While reading ExxonMobil's Energy Outlook, I paused for a moment and thought... "What I'm reading feels very akin to UK Coal". Who up until recently, still stated on their website they're a significant supplier of energy to the UK, despite closing down in 2015. Exxon headlined their 'Fulfilling Future Supply' section with "Petroleum will remain the world's top energy source in the near future". This is a fair assessment. However, they then went on to say through to 2040, nearly 80% of global energy demand will be met from oil, natural gas and coal.
It is clear to most, not only is an energy mix based on 80% fossils fuels unsustainable, but it's less efficient, more expensive and less politically secure. Yes, fossil fuels have many other uses than just power, such as in the production of steel, medicines or plastics; but here's what niggles me. When it comes to energy, they are not only polluting, they are hopelessly inefficient, unreliable and a pain to extract. 1 kg of coal will produce 8 kWh of heat, whereas 1 kg of uranium will produce 24,000,000 kWh--That’s 3 million times more. Why do we still cling to thermal coal while Europe's coal dominant nations are struggling and the world's largest private coal producers are filing for bankruptcy in Australia. This is in addition to the danger and difficulty of extracting fossil fuels like coal.
Renewable energy also has the added benefit of not being heavily dependent on geology. Countries could have as much as their geography, economy and environment will allow. Renewables have the potential to remove geopolitics from the energy game. Coober Pedy; well known for being the mining town where the Opal in my Akubra hat comes from, is less well known for being the site of a $37 million 4 MW wind energy, 1 MW solar PV and 1 MW/500 kWh lithium battery storage construction project. The mining industry has a lot to gain from providing the future of energy with their minerals and metals, but also from exploiting off-grid access to cleaner and cheaper power, and achieve energy independence on mine sites around the world.
Here's the problem though; the Earth's crust does not contain enough quantities of certain minerals to support a truly sustainable planet. The amount of mined metal needed to support a fully green world and growing population will likely need some Star Trek inspired, intergalactic mining method of 16 Psyche; and it's only when news like "We're running out of Helium!" breaks, we open our eyes to how delicately balanced our natural resources thirst is. This is one of the reasons why I am realistic about our situation. Fossil fuels play an important role in meeting the world's growing energy demand and they are crucial for our development, especially in the major growing economies. But the drive for cleaner technology and number of renewable projects undercutting their fossil fuel alternatives can not be ignored. This has caught the attention of investors. With shorter lead times, less volatile economics and attractive payback periods, it's easy to see why renewables are breaking power records.
Transitioning will involve serious lifestyle changes, breakthroughs in waste management and recycling, involve innovative mining solutions that are well governed and energy sources that are efficient, and highly likely, utilize off-grid systems. Meeting the development needs of the present will always hinder the ability of future generations to meet theirs; since we are a growing species with finite resources, selfish self-preservation tendencies and an ignorance to a changing climate. The question is, on the timeline we have, can we make enough of a difference or is it too late?