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Renewables not a major factor for future energy, suggests World Council

LONDON, England, 2004-04-21 (Refocus Weekly) The dispersed and intermittent nature of modern renewable energies will restrain them from playing a larger role on the future energy, according to the World Energy Council (WEC).

“If the increase in hydrocarbon supplies involves higher costs for environmental or other reasons, what are the new sources of affordable energy services likely to be?,” it asks in ‘Drivers of the Energy Scene’ which is a preparatory report for the World Energy Congress to be held this September in Sydney, Australia. “Will the balance among oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear power, hydro and other renewables shift their ranking, as they did in 1973?”

“Oil will continue to be the dominant marginal fuel in energy markets for many decades to come,” and synthetic fuels will play an increasing role in the hydrogen economy. “Without the stimulus of higher real energy prices, efficiency improvements in energy production, transportation, distribution or end use cannot be sustained,” it explains.

“The outlook for hydrocarbon supplies and their prices, in particular, will continue to impact the level of energy-related GHG emissions and annual GDP growth,” it adds. “Technology development will be critical in determining which new energy options will be available and when, but it will also be a factor in efficiency improvements within the supply chain, within power plants and in the demand for energy services.”

The report focuses on trends in the market for oil and natural gas, and points to developments “which may run counter to common knowledge or analysis.” In the pursuit of sustainable and secure access to energy in both developed and developing countries, “WEC continues to emphasize the importance of keeping all energy options open,” including GHG-neutral energy sources such as nuclear and large hydro.

“The most important factors in sustainable energy development are the prospects for global economic growth and investment, improved energy accessibility for the poor, security of supply and the local, regional or global emissions resulting from energy production and use,” the statement adds. “These issues are interlinked, and actions to address them will drive the energy sector for many years to come.”

“There are political or technical limits to non-fossil fuel supply, either because of lack of public acceptance for large hydro and nuclear power or because of the intermittent and/or dispersed nature of most modern renewable energies,” it adds. NIMBY attitudes may prevent the building of power plants and transmission lines, and supply constraints “may play an important role as a negative driver of the energy scene in the coming years in spite of the best efforts of governments and energy industry players.”

Policies to reduce GHG emissions could add costs to the price of fossil fuels, with an estimate of US$50 per tonne of CO2 to add $20 to the price of a barrel of oil. The peaking of natural gas production in North America and Europe will also increase demand for additional imports, and there could be a more fundamental shift away from one major energy source because of changes in relative costs or prices, because of external factors such as wars, because of public opinion or because of stringent environmental policies to address the threat of climate change.