World energy consumption has been on the rise worldwide as developing nations begin to industrialize and as consumers in developed nations buy more energy consuming appliances to make life more comfortable. If the current trends continue, we may face an energy shortage in future.
All the energy on earth is derived from the sun .However, it occurs in various forms that today, man has developed the technology to exploit and use for agricultural ,industrial and personal advancement. Energy used to power our lives can be divided into two types: Renewable and Non-renewable. Renewables are those sources that are continuously replenished by the action of the sun on the earth. They include wind, hydro-power, solar, bio-fuels and geothermal. Non-renewables are usually fossil fuels whose supplies will one day run out. An exception is Nuclear power which, though a non-renewable, is not produced from a fossil fuel.
Fossil fuels continue to dominate as the main sources of energy produced and consumed worldwide despite the growth of the share of renewables in both production and consumption. However the use of fossil fuels has stalled when it comes to electricity production though its use has continued to dominate the transport sector. Oil is the main fossil fuel used and has remained so since the end of the Second World War. It has a near monopoly as the main source of fuel for the transport sector. However, the use of petroleum fuels to produce electricity has drastically declined with the exception of natural gas. This is due to the oil shock of 1973-74 that stunted economic growth in every oil importing nation and lead to a drastic hike in electricity tariffs. Since then, even when nations invested in thermal power, the majority invested in gas fired or coal power plants that were much cheaper to generate electricity from.
Historically, coal powered the Industrial revolution but when $5 barrel oil began to flow, coal declined in importance until the oil embargo which brought it back into importance. However, due to environmental concerns, coal power plants have to adhere to stricter environmental standards. Despite this ,the earth still has over 400 years of coal supplies compared to 60 years of oil thus of the fossil fuels, coal remains the cheapest to produce electricity from. Natural gas is currently in abundant supply in North America and Russia which has led to a decline in gas prices which has helped boost electricity supply and lowered electricity tariffs. Nuclear power which experienced a boom in the 70’s and 80’s has currently stagnated .In the case of renewables, the era has just began.
One thing is for certain, as fossil supplies decline, renewables will take their place although we are all concerned whether the energy supplies we have can sustain the developing world that is rapidly becoming energy hungry. Already, in parts of Africa and China, electricity shortages have become a perennial feature as supply struggles to keep up with demand. Oil will continue to dominate the transport sector since as of now; no other viable alternative has become popular. The electric car segment continues to under perform while hydrogen cars are slowly exiting the market only in ships and submarines where nuclear power has begun to replace fossil fuels. However petroleum fuel based electricity generation will continue to drastically decline as oil prices remain high. Natural gas will take the place of oil when it comes to electricity generation as long as more reserves continue to be discovered and current supplies continue to be abundant. Nuclear power will take a dramatic shift.
As nations like Japan and Germany seek to shut down their nuclear power plants. Many developing nations like Nigeria, Kenya, Jordan and Ghana are making plans to build nuclear power plants thus in future most nuclear power plants may be located in developing countries in future. However, in all nations, renewables are taking a larger and larger share of energy produced and consumed. Already in Paraguay, 100% of all the electricity generated is from hydropower. Spain, in its efforts to reduce reliance on fossils in energy production has some of the largest solar and wind power projects in the world. Germany is well known for its mega wind projects from which it periodically exports energy to the EU. Morocco, Egypt and Kenya have large wind power plants which are helping them keep up with the growing energy consumption as the USA, Indonesia, Iceland and Kenya are making strides in developing geothermal energy. Solar power, thanks to cheap chines subsidies is now a viable power source which places like the Sahara hold much potential. While the future may look bright for renewables, the high cost of producing them mean that as they continue to gain importance, our power bills will continue to rise so as to maintain them.