Global energy dilemmas

How can we have adequate, affordable, and reliable supplies of energy that are low-carbon?

These twin challenges of energy security and climate change combine to create the global energy dilemma. The world is moving towards a 4-degree global rise in temperature which will have devastating global consequences. Anthropogenic climate change has forced the issue of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions onto the energy policy agenda (Bradshaw, p. 278).

Continued reliance on fossil fuels

Oil is the only primary energy source that plays an important role in all of the national energy systems. Coal is the world’s fastest growing fossil fuel energy source, currently providing about one-third of the global primary energy supply. Global coal reserves are not as geographically concentrated as those of oil and natural gas. The United States, China, India, and the former Soviet Union together account for some 80 percent of global hard core reserves. Coal has the highest greenhouse gas emission factor of all fuels and also contributes significantly to local air pollution. The figure above provides comparative data on global energy mix. Natural gas accounted for 18.9 percent in 1973, Oil for 52.6 percent and coal for 22.6 percent respectively.

Natural gas as bridge fuel

Natural gas is the fastest growing fuel of choice for electricity generation in the Western hemisphere and has also gained an increasing importance in emerging economies.

Similarly to oil, gas is a non-renewable resource with reserves and production concentrated in a few countries and regions, and most nations relying on imported supplies. With respect to globally available resources, the production of conventional gas is likely to peak (or plateau) several decades later than conventional oil in most scenarios.

Natural gas accounted for 23.7 percent among the major five energy resources in 2007, ranking the third following oil (35.8 percent) and coal (28.4 percent). According to World Energy Outlook published by IEA, the global gas demand is expected to increase 88 percent from 2,750 bcm to 5,160 bcm by 2030.

Transition to clean energy

Unlike fossil fuels, the fuel of nuclear energy (uranium) has a fairly high security of supply, offers protection from fuel price fluctuations, and is possible to stockpile. In comparison to oil and gas, uranium is abundant and more geographically distributed, with a third of proven reserves in OECD countries.

Renewable energy includes hydropower, wind and solar energy, tidal and wave energy, ocean and geothermal energy, and biomass energy. As renewables offer a variety of sources of energy, they are geographically distributed more widely than hydrocarbons.

As of 2015, new and renewable energy was 7 percent (mostly hydro power) and nuclear energy was 6 percent. The energy ratio changed to 36.1 percent of oil, 18.0 percent of coal, and 26.0 percent of gas.


References:

  • Aleh Cherp, “Energy and Security,” Global Energy Assessment: Toward a sustainable future (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  • International Energy Agency (IEA), Key world energy statistics 2016 (Paris: IEA, 2016).
  • Michael Bradshaw, “Global energy dilemmas: a geographical perspective,” The Geographical Journal, Vol. 176, No. 4 (December 2010), pp. 275-290.
  • Wim de Vriend, “Is the golden age of gas nothing more than a bubble?” The Oil Price.com, April 13, 2016.

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This article is from the free online course:

Global Resource Politics: the Past, Present and Future of Oil, Gas and Shale

Hanyang University