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World needs stronger renewable energy sector

Sunday, 26 April 2009

World needs more and more energy. Increase in population also increases demand for energy and world is always looking for new energetic solutions that would ensure adequate global energy supply. There are also times when global energy demand is experiencing decline (global financial crisis, global recession) but these are only temporary happenings, and once they finish hunger for more energy is even bigger than it was before these temporary situations.

World satisfies its energy needs mainly from non-renewable energy sources - fossil fuels, mostly coal, and then oil and natural gas. Not only that these energy sources are non-renewable which means that they cannot last for eternity, they are also not ecologically acceptable because they are not only responsible for different forms of pollution, but also for one of the biggest challenges in human history - climate change and global warming. Majority agrees that global warming phenomenon is mostly result of man-made activity due to excessive fossil fuels burning, and the only thing that can slow down the impact of global warming is drastic cut in CO2 (carbon dioxide), and other greenhouse gas emissions. In order to do so we need to stop being so dependent on fossil fuels, because as long as coal, oil, and natural gas hold "top energy sources" spot world won't make that step forward that we so desperately need. This is where renewable energy sources should step in and make the difference. Can we really expect this in near future?

Renewable energy - Geothermal energy.
Renewable energy - Geothermal energy. Click on picture for full size.

There are many reasons why fossil fuels are still dominant sources in so many countries worldwide. First of all these are traditional energy sources with very long history, and of course very strong lobbies that know how to dictate political will, and influence political leaders to support them. Second is their price, for instance many developing countries are only looking the cheapest energy solutions to revive their economies, and coal is one of the cheapest available energy sources. China and India, countries that have lately experienced big economy boom owe their success mainly to coal, and they have no plans to abandon coal in near future. Third reason is lack of adequate support from technology to renewable energy sector. This third reason is definitely making things very difficult for renewable energy sector to compete with fossil fuels. There are still not enough funds poured into renewable energy sector to become competitive on global scale, and without necessary funds it is really impossible to expect miracles over night.

Many energy experts believe that fossil fuels prices need to skyrocket before we can see change because at the time when oil prices were constantly rising, and passed the $100 barrier there was lot of talk about the necessity for much stronger renewable energy sector since at that time renewables seemed as the economically acceptable solution. But as soon oil prices started falling due to global recession and decreased energy demand world started forgetting renewables and fossil fuels still remained No.1 energy sources. What renewable energy sources really need is to become price competitive with fossil fuels since economies are always on the lookout for the cheapest energy solutions, and renewable energy sources still have a long way to go before becoming price competitive with fossil fuels, especially if we do not see significant changes in funding in years to come.

The only thing that really has decent chance to boost renewable energy sector and make it dominant is climate change. Scientists are constantly warning world leaders how they should act as soon as possible and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuels use (or to be more precise fossil fuels burning) is the main factor responsible for these emissions. Though world leaders are planning significant cut in emissions this doesn't mean that world will be using less energy because of this, and this is the real chance for renewable energy sector.

Renewable energy sector has one very big advantage over fossil fuels, the fact that it is highly ecologically acceptable compared to "dirty" fossil fuels, because renewable energy sources release very little CO2 emissions into atmosphere compared to fossil fuels as the convincingly biggest pollutants. Renewable energy sector should be heavily building on this big advantage to ensure energy dominance in years to come, and if the world leaders agree new climate change deal like they are talking they would (significant drop in emissions on global level), renewable energy sector will receive much more funding which could in the end result in the cost competitiveness with fossil fuels. However there is still lot of "ifs" involved, and we still need to see this new climate deal before we can talk about the actual chances for renewable energy sector to become dominant, and when exactly can we expect this dominance to happen.

There are many countries around the world that have given us a good example on big potential that renewable energy sources undoubtedly have, for instance Germany with their wind power sector, Iceland with their geothermal energy use, China with hydro energy, and even some U.S. states like Arizona and Florida with solar power projects. Potential is undoubtedly there, but renewable energy sector still needs support from technology in order to develop as much as possible and become much more affordable, and of course more efficient. With the adequate funding this can surely be achieved, the only question is how much time will be needed.

Renewable energy - Solar Photovoltaic.
Renewable energy - Solar Photovoltaic. Click on picture for full size.

Even if the world accepts drastic cuts in CO2 emissions and signs new climate deal this won't mean that we will be no longer using fossil fuels, this will only mean that there is a much stronger emphasis on renewable energy sector that will have to gradually replace fossil fuels, and become sufficient for satisfying world's demand for energy. This can be done successfully only if there is constant work on developing technologies, and constant growth of renewable energy projects worldwide. Worldwide use is key factor in the whole story because everything has to be done on global scale, with world leading countries giving right example to the rest of the world.

Of course we should also expect heavy resistance from fossil fuel sector because there are some pretty powerful lobbies and billions of dollars involved in the whole story, so things probably won't go smooth as many think they would. Some old energy titans will have to fall down before we see new world's energy policy, and this won't be easy to achieve. But still I expect renewables to become dominant energy sources by the end of this century because they offer best solution to climate change problem, and climate change problem is likely to haunt us for many centuries.

The important step forward to renewable energy sector is definitely new climate deal which should happen very soon, and there is really no reason why it shouldn't happen because not only world leaders can learn from Kyoto protocol mistakes but there is also strong political will (apparently) to make it happen. Once this new climate deal is behind us then we can start talking about actual measures that would mean strengthening of renewable energy sector (like bigger taxes for non-renewable energy sources, more funds for renewables, and financial aid for developing countries so they can develop their own renewable energy sectors).

Rich countries have great responsibility, not only will they have to further develop their own renewable energy sector, but they will also have to share technologies and give enough money to poor developing countries so they can also start developing their own renewable energy sectors. This will by no means be an easy task, but it can be done if there's an agreement between rich countries. Without adequate funding and necessary technologies developing countries will still remain fateful to coal as the cheapest and the most available energy source with relatively easy implementation, and this won't change things on global level. New energy policy is needed on global scale, not just in rich states, although at the end it is all in the hands of rich states, and their political will. Hopefully rich countries are aware of the fact that world needs to act globally on all-important questions, and new energy policy is definitely one of the most important questions.

Renewable energy - Wind energy.
Renewable energy - Wind energy. Click on picture for full size.

The thing that worries the most is that politics always plays the key role in almost every aspect of life, and energy issues are sadly no exception. Energy experts, as well as the scientists can put lots of efforts and offer different logical solutions but if politics fail to do their part all their efforts are pretty much useless. In politics it is all about interests, and the balance of power, and I'm still convinced how many politicians (especially in U.S.) still want to keep fossil fuels dominant because of many different lobbies that are standing behind them. These lobbies have played important role in campaigns of certain politicians so they except return of the favor. Many see America and President Obama as the leader of "new revolution" that would among other things breath new life into global energy policy but this new revolution depends upon political will of the Congress. The same goes for other countries too, president or prime minister can speak one thing but without the support of country's legislative body his words won't mean much. Talk is one thing, and action something completely different, and world definitely needs action to create new energy policy.

Renewable energy sector definitely deserves further development, and it needs to become much stronger in years to come. Of course I do not expect that world abandons fossil fuels completely, what I expect is shift in power towards renewable energy sector. This of course will not happen right away but we have to create grounds to make it happen in years to come, with enough funds, and adequate technology support I really do not see the reason why this shouldn't happen. Of course, as always politics will have the last word but I think even they are starting to see that we need to make renewable energy sector much stronger in years to come. Stronger renewable energy sector would not only mean more energy but also less harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and this is something world eagerly wants to do. Well, at least it seems so.

 
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