What is the actual, fact based truth about the future of oil? Is oil already well on its way out of our lives? An ancient and outdated dinosaur, running dangerously low with the needle almost on empty? Or have recent discoveries of new oil around the globe and tremendously improved technology allowing us to use oil a lot wiser, getting more energy “bang” for our buck served to ensure that oil will always be our primary source of reliable energy?
People continue to talk with optimistic fervor about the numerous alternative energy sources available to us these days. However, if you stop to ask any expert specializing in a particular alternative energy field, if their favored power project is anywhere near being ready to supply even 50% of the energy that is currently provided by oil, they will simply look down in disappointment and admit the answer is “NO!”
As oil reserves continue to diminish and our planet’s need for reliable power continues to grow, logic dictates that we prepare for the worst while we hope and work for the best. As more and more of the remaining oil lies beneath increasingly volatile and hostile regions, we need to find an answer to our energy problem, even if that answer is a multiple choice solution:
Nuclear Fission: Large amounts of energy can be inexpensively and quickly created, without emitting any carbon based waste or toxic gases into the environment, but a single mistake, leak, core meltdown or terrorist action could cause a catastrophe killing millions and poison the environment for thousands of years.
Biofuels: Alcohol and gas based fuels are created from organic waste and other renewable vegetative resources. However, this fuel source is still in its infancy and is fairly inefficient, often costing more to run the tractors and processes creating the energy than the value of energy created itself. Combustion of carbon based fuel causes pollution and can we truly risk burning up food stuff as the world population and starvation continues to grow?
Geothermal Energy: Harnessing the heat energy already present beneath the Earth means free energy, day or night, 7 days a week. But the destruction caused to the environment, most of which is located within protected, pristine nature preserves is a price that most people aren’t yet willing to pay.
Hydroelectric Energy: The gravitational pull of water flowing downhill turns turbine propellers which generate electricity. But the construction of the dams drastically alter the flow of the river as well as disrupt the spawning pools and prohibit the migration of fish, while flooding natural habitat of much of the local, native wildlife. When dams break, entire towns and cities can be flooded.
Solar Energy: Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity as it hits solar thermal panels. Free energy from the sun is an awesome idea but what if the sun goes down or it’s a cloudy day, what about bad weather and fog. Still in its infancy, the technology is still quite expensive, as are the storage facilities needed for more than 50% down time. Converting the “DC” solar energy to “AC” involves a converter that eats up about 8% of the electricity made.
Wind Energy: Wind mills with rotating propellers generate electricity without additional fuel sources, but wind is extremely unpredictable and variable in speed and most people find the turbines to be an eyesore while birds find them to be deadly.
So how do we replace oil, which supplies around 40% of our energy needs with alternative sources, none of which can currently manage to render more than 7% of the power that we need to survive?
As of today, nuclear and hydroelectric power are both only capable of providing us with 6% of our energy needs each, while geothermal, solar, wind and biomass, all combined together, currently are capable of supplying us with a grand total of power that is actually “less” than 1% of the energy we need.
That means that a lot more research, investment and focus needs be dedicated to making “all” of these alternative energy sources far more effective. Meanwhile, we must continue to use the latest technology to seek out oil in places that we have up till now, not had the science to be able to detect, while simultaneously learning to do a lot more with a lot less oil by utilizing it far more efficiently.
If we remain ever vigilant in our efforts , the human race should be able to successfully rise to the occasion and get past this latest obstacle like we have every other hurdle that has crossed our path to progress over the many centuries. Considering the alternative, do we really have any other logical choice available to us?
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For industry, as uranium-235 is as rare as platinum, LFTR thorium reactors are a much better choice of fission fuel, which also eat up existing fission waste and decrease the bomb and meltdown threats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_fluoride_thorium_reactor
For homes, concentrated solar power (CSP) and even photovoltaic (PV) are more than enough to power homes up to Germany: http://inhabitat.com/sonnenschiff-solar-city-produces-4x-the-energy-it-needs/
For vehicles, bamboo produces 8 times as much ethanol per acre per year than corn does: http://ecoenergynews.wordpress.com/why-invest-us/bamboo-can-lower-the-costs-of-ethanol-production/
Excess energy such as that from windmills (see http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-25/windmills-overload-east-europe-s-grid-risking-blackout-energy) can be used to produce hydrogen, oxygen, and desalinated water, or just charge flywheels or molten salt energy storage.