Monday, June 15, 2015

UK Energy consumption - We'll be using oil and gas for a long time !

To call, as the G7 has, for a non fossil fuel world by the end of the century is all very well. But it needs technology advances that are not in the pipeline.

Energy use can conveniently be divided between that which is competitive between primary energy alternatives and that which is not. Electricity generation is a classic example of the former. You can generate electricity from Coal, Oil, Gas, Wind, Nuclear,  Solar, Hydro...etc etc. To have all our electricity from renewable resources is technically feasible. Which does not mean that it is affordable, practical or the best of choices in all cases.

In the non fuel competitive category are the Oil specific uses. Primarily in Transport. Here it is either technically non feasible to use anything but oil (Aircraft), or has a hugely negative economic consequence. Shipping is presently 99% oil reliant. Road transport (Cars and trucks and buses etc) not much less. You can use electricity to move cars (etc.) but until there is a technology breakthrough which gives cost and range parity with petrol/diesel it will not happen to any significant extent.

In the UK and across the rest of Europe we substantially use Natural Gas as our domestic fuel - in the home.  We heat our homes with Gas and cook with it. These applications are not hydrocarbons specific - you could use Electricity as an alternative and many homes do. But to switch existing gas-using homes to electricity would requirement a truly enormous capital investment. Who would pay, and would it be worth it? And to generate the necessary electricity from renewable sources would also require a huge capital investment in (mainly) wind turbines - where would we locate them, and where would the money come from?  Alternatively it would require many new Nuclear plants to which we could apply the same question.

The reality of our primary energy use shown in the pie chart above is that over time there is potential to shift it substantially from hydrocarbons. But to predicate a "non fossil fuel world" by the end of the century is pie in the sky...


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