The Stone Age, Sheikh Zaki Yamani once said, came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones. The former Saudi Oil Minister was referring to the now ubiquitous notion that the Oil Age will soon come to an end and it will not be due to a lack of oil. Even the Saudi’s (with 22% of the world’s Oil) are not so optimistic about Oil and its future prospects. Truth is, Oil, which is often described as the oxygen that the world depends on, is running out. The geologically spry era of easy, cheap oil as Chevron avers, is over and the days of the traditional oil companies is numbered. In the near future oil producers will not be able to meet demand not because they may ultimately be running out but due the challenge promising prospects of renewable. I hate to sing the sing song of the industry’s commentators, but this unsustainable form of energy poses a serious problem to the environment and other salient socio-economic issues. Before his death in 2005, the Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley characterized the world’s quest for sustainability under ten themes; Energy, Water, Food, Environment, Poverty, Terrorism and War, Disease, Education, Democracy and Population. The Chemistry Professor argued that Energy tops this list while lending a vehement stance on the need for clean form of it. He posited that with a clean, affordable, efficient, sustainable and secure energy the world will resolve all the other enumerated problems. What is then the way forward? Many industry watchers believe akin to Smalley that Renewable-Sustainable sources of energy, particularly hydrogen and fuel cells will be the RX. Renewables already account for 13.7% of energy supplies even though this may appear insufficient when juxtaposed against the colossal energy demands of the world economy estimated to be about 13-15TW (Terawatts 1012W). It will interest you to know that the total energy output of a typical power plant is 1GW (Gigawatts); joggling the figures will reveal that it will take 35.6 years at the rate of one plant a day to meet the world’s energy demand.
The G8 Renewable Energy Task Force reported in July 2001 that “The markets for renewable energy are the fastest growing energy markets in the world today. Successfully promoting renewables over the period to 2030 will prove less expensive than. . .‘business as usual’. . . within any realistic range of real discount rates. The G8 should give priority to efforts to trigger a step change in renewable energy markets.” The Michigan born Chairman and CEO of the Ford Motor Company William Clay Ford, Jr., said in Oct. 2000 that “. . . I believe fuel cells will finally end the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine. . . .Fuel cells could be the predominant automotive power source in 25 years.” The future is thus in an economy of Renewables.
Energy is the fuel that runs the engine of the world economy. Believe it or not our need for energy is not primarily to run economies but intrinsically to create order in the world. The second law of thermodynamics states that matter and energy tend to degrade into an increased state of disorder, chaos or randomness. It stands to reason then that, it is only through the flow of quality energy that order and structure can be created. So the quest to harness energy has just steamed up. Ask the emerging economies like that of India and China and they will nod on in favor of this now seemingly ubiquitous disposition. I have also chosen to tow along this lines of reasoning after a careful analysis of the world’s energy present situation. The economic progress of India and China has been aided by huge investment in energy and energy development and we can all agree that this has stimulated their economies positively.
Energy and sustainability are words often associated with development and debates marrying the trio often come up when policy makers converge to banter on the future of mankind’s survival. These debates widely re-emphasize the fact that nature and human society can only truly progress through its ability to acquire energy in a clean and sustainable manner. It is widely believed that energy catalyses growth and fuels development. But then one might ask, what is sustainable energy and how can it contribute to sustainable development. Sustainability can be defined as the patterns of economic, environmental and social progress that meet the needs of the present day without reducing the capacity to meet future needs. Sustainable Energy would them mean the patterns of energy production and use that can support society’s present and future needs with the least life cycle economic, environmental and social costs. The question now is what this means for mankind and why such discussions come up at a time like this; are questions that need urgent answers.
The importance of Energy in fostering economic development cannot be over emphasized. The progress of countries like India and China is a lesson for Nigeria and other developing countries which have for long being hampered by the lack of steady supply of energy in the form of electric power which is required to run factories, small businesses and offices which all not only provide jobs and livelihoods but also ensures a good bill of health for many economies and its people. For example Nigeria has an infinite list of opportunities and prospects which she has been unable to be harness, let alone develop and make beneficial to its teeming populace due to the energy constraint. This of course can be attributed to a number of problems one of which is the dearth of well trained and skilled personnel to steer the “Energy Ship” towards a positive outcome for the citizenry and the economy. Education, I believe is the way forward. But as often is the case with such forward thinking, money and the high cost of these training programs is a stumbling block. Specialized training especially abroad is quite expensive for an individual, state, or organization alone to bear.
In summary, it will be wise for us all as humans to explore only the most environmentally viable means to tap this much needed energy. This will help guard against jeopardizing the future of the coming generations while bequeathing them a clean world devoid of all the socio-economic and environmental problems associated with fossil fuels.