There is a general view - and some say this is the view of pessimists - that an energy crisis will arise in this century. Fossil fuels will not hold up as long as we want them to and alternatives energies alone will not meet our demands efficiently. Wind, water, geothermal energy and nuclear energy have been around for quite a while but is there any way to use them better? Or do we need to come up with other sources of energy to support them or even replace them?
Some of us would have experienced the energy crisis that occurred in 1979, caused by the low petroleum production and distribution. Those in the know say that a future crisis will be even worse. One thing is for sure, the present world population size and energy demand is much more than what it was then. A 2003 report says that US dependence on petroleum imports have grown steadily for a decade and has reached record consumption levels on few recent occasions. Gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel account for most of the increase in petroleum consumption. The situation can only grow worse, at the rate of current population growth and industrialization.
There are five ways to evaluate petroleum security for a country:
- Capacity of domestic production
- Dependence on imports
- Petroleum inventory relative to imports
- Degree of import concentration
- Ability to rely on alternative sources during an interruption in supply of petroleum
According to the International Energy Agency, there will be an increase of almost 60% in the demand for energy from 2002 to 2030. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that fossil fuels are still expected to meet most of these needs. As of now, we depend on oil for more than 90% of food, transport, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other modern conveniences. The reserves already found can be tapped for about 40 more years. Even if new reserves are found in the Arctic (as is widely speculated), we don’t know if much of it will be economically viable to use. The only suitable substitute may be gas but that also has a shelf life on earth. The only other fossil fuel available is coal but because it creates toxic emissions when burned, it’s not an attractive option.
All this time, a small group of developed countries had been highly dependant on petroleum. But as new, large industrial powers like China and India advance at a dizzying pace, it’s obvious that they won’t be happy resorting to biomass and other low-efficiency fuels for their development.
Another problem with energy supply is that its sources are often far away from points of consumption. Unless production and distribution becomes more centralized, we are not going to be able to make the best of the oil reserves we have.
Here are some of the futuristic energy saving options:
1) Growing energy - by speeding up the biological processes that produce fuel crops.
2) Wind powered rotating skyscrapers - No, we are not fantasizing; these may be seen in Dubai in the near future. The skyscraper would literally produce its own electricity by using massive wind turbines built into it.
3) Zero carbon cities - These are walled (or closed) cities where residents would enjoy a carbon and waste-free environment, supported by modern alternative energy technologies.