- Politics and Social Issues
The Extent to Which Fossil Fuels Could Be Replaced by Renewable Energy Sources in the Future
More economically developed countries (MEDCs) have already made vast progress in developing their renewable energy supplies; Denmark often produces more than 100% of its electricity needs from wind power, and Portugal and Germany have both had periods of 100% renewable electricity production. Outside of Western Europe, Brazil produces over three-quarters of its electricity from hydroelectric dams alone, and even China – a country infamous for its pollution from fossil fuel use in the last half a century – produces a significant percentage of its electricity from hydroelectric dams. Clearly, governments across the globe have the enthusiasm to move away from fossil fuels.
This global enthusiasm is at least partially driven by a desire to domesticate energy supplies, and thereby increase security; renewable sources are much more widespread than finite, ground-extraction based sources.
However, the aforementioned countries all have particularly high levels of wind, water, and sun; Brazil has 12% of the world's freshwater, and a large enough economy to utilise it. Similarly, the Western European nations all have the money and pressure from the increasingly climate change-aware public to make substantial progress. It is more difficult to imagine a developing country, possibly held back by civil war, corrupt leaders, or the debt trap, having a similar capacity for the development of renewable energy sources.
Renewable sources will undoubtedly replace fossil fuels; this change will be forced by peak oil, and although some countries will look to recyclable and renewable sources, such as nuclear and biomass, these have numerous problems of their own.
Nuclear may be a more realistic contender once fusion technology and safety precautions have developed, but biomass will always require vast amounts of land, which will become less viable as populations increase, and environmentalists gain more power to prevent more of the Amazon rainforest being destroyed for biomass crops.
In conclusion, renewable sources are certain to replace fossil fuels eventually, simply due to the finiteness of oil, gas, and coal. However, the time at which renewables surpass fossil fuels in usage will depend on how long it takes developing nations to develop sufficient infrastructure, which will mean improved education, more awareness of the environmental issues associated with fossil fuels, and hence more pressure on governments to prioritise the development of a diverse and renewable energy mix.