Piercing the gloom surrounding the shift to non-carbon energy sources and the transitional costs involved is a glimmer of light. We have seen it before, but it has invariably been snuffed out. It is nuclear fusion, the Holy Grail of power generation, the same process that fuels the sun and other stars.
Scientists have been trying for 50 years to replicate the intense heat required to bring about the molecular reaction necessary for fusion. There was a moment when two researchers claimed they had discovered cold fusion, which would have solved the world’s energy problems overnight, but it was not to be.
While the prospect of achieving fusion has always been at least 30 years away, there have been indications recently that serious advances are now being made. The Jet laboratory, near Oxford, has announced what it called a “major breakthrough” by significantly increasing the amount of energy it can create from a fusion reaction.
While it remains tiny – sufficient only to boil 60 kettles – it is double what was previously achieved. “We’ve demonstrated that we can create a mini star and hold it there for five seconds and get high performance, which really takes us into a new realm,” said one scientist.
Nor is this a flash in the pan. Recent results at MIT in Boston have encouraged scientists there to conclude that nuclear fusion can be used to power electricity grids within the next decade. Investors, including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, are ploughing billions into funding the development of nuclear fusion energy machines in the expectation of early returns. We could be on the verge of an advance that would transform our world.