Don't Count Oil Out
October 18, 2011
Carbon dioxide emissions will continue rising because hundreds of millions of people in places like Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea are transitioning to a modern lifestyle. Specifically, they are using more hydrocarbons -- coal, oil and natural gas. And while many argue that we should quit using carbon-based fuels, the hard reality is that hydrocarbons are here to stay, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
There are three reasons why hydrocarbons will continue to dominate the global energy mix for decades to come.
- A recent analysis by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that wind-generated electricity from onshore wind turbines costs $97 per megawatt-hour -- about 50 percent more than the same amount of electricity generated by natural gas.
- Offshore wind is even more expensive, coming in at $243 per megawatt hour.
- The least-expensive form of solar-generated electricity costs $210, or more than three times as much as the juice produced by burning natural gas.
The slow pace of energy transitions.
- According to the EIA, in 1949, oil provided 37 percent of America's total energy needs.
- In 2009, oil's share of U.S. primary energy still stood at 37 percent, despite uncounted billions of dollars spent on efforts to reduce our need for oil.
- Global energy use now totals about 241 million barrels of oil equivalent per day -- approximately equal to the total daily oil output of 29 Saudi Arabias.
- And of those 29 Saudi Arabias, 25 -- about 210 million barrels of oil equivalent -- come from hydrocarbons.
- Where and how will we find the energy equivalent of 25 Saudi Arabias and have it all be carbon-free?
Here's the bottom line: Renewables will remain niche players in the global energy mix for decades to come. The past -- and the foreseeable future -- still belong to hydrocarbons. And we can expect natural gas, the cleanest of the hydrocarbons, to garner a bigger share of the global energy pie in the near term and in the long term, says Bryce.
Source: Robert Bryce, "Don't Count Oil Out," Slate, October 14, 2011.
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