Energy is crucial for our existence. Devoid of it, billions of people would be left cold and famished. The chief supply of energy comes from fossil fuels, and the principal fossil fuels used today by most developed and developing countries are oil, coal, and natural gas. Among these fossil fuels, oil is the most consumed for energy conversion, followed by coal and then natural gas.
Apprehension about a reliable future for energy is only normal since energy provides crucial services for human life – ‘heat for warmth’, ‘cooking, and manufacturing’, or ‘power for transport and mechanical work’. At present, the energy to provide these services comes from fuels – oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wood, and other primary sources (solar, wind, or water power) – that are all ineffective until they are changed into the energy services needed, by machines or other kinds of end-use tools, such as stoves, turbines, or motors. In many countries globally, a lot of major energy is worn out because of the incompetent design or operation of the equipment used to convert it into the services required; though there is hopeful growth in alertness of energy conservation and efficiency.
Non-Aligned Movement in this regard stated that patterns and changes of energy use today are already dictating patterns well into the next century. We approach this question from the standpoint of sustainability. The key elements of sustainability that have to be reconciled are:
• sufficient growth of energy supplies to meet human needs (which means accommodating a minimum of 3 per cent per capita income growth in developing countries);
• energy efficiency and conservation measures, such that waste of primary resources is minimized;
• public health, recognizing the problems of risks to safety inherent in energy sources; and
• protection of the biosphere and prevention of more localized forms of pollution.
The era ahead ought to be regarded as transitional from an age in which energy has been used in an unsustainable way. A generally accepted trail to a safe and sustainable energy prospect has not yet been found. We do not deem that these dilemmas have yet been addressed by the global commune with a satisfactory sense of need and in a global outlook.
Numerous forecasts of recoverable oil reserves and resources recommend that oil manufacturing will level off by the beginning decades of the next century and then gradually fall during a time of concentrated supplies and higher prices. Gas supplies must last over 200 years and coal about 3000 years at their present rates of use. These estimates convince many analysts that the planet should right away go on board on a strong oil preservation policy.
In terms of pollution and contamination risks, gas is by far the cleanest energy, with oil next and coal a poor third. But they all pose three interconnected atmospheric pollution problems: global warming, urban industrial air pollution, and acidification of the environment. Some of the better off industrialized countries may enjoy the financial capacity to deal with such threats. Most developing countries do not.
These problems are becoming more prevailing chiefly in tropical and subtropical regions, but their economic, social, and political backlashes are as yet not fully appreciated by society. With the exception of CO2, air pollutants can be removed from fossil fuel combustion processes at costs which are usually below the costs of harm caused by pollution.
However, the risks of global warming make heavy future reliance upon fossil fuels tricky. It is important that the vigorous promotion of energy-efficient practices in all energy sectors and large-scale programmes of research, development, and demonstration for the safe and environmentally benign use of all promising energy sources, especially renewables, be given the highest, priority.