The Energy Problem: A Crisis of Global Proportions
Published 23 Feb 2017
In the oil crisis of the 1970s, the world experienced a rude wake-up call. It was made very clear to all mankind that there is an end to fossil fuel usage. With a growing global population and the continuing insatiable thirst for energy, more and more oil fields are being depleted. Prices are soaring while nations dependent on fossil fuel are being threatened because of the lack of security in terms of energy supply.This paper will look into the current state of fossil fuel supply and consumption in the United State and around the world in general. Particular focus will be on the fact that these energy sources are non-renewable. Its supply is very much limited and therefore threatens industries, economies, and societies that are very much dependent on them. Furthermore, a review of literature will be done to find out the steps done by the United States government in solving the energy problem. Also, part of this paper will look into alternative sources of energy especially those commonly termed as renewable sources of power.
It is definitely a misnomer when one uses the term energy crisis. There is nothing in the Law of Thermodynamics that suggest a depletion of energy on the planet. Yet, the phraseology “energy crisis” has been around for as long as this present generation can remember. This is because energy in the modern age is linked to fossil fuel. And this connection has never been more evident than in the 21st century. This is a power hungry generation that could not live without cars, computers, cell phones, air-conditioned buildings, heated homes, televisions, fluorescent light, electronic appliances etc. All these require energy and it is just so unfortunate that when man looks around – as of the moment – the only reliable source of power is from fossil fuel.
According to Mark Jaccard and a host of other energy conscious researchers and scientists, the United States and other industrialized countries are completely dependent on fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas (p. 1). Jaccard added that these are non-renewable resources that someday will be exhausted and perhaps much sooner than is expected. This type of pronouncement is nothing new.According to the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”), “Fossil fuels […] currently provide more than 85% of all the energy consumed in the United States, nearly two-thirds of our electricity, and virtually all of our transportation fuels. Moreover, it is likely that the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels to power an expanding economy will actually increase over at least the next two decades” (see DOE website). The last statement by the DOE is the other side of the problem. Not only is fossil fuel a limited resource, there will also be a significant increase in demand for the next twenty years.
The consensus right now among those greatly affected by the crisis is to find solutions to either postpone the inevitable by maximizing fossil fuel supply or to totally become independent of the same – a 180 degree reversal of the current position. Now, it is not surprising to hear that the officials in the Bush administration are making the energy problem at the very top of their to-do-list. A measurable solution to the energy crisis is a program called Twenty in Ten; its primary goal is to strengthen America’s energy security.
The plan calls for a two-pronged attack as enumerated below:
Increasing the supply of renewable and alternative fuels by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable alternative fuels in 2017.
Reforming and modernizing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (Cafe) standards for cars and extending the current light truck rule (see DOE website).
Alternative Sources of Energy
The two most popular alterative source of energy is hydroelectric and nuclear power. There are both upside and downside with regards to these two. With regards to hydroelectric power there is a need to alter the natural flow of river systems. This means creating dams in order to fully harness the power of moving water. Concerning nuclear power the major bone of contention is in dealing with the nuclear waste. Add to that the fact that this alternative source is basically non-renewable there is an end to the supply of uranium etc. This will merely bring the discussion of energy security back to square one.
One promising alternative source of energy is solar power. For thousands of years man has learned to harness the power of the sun indirectly to support his energy requirements such as cooking, preserving food, warmth in the home etc. Now, with solar power or solar energy man is trying to use the power of the sun in the more direct way. Simply put, man in tapping the sun’s power had created apparatuses that could use the raw power coming from the sun and then convert it into electrical power.
With regards to the utilization of the sun’s rays, John Berger writing about renewable energy sources made the following comments, “…modern science and engineering technology have of late made them much more efficient, convenient and economical. We could not for the first time provide for modern civilization’s energy needs virtually without pollution” (p.3).
At first glance the problem with solar power is its complexity in terms of the average person’s ability to understand how exactly this system works. It requires a significant amount of scientific knowledge to build one of those light capturing equipment that could convert solar power to electrical power, good enough to be used at home and hopefully in manufacturing plants or even automobiles.The high level of technical knowledge needed means more expense as more people with specialized skills need to get on board not only in the building stage but even so in the maintenance phase of the operation.
Gordon adds ammunition to the critics charge and he said, “Although solar cells are very simple to use, the physics and technology underlying this use are closely linked with the development of quantum mechanics and microelectronics, arguably two of the most sophisticated and significant scientific and technological development of the 20th century” (p. 292).
Furthermore, alternative sources of energy in order to be successful require the patronage of consumers. How can a person purchase say for example a solar panel good for the home if he or she could barely understand how the system works?
Using this analogy on the manufacturing industry, it will require a significant change in the mindset of management and the various technical supervisors who will have to shift their orientation from the old way to a new method of doing things. It will be shown later why it can be a daunting task to incorporate solar power to an existing management scheme. And it has to do with solar power’s downtime – phases in the cycle where solar cells could not efficiently generate power.
Thus, the possible consequences will not simply be limited to training personnel but a radical transformation of personnel management to overall management of factory equipment and resources. They have to adjust to the necessary change in adapting to a power source not coming from power plants fired up by oil or coal but to photovoltaic cells.
Another alternative source of energy that is clean and inexhaustible is wind power. Much better than solar power, wind power requires very little scientific know how to build and use.This fact has been demonstrated by the ancient use of windmills and sails.According to Chambers this is how America in the present day utilized this renewable resource, “Wind turbines, like aircraft propeller blades, turn in the moving air and power an electric generator that supplies an electric current. Modern wind turbines fall into two basic groups: (1) horizontal-axis variety, like the farm windmills, and (2) vertical-axis design like the eggbeater-style” (p. 8).
Many are excited about the potentials of using this kind of alternative sources. The projection made in one study was documented by Chambers who remarked that, “Wind capacity in the United States is projected to grow by nearly 3005 by 2020 to about 9100 MW.
The only downside is that, Mother Nature could not be governed by human persuasion not even with coercion. Simply put, wind is unpredictable and that is not good for managers and businessmen who love to have control of the situation.Conservation efforts also play a major part in increasing energy security. In this regard both corporations and households and the federal government can work hand in hand to achieve the goal of zero wastage of fossil fuel. This can be done by creating incentives for firms who are bent on creating ways and means to cut down usage of coal, oil, and natural gas. On the part of individual citizens and households it is the initiative to find ways on how to become more responsible in the use of cars, electric appliances, lighting, etc. One small effort but done collectively can mean a lot in the long run.
The truth about the energy crisis is so prevalent that citizens of industrialized nations get to be reminded about this problem almost every day. If it is not in the news then it can come back in the form of a sharp reminder when one sees the bills from the electric and gas companies or via the increasing prices of petroleum products.
The major goal of every nation dependent on fossil fuel is to find ways on 1) increase supply; 2) find ways to conserve; 3) find ways to increase efficiency; and 4) find alternatives. With regards to the first it was already demonstrated that the United States government is very much committed in finding ways to increase supply. It is now to look into other avenues such as alternative fuels.
Solar and Wind power, plus biofuels are leading the pack of alternative sources of energy. If the government and the people will faithfully go about the business of increasing energy security then there is hope to lick this problem of the great American thirst for power especially the one that can operate factories, power homes and modern gadgets that 21st century man cannot live without.
- Berger, John. Charging Ahead: The Business of Renewable Energy and What it Means for America. CA: University of California Press, 1997.
- Chambers, Ann. Renewable Energy in Nontechnical Language. Tulsa, OK: PenWell Books,2003.
- Department of Energy. Twenty in Ten. [online]
- Department of Energy. Fossil Fuels. [online]
- Dolan, Graham, Duffy, Mike and Perceival, Adrian. Physics. Chicago: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1996.
- Elliott, David. Energy, Society, and Environment: Technology for A Sustainable Future. New York: Routledge, 1997.
- Gordon, Jeffrey. Solar Energy: The State of the Art. London: James & James Ltd., 2001.
- Jaccard, Mark. Sustainable Fossil Fuels. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Jones, Susan. Solar Power of the Future. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.