Energy Demand will increase: More renewables and Nuclear are essential
This week saw the publication of the release of the Exxon Mobil “Energy Scenarios to 2040” report published today by the American oil company Exxon Mobil Corporation, which suggests that the global energy landscape in 2040 could be as much as 35% higher than it was in 2010. The rise in demand will be especially noticeable in non-OECD countries, or emerging markets, where estimates suggest energy demand will be 65% higher compared to 2010. Non-OECD countries will continue to lead in the elevation of living standards and economic growth – even as they represent more than 80% of the world population. The report predicts that the much higher energy needs will be addressed by the adoption of more practical and efficient technology involving the use of lower carbon fuels such as natural gas and renewable (wind, solar). However, the report also notes that nuclear energy will be one of the energy ‘protagonists’.
The report, compiled by the world’s major non-renewable energy supplier, does not stomp on its own carbon toes, suggesting that oil will continue to be the most widely used energy source. Perhaps, but Saudi Arabia, which was until recently the largest oil producer, is planning to shift away from oil towards more natural gas, solar and nuclear energy. Natural gas is one of the fastest growing sources and it is expected to overtake coal by 2025; indeed, demand for natural gas will increase by about 65% by 2040 and 20% of global production will take place in North America, supported by growth in the supply of gas from shale and other unconventional sources. As already noted just before the US presidential election, the United States will soon surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production and the Report predicts that by 2025, North America will become a net exporter of energy. Over the next two decades, more than half of the supply of unconventional natural gas will take place in North America, providing a strong foundation to promote economic growth in the industrial, energy, chemical, steel, and manufacturing sectors. In addition, the Energy Scenarios reports predicts that electricity will continue to lead global energy production demand; already by 2040, says the report, it will be 50% higher than now.
The surge will come from the emerging economies, seeing as there are still 1.3 billion people without electricity in 2012. The gradual shift from coal to fuels with lower carbon content for the production of electricity, natural gas, nuclear and renewables, including wind and solar energy, will increase its stake in the mix global energy. Natural gas that, used to generate electricity, can cut CO2 emissions by 60% compared to coal and it could grow fastest as an energy source. In 2040, natural gas could address 30% of electricity worldwide; today, its share is about 20%. Transportation will also have an important effect; between 2010 and 2040, the demand for energy-related to the transport sector will increase by over 40% at a global level with growth being driven almost entirely by the commercial sector, heavy transport, air, sea and rail. The continuing rise of emerging markets will necessarily involve continuous growth of trade.
Big transport companies are already banking on this, introducing ever larger transport ships. The Emma Maersk was recently surpassed by the CMA CGA run ‘Marco Polo’; over 400 meters long and unable even to enter Hamburg port when fully loaded. Maersk is planning to launch an even larger one in the next few years. The age of the mega-ship is here and it is a floating symbol of growing energy demand. Nevertheless, the Exxon Report, while hinting the proposition that nuclear energy will also increase, fails (perhaps purposely so) to mention that nuclear energy may have a far bigger role to play. Whether or not you agree with their gloomy scenarios, even climate scientists, environmentalists galore, such as Mark Lynas, are forecasting a far greater reliance on nuclear power than it is politically correct to remark. Gas, even if cleaner than coal, does not avoid the problem of CO2 emissions, and if environmentalists are to be believed, carbon dioxide is one step below the Biblical Apocalypse in its potential to bring civilization as we know it to an end. Therefore, emissions free technology is necessary; environmentalists, again, hail the age of renewables: solar panels, wind turbines and mysterious new yet to be discovered technologies. They believe that these can comfortably meet the inescapable economic and population growth (as noted above) as well as continued energy demand in the rich countries. Maybe, they suggest, we can become more efficient, using less energy, relying less on technology perhaps. Who, after observing the evolution of mankind, can truly say, remaining honest, that such a proposition is even remotely possible – for humans to give up voluntarily a good thing?
Addressing the problems of future energy demand is a huge task; no combination of energy efficiency and renewable can add up to address it, no matter how the variables are permutated. Today, renewable energy accounts to less than 2% of global electricity production. Even at the highest technological level, there are only two ways to generate electricity without emissions: hydroelectric and nuclear. Dams, needed for hydro power, cause significant disruptions and are very costly and it has geographical limitations. This leaves nuclear energy as the only true viable clean source of energy, the one that environmentalists will no longer be able to ignore. Nuclear power can satisfy the most hardnosed of climate doom prophets as well as the most uncompromising spoiled and rich citizen of the West, who insists on turning all the lights on such occasions as ‘Earth Day’ The problem with nuclear energy stems mostly from a lack of education on the true nature of radiation dangers and the fact that radiation is not exclusive to uranium or thorium, that it is present in the atmosphere or rocks naturally. The technological advancements already being applied, as well as future ones, to nuclear reactors are then drowned by shrill concerns over nuclear energy, which contributes to the propagation of fears and myths. By all means, energy production should not be the exclusive priority of one source, it cannot all be nuclear; however, nuclear should be included as a key source if mankind is to survive the challenge posed by worldwide growth in the next few decades.
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