Monday, July 29, 2013

Trapped Under Ice

A story in last Friday’s WSJ detailed the realities of increasing energy usage for the foreseeable future:

The world will use far more of every type of energy in coming decades, the U.S. Energy Department said Thursday in a report that predicts China and India will drive growing consumption.

The department's statistical arm, the Energy Information Administration, estimated world-wide use of energy—mostly for transportation and electricity—will surge 56% by 2040 compared with 2010 levels.

Half of that growth would come from China and India, the report says, outlining a scenario where global economic growth will lift demand for renewable energy like electricity from solar power, but also one where fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas remain the world's go-to energy sources.

While the mix of those go-to fossil fuels may change, they will still account for the vast majority of the world’s energy use:

Based on current government policies and a model that assumed continued growth in the world-wide economy, the report found that fueling that prosperity will take mostly traditional fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas. Those fuels will account for 80% of world energy use through 2040, the report projects.

Consumption of natural gas is expected to grow faster than that of oil or coal, with the industrial and electric power sectors leading a shift toward burning more gas, which is being unlocked across the globe thanks to new extraction technologies.

The report does say that alternative energy sources will supply a larger share than ever before, but that 80% figure for fossil fuels is striking. No matter how much people may want to wish them away, the reality is that we will continue to rely on fossil fuels for future growth and prosperity much in the same way we have relayed on them to fuel the previous hundred years of advancement in standards of living and quality of life.

The good news is the we keep finding new places for the fuels that keep our civilization going. Scientists Envision Fracking in Arctic and on Ocean Floor:

Scientists in Japan and the U.S. say they are moving closer to tapping a new source of energy: methane hydrate, a crystalline form of natural gas found in Arctic permafrost and at the bottom of oceans.

At room temperature the crystal gives off intense heat, earning it the nickname of "fire in ice," and making the estimated 700,000 trillion cubic feet of the substance scattered around the world a potentially major fuel source, containing more energy than all previously discovered oil and gas combined, according to researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey.

Commercial production of methane hydrate is expected to take at least a decade—if it comes at all. Different technologies to harvest the gas are being tested, but so far no single approach has been perfected, and it remains prohibitively expensive. But booming energy demand in Asia, which is spurring gigantic projects to liquefy natural gas in Australia, Canada and Africa, is also giving momentum to efforts to mine the frozen clumps of methane hydrate mixed deep in seafloor sediment.

There are environmental concerns (of course) with harvesting these immense new sources of energy. But do you believe for an instance that our unquenchable need for energy won’t drive development of technologies and safety standards that will be able to address them? We’re going to need a lot of fossil fuels to satisfy our future energy needs. The sooner we start figuring out how to best make use of any and all sources we can, the better.