 21st Aug 2021 read more »