The purpose of this research paper is to introduce the different types of energy resources utilized worldwide. This paper discusses the history of the different resources used, starting with the utilization of conventional fossil fuel based technologies, the emergence of nuclear power and finally, the commercialization of renewable energy resources. The main objective of this research paper is to provide an insight on how these energy sources are accessed, utilized, distributed and developed. The paper also seeks to impact of the utilization of these various energy resources on the environment, especially the effect of continued utilization of conventional fuel resources, the occurrence of global warming, and the current steps instituted worldwide to address these various environmental concerns. Prices of the primary energy resources and the consumption of major consumers are also shown in this paper. Finally, the discussion on other renewable energy may allow us to consider the worldwide promotion of alternative energy usage, the current challenges of its use, and steps that may be taken to address these challenges.
The global requirement for energy is increasing as the international population increases. Better living standards leads to the escalation of energy consumption of almost every household and industry. The discovery and usage of the different energy resources around the world will help meet the energy needs of every country. Advances in technology offer to tap on these resources to secure the energy needs today and in the future. There is no single resource that can supply all the electricity and energy needs of the world. As each has its advantages and disadvantages, all the supply options must be considered as viable resource. The fossil fuels, nuclear fission, fusion and the renewable energy resources must be developed because each of these resources can play a major role in providing energy required to insure that the state and standard of living is maintained if not improved, for many succeeding generations.
INTRODUCTION OF ENERGY SOURCES
There are two types of energy resources, the renewable type of resource and the non-renewable type. Non-renewable resources are the conventional fuel types, which are fossil fuel based. These conventional energy resources are utilized globally to generate electricity, power vehicles, and produce other kind of goods since the dawn of the Industrial age. These energy sources are non-renewable because they are of limited amount and are not readily replaceable. Non-renewable energy sources include fossil fuels and nuclear power.
A. Fossil Fuel
Fossil energy such as coal and oil were formed over a million of years ago from the decomposed remains of plants and animals that were buried by layers of rocks. The fossil fuel that formed depended on the organic matter that was present, the length of time, temperature and pressure that was naturally applied during the process (Energy). The onset of the Industrial revolution marked the initial exploitation and use of fossil fuels in a large scale. “During the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels seemed to be the ideal energy source. Steam locomotives, the quintessential machines of the Industrial Revolution, used coal as a fuel source” (History) During the early commercial use of fossil energy, the resources appeared to be inexhaustible are readily available in the surface. The Japanese government during the Meiji period, became fully aware on the usefulness of coal in promoting industrialization, and hence encouraged the development of coalmines (History).
- Coal - Coal is currently the primary source of electricity of the world. It is formed from the process of gradual decay of organic materials that have been subjected to geologic heat and pressure over millions of years. Extracting coal requires a laborious and technical undertaking, whether to extract it from open pit or from under the ground.
- Underground Extraction- In cases where the coal deposit is just way near the surface, the wells are drilled sideways in a way that the trucks can access the material readily. Deeper sources of ore are drilled vertically, and subsequent installation of elevators and connections to the surface follows. Companies may opt for the room-and-pillar method where pillars support the ceiling, and at each level where coal is present; wells are linked to huge galleries measuring over several kilometers. Other extraction companies use the long-wall method in extracting coal (Coal). This method involves the use of machine that cuts through the location of the coal, and recovers the coal as it goes along.
- Open Pit Mining- This requires the removal of earth layers until the first layer of coal is reach; the coal is extracted as the earth is removed. The miners dig down further to the next layer, and coal is extracted as before (Coal)
After its extraction from the surface or underground mines, the coal undergoes several processes to produce it’s by products. The coal is often cleaned or washed at the coalmines to purify it, and then transported to the plant. At the power plant, the coal is usually burned in a boiler to produced steam, and the steam is then run through a turbine to generate electricity (Clean).
- Oil- Fossil fuels in the form of oil are primarily formed from marine organisms that die and gradually decomposed in an anaerobic environment at the seafloor. They are buried by sediments and heated by the Earth’s natural geothermal heat, breaking its composition into viscous gel called kerogen. The kerogen further turn into hydrocarbons, the organic compounds that made of the petroleum and natural gas products (Fossil).
Oil is extracted from reservoirs that are overlain by impermeable rocks called cap rocks or seals. The needed geologic components that must be in place in order to produce enormous oil are the combination of source rock, reservoir, trap, and cap rock to make a hydrocarbon system. Oil deposits are extracted by drilling wells into the oil reservoirs and natural pressure is normally used to push the hydrocarbons into the surface. In cases where natural pressure is not available, the oil is pumped by injecting water, natural gas, carbon dioxide, or steam into the reservoir (Fossil). Oil extracts are processed to produce gasoline and other fuel products, lubricants, and industrial chemicals. These by products are shipped worldwide via pipelines and tankers, hence the hazard of spillage during transportation. Advances in technology are being pushed to make the process of extraction, processing, and transporting of these products less hazardous.
- Sustainability- “Over the last 200 years an ever-increasing proportion of our energy has come from non-renewable sources such as oil and coal”(Energy). While the need for energy is rapidly increasing, the reservoirs of fossil fuels are on their maturity as most have been under exploitation for several decades. Concerns are raised on the how long the fossil fuels will lasts. According to scientists and other international organizations, if the world’s demand for fossil fuel energy continues at the rate of consumption today, the oil and gas reserves will run out within some of our lifetime, while coal is expected to last longer (Energy).
Italian Physicist Enrico Fermi first discovered the discovery of nuclear power as a source of energy, when he bombarded uranium atoms with neutrons and discovered that the resulting by product is lighter than uranium. He then set further studies and experiments about nuclear fusion and headed the team of physicists who worked for the development of nuclear energy and the atomic bomb in Manhattan. After the illustration of the potentials of nuclear energy in the United States, nuclear plants started to thrive as alternative source of energy. “The amount of energy produced by the fission of a single uranium atom is estimated to be 10 million times the energy produced by the combustion of a single coal atom” (History). Estimates from international organizations, including that of known Physicists, Bernard Cohen, stated that electricity from uranium ore could last up to several million years (History). While uranium is a non-renewable energy, its sustainability is much longer than that of coal and oil.
- Nuclear fuel- nuclear fuel is produced from a series of process that involved the uranium. Uranium is a common element that can be found throughout the Earth’s surface. Extraction of this element may be done through underground excavation and open pit mining. Open pit mines involves the digging of large holes that are sloped in order to prevent collapse, while underground mines have small surface openings. As with any other kind of mining, precautions must be observed to avoid accidents, such us airborne radiation exposure (The Nuclear). The processes that are associated with the making of electricity from uranium are referred to as the nuclear fuel cycle. After the ore is extracted, it is transported to the milling site where it is processed several times to produce uranium oxide.
- Conversion and Enrichment- The uranium oxide is not yet readily usable and has to undergo further processing in order to be used as a nuclear reactor. The uranium oxide has to be transformed into uranium dioxide as a fuel reactor, and to a gaseous form of uranium hexafluoride that is ready for the fabrication plant.
- Fuel Fabrication- The enriched uranium hexafluoride is then transported to the fuel fabrication plant where it is processed into a powder form of uranium dioxide. The powder form is further made into ceramic pellets and loaded into metal tubes, which are eventually bundled into fuel assemblies.
- Power Generation and Burn-up- Just like the processes in the fossil-fuel electricity generating plants; the heat from the fuel assemblies that make up the core reactor is used to produce steam to drive turbine and electric generator. A reactor with an output of 1000 megawatts needed 75 tons of low enriched uranium. The energy output can produce up to seven billion kilowatt hours of electricity (The Nuclear).
- Nuclear Fusion- According to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Nuclear Fusion is one of the most favorable options for generating huge amounts of carbon-free energy in the near future (Introduction). In order to get energy from the fusion, the combination of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium is heated to 100 million degrees Celsius through magnetic confinement. Magnetic confinement is a process of controlling gas with strong magnets.
With the use of magnetic fusion device, the maximum fusion power is attained using deuterium and tritium. These synthesize to produce helium and high-speed neutrons, releasing 17.6MeV (mega-electron volts) of energy per reaction (Culham). This process releases an expected amount of 10,000,000 more energy than an ordinary chemical reaction. A large-scale fusion power station will utilize the energy carried by neutrons to produce electricity. The process entails slowing down of the neutrons by a blanket of denser material around the power apparatus. The heat will then be converted to steam that drive the turbine and apply power into the grid (Culham)
C. Renewable Resources
Changes in lifestyle in terms of production and consumption are a factor that leads to the increase of energy consumption worldwide. It is alarming to think that soon, the non-renewable resources will all be used up and depleted. It is for this purpose that technology was enhanced and further studies are conducted to tap on renewable energies. Renewable energy sources are energy supplies that are naturally refilled simultaneously as they are used. Global awareness on the use of renewable energy has increased, and international organizations and concerned individuals are promoting the use of these resources because of their sustainability, and they are less harmful to the environment. Further studies on how to reduce cost in constructing these sources because the reason why these sources are not widely accepted is due to the expensive technology needed to run the resources. There are also resources that are geographically remote and it is too expensive to transport the energy to the consumers.
- Solar Energy- Its apparent sustainability makes the solar system worthy of attention from developers of alternative and renewable energy. It is one of the secure resources that are available to almost every country. It caters to the desire of every home and industry to be less dependent on energy sources from expensive suppliers. The solar energy as an alternative energy resource is still in its undeveloped stage. The sun offers an enormous source of power but the technology has yet to discover a way to trap and store vast amount that can lasts. The Natural Resource Defense Council forecasted that by the end of the decade, solar power would become less expensive than that of the conventional electricity in many parts of the country (Renewable). The solar energy is enormous and it can be captured and trap to produce electricity or heat through panel systems and mirrors.
- Concentrated Solar Powers- This technology is capital intensive, but it has virtually zero costs on fuel. This technology use mirrors to focus on the energy of the sun and convert it into high temperature heat. The heat is subsequently transferred through a conventional generator. The heat is then used to heat fluid and produced steam that are used to drive turbines and produce power in the same way as other power plants.
Parabolic Trough Collector- This is made up of a set of mirrors (the solar collectors), heat receivers and support systems. The mirrors are laid by designing the reflective material into parabolic shape that focused the sunlight onto a receiver tube at the center point of the collector. A heat transfer fluid is then circulated through the absorber tubes to collect the solar energy and transfer it to the steam generator or the heat storage system (Gielen, 10).
Linear Fresnel Collector Technology- This is almost similar to parabolic trough collector, but it uses a sequence of long and flat, or slightly curved mirrors that are positioned at different angles to focus the light on either side of a fixed receiver. The main advantage of LFCs is its’ simplicity and the use of the cheaper mass produced mirror.
Solar Tower Technology- This technology uses mirrors on the ground to directly concentrate irradiation onto a receiver that is highly mounted on a central tower where the light is encapsulate and transformed to heat.
- Stirling Dish Technology- This technology is new and it uses a parabolic dish-shaped concentrator to reflect the sunlight into a receiver at the point of focus of the dish (Gielen, 12).
- Photovoltaic (Solar Electricity)- Photovoltaic effect is the process by which the light as a pure energy, enters a PV cell, sharing enough energy to the electrons. Inside the cell is a built-in-potential barrier that acts on these electrons to generate a voltage (the PV) that are then use in driving current through a circuit.
- Solar Cells- These are devices that transform sun power directly into electricity. They are made of layered semiconductor materials that are almost the same as those that are used in computer chips. During the process of sunlight absorption, the solar energy disentangles the electrons from the atoms, freeing the atom to flow into the material and produce electricity.
- Solar Arrays- These are solar cells that are small and are made to generate little electricity. Flat-plate PV arrays are assembled, and are mounted on a device that follows the sun.
- Wind Power- Wind power is a type of technology that captures the wind from the atmosphere and transforms it into a mechanical form of energy, and finally to electricity. People have been using this system many years ago; in running their windmills to pumped water as well as ground grains among other uses. The wind turbine that is widely used today is an improved form of a windmill. Wind turbines make electricity by blowing through the blades, which in turn spin the shaft that is connected to a generator and produces electricity. There are three types of windmills.
- Utility-scale Wind- it is a technology that constructs wind turbines that can produce electricity that are in turn supplied to power grids and the apportioned to the end users.
- Distributed or “Small” Wind- These are usually installed at or near the proximity of the end-user, with the purpose of supplying onsite demand for energy. The wind energy systems are made to produce varied amount of energy, from supplying the energy needs of residential houses to providing electricity to large manufacturing facilities.
- Offshore Wind- The wind turbines are constructed in the bodies of water to produce electricity from the wind. This is because there is a better wind power offshore than it is on land. The downside of this technology is its cost, as it is more expensive to construct the base of the turbine under water.
- Wave and Tidal Power – This is a hydropower that transforms the energy into electricity. This technology is not widely used due to high construction costs. However, technological studies and research are being conducted internationally to bring the economic and environmental costs to even level.
- Tidal Stream Generator- This technology uses the fast moving sections of sea currents by to cause the turbines to rotate, and in effect will make the generators produce electricity.
- Tidal Barrage- “A huge barrage is built across a river estuary. Gates and turbines are built into the dam wall. These gates are opened, allowing the tide to flow in, and turn the turbines. This turns the generator and electricity is produced” (Tidal). The gates are closed during high tides, and the water remains inside until the level of water outside the gate dropped to a difference of five meters or more. Subsequently, the water that was held inside is allowed to escape past the turbines, turning them that turns the generators and makes electricity as the water was released.
- Dynamic Tidal Power- This technology is yet one of the most complicated and untapped tidal power system. It was observed that ocean tide does not move perpendicular to the shore, but also in parallel to the shoreline. This characteristic of the tide allows a barrage to be built in a perpendicular angle to the shore in order to get energy from the tides as they flow.
- Geothermal- this is the energy that flows out from the inner core of the earth into the surface. There is a layer of hot, molten rock under the Earth’s crust as heat is constantly generated from the decay of radioactive materials. The immediately visible sources of geothermal energy are the volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and fumaroles. Deep under the Earth’s crust is lies an enormous amount of geothermal energy. There are four kinds of geothermal energy:
- Hydrothermal resources- this is made up of water and heat. “These geothermal reservoirs of steam or hot water occur naturally where magma comes close enough to the surface to heat ground water trapped in fractured or porous rocks”(Geothermal). They can also be seen in great depths, near fault lines. This reservoir can be used depending on their temperature ad depth.
- Dry steam- The naturally occurring steam is sourced directly from geothermal well to energize the power generator. The used steam can be put back to the plant’s cooling system, and then injected back to the reservoir to maintain water levels.
- Hot Water-The most common type geothermal energy is the hot water. To produce electricity, the hot water is generated from geothermal wells into the separators where there is lower pressure. The water produces a steam that propels the turbine generator to make electricity. When the steam cooled off, it is either used in the cooling system or put back into the reservoir.
- Binary Cycle- When the water in the reservoir does not have enough temperature to make it flash into a steam; it is used to heat other fluid that expands with applied with heat. The turbine is then powered from the expanded and pressurized fluid (Geothermal)
- Biomass- Biomass, in the context of energy, refers to plant and animal based material. It is the oldest form of renewable energy. The biomass fuels that are being used today came from wood products, energy crops, agricultural residues, food waste, and industrial waste and co-products. There are two types of biomass system:
- Stove and Boilers- These are “combustion devices to provide heat to the room in which they stand (stoves) or into water (boilers). These can be anything from very simple box stoves of a few kW output, to highly sophisticated boilers” (Biomass)
- Anaerobic digestion- A type of biomass with high moisture content, and so it is not suitable for combustion, but is appropriate for anaerobic digestion (Biomass). It is a process by which the microorganism breaks the biodegradable materials in the absence of oxygen. The possible end product is biogas, which is combusted to produce electricity and heat. It can even be process further into renewable natural gas and transportation fuels.
- Hydropower- The energy that comes from flowing water. The electrical energy that is produced from such energy source is called hydroelectricity. Hydropower generates electricity from using the movement of water to make kinetic energy that is in turn converted to electrical energy. This is done by altering the movement of water and forcing it to pass the hydraulic turbine that connects to the generator. “Hydropower is mostly dependent upon precipitation and elevation changes; high precipitation levels and large elevation changes are necessary to generate significant quantities of electricity” (Hydroelectricity)
COMPARISON OF ENERGY PRICES OF RESOURCES (International Department of Energy)
Monthly Natural Gas Prices in nominal US $ per one million British Thermal Units
April May June
Natural gas, US 4.6 4.6 4.6
Natural gas, Europe 10.7 10.2 9.8
Natural gas, Japan 16.8 16.3 16.1
Monthly Coal Prices in nominal US$ per metric ton
April May June
Coal, Australia 72.8 73.7 71.5
Coal, Columbian 64.5 66.6 63.3
Coal, South African 75.1 75.8 74.1
Monthly Crude Oil Prices in nominal US$ per oil barrel
March April May
Crude oil, Average 104.0 104.9 105.7
Crude oil, Brent 107.4 107.8 109.7
Crude oil, Dubai 104.2 104.7 105.6
While the above data speaks of international prices, it is to be noted that 85% of coal worldwide is being used within the same country from which it is extracted. Domestic markets have a lesser exposure to prices from the international setting. Prices also vary because of the quality of the resources, the geographical location, and also the contractual and regulating facet of the country. The importing and exporting regions also determine the difference in prices. The other aspect when determining coal and other energy prices is whether the price refers to contracted coal or to spot purchase. Some countries buy their energy commodities on one-year contracts. But international coal trade is done on the spot basis; hence the prices most often refer to prices on the spot purchase.
Fossil Fuels- “Fossil fuels are the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, contributing ¾ of all carbon, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions” (Fossil). The burning of coal and other energy sources to produce electricity, leads to enormous concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere and water.
- Global Warming- “Among the gases emitted when fossil are burned, one of the most significant is carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere” (The Hidden). The burning of fuel resulted in the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to reliable records that began in 1800s, the global average temperature in the earth’s surface has increased to .5-1.1. In 1995, Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with a report that the increase in temperature is not a natural phenomenon and that the human race has impacted on the changing climate. They have forecasted that if the level of carbon dioxide becomes an ongoing process, the Earth will experience a warmer climate in the near future.
- Air Pollution- The burning of fossil for energy produces carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons (The Hidden). The suspended particles in the air resulted to atmospheric pollutants.
- Water and Land Pollution- Solid waste that are brought to the surface along with the coal are sometimes left as solid wastes. In addition to that, accidental spills during transportation and use of oil can harm marine life and will make waterways and shores not viable for animals and plants.
Nuclear Energy- Environmental advocates argue that nuclear is far from being a good alternative energy because nuclear helps increase global warming. David Swanson discussed that the costs of extracting uranium, its further processing and waste disposal is roughly equal to the energy a nuclear plant can produce in its lifetime (Global). Environmental luminary, Ernest Callenback also wrote about the nuclear power as catastrophic to the environment.
Nuclear energy is not the “clean” energy its backers proclaim. For more than 50 years, nuclear energy has been quietly polluting our air, land, water bodies- while also contributing to global warming through the carbon dioxide emissions from its construction, mining, milling, shipping, processing, power generation, waste disposal and storage- releases greenhouse gases, radioactive particles and toxic materials that poison the air, water and land. Nuclear power plants routinely expel low-level radionuclides into the air in the course of daily operations. While exposure to high levels of radiation can kill within a matter of days or weeks, exposure to low levels on a prolonged basis can damage bones and tissue and result in genetic damage, crippling long-term injuries, disease and death (Global).
Renewable Energies- The use of renewable energies is not only to seek alternative source of electricity in case the non-renewable energies run out, but also to take advantage of the environmental friendliness of using these sources. Although renewable energy is said to reduce environmental hazard, it is recommended that further studies are conducted to assure the safeness of using these resources:
- Wind turbines- Wind turbines do not produce pollution that can be harmful to the environment, much less the effect of global warming emissions. The downside of this technology is the unsightly view of the wind turbines. The large turbines are also dangerous to birds and other animals. There is also the objection from those who have to bear with the noisy propelling of the turbines.
- Biomass- This is an alternative that can be used to replace burning of fossil fuels. The downside of this resource is the possibility of using unsustainable and non- certified sources. There are also the quality implications, because the resulting by product depends on the biomass used. Forest and farming scheme for biomass plants can alter the natural ecosystems and habitats.
- Hydropower plants - in this case electricity is generated by exploiting the natural gravitational and meteorological forces. There are also issues on its effect in changing the natural environment and the eco-system. This is a form of renewable energy that is widely used, it accounts for 16% of the global electricity generation.
E. Energy Reserves
According to the statistical review of World Energy in 2012, the world has a total coal reserve of 860,938,000 tons of which the United States has the highest reserve at 237,295,000. The US is followed by the Russian Federation and China as the third country with the most coal reserve. In terms of crude oil, the Middle East ranks first. With the global reserve of 1687.3 thousand million barrels in 2012, the Middle East shares the 47.9 % of it, followed by Venezuela with 17.6 share. Saudi Arabia ranks third on its 15.8 share of global crude oil reserves. The consumption of the primary energy sources has never decreased. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the demand for energy sources has increased despite the introduction of other alternative energy sources. As the fossil fuels are removed from the reservoirs, the reserves for these energy sources are also depleted. Many oil companies are deploying advances in technologies in order to extract more oil and coal from the underground. However, these are finite sources and it is not for long when the miners will get to the end of the once enormous sources.
Energy for the Future- While the world has still supply for its current energy needs, the availability of these resources in the future is doubtful. It is for this reason that concerned organizations are educating people on energy sustainability. It is about putting a balance between improving our economy and the need to protect the environment. It is about providing for the needs of today without having to compromise the need of the future.
Increasing Energy Efficiency- The energy demand of the future does not only need efficient extraction and production of energy. It also requires that we use the energy sources efficiently; by doing this the total energy we use will be reduced.
G. Energy Used Per Sector
Transportation Sector- According to the U. s Energy Information Administration, the energy used in the transportation sector in 2012 decreased from 26.7 quadrillion Btu in 2012 to 25.5 quadrillion Btu in 2014. There is a large decline in energy usage for light duty vehicles that has offset the increase of consumption from other modes of transportation. Energy demand for aircraft in 2012 grows from 2.5 quadrillion Btu in 2014. This is caused by less airway travels, an indication of lower economic growth. The increase shipping needs of foreign trades has increased the energy consumption of marine vessels.
Industrial- It is projected that the industrial sector will become the biggest consumer of energy by the year 2018. The industrial sector consists of the manufacturing, mining as well as the agriculture and construction industry. The refining and chemical industry consumes the most energy because of the need for energy intensive manufacturing.
Residential Consumption of Energy- The US Energy Information Administration employed specially trained interviewers to administer Residential Energy Consumption Survey and came with the usage patterns on the housing units and household demographics. The energy consumption on space conditioning on homes has steadily decline, however there is a continuous increase in the consumption of energy through the use of appliances and electronics. The following are trends on the energy consumption of households:
- The average American household consumed 11,320-kilowatt hours of electricity in 2009, the largest of which is used on appliances, electronics and lightning.
- Pace heating accounts for 63% of natural gas consumed in U.S. homes in 2009, the remaining 37% was for heating and cooking.
- Homes built in later years consume more energy than houses built before 1990 (EIA)
G. COAL AND NEW FEDERAL REGULATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States is taking a global leadership role in the reduction of CO2 emissions. Before 2006, the United States was the largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions. However, after the year 2006, China overtook the United States in terms of carbon dioxide emissions due to the large increase in China’s industrial sector. In the United states, the greenhouse gas emission projections made by the Department of Energy for the period spanning 2013 to 2014 indicated that there was a 28 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of the United States. This was a direct effect of two events, the first being the pronounced economic recession experienced by the United States and the second event being the increase in accessing natural gas through hydraulic fracturing. The first event decreased greenhouse gas emissions through the marked decrease in economic activity while the second event decreased greenhouse gas emissions due to the reduction in the release of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere during the process of hydraulic fracturing.
There is also a stark difference between the economic and environmental policies of the current administration and the previous United States administration. The administration of former United States president, George W. Bush was leaning against Kyoto-type of policies while the current administration of United States president Barack Obama favors policies that approximate the effects of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty signed in 1992 by 192 member countries. This treaty extends the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC framework commits signing countries to abide by the regulations that would ensure that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced. The reduction of the greenhouse gases is based on the understanding that there is a real threat coming from the increase in global climatic temperatures that would affect the biological balance of the planet (this phenomenon is known as “Global Warming”), and that the cause of this rise in global climate temperature is due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions that are in turn caused by industrial activities and utilization of fossil-based fuels (UNFCCC). The Kyoto Protocol (adopted in Japan, hence the name “Kyoto”) entered into implementing force in February 16, 2005. Since its implementation, it had helped member countries to address their greenhouse gas emission issues using the principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”. What this means is that all member countries are obligated to do their parts but are obligated to do different parts to achieve the desired end result. This meant that 37 industrialized countries, mostly countries that are located in Europe (either members of the European Union (EU) or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are obligated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by five percent of their 1990 emission levels between the years 2008 to 2012.
In 2012, a secondary commitment period was imposed which is known as the “Doha Amendment” (due to its discussion in the city of Doha) which commits the industrialized countries to further reduction of their carbon dioxide emissions. This commitment is for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions until 2020 but unfortunately, the Doha amendment has not been ratified.
In its place, negotiations had been undertaken to broaden the commitment of the European countries and now, post-Kyoto frameworks are being designed to include the United States, China and India. These countries were originally excluded from implementing greenhouse gas emission reduction policies but due to the economic and industrial boom in the countries of China and India, their commitment to the collective objective of reducing greenhouse gases and addressing the issues of climate change is critical. There are some parties in these countries that have declared that they will not agree to ratify any treaty that would impede their economic progress due to their country’s participation in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions but still negotiations are underway find a common ground between all countries. The next scheduled discussion will be on December 2015 in Paris, France and will continue the discussion of the UNFCCC.
The Obama administration seems to be leaning in favor of Kyoto-type of economic and environmental policies. For example, the Obama administration has attempted to implement the Kyoto protocol policies fashioned after various local and federal state government policies. A good example in a policy implemented in January 18, 2007 called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI. This policy is implemented on a state-level emissions and puts a cap and a trading system within eight big northeastern states. Each of the participating states has imposed mandatory limits on the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit and has enabled each state to be able to trade greenhouse gas savings credit with each other. This is similar to the Carbon Credit mechanism imposed by the UNFCCC that enables the signing member countries of the Kyoto Protocol to develop greenhouse gas reduction tools and trade these tools with the 37 industrialized countries to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Also, the Obama administration announced that the United States is targeting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of 17% below the country’s emission levels in 2005. This announcement was released in November 25, 2009 and shall be realized in the United States by the year 2020.
The United States’ State Department has also offered a national-level explanation in the United States’ Climate Action Report (USCAR) as was presented in the UNFCCC, which reported the United States actions to address the impending climate change disaster. The report showed that the United States will be able to achieve a reduction of 18 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions per Gross Domestic Product (GDP) unit between the years of 2002 to 2012. However, it was also reported that during the same period (2002 to 2012), the United States generated an eleven percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to the increase in economic activity and growth. The report further states that the 2012 greenhouse gas emissions will increase by more than 7.7 billion ton of carbon dioxide per year, which is a 26 percent increase in the country’s greenhouse gas emission over its 1990 levels.
The goal of the United States is very important because it adheres to the global goal of reducing gas emissions. However, as in all economic policies, there is a trade-off (advantage and disadvantage) of adopting such a policy. The effects of adopting emission reduction policies can be summarized as the cost effect on the individual consumer and the effect on the actual supply of power to the country with respect to the demand for energy that the United States needs.
- Available Power Generation Opportunities in the United States
The graph above shows the current energy generating capacity of the United States. The graph shows that the United States relies heavily on the use of coal and natural gas to generate electricity. The United States also has significant contribution from nuclear, conventional hydropower, petroleum, and a growing capacity coming from renewable energy resources. In terms of percentages, coal provides about 37 percent of the country’s total capacity, natural gas provides 30 percent, nuclear contributes 19 percent, conventional hydropower contributes about 7 percent, and renewables make up the rest of the energy capacity of the Unites States.
- The Impact of the Energy Demand and the General Costs to the Consumers
The average electricity cost in the United States is approximately 9.82 US centers per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2008. Residential consumers are charged higher at 11.36 US cents/kWh while commercial consumers are charged lower at 10.28 US cents/kWh. The lowest charges benefit industrial consumers that are charged only 7.01 US cents/kWh. The difference is due to the relative low cost of using high-voltage power for high-volume requiring costumers (such as industrial users) versus the relative high cost of providing low-voltage power for low-volume requiring consumers such as residential and commercial users. The United States charges its consumers higher electricity rates compared to neighboring country Canada (average of 6.18 US cents/kWh), Australia (average of 7.1 US cents/kWh) and France (average of 8.54 US cents/kWh).
- The Effect of Reducing Coal-based Energy Production
According to experts, the United States can retire about 20 percent of its coal-based power generating facilities by 2020. The decommissioning of these coal-based power plants is due to the regulations imposed by the United States government through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is regulating air, solid wastes and water discharge and as a result will be reducing the United States generating capacity by 33 Giga-Watts (GW) which is approximately 10 percent of the gross production capacity of the United States. Subsequent regulations from the EPA suggests that a gross total of 75 Giga-Watts (GW) of electricity will be removed once the EPA’s regulations are implemented in full force.
The effect of this reduction in the electricity capacity of the United States is a sharp increase in consumer prices for electricity. The price increase will come from the reduced volume supplied and the potential threats associated with unreliability due to undersupply of the electricity grid of the country. Very simply, if the price of electricity increases significantly in the United States, the economic progress of the country will take a direct hit. The cost of production will increase and business establishments will burden the higher cost. The increase will ultimately be passed on to consumers, which will reduce the consumer’s buying capacity and will make United States products non-competitive in comparison with competing products from abroad. This will result in a vicious cycle where companies will have to reduce their costs by reducing the number of employees hired, which will result in the economy becoming more non-viable in sustaining business. This will result in high unemployment and les economic growth.
In the United States, residential consumers and commercial establishments shoulder the cost of reducing coal use and therefore the increase in power costs. The justification is that industrial establishments have to retain a lower cost of electricity to be competitive. The reduction in the use of coal which leads to the increase in energy costs will have to be addressed through the higher energy charges paid for by the wider consumer base in the United States.
- The Effect of Matching Supply and Consumer Costs
The United States implements an Energy Demand Management strategy that takes into consideration the Demand-Side of electricity. This is achieved through the use of financial incentives and through the education of consumers. The goal of doing so is to manage energy demand during the peak hours by encouraging consumers to utilize less power (power savings) thereby reducing the stress created by demand. Peak energy management does not affect the overall energy consumed in the United States. However, it does create an environment where the demand for electricity is better managed thereby saving the country from acquiring too much investments for new power plants, especially lower-cost resulting facilities such as coal and natural gas power plants. The management of the demand for electricity also paves the way for innovations in power solutions such as the utilization of energy storage units that can be deployed whenever demand increases.
- Emerging Energy Opportunities and their Projected Costs
The United States will have major energy opportunities in the near and distant future. This is due to the increasing population, the resurgent economy and the decrease in the cost of developing new power projects in the country. One opportunity is the export of natural gas. The United States is a net exporter of natural gas and can increase its range of economic influence by exporting natural gas or natural-gas power to its neighbors or other destinations.
In addition, the oil consumption of the United States is changing in relation to the world’s oil consumption and there will be an evolution in the energy trade patterns that can be new opportunities for energy production and growth.
The overall effect of all of this is a contribution to the general economic well being of the United States, which will benefit from the proliferation of new economic opportunities that are tied to energy production.
The result to the consumer is a lowering of the aggregated cost of electricity. As more economic opportunities are developed, the country becomes more receptive to further economic stimuli such as new investments, new stakeholders and new projects. This puts the economic cost to a minimum while maximizing the economic benefits. As always, the challenge will be in implementing the necessary policies, guidelines and timelines for the successful delivery of power opportunities.
- Meeting Demand for Energy
There clearly is a need to determine the most suitable way of developing energy resources without creating more damage to the environment. However, the cost of new power is incrementally higher without the use of coal. Coal still represents the lowest possible cost in terms of fuel resource, given the great strides in efficiency that the world has achieved in utilizing it. Coal is utilized worldwide and the number of industries that have developed around the utilization of coal as an energy resource has grown exponentially as well. In fact, most of the world’s energy is based on coal and its coal derivatives and the suppression of the use of coal will have its own detrimental effects on industries and communities that benefit from its use.
However, the fact remains that the use of coal is also one of the largest contributors of environmental degradation. The global climate change movement is largely a response to the pollution that had been generated from the use of coal and other fossil fuels as the main energy resource of the world since the early 1900s. While the devastation that is empirically proven to come from global climatic change is now widely accepted, the economic costs of its prevention is also widely debated. Continuing to push for the reduction in the use of coal will have catastrophic effects on the world economy. Rising power costs coupled with rising energy demand will continuously push the prices up to levels that would be uneconomical. The resources that are being aggressively pushed, partly because the technologies for accessing them are not mature and efficient enough to be reliable, cannot sustain the energy demand. Coal and fossil fuel use thus remains to be the most viable energy solution to meet rising demand for power.
The solution seems to be the use of coal under a clean-technology platform. Coal can be cleaned up to a point where environmental benchmarks can be achieved. The use of more effective coal preparation technologies as well as systems that improve the quality of effluents is available currently for use. The issue is the additional cost of acquiring these technologies. For old coal based power plants, the use of these technologies may be moot and academic, principally because most of the old coal fired power plants can already be retired and additional investments in them will not be fruitful in any case. Therefore, investments in clean coal technologies would serve new power solutions rather than existing installations. The costs of additional technologies would be incremental and would not be comparable to, say the use of renewable energy solutions, that would have higher tariff rates compared to coal-based solutions.
COMPARE THE COUNTRY’S USE OF ENERGY
The growth of developing countries and the higher standard of living has an important impact on the rapid increase of the total energy usage around the world. The increasing need for energy is still being supplied by fossil fuels. These resources are nearing depletion and their consumption pose environmental hazards. It is for these reasons that concerned agencies are tapped on the use of other alternative and renewable energy sources, however, technology has yet to discover ways to augment the growing needs for energy with the use of these viable resources.
- United States of America
The United States as one of the most progressive country in the world is also one of the biggest consumers of energy. In 2012, it came second to China in its consumption of 436.69 million of tons of coal. It was rank number one in the usage of crude oil amounting to 817.01 Million tons in 2012 and electricity at 3882.6 billion kilowatt hours. It is to be noted that the United States has been using renewable energy sources aside from the primary energy source such as coal and oil. Its source of renewable energy are generated from hydroelectric power at 52%, followed by wind at 32%, biomass wood at 8%, biomass waste at 4%, geothermal at 3% and finally solar at mere 2%. The United States also comes in second to china in tapping on renewable electricity sources. Hydraulic generation of energy in this country varies because of the variation of rainfall and melting snow near watersheds. The same is true of the solar and wind energy source, the energy they produce vary due to fluctuating seasonal patterns.
China on the other hand being the most populated country was rank second to U.S. the consumption of oil at 817.01 and 4207.71 of billion kilowatt-hours in electricity while it was rank first in consuming 3,645 million tons of oil. While China is one of the major consumer of primary energy, its deployment of renewable energy sources yet unsurpassed. Just like the United States, it started with the hydropower, then the wind, the biomass and the solar energy sources. China has steadily invested on the technology of renewable energy. It was reported that almost half the hydropower plant installed worldwide in 2013 was in China. The Chinese government has openly supported and financed the construction of renewable energy sources.
- United Kingdom
United Kingdom has used an amount of 320.84 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, and a mere 39.7 million tons of oil equivalent. Its crude oil consumption is at 70.97 million tons. United Kingdom is still heavily dependent on fossil fuel however; it has also tapped on electricity generated from renewable resources. Most of its renewable energy comes from bioenergy and wind. Forty percent of UK’s electricity from renewables came from bioenergy, with the 27 percent generated from onshore wind and 18 percent from offshore wind. Bioenergy includes generated power from landfill, sewage system, municipal solid waste, animal biomass and anaerobic digestion (Renewable).
- France- “France is the Europeans Union’s second largest consumer of renewable energy. In 2011, power generation from renewable energy sources represented 13.1% of the countries’ electric production” (European). France took advantage of its rich energy resources, and tapped on its hydraulic and wind resources. The progressive agricultural sector is also helpful in the development of bio-energy.
The start of the industrial Revolution marked the rapid increase in demand for fossil energy. The coal and oil resources are once abundant, and there seemed to be no end for its produce. However, increase in population, improved economic standard and technological advances caused the rapid increase in energy consumption worldwide. The increased consumption meant an increase exploitation activity on the energy reservoirs. Concerns are raised on when the remaining available reserves will last. International organizations are also alarmed on the effect of using non-renewable energy on the environment. Because of that many countries shifted their focus in developing sources of renewable energy.
The United States, even with its vast coal reserves, started tapping on its renewable energy. China, France, The United Kingdom were revolutionaries in the use of alternative energy sources. There are also other countries that opted to embark on other energy sources. The reason why alternative sources of energy have not yet reached its total popularity is that the technology required is way too expensive. It is costly to invest on materials and technology to maintain energy facilities. It is recommended that further studies and assistance from world organizations should be given to countries that wanted to use alternative energy.
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