Last updated on: 9/22/2009 | Author:

Vaclav Smil, PhD Biography

Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba
Not Clearly Pro or Con to the question "Can Alternative Energy Effectively Replace Fossil Fuels?"

“These are the realities of 2008: coal-fired power plants produce half of all U.S. electricity, nuclear stations 20 percent, and there is not a single commercial breeder reactor operating anywhere in the world; in 2007 the United States derives about 1.7 percent of its energy from new renewable conversions (corn-based ethanol, wind, photovoltaic solar, geothermal); natural gas supplies about 24 percent of the world’s commercial energy—less than half the share predicted in the early 1980s and still less than coal with nearly 29 percent; and there are no fuel-cell cars…

The historical verdict is unassailable: because of the requisite technical and infrastructural imperatives and because of numerous (and often entirely unforeseen) socio-economic adjustments, energy transitions in large economies and on a global scale are inherently protracted affairs. That is why, barring some extraordinary commitments and actions, none of the promises for greatly accelerated energy transitions will be realized, and during the next decade none of the new energy sources and prime movers will make a major difference by capturing 20 percent to 25 percent of its respective market. A world without fossil fuel combustion is highly desirable and, to be optimistic, our collective determination, commitment, and persistence could accelerate its arrival—but getting there will demand not only high cost but also considerable patience: coming energy transitions will unfold across decades, not years.”

“Moore’s Curse and the Great Energy Delusion,” The American, Nov.-Dec., 2008

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Environment, University of Manitoba (faculty member since 1972)
  • Recipient, Olivia Schieffelin Nordberg Award for excellence in writing and editing in the population sciences, 2007
  • PhD, Geography, Pennsylvania State University, 1972
  • PhD, Natural Sciences, Carolinum University (Prague), 1965
  • None found