Fossil Fuel Supplies and Renewable Resources
As we use a non-renewable resource, we must progressively move toward more difficult sources to maintain supply. At the start of the oil industry, crude oil could be scooped up from the ground or pump...
As we use a non-renewable resource, we must progressively move toward more difficult sources to maintain supply. At the start of the oil industry, crude oil could be scooped up from the ground or pumped out of wells only a few feet deep. As these were used up, we moved to deeper wells, off shore installations, and now sand and shale deposits with each move increasing extraction costs.
No matter how much prices increase, there is a limit to how much fossil fuels can be extracted from the earth. Once this "peak" has been reached, production steadily decreases regardless of the technology applied. Studies put peak oil happening somewhere between 2004 and 2020, while coal has a similar time frame. Natural gas may last longer, but North America is already hitting peak production despite an increase in well drilling.
On the demand side, the developing world is rapidly increasing its energy usage, which is leading to a major jump in worldwide demand. Even if current production rates could be maintained, this demand means increases in fossil fuel prices.
We won't truly run out of fuel. Instead, we will come to a point where using nonrenewable resources as fuel will become impractical due to extraction costs and demand.
What will replace fossil fuels?
Energy consumption can be divided into three major sectors: transportation, heating, and electricity. For the first two, the portability and high energy density of biofuels make them the most practical solution. Electricity can be generated directly by photovoltaic cells, or using rotational energy operating a generator, opening up a wider range of options from wind turbines to geothermal steam.
Current biofuels use existing feedstocks like corn, which both conflicts with food production and is less than ideal for high yields. The next step, now being tested in pilot plants, is a move to algae oils and cellulose, separating the fuel feedstock market from the food market entirely. The eventual goal will be to shift production to genetically engineered organisms, first making feedstock easy to extract, and later producing finished fuels.
Infrastructure is a major problem for renewable energy generation. While improvements in solar panels are bringing production costs down, most large-scale sites are remote, requiring the installation of infrastructure to get power into the grid. Off-shore power avoids this as coastal areas are the most populous, putting production right where it's needed.
Wind and solar are easy to deploy on a small scale, and are more cost effective since these systems compete with retail and prices Methane production is being introduced to feedlots and landfills for heat, converting manure and trash into heat, transportation fuel, and electricity.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Graeme is writing on behalf of Haven Power