WHERE DOES OUR ENERGY COME FROM?
For the past century we have been burning oil and natural gas at
ever increasing rates. We have been burning coal for much
longer. These principal energy sources are known as fossil fuels
because they were formed millions of years ago by layers of
plants which died and were subjected to high temperatures and
pressures as layers of rock built up on top of them.
So, the main sources for practically all of humanity's
present energy production
were formed in finite amounts and are being used up (at an alarming rate). Again
... once they're gone, they're GONE!
"OK", you say, "but when will they go?"
The answer is uncertain because it is not know exactly how much
resource is left. New oil, coal and gas fields are hunted for
and found all the time ... at the moment. One thing is certain -
if a finite resource is used at ever increasing rates it will
run out one day.
Oil accounts for over 40% of the World's power production. New oil discoveries peaked in the early 1960's and it's now
getting harder to find; currently we only discover one barrel for
every four we use! Production of oil is expected to peak within
the next 6 years. For some years now, world population increases
have outstripped oil production increases. There are projections
which state that global oil supply will begin to fail to meet
global demand by 2010.
I have seen figures that suggest that Australia have been
using oil three times faster than they have been finding it for
the past seven years and that their production is likely to plummet
to only 40% of their national requirements by the year 2010.
Energy production is not the only area that will be affected
when oil production begins to fail. Currently there are more
than half a million products manufactured in which oil plays a
part. These include medicines, antiseptics, fertilizers,
plastics, insulation, paints, glues, computers, compact discs,
asphalt, inks, solvents and detergents.
The world's natural gas reserve is estimated to be in the region
of 140, 000 billion cubic metres. That is about 50 years of
production at current usage rates. However, usage is set to
increase substantially because the power generation sector is
expected to increase consumption of natural gas.
Around 25% of the World's energy is generated from coal. Known world reserves in the year 2000 were 984 thousand million
tonnes. But coal is a "dirty" fuel and pumps more
greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than either of the other
two. Coal-burning also produces sulphur dioxide and nitrogen
oxides, which cause acid rain. As such, it is NOT a viable
alternative to oil and gas but it's usage is on the increase.
CURRENTLY BEING UPDATED
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Oil is intricately woven into the World Economy because
practically all aspect of modern life rely on it. It is
essential for production and transportation; it fuels the
generators that power our cities and pump our water and
effluent; it produces and moves our food. Oil, natural gas and
coal produce most of the World's power and, in doing so, are
major contributors to the problems of pollution and "global
warming". The entire world economy revolves around them and
this means that, within one lifetime, Mankind is very
deep in the smelly brown stuff! If we do not change the way we rely
on these fossil fuels then we can look forward to the eventual
collapse of current industry, the World Economy and life as we
A DOOMSDAY SCENARIO?
Perhaps. But our Sun is the practical
answer. Fossil fuels currently power most of our "civilised"
world, but the Sun powers the entire planet. It fuels the
World's vegetation, causes the weather and the winds, it heats
the atmosphere, the land and the oceans and (together with the
moon) moves the mass of the oceans around the World (now there's
a transportation project!). It has been estimated that the
capturable power from the oceans alone would power the world's
industries twice over. In the UK the Sun rains down between 900
kW (N. Scotland) and 1300 kW (SW England) per square metre per
year or 9 to 13 MW per year for a 10m x 10m garden - which is
more than enough to power the average household. Before
the "Industrial Revolution" Mankind used windmills and
watermills to achieve many of it's industrial goals. So all is
not lost - if we start to act NOW to convert our
power sources to the sustainable and cleaner alternatives of the
Sun, wind and waves.