Energy is the linchpin of the modern world. We need it for everything, from smartphones to television sets, and without it, we could not power our offices or drive our cars. But the way we source our power is changing, and countries around the world are having to adapt to a new way of meeting demand. This article will look at the shifting energy landscape and the alternative methods now being developed to change the world for the better.
A changing world
Experts believe that worldwide trends – such as the global growth in the middle classes and a wider spike in the world’s population – are set to raise demand for energy in the coming decades by an amount equal to the total energy currently used across the entire western hemisphere. Feeding this hunger for fuel is a huge task for the private sector and for governments, and traditional fossil fuels may not rise to the challenge.
Energy production in the 20th century was marked by the dominance of coal and oil, but time is running out for these fuels. It is believed that the coal reserves we are aware of will only last us until 2088, and more than three quarters of the world’s 20 biggest oil fields have already hit their peak production levels.
Natural gas, which is often presented as a solution because it releases much less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, is also non-renewable and will not last forever. When it comes to energy, time really is of the essence.
Ready to adapt
Fortunately, governments and businesses know they need to act. Due in part to improvements in turbine technology, for example, wind power is also touted as a solution. The Global Wind Energy Council believes that the number of wind power installations will double in five years due to investment from America, China and Europe.
Solar power, too, has received a lot of attention due to the plummeting costs of services and equipment, and policy-makers are recognizing the advantages of this type of technology. In the USA, for example, a federal income tax credit for residential and commercial properties looks set to incentivize more people to go solar.
Some countries are also experimenting with hydropower, a low-emission form of production, which is known for its ability to quickly and efficiently increase or slash output to match changes in demand.
Renewable, but not perfect
Modern energy technologies are sometimes presented as a perfect solution to the growing energy crisis. But they have their drawbacks as well as their advantages. Solar power, for example, can only run during hours of sunlight. Many other forms of power generation are not subject to this restriction, so the yield from solar is comparatively lower.
While wind power is a particularly cheap source of energy, it is highly location-dependent and requires a specific combination of natural forces for a productive energy yield to take place. In addition, the lifespan of a wind turbine – about 20 to 25 years – is shorter than some other energy sources, creating questions over whether wind farms are worth the investment.
Hydropower is also not without its problems, including enormous setup and construction costs. The dams used can also lead to flooding and pressure on ecosystems, which raises concerns over the method’s environmental and ecological impact.
What other solutions are there?
Despite the ongoing debates about the efficacies and problems of each major source of energy, representatives from science, business and government are still working hard to find other solutions that will help change the world for the better.
One example is cold fusion, a type of nuclear reaction that would take place at room temperature, rather than under conditions of high heat – ideally producing large amounts of energy at a much lower cost. While previous cold fusion experiments produced mixed results, recent research by Professor Alexander Parkhomov suggests that it is possible to use a device, designed by Italian entrepreneur Andrea Rossi, to produce almost triple the amount of power originally put in. Because there is no need for high heat, a successful cold fusion device does not require a thermonuclear reaction. This makes it an attractive option, especially for financial backers looking for cheap setup costs and high levels of efficiency.
The changing world has rendered the future resources landscape uncertain. But with developments in innovative technologies moving at an ever faster rate, scientists, entrepreneurs and policymakers are starting to see light at the end of the energy tunnel.