Originally Published 2003-09-29 09:09:50 Published on Sep 29, 2003
This paper is an outline of existing energy systems - the demand and supply factors and trends seen within the framework of demographic pressures, environmental concerns and eventual possibility of fossil fuels running out.
Beyond Gas: A case for Future Power
This paper is an outline of existing energy systems - the demand and supply factors and trends seen within the framework of demographic pressures, environmental concerns and eventual possibility of fossil fuels running out. The attempt is to draw the attention of policy makers, utilities and consumers alike from the more immediate to beyond, from supply to demand management and above all the urgency to redouble R&D in technology and fuels of the future.

Fossil fuels as of now continue to be the lifeline of the world's energy system. With substantial reserves; at the very least for the next 20 years, Coal and oil continue to thirst the demand for power--electricity and transport. A cleaner and greener alternative, for the immediate future seems to narrow on Natural Gas with its growing reserves and substantial potential for future finds. Hydro Power is increasingly in focus, yet concerns about environmental and rehabilitation aspects remain unanswered. With national security high on the agenda, especially post 9/11,and strategic concerns at the foremost ,Nuclear- that long taboo source- is finally being viewed as a serious alternative, yet serious concerns regarding safety, technology and waste disposal remain unattended. Renewables e.g. solar, wind, constitute but a fraction of total supplies. With cheap hydrocarbons, and green natural gas in the realm, the incentive for promotion and R&D remains minimal .The future is increasingly being viewed as hydrogen coupled with fuel cells; driven by investments from both governments and businesses, each with its agenda of security and environment or profits and future norms respectively.

Circa 2030 would probably see us following the beaten track--gradual acceptance of ever-rising fuel costs, which in turn economies will continue absorbing as long as the spurt in prices is not too sudden or steep. The rising fuel and energy costs would inevitably force a not so subtle change-- changes in building technology, with or without government support, to lower heating and air conditioning costs. e.g. better insulation; more and more harnessing of free and renewable sources, solar or wind energy to further lower electricity bills as also a gradual shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles-- mostly hybrid -to keep that ever growing energy bill manageable.

Structurally, the economy would have transformed itself into a gas one. Of course, coal would be there but environmental and efficiency concerns would have ruled it out of the picture. Nuclear still would be facing the triangulated debate -environment, safety and waste disposal and security concerns and yet would continue to hold debating ground and potential for the future. Fuel cells would rapidly be becoming viable as also solar; driven by greater consumer interest as also supported by wind and other forms, essentially as appendages to succor the demand. Strangely enough, another potential of the by-gone era, hydroelectricity would continue to remain just that, with demographics, land, environment and rehabilitation concerns simply too large to bridge. The future however, would increasingly be hydrogen focused -the pain of transition having spurred the much needed investments.

Circa 2050: A 50 year-transition would finally see mankind settling down with a stable, inexhaustible and green supply of energy, Hydrogen. The existing power infrastructure would have comfortably switched over to the new oil -pipelines included -that along with fuel cells would funnel the global thirst of energy. The last visages of the 20th century black gold would have been long confined to the museums ,some nuclear and hydro stations would still be in existence -awaiting their peaceful burial--as also that last hopeful green fossil, natural gas, very near exhaustion. Innovations in technology like, super insulation for buildings well complimented by home energy systems like solar/wind would be the norm for distributed generation .The costs and pains of transition would ensure that efficiency and measured amounts of self sufficiency, at the very lowest level, the individual consumer, would be the engines for future growth.

The scenario painted above, like most others of its creed, is of course beset with hiccups. The time frame is specially the subject of much debate and not what this paper seeks to dwell. A few major oil and/or gas find, a prolonged global recession or political events like China going the Soviet way is bound to throw the projections haywire. Nor is this an attempt at Doomsday prediction or a war cry for R&D in Hydrogen. The idea is simply much more mundane: increased focus and R&D on fuels and technologies in the realm of the horizon and beyond. Investments in Nuclear power generation could just as much prove to be fruitful; a Fusion reactor could just as well succor the global hunger for power.

However given the trends in the market, Hydrogen repeatedly crops up as the potential for the future. Thus, the switch to natural gas is at best an interim arrangement, a breathing space to evolve long-term solutions. Natural Gas and pipelines are fine by all means, for now, but what are we ultimately working for. Left to it, the market will enviably adopt the minimax and that classical Murphy's shield "When things have to go wrong they will". So why aren't we yet talking Renewable Portfolio Standards and System Benefit Charge? Or is it, like most other things, still decades beyond?
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