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The Degree of Uncertainty over Future Global Sources of Energy

Updated on June 29, 2016

As fossil fuel reserves run out, and we pass peak oil globally, reliance is likely to turn to less conventional "frontier hydrocarbons", such as Canada's tar sands. Fossil fuels are finite; peak oil is expected within 50 years, whilst coal could last for another 250 years. The UK has already passed peak oil.

China currently has the largest population of any country, with 1.3 billion people, and 70% of its 500 terawatts of electricity production is from coal. India, with 1.1 billion people, is equally reliant on fossil fuel imports, from both Africa and the Middle East. As supply decreases, demand will continue to rapidly increase, and these two countries will force global prices to rise, causing uncertainty in the USA, but even more so in developing countries, which so far have not been able to diversify energy supplies, and have subsequently been left with poor energy security.

Coal production in China.
Coal production in China. | Source

In the short term, political issues could cause significant uncertainty, particularly in Europe. Russia supplies 100% of natural gas used in Finland, Latvia, and Slovenia; most passes through Ukraine, a transit country with difficult relations with Russia. Russia has cut supply on numerous occasions, due to Ukraine refusing to repay debt, thus causing shortages in western Europe, including Germany.

Countries with domestic resources are better able to cope with potential uncertainty in the future. France produces most of its electricity from nuclear power, whilst Denmark is able to meet its energy needs from wind power alone. Such sources have little future uncertainty, as further research will only improve efficiency. Should developing countries be able to implement such technology on a large scale, then they too will be safe from uncertainty.

The countries with the largest populations will have the largest degrees of energy uncertainty; the USA continues to rely on non-renewable fossil fuels, and public perception ("NIMBYism") holds back development of nuclear and wind power.

If African countries, such as Nigeria, with rapid population and economic growth, can develop synchronously with renewable energy sources, then global uncertainty will be kept at a relatively low level, as demand will not be contributed to by these developing nations.

There is uncertainty from the extent to which new fossil fuel sources will be discovered in the near future, and from the poor accuracy in estimates of existing reserves. Accidents such as Chernobyl can interrupt energy supplies over the short term, whilst piracy, especially off of the Somalian coast, and in the Strait of Malacca, will disrupt sea routes over the long term, unless radical actions are taken.

Piracy demonstration in the Strait of Malacca.
Piracy demonstration in the Strait of Malacca. | Source

Large uncertainty is likely to occur within the next century, as oil dependent nations are forced to diversify, but once renewable sources are dominant, with new technology improving efficiency, then there should be very little uncertainty, especially if the sources are domestic, thus bypassing political disputes.


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      2 years ago from Colorado

      Hi Tom-

      Nuclear power production is reliable, inexhaustable, clean, and safe. Unfortunately, this will never be the answer in much of the third world, because the potential for short-sighted terrorist attacks in such places, on such plants as well as the spent fuel, will prove far too dangerous.

      Don't forget infrastructure. Having generation capability is one thing. Get the power to where its needed is another.


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