Written by Chadwick Dearing Oliver and Fatma Arf Oliver
Trends are converging that can remove the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. We can thus relieve the world of atmospheric CO2 increase, anthropogenic climate changes, wars and wastes of
While reducing fossil fuel use, the world’s people can maintain or enhance current lifestyles.
lives and money on the armaments industry, and rulers who neglect their citizens because revenue comes from fossil fuel, not citizens’ taxes (1).
The global birth rate has slowed from 5.0 in 1960 to 2.5 in 2015 (2). And, the per capita energy consumption has been stable for the past 35 years, following a two-fold increase from 1950 to 1980 (3). This means that, in the long term, the world’s energy demands should stabilize; and technology is rapidly providing non-fossil fuel energy.
In this paper we describe major activities that can reduce dependence on fossil fuel, many of which are beginning to occur. It also describes some effects of reducing fossil fuel dependency. Among other effects would be curtailing global warming from greenhouse gas emissions because fossil fuel burning and cement production account for 88% of the world’s CO2 emissions (4).
Several excellent studies address roadmaps to fossil fuel reduction in detail, integrating technical, economic, and policy aspects (5-8). Many website address roadmaps or various aspects of fossil fuel reduction. This paper highlights some major technical ways that fossil fuels can be reduced or eliminated, some ways that will not be effective, and some social impacts of reducing fossil fuels. This paper is generally consistent with the IRENA (8) report, but is not a copy of it.
The world uses about 500 quads of fossil fuel energy each year. We can avoid 260 quads and substitute renewable energy for the rest.
While reducing fossil fuels, the world’s people could maintain or enhance their current lifestyles and enhance other aspects of the environment.
World Energy Consumption
Estimates vary by source and year; however, numbers used in this paper are relatively current and show trends and opportunities (5-8). Because of the variations in numbers, detailed estimates of annual increases and minor saving are not included. Including them would not change the overall picture described here.
The world currently uses about 580 quads of energy/year, of which about 500 is fossil fuels: coal, petroleum, and natural gas (8-12). (Nuclear energy is considered a renewable energy in this paper.) The world can reduce fossil fuel use without reducing lifestyles by 1) avoiding energy use and by 2) substituting renewable energies for fossil fuels (Figure 1).
Avoiding energy use
Energy use can be avoided without a reduction in lifestyles in three ways.
A. Stop using fossil fuels to generate electricity. Over 65% of the energy from fossil fuels is lost when used to make electricity (Fig. 1). Every quad of electricity produced by renewable energy instead of fossil fuel
Every quad of electricity produced by renewable energy instead of fossil fuel saves three quads of fossil fuels.
saves three quads of fossil fuels. If all electricity were generated from renewable energy, about 110 quads of wasted fossil fuel energy would be saved per year, plus the additional 50 quads of useable electricity if new renewable energy sources replaced the fossil fuel electricity.
B. Insulate buildings better and use passive solar hot water heaters. Fifty percent of the energy in home and commercial buildings is used for heating and cooling. Another 15 % is used for water heating (13). If all
Over 60% of home and commercial building energy is used for space and water heating and cooling.
buildings were insulated and used passive solar hot water systems, approximately 70 quads of fossil fuel could be saved per year.
C. Use more wood for construction. Approximately 80 quads of fossil fuel could be saved by constructing 65% of the buildings from wood that are presently constructed from concrete, steel, and brick (3, 14). Wood buildings avoid fossil fuels needed in steel, concrete, and brick manufacture. The wood buildings are lighter and so require less foundation; are as long-lasting as
80 quads/year could be saved by constructing more buildings out of wood.
other materials; are more durable in fires and earthquakes; and the wood can be recycled. The needed construction would only use as much wood as grows in the world each year. Currently, the world uses 20 % of the wood that grows; and only one third of this 20% is used in construction (15). Utilizing more wood for construction in a well-planned, sustainable way could actually reduce CO2 emission (including forest fire emissions), enhance biodiversity and water flows—and minimize the danger of wildfires (3).
The above actions would leave 240 quads of fossil fuel energy per year to be replaced with renewables (Table 1).
Using More Non-Fossil Fuel Energy
About 7 thousand times as much energy as people use circulates throughout the Earth each day in the form of solar, tide, wind, geothermal, and other energy (16, 17). Fossil fuel energy can be replaced with renewables by many creative, diffuse activities as well as some specific, large-scale ones (Table 2).
About 7,000 times as much energy circulates throughout the Earth as people use each day.
Burning wood for energy displaces much less fossil fuel than wood construction; however, waste from the construction described above could replace about 30 quads of fossil fuel energy (3, 14).
Waste-wood energy, electric vehicles recharged with renewable energy, and desert solar industrial centers could replace 170 quads of fossil fuels.
Ninety quads of fossil fuels could be saved if all vehicles used electric batteries instead of fossil fuels, provided the batteries were recharged with renewable energy (Fig. 1). “Battery exchange stations” could be developed where drivers rapidly exchange empty batteries for full ones. Battery change stations could stimulate “cottage industries” of people recharging the batteries near the changing stations.
Desert areas are becoming industrial centers with solar power, especially if some renewable energy is used to desalinate water. A solar project at Quarzazate, Morocco, expects to generate one quad annually (18). Fifty such projects in the world could generate 50 quads.
Another 70 quads of renewable energy could be generated in a variety of forms. Initially promising renewable energy sources such as dedicated wood energy plantations and dedicated biofuel agriculture crops take too much land area and water (19-22). The most efficient crops (sugarcane and palm oil) need 12-14 % of the world’s forests to produce only 50 quads of biofuels (3). Alternatively, biofuels from waste matter from agriculture, food, and forest activities are promising since they do not displace other values (19, 23).
Hydroelectric energy is the largest renewable, but has concerns that need to be addressed through a mixture of technologies and tradeoff analyses (3). The world’s nuclear energy production is currently declining, but may increase in the future.
The Effort Needed
All fossil fuels can be replaced with renewable energy in 40 years—by 2060. Currently, about 2.6 new quads of renewable energy are produced every year (2013-2016) (11). About 6 quads of new renewable energy will be
Slightly over two times the current rate per year of new renewable energy capacity will need to be added for fossil fuel independence by 2060.
needed each year to replace 240 quads of fossil fuel energy by 2060—slightly over doubling of the current rate of renewable energy additions. By comparison, during the 40 years between 1950 and 1990, the world added 230 quads of fossil fuel energy (5.8 quads/year) (3)—slightly less than the rate of new renewables needed by 2060.
Achieving the Goal
A positive attitude, knowledge, innovation, and optimism will achieve the goal (24). Knowledge is needed by technical specialists and the general public to understand the environment, multiple causalities (25), and tradeoff analyses.
Between 1950 and 1990, the world added new fossil fuel capacity at about the same rate we will need to add renewable capacity to be independent of fossil fuels by 2060.
The costs of the new non-renewable energy to displace all fossil fuel energy will be less than the world’s costs of armaments for the recent Iraq Wars (3, 26). Including health and environment, the true cost of fossil fuels is estimated at over 5 trillion US dollars (27).
The costs of the new, renewable energy to displace all fossil fuel energy will be less than the costs of armaments for the recent Iraq Wars.
Removing dependence on fossil fuels can create opportunities, including an overall boost to the world’s economy (8). Many renewable energy “leapfrog technologies” can help countries develop rapidly, just as cell phones did. Countries that currently rely of fossil fuels for their national income will need to attend more to their citizens’ prosperity, since citizens’ taxes fund the government in most developed countries (1). New innovations may convert unused fuel pipelines to water pipelines (with technical adjustments) to help irrigate drying equatorial areas.
Approximately 80% of the world’s population lives on less than 100 million BTU’s/person/year (1/10,000,000 quads/person/year) (9). An additional 308 quads of renewable energy would enable everyone to have at least 100 million BTU’s/year. This amount may become reasonable as countries develop economically, as renewable energy technologies improve, and as prices decline.
Many things will confront the world: human migrations because of natural and human-caused climate changes, threats of biodiversity, water purity issues, and increasing dangers of forest fires. As we remove the world’s dependence on fossil fuels we will open opportunities to address other issues as well.
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