Oil and Alternative Energy Sources: The Most Widespread Myths (Part 2)

Oil and Alternative Energy Sources: The Most Widespread Myths (Part 1)

Myth #4

Population size is not related to the availability of energy sources.

If you compare graphs 2 and 3 (see Oil and Alternative Energy Sources: The Most Widespread Myths, Part 1), it can be seen that the dramatic increase in the world's population that occurred immediately after World War II coincided with a period of dramatic increases in per capita energy consumption.

Energy AbundanceThe increase in the number of children, which began in the 1950s, was made possible by the low price of oil. Families had more children. In addition, improvements in health care and innovations such as antibiotics (also made possible by traditional fossil energy sources) have reduced child mortality and made people more likely to live into adulthood.

In the same period. The so-called "Green Revolution" took place in agricultureThe use of irrigation systems, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds, as well as the development of higher-yielding crops, began to increase. The use of irrigation systems, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, hybrid seeds, and the development of crops with higher yields began to increase. All of these opportunities arose from the use of oil and petroleum products in commercial quantities. Increased use of agricultural technology has also helped to increase food production.

Looking at this situation from a long-term perspective, the curve of the world's population began to rise dramatically since the Industrial Revolution and the increased use of coal.

Graph No. 5, Earth's population (billions of people)
Graph No. 5, Earth's population (billions of people)

Myth #5

One energy source can easily be replaced by another.

Any transition from one energy source to another is slow and expensiveif at all possible. The problem is that different energy sources are used for different purposes. When oil production began to surge during and after World War II, oil added new opportunities to the world economy compared to coal.

Using only coal (and coal-based hydropower)We could have fuel cell cars in the form of batteries, but with a limited range of travel. Using cars with bioethanol as the energy source would require a huge amount of acreage to produce the necessary amount of corn to produce ethanol. There is an option with trains, but they cannot go door-to-door.

Abundance of oil made it possible to create personal vehicles that could move literally door-to-door, as well as trucks that delivered goods from their place of production to consumers or to any other desired destination.

Mankind was also able to start building airplanes. Aircraft allowed the world to scale up business: managers were able to visit distant production sites in their own countries and other nations in a relatively short period of time. It was also possible to transport workers from one country to another for training if necessary. It is doubtful that without air transport it would have been possible to maintain the level of internationally integrated companies similar to what we have today.

It is worth noting that the differences between different fuel sources do not change over time. Oil is still the primary source of fuel for long-distance travel because: a) oil is an energy-intensive source of fuel and can fit into a relatively small fuel tank; b) the natural state of oil is liquid, so it is easy to pump; c) the world economy in its current form is built around cars and trucks that use oil, fueling stations serve these vehicles. In addition, at the current level of technology, oil is also a better fuel for air transport.

Transition to electricity as the main source of energyThe transition is likely to be a slow and expensive process. One important point is that the cost of electric cars needs to be significantly reduced to a price level at which they will be available to the mass consumer, if we do not want this transition to have a serious negative impact on the economy.

Wages around the world will not be able to grow to such a level that people could afford electric cars at their current prices. States cannot afford to subsidize the cost of such transportation for all comers. Another problem is the need to increase the range of electric cars without new recharging: the range must increase from current values if electric car owners are to use them for long-distance travel.

Regardless of the type of transition to a new energy source, it should be very gradual. for a period of 25 years or moreThe transition will take place quickly, so that owners of cars with internal combustion engines will not lose the value of their cars overnight. If the transition happens quickly, many people will not be able to afford new cars because of the collapse in the cost of cars that use petroleum products as fuel.

In addition to cars, many other types of transport - trucks, buses, airplanes, construction and agricultural equipment - will also need to be switched to electricity in such a case. The cost of new vehicles must be reduced, an adequate refueling infrastructure must be created, all of which also complicates the process of such a transition.

Another problem is that in addition to its use as an energy carrier, oil also has many other uses as a raw material. For example, oil is used in the production of herbicides and pesticides, the construction of asphalt roads, medicine, cosmetics, building materials, and many other applications. Electricity cannot replace oil in this context.

Myth #6

Oil will "run out" because its reserves are limited and non-renewable.

This myth is closer to the truth than the other misconceptions. However, the situation actually looks somewhat different. There is still quite a lot of oil in the world, but the cost of producing it is rising. Easily accessible reserves are depleted, companies are forced to develop more inaccessible deposits, the cost of production of which is higher.

This situation looks like a double-edged sword. If oil production is unprofitable, oil prices will not rise faster than production costs: producing companies will have no incentive to invest in the development of new fields. In this case the supply of oil on the world market may noticeably decrease.

If oil prices rise too rapidly and rising energy costs have a negative impact on economic activity, we will once again be talking about a serious economic crisis, falling oil prices, reducing the profitability of oil production and, consequently, reducing investment in the development of new fields. There is another version of this myth.

Myth #7

The supply of oil (as well as the supply of other conventional fossil energy sources) will begin to decline when reserves are depleted by 50%. As a result, we can expect a long and slow decline in the consumption of fossil fuels.

This myth is one of the most common among those who believe in the so-called "peak oil. It is also worth noting that similar predictions and estimates are also present in various models that describe global climate change and energy consumption in the context of such changes.

This myth is based on the misinterpretation of Marion King Hubbert's work. Hubbert is a geophysicist who, in a number of his papers in the 1950s, predicted a decline in oil production in the United States, as well as worldwide. Hubbert estimated that under certain conditions fossil fuel production develops along a rather symmetrical curve.

Graph No. 6, correlation of reserves and oil production
Graph No. 6, correlation of reserves and oil production

One of the main reasons of why such a forecast is inaccurate is that this forecast is based on the idea that at the same time as fossil fuel production declines, energy generation from another energy source will increase markedly, before the supply of oil (or other fossil fuels) begins to decline.

Graph No. 7, forecast for oil production and nuclear power development
Graph No. 7, forecast for oil production and nuclear power development

With a similar increase in energy generation (in this case, in Diagram 7 - due to the hypothetical scenario of nuclear power development) The economy can continue to grow without serious financial problemsThe problem is that the population will not be able to maintain the same level of energy (let alone continue to grow). Without an increase in energy supply from any other energy source, there is a serious problem: the population cannot be sustained (let alone continue to grow) while the energy available to the world economy decreases.

Per capita energy supply will begin to decline sharply. As this process unfolds, it will become increasingly expensive to produce enough goods and services. It will be particularly difficult to maintain the same level of public services. At the same time, the required level of tax increases to maintain an equilibrium state in the face of shrinking energy supply will be too high for many citizens. This could lead to serious economic problems and even economic collapse.

Myth #8

Renewable energy is available in infinite amounts.

The problem with all sources of energy, from fossil fuel, nuclear (uranium-based), geothermal, solar, and wind energy, is diminishing returns. At a certain point, power generation from one source or another becomes less and less efficient due to the growth of the unit cost. As a result, costs start to rise.

Wages are not growing faster than energy generation costs. The development of alternative energy sources is not a less costly option.

In the case of oil cost escalation is due to the fact that the least expensive oil reserves in terms of development and production are developed and produced first. Then comes the turn of the more expensive and hard-to-reach fields. This is a problem that oil companies are encountering more and more often lately due to the depletion of previously discovered oil fields. Similar problems also arise in the case of natural gas and coal. However, a sharp increase in the costs of extracting these resources may materialize later because of the higher volume of reserves compared to supply (than in the case of oil).

Uranium and other metals also show a similar trend in decreasing returns. Easily accessible reserves are mined first, followed by ores with lower metal content.

Another problem is Selecting locations for the installation of generating facilities. When building HPPs, the most promising areas and territories are chosen first. Then the choice is made from less attractive locations. The same rule is true for wind farms. It is worth noting that offshore wind turbines are more expensive to build and maintain than onshore wind turbines.

In this regard, if there were still areas in Europe that would be attractive for the installation of new wind turbines, it would be logical and less costly to install wind turbines in such areas in the first place, rather than to build a large number of offshore plants, as has been the case recently.

And finally, renewable energyeven if it doesn't require much oil to extract it, it still depends on it. Oil and its derivatives are essential to the operation of mining equipment and to the transportation of devices and machinery from the place where they are assembled to the place where they will eventually be used.

Helicopters are used to maintain wind turbines (especially offshore ones) - they require oil. Road maintenance also requires oil. Even transporting timber to market requires oil.

In the event that serious oil supply disruption to world markets and the supply of oil will fall markedly, power generation from alternative energy sources will also collapse. Maintenance of current alternative energy capacity will become even more problematic.

Solar panelsThe solar panels, inverters, high-voltage power lines-all the things we take for granted today-may just disappear in the event of serious oil problems.

This explains why renewable energy sources actually not available in unlimited quantities (at the current level of technology). If there is a major disruption in the supply of oil, humanity may find that many types of existing renewable energy sources will not last long on their own.

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