Fossil fuels provide the means by which our economies are run; however, fossil fuels are in decline, and if we do not face up to the dwindling supplies of oil, gas, and coal, we face a serious crisis. The search for alternative fuel supplies is being stepped up. Options include:
One of the cleanest forms of energy, it can be generated as long as the wind continues to blow. Unfortunately, the wind does not always reach sufficient levels, so the issue of constant supply arises. In addition, concerns have been expressed that wind farms could have an adverse effect on local weather in ways that are not yet fully understood. Scientists are working to develop floating wind farms that would be placed in the sky, where the wind blows much harder.
Solar power creates no pollution and can be captured either as usable heat or turned into electricity using cell technology or synchronized mirrors. However, solar power has a high initial cost and there is a need for considerable space to install solar panels. Changes in the weather and the presence of air pollution can also have an adverse effect on solar power.
Nuclear fission, which is the technology most nuclear plants rely on, emits harmful radiation and produces sizable quantities of potentially dangerous radioactive material. However, scientists believe they may be one day able to harness a natural phenomenon called sonoluminescence, which is the flash of light produced when special liquids collide with high-energy sound waves. The tiny bubbles produced in this process rise to extremely high temperatures and pressures, and scientists think that this may be sufficient for nuclear fusion to occur.
Aside from the obvious alternative energy sources, unconventional oil supplies are another option and, indeed, some of these supplies have already come on stream. Developments in hydraulic fracturing as well as in horizontal drilling methods have provided access to supplies of shale gas. A parallel development has seen access provided to oil supplies in rock and sand beds that previously could not be accessed.
Access to unconventional oil supplies has seen oil production in the US increase by 25 percent since 2008, the highest output for any country in that period. Before shale gas, the US was looking at a situation whereby it would have to rely heavily on imported liquefied natural gas supplies. If you keep up with the news, you will be aware of the geopolitical threats posed to imported supplies of oil and gas, so having a steady domestic supply of both is a considerable boon for the US. Deepwater production is another source of unconventional oil.
For a comprehensive understanding of energy issues, you should read the publications of Daniel Yergin. A leading energy scholar, he has authored The Prize, a study of oil and geopolitics, and The Quest, a study of the energy sources that have made the world what it is. Dr. Yergin founded and serves as chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and is Global Energy expert for CNBC. He is a member of the US Secretary of Energy Advisory Board.
In conclusion, future energy consumption is likely to arise from a combination of alternatives and the better utilization of existing sources, with an emphasis on sustainability.