Energy resource survey finds fossil fuels in “adequate supply”

A survey of world energy resources released this week at the World Energy Congress in Argentina suggests that fossil fuels remain in sufficient supply to meet the needs of the world energy industry. As a result, the report says the role of renewable or non-conventional fuel sources in power generation is unlikely to be an important one.

The 19th edition of the Survey of Energy Resources, produced by the World Energy Council since 1934, presents a comprehensive global picture of resource availability, production and consumption levels, technological developments and outlook for sixteen energy resources, including all major fossil and renewable resources.

The main findings of the 2001 Survey confirm that conventional commercial fossil fuels, i.e. coal, oil and natural gas, remain in adequate supply, with a substantial resource base. Compared to the 1998 Survey, coal and natural gas reserves increased somewhat, while those of oil declined slightly. The expected continued dominance of conventional fossil fuels makes it seem unlikely that certain non-conventional or renewable energy sources will play an important role in balancing energy demand and supply in the foreseeable future, despite their technical feasibility or plentiful resource bases. This is the case with oil shale, natural bitumen and extra-heavy oil, peat, tidal energy, wave energy, ocean thermal energy conversion and marine current energy.

Coal remains in plentiful supply in the medium and long term, but its future prospects largely depend on the impact of deregulation of electricity markets, policies to reduce greenhouse gases, and technological advances (e.g. cleaner use of coal and carbon sequestration). Coal could also contribute in a sustainable way to satisfying demand for energy from the two billion people in the world who today still depend on traditional fuels.

Oil’s proved recoverable reserves have slightly declined, which can be attributed to fewer giant or new oil field discoveries and to the fact that additional discoveries have been less than the oil produced.

Natural gas, on the other hand, confidently appears as a cleaner fossil fuel set to play a greater role in satisfying increasing energy demand, encouraged by the recent steady increase in production and demand in the Asia Pacific region, (particularly in China) and also in Africa.

Uranium is expected to remain in ample supply over the next decade, while Nuclear power generation is experiencing a virtual stagnation in North America and Western Europe, a slow growth in Eastern Europe and a moderate expansion in East Asia.

Hydropower, which today accounts for 19 per cent of the world electricity supply, is at present utilising only one third of its economically exploitable potential. Moreover, hydro power plants do not emit greenhouse gases, SO2 or particulates. Hydropower’s social impacts, such as land transformation, displacement of people, and impacts on fauna, flora, sedimentation and water quality can also be mitigated by taking appropriate steps early in the planning process.

Woodfuels are estimated to cover nearly 6 per cent of the world energy requirement, although there are undoubtedly some difficulties in quantification. Whilst rising income levels and urbanisation in developing countries have resulted in a reduced share of woodfuels in their overall energy use, changes in energy and environmental policies, such as global warming mitigation, in developed countries have led to an increased use of woodfuels, often as modern biomass.

Biomass is a universal resource, but its major challenges remain the low combustion efficiency and health hazards associated with traditional use of bio-energy.

Solar energy, despite its huge potential, still needs a higher profile and more involvement from scientists and engineers, as solar technologies remain expensive and relatively inefficient.

Geothermal plant capacity in the world is increasing, for both power generation and direct heating applications. The growth in power generation has however slowed somewhat compared to the past, while that of direct heat uses has accelerated.

Wind’s share of the global energy mix is rapidly growing, so are wind turbines which are now available with capacities of up to 3 MW for offshore applications. The support provided by national governments influences development patterns: for example, wind farms in the USA and the United Kingdom and single machines (or clusters of two or three) in Denmark and Germany. It is expected that due to the rapid capacity growth in many countries and regions, global installed wind capacity may reach 150 GW by 2010, depending on political support, both nationally and internationally, and further improvements in performance and costs.

The 2001 Survey of Energy Resources portrays a broadly similar picture as other recent WEC Surveys. It continues to report the adequacy of the world’s total energy resource base and highlights the implications of environmental concerns, especially those over carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The global trend of increased energy sector competition, promoted by regulatory reforms such as privatisation of public energy services, is becoming an important factor in the choice of preferred fuel in many countries and regions.

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