The Future of Energy

In a constantly growing population, the demand for energy has rocketed, driving up
the price of fuels struggling to fulfil this rising need. The growth boom from the East, in
countries such as China and India, has added pressure on energy firms to increase their
output as they invest in resources to improve their infrastructure and feed their expanding
populations. Alternative energy sources have been in the headlines more frequently and the
awareness for them has increased because the public and the government realise that the
world has to lose its dependence on fossil fuels and change to more sustainable means. But
will these new sources of energy relieve us from the energy crises that have occurred over
the years and will they be fully viable to meet the new challenges of the modern age?

The majority of energy used in the world at the moment is produced from the combustion
of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal). But these resources, known as non-renewable fuels,
due to their scarcity will not last forever and thus, it is only a matter of time before they can
no longer meet our requirements. Another problem which arises from using fossil fuels is
that they enhance global warming. Expansive, environmental research has shown that man
has and is contributing to global warming, largely by burning fossil fuels, although it is not
fully understood the magnitude to which we are doing so. Carbon dioxide is released when
the fossil fuels are burned and it collects in the atmosphere, allowing sunlight in but not
allowing it to escape out of the atmosphere when it turns to heat. This causes the Earth to
heat.

New forms of energy are on their way. With 81% of its energy coming from geothermal
(66%) and hydropower (15%), Iceland has the largest proportion of its primary energy
produced through renewable means in the world due to its geographical features
(volcanoes and hot springs). Other countries, are also investing heavily into renewable
energies and China is leading the way with the highest installed renewable energy capacity,
pushing America into second place. From 2005 to 2010 it has seen a 106% increase in its
renewable energy capacity. With its economy coming on terms with the US, could this could
be yet another indication that China is on its way to becoming the largest superpower? This
competition from countries to show themselves as the “green countries” could boost the
attractiveness of renewable sources even more and help countries examine its benefits
more rather than the expensive price tags they usually entail. Renewable energies are an
investment, costing relatively large sums of money but providing savings over their lifespan.

Emerging economies such as India and China are investing billions into hydropower
electricity. They have begun projects to build dams all along the rivers in Kashmir to harness
the energy in the rivers in order to produce enough energy to power its economy and
population of over a billion. It plans to add 3,000MW to its grid in the next eight years. The
potential for hydro-electric energy is huge projects like those in Kashmir could be replicated
on the majority of the rivers around the world.

Using renewable energy sources does create some problems. Firstly, many of these rely
on the natural elements, namely wind, solar, tidal and hydroelectric. If the sun isn’t out or
there is not enough wind, the energy gained from these methods can be severely limited.
This could be a real problem in the future if renewable energies were our sole providers
because unexpected weather patterns could dramatically change the energy we receive.

For wind power, this can be partially by building them far out in the ocean. On average,
the wind speed is 90% faster than that on flat land and predicting where it will be is more
predictable. Solar energy is obviously only efficient in countries where there is large
volumes of sunlight, meaning colder and less sun ridden countries will have to use the other
alternative energy resources.

Renewable energy has a huge role in the global macroeconomic objective of obtaining
sustainable development. Sustainable development is formulated of economic, social and
environmental sustainability, in which the use of resources is aimed to meet human needs
as well as preserving the environment now and for future generations. The majority of
alternative energies are carbon-neutral, including nuclear, solar, wind and hydroelectric,
and when energy is produced by these means they do not cause a net release of carbon
dioxide which is what sustainable development promotes.

A new type of energy is being researched and tested by scientists. Nuclear fusion is the
process in which two nuclei of protium, an isotope of hydrogen are fired together to
form a larger nucleus, which releases a huge amount of energy when the repulsive force
between nuclei are overcome. Protium is 1 in every 8000 hydrogen atoms and although it
technically isn’t renewable, the abundance of protium means it will last for a long time. The
technology is in relatively early stages though. The process is also very safe. If there was
any malfunction which allowed leakage of any material, the conditions required for nuclear
fusion to take place would be compromised and its ‘shutdown’ process would be quicker
in comparison to nuclear fission reactors in which the process can carry on for days such as
the Fukushima Plant. Yet the major problem currently with nuclear fusion is that the energy
needed in order to create the right conditions, is around the same as it is produced, making
it an inefficient source of power. The aim is to reduce this input energy which is needed
to create a larger output. Many scientists believe that nuclear fusion will be available as a
viable energy source from as early as 2025 to 2040 yet nobody can be fully certain whether
it will produce enough energy to be commercially used.

Whose light will burn brightest between non-renewable and renewable? Although
renewable energies have been slow to ‘get off’ the ground, for majority of countries, the
future looks set to be one where renewable energies provide the bulk of our energy. Large
businesses are pouring money into these opportunities, seeing renewable as a profitable
investment as they decline in price. But it all lies with the separate governments around the
world to act. Despite organizations such as the EU have set targets to cut carbon emissions
and over 119 have some form of renewable energy policy, the changeover from fossil fuels
to newer, cleaner and maybe even safer resources cannot be forced upon anyone and so,
we must hope that the world will come to their senses that accepting these alternative
sources is logically the way forward.

Contributed by Mark Kelly

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