Out of the (Oil) Box

On the Way Through the Renewable Energy Labyrinth You’ll Need a Map

The world is spiraling headlong for a global energy crisis. The decline in the availability of cheap oil and need a decrease dependency on fossil fuel has heightened interest in research on alternative fuels and power supplies. Fuel cell technology, hydrogen, biomethanol, biodiesel, the Karrick process, solar, geothermal, tidal and wind energy are all attracting interest environmentalists only dreamed of during the oil shocks of the 1970s. Even fusion, long thought impossible, is being taken seriously.

Results are mixed at best. Hydrogen gas, for example, is currently produced at a net energy loss from natural gas which is also experiencing declining production in North America and elsewhere, according to National Geographic magazine. To date, only traditional hydro electricity and the complicated and potentially dangerous nuclear power have been significant alternatives to fossil fuel, accompanied by major ecological problems.

And demand is expected to continue its steady growth. According to Claude Mandel, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IAEA), demand for energy will increase 15% by 2015, with the demand for oil reaching 99 million barrels a day. In developing countries the demand for energy is expected to increase sharply too. World oil consumption in 2003 was 80 million barrels a day; it would reach to 98 million barrels a day in 2030.

Few are prepared for what these levels of demand will mean. In Europe, EU member states have long taken energy for granted. Some 80% of the energy the EU consumes is from fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal. Dependence on imported oil, gas and coal, which is currently 50% could rise to more than 80% by 2030. This will increase the EU’s vulnerability to reductions in supply or higher prices. And the pressure to reverse global warming will mean the EU will need to burn even less fossil fuel that supplies would otherwise allow.

And even with aggressive development and deployment of new renewable and unclear technology, consumption is likely to increase. In the United States, the worlds largest energy consumer, fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – currently provide more than 85% of the energy consumed and 900 of the next 1000 U.S. Power Plants are expected to use natural gas. Thus US reliance on fossil fuels to power an expanding economy will actually increase, at least over the next two decades according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Altogether, these numbers add up to a prescription for crisis if not disaster, and will require unprecedented levels of international cooperation, that transcends the regional feuding that has characterized the politics of the recent years. There really isn’t any other rational choice.

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