I-M-P-E-R-A-T-I-V-E – that’s the word for it! I would like to add words such as pressing and urgent to the ‘imperative’ to place strong emphasis on the need to change the mix of energy sources we currently use, to meet the World’s future energy needs ASAP.
Our present sources of energy production are: fossil fuels (Coal, Crude Oil & Natural Gas), nuclear & bio (these three i.e. fossil fuels, nuclear & bio are collectively named ‘non-Renewables’) and the ‘Renewables’ group that consists of hydro, solar, wind, tidal, geothermal etc. As of date, a dominant 80-85% of the World’s energy demand is met by non-Renewables, particularly fossil fuels. This, cannot continue, simply because of the limited quantities of non-Renewables on Earth.
Going by the present rates of consumption and yearly increase in global energy demand, experts warn that there’ll be practically no Crude Oil left on the planet by 2050! Similarly, Coal supplies are expected to run out completely by 2140. The last option, nuclear energy, is unsuitable from a political point of view and suffers from inherent risks. Besides, supplies of uranium ores, the primary source of nuclear energy, are expected to last for another 80 years at most – so there’s practically no future for nuclear energy after 2090.
According to the ‘2014 World Energy Outlook’ (*), recently published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the 2012 world energy pie was comprised by: Oil (31%), Coal (29%), Natural Gas (21%), Nuclear (5%) and the balance by Renewables (14%). The ratio of energy contribution i.e. Non-renewables to Renewables was a whopping 6:1 (approximately).
Because non-Renewables won’t last forever, strategies for the future, and quite rightly too, seek to push Renewables to the forefront. Governments, academia & industry are flexing their big muscles to get to that goal as fast as possible. So far, so good. But the sad (if not shocking) part is when we realize that we are too late in starting!
By 2040, energy from Renewable sources will double, but even that will not be sufficient to overtake the global dominance of coal, leave alone drive it into a corner!
The IEA outlook for 2040 energy production estimates the following breakup: Oil (26%), Coal (24%), Natural Gas (24%), Nuclear (7%)&Renewables (19%). The ratio of energy contribution i.e. Non-renewables to Renewables in 2040 would be 3:1, going by these estimates. We need ratios such as 1:3, or better, to be able to say we’ve pulled it off successfully (i.e. the switch from non-Renewables to Renewables)!
Between now and 2040, we see that demand for Crude Oil is expected to ease by just 5% (down from about 31% at present to 26%). Crude Oil is too precious to use for any other major purpose than production of transport fuels like gasoline, diesel & aviation fuel (kerosene). High demand for Crude Oil indicates that the dominant part of our transportation systems, even in 2040, will be powered by Crude Oil derived fuels. Now, recalling from the foregoing part of this article, that Crude Oil would become non-existent by 2050, we see that in 2040, just 10 years will be left to switch the then predominantly Oil powered transportation systems to Renewable or alternate sources of energy. And will that be possible? Not everyone is very sure. On the contrary, the author believes that a crisis triggered by disruption in our transportation systems is likely unless researchers and innovators bail us out before that, with some brilliant, surprise solutions.
Growing awareness of the energy problem is causing increasing numbers of people everywhere to do their bit to conserve energy by following the three R’s – Reduce, Recycle & Reuse. Increased use of energy-efficient devices are expected to save a sizeable part of energy that would have been otherwise wasted. But that’s not enough. Do you have a suggestion, idea or solution that could help? If yes, please come forward – the world is waiting for solutions from people just like you to avert a possible, future crisis. You may send your response(s) to the IEA or the Government Department in your country that’s responsible for energy.
(*) – To view this publication, visit 2014 World Energy Outlook