One point that our current president made very clear during his campaign is the decline of the coal industry. Increased environmental regulations and a decline in the price of natural gas have made burning coal impractical and inefficient. Another source of energy that is often overlooked is Nuclear energy. Nuclear power is struggling to expand its share of the market; an article in Axios, claims that the market share for nuclear power has hovered just below 20% for the past decade. Nuclear energy growth has been stagnant compared to the rapid growth of clean energy sources. Advocates of nuclear power have gave financial support to struggling nuclear power plants in New York and Illinois. People are reluctant to expand the use of nuclear energy because of the safety concerns present. Two of the most infamous nuclear reactor disasters occurred at Fukushima and Chernobyl. Many are skeptical and worried about the aftermath if an issue ever occurred at a nuclear reactor in the United States. However nuclear energy has become safer, more reliable and more efficient over the past two decades. Nuclear energy has extremely high energy outputs. For example, China is expanding their use of nuclear energy to supply energy to its immense population; over half of the nuclear reactors being built are in China. The major impediment for the growth of nuclear energy is cost and time; projects are slow and very expensive.
With incredibly quick rise of Tesla, battery storage as a source of energy has quickly become a topic of discussion. Last week two energy companies announced their plans to combine battery power with solar and wind power to provide consistent energy to Australia. Australia is heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels, 63% of energy use comes from coal, and is in need of alternate forms of energy. Combining battery, wind and solar energy is believed to be advantageous because it is more resilient and more adaptable than single source energy. For example, it can produce more energy during prolonged periods of cloudiness or low wind speeds.
Another company in the United States is attempting to something similar by combining battery storage with hydro-dams. Hydro plants store great amounts of energy, however they have slow response times; battery storage units have much faster response times. The main disadvantage with batteries is they have smaller storage capacities but the hydro plants will compensate.”By combining generation with storage, we can take advantage of the beneficial performance characteristics — fast response, fast ramp rate, low O&M costs, zero emissions — while using the generation asset to address the constraint posed by storage’s limited energy duration,” Combining battery storage with other forms of clean energy can potentially be an excellent way to maximize our energy efficiency while minimizing the trade-offs that result from using clean energy. We are continuing to learn more and more about batteries and it will be interesting to see their capabilities once they’ve reached their full potential.
A natural disaster such as a hurricane can be very disruptive to a nation’s economy and destroy it’s infrastructure. Hurricanes Irma and Maria have had devastating effects on energy systems in Puerto Rico and other islands. Many residents of the islands are not expected to regain power for about four to six months. With many of the energy grids having been destroyed, these islands now have an opportunity to rebuild and overhaul their infrastructure.
The Caribbean Islands have some of the highest energy costs in the world because of their reliance on importing fossil fuels. This is a great opportunity for these islands to make the switch to renewable forms of energy. Doing so would decrease emissions from the islands and significantly decrease their energy costs. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that modernizing energy would increase energy resilience, which measures how resilient an energy system is to an event such as a natural disaster.
One proposed solution for the Caribbean is installing microgrids. Microgrids use technologies such as large-scale batteries, solar panels, energy monitoring and control software. When microgrids were introduced, they were unproven and very expensive, however microgrids are now an affordable and feasible option for the rebuilding Caribbean islands. Caribbean governments could rebuild their energy infrastructure using clean energy with the added benefit of improved resiliency without raising rates.
One of the many problems third world countries face is they do not have access to energy. That does not mean there is a shortage of energy in existence for these countries; in fact, there is more than enough energy for the whole world. In the next thirty years we will see a surge in demand for energy with countries possessing rapidly developing economies. According to ExxonMobil, “global energy use growing from roughly 400 quadrillion Btus in 2000 to over 700 quadrillion Btus by 2040 with virtually all of the increase coming from outside today’s high-income countries.” One of the biggest challenges society will face over the next few decades is making sure that energy is available to all who need it. In developing countries that do have access to energy, it is often expensive and unreliable. This lack of access to energy is also restricting the growth of business and industries in developing countries. The World Bank sees access to energy services as “a huge global equity issue.” This could not be more true, every human should have access to energy regardless of financial status. These developing countries also have very high rates of population growth; if these developing countries do not gain access to energy within the next few decades, that will only lead to millions more without energy. It is also important that the people of these developing countries are not exploited by the energy companies, or else that will create exclusive energy access.
An interesting fact that should be noted is that the demand for high income countries is not projected to change much. One factor to explain this is smaller population growth. Another reason being the increase in efficiency these countries have made requires them to consume less energy.
In the United States, we often read articles or hear news reports highlighting the outdated infrastructure of our buildings, roads, tunnels, and bridges. Some of these reports make fear mongering projections estimating when some of these buildings and bridges will collapse. However, one major are of infrastructure that is overlooked is energy infrastructure. Most people do not realize how outdated the electrical grids, gas lines, and water pipes are in some of America’s largest cities. Much of our infrastructure is unprepared in the event of a natural disaster, war, or even a cyber attack. An article which appeared in IEEE Power and Energy Magazine titled “Impact of Natural Disasters on Electricity
Supply [Guest Editorial]” outlines some of the implications of a lackluster energy infrastructure system in the event of a natural disaster or a cyber attack. For example, a major blackout will cause extreme social disruption as many people would be left without running water, gas, internet, and communications. The article also discusses measures we should take to increase the resilience of our energy infrastructure to reduce the damage to our energy systems, and minimize recovery times. Cyber-terrorism is a word that has become very familiar with most Americans in the past few years. A cyber terrorist attack on our electrical grids would be very disruptive to our economy and well-being; so it is imperative that we keep our networks safe and secure.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States alone consumes about 19.63 million barrels of oil each day. Most of the oil we consume is used to make products such as gasoline, diesel, heating oil for homes, and jet fuel. Our rate of oil consumption continues to rise as if oil is a renewable resource, however, there is only a finite amount of oil left on this earth. A very conservative estimate by BP estimates that the earth only has about 53 years of oil left. One day, the worlds’ oil reserves will be depleted and many industries and economies in the United States and around the world are simply too dependent on oil.
The largest and most obvious industry that is not yet ready to move away from oil is the automobile industry. Although electric cars have become more popular and more reliable in recent years, the automobile market will continue to be dominated by gasoline powered vehicles. Last year, 82% of cars sold were gasoline powered; the Energy Department predicts by 2040, that number will only decrease to 78%. One solution to this problem is electric cars, however they have short driving ranges and they have yet to prove their long term reliability. Another solution is to convert from internal combustion engines to compressed natural gas engines. The main barrier standing in the way of making natural gas engines more popular among consumers is the lack of infrastructure necessary for natural gas powered automobiles. The biggest challenge of owning a natural gas car is finding a place to fill it up. We are caught in a paradox: automobile manufactures will not produce more natural gas cars until there are more compatible gas stations, on the other hand, natural gas companies will not invest in gas stations until there are more natural gas cars on the road. Although running out of oil is not an imminent threat to the automobile industry, it is easier to make a gradual conversion over time, rather than scrambling to make rapid change at the last minute.
Another issue concerning the world’s diminishing oil supply is how many economies are dependent on oil. Dubai is a perfect case study for an economy that is to dependent on oil. During its peak production in the 1990’s, oil production accounted for half of Dubai’s GDP. Today, Dubai’s oil production still makes up a large percentage of its GDP. Another issue for Dubai is that they consume more oil than they are able to produce, which forces them to import oil to make up that difference. This may not seem very eye-opening or shocking until you realize that Dubai’s oil reserves are projected to be depleted within twenty years. Dubai has very short amount of time lose their oil dependence before their entire economy is reduced to shambles. Oil dependent economies are not exclusively existent oversees. Houston, Texas is another example of how an oil based economy can be very disruptive and risky. Houston’s economy is largely dependent on oil; when oil prices fell last year, the workers in the oil industry felt the brunt of it. About 50,000 people lost their jobs during the oil bust. However during the oil boom, about 100,000 workers were hired in the oil industry. In order for economies such as Houston’s and Dubai’s to stay afloat with diminishing oil reserves, it is important they diversify and move away from a total dependence on oil.
Like any other natural resource, oil is not going to last forever, so it is imperative that industries and economies that are dependent on oil make changes so they will not be hung out to dry once a real oil shortage strikes.