|November 25, 2009|
Society faces 'grim' post-fossil fuel energy crisis, report warns
Society faces a future energy crisis because renewable energy will not be enough to replace dwindling fossil fuel supplies, a new US study warns.
Industrial society cannot be maintained at present levels in a future where renewable resources take over from fossil fuels, according to the report by two leading California-based think tanks.
Jerry Mander, founder of the International Forum on Globalisation, which published the report this month, writes in the foreword: "With fossil fuels fast disappearing, and their continuing supplies becoming ever more problematic and expensive, hopes have turned to renewable sources that we ask to save "our way of life" at more or less its current level.
"Alas, as we will see the "net energy" gain from all alternative systems -- that is, the amount of energy produced, compared with the amount of energy (as well as money and materials) that must be invested in building and operating them -- is far too small to begin to sustain industrial society at its present levels.
Perhaps the most significant limit to future energy supplies is the "net energy" factor-the requirement that energy systems yield more energy than is invested in their construction and operation.
"This is very grim news, and demands vast, rapid adjustments by all parties, from governments to industries and even environmental organizations, that thus far are not clearly in the offing."
The report examines 18 of the most viable power production alternatives, from traditional fossil fuels and nuclear, to wind, solar, wave, geothermal, biomass and others. Wind and solar are the best possibilities for large scale production and net energy performance, it concludes.
But these are still limited by supply interruptions, the remoteness of the best resources and the materials.
The report warns the inability of alternative energy sources to meet current industrial society demands could lead to severe supply problems, worsened by other factors such as climate change and water shortages.
The report explores some of the presently proposed energy transition scenarios, showing why, up to this time, most are overly optimistic, as they do not address all of the relevant limiting factors to the expansion of alternative energy sources. Finally, it shows why energy conservation (using less energy, and also less resource materials) combined with humane, gradual population decline must become primary strategies for achieving sustainability.
Energy shortages will force changes in industrial production and personal consumption changes and may mean having to stabilise and reduce population levels in the long term, it argues.
"There is little likelihood that either conventional fossil fuels or alternative energy sources can reliably be counted on to provide the amount and quality of energy that will be needed to sustain economic growth - or even current levels of economic activity - during the remainder of the current century," the report says.
"This preliminary conclusion in turn suggests that a sensible transition energy plan will have to emphasize energy conservation above all. "It also raises questions about the sustainability of growth per se, both in terms of human population numbers and economic activity."
The study by think tanks the International Forum on Globalisation and the Post Carbon Institute is called Searching for a Miracle: Net Energy Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society.