Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A GRIM ENERGY FUTURE

Dan Shapley, Daily Green - The International Energy Agency's latest World Energy Outlook is a rather depressing read, casting in stark terms both the cost of continued reliance on fossil fuels and the magnitude of the challenge to cut back."Current trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable - environmentally, economically and socially - they can and must be altered", said Nobuo Tanaka, the IEA's executive director. "Rising imports of oil and gas . . . together with the growing concentration of production in a small number of countries, would increase our susceptibility to supply disruptions and sharp price hikes. At the same time, greenhouse-gas emissions would be driven up inexorably, putting the world on track for an eventual global temperature increase of up to 6 degrees C."

Here's a look at some of its conclusions:

- If government policies don't change, the world will spend $1 trillion on energy -- much of it fossil fuels -- and demand will grow 45% by 2030, a slightly slower rate of growth than was predicted last year because of the economic crisis. China and India would account for half the growth in world energy demand, and world cities would account for three-quarters of total demand.

- Demand for oil would rise nearly 25% and will remain the world's "main source of energy" for years to come, even under the most "optimistic" alternative scenarios. But it could come at an increasing cost, as supplies dwindle, oil supplies are nationalized, sources shift to non-traditional forms like oil shale, oil sands and deep-sea deposits, and political instability disrupts supply. "The era of cheap oil is over," Tanaka said.

- Renewable energy, even under current government policies, will become the second-biggest source of electricity sometime in the next few years.

- Carbon dioxide emissions will increase 45% by 2030, if current trends continue unabated. Three-quarters of the increase will come from China, India and the Middle East. Reducing emissions to prevent a 3-degree (C) rise in temperature would take a $4.1 trillion investment ($17 per person per year) by 2030 primarily in energy efficiency so that vehicles, homes and appliances demand less energy. That investment would deliver fuel-cost savings of $7 trillion or more. But to prevent a 2-degree temperature increase, the cost would rise to $9.3 trillion, as the world invested heavily in non-polluting forms of energy, and the fuel-cost savings drops to just $5.8 trillion.

If there's good news in all this, it's that the world managed to spend $4 trillion just in the past few weeks in an effort to stave off a worsening financial crisis. So if the will is there, so are the resources.