Many predictions abound about when the human race will run out of its oil reserves, with most predictions setting the date at around 50 - 70 years from now. If we do run out of oil, this will have devastating knock on effects for civilization, as we currently rely on oil as a means of fuel, electricity generation and many other essential things. If we are to survive we will need to find some alternative means of powering our world. Here are some suggestions:
- Solar energy
- Geothermal energy
Windpower is the use of naturally occurring winds to drive massive wind turbines, generating electrical power as they do so. The output of a wind turbine is between 600kW to 5MW of power, although as wind speeds grow in strength so too does the electrical output. Because of this, areas where winds are generally higher and more constant, such as out at sea or on tall hillsides, are preferred sites for the installation of a wind farm. Wind power is said to be able to provide 40 times what the current population of the world demands in electricity, so obviously it is a popular choice. Offshore sites experience up to 90% higher winds than land areas, so expect to see plenty more offshore wind farms pop up in the future.
Hydropower is the use of water and in particular harnessing its energy. Water is 800 times denser than air, and so even a slow moving stream or a gentle sea swell can yield comparatively great amounts of energy. Hydroelectricity usually requires the use of dams. Water runs from a reservoir at the top of the dam through a water turbine, generating energy as it does so. Micro hydro systems are basically the same, but on a much smaller scale, producing a significantly smaller amount of energy. They are typically used in rich water areas, and there are many of these installations around the world. Run-of-the-river systems take kinetic energy from the flow of the river without need for a dam of any kind, and ocean energy is used to describe all the technologies that harness the power of the seas, including tidal energy.
Solar energy is energy captured from the sun in the form of solar radiation. There is usually a need for large solar panels to capture the energy and convert it into power for electrical appliances etc. However, solar energy is not available at night for obvious reasons, and it generally unavailable during overcast conditions too. Because of this, energy storage is a big issue in the world of solar energy.
Biomass, the use of plant materials to create energy. It is considered a renewable source of energy because the energy contained within the plant matter originally came from the sun. Through photosynthesis, the plants capture the sun's energy, and then when the plants are burned, they release this energy again, which can be used to boil water to drive turbines etc. A good analogy for the process would be to think of plants as a sort of solar battery for storing the sun's energy. So long as biomass production is sustained, this 'battery' will last for an indefinite amount of time. Sometimes plants are grown for the specific purpose of biomass energy, but at other times residues from plants that are used for other things, and the approaches vary between regions, depending on climates.
Biofuel is similar in many ways to biomass, and includes a wide range of fuels that are derived from it. Bioethanol is a type of bioalcohol, which is a liquid biofuel. It is made by fermenting the carbohydrate components of plant material, and is widely used as a vehicle fuel in Brazil and the USA. Biodiesel, another example of a liquid biofuel, is made from vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled greases. It can be used as vehicle fuel in its purest form, but is usually used as a diesel additive to cut down down on pollutants in diesel emissions. It is the most common biofuel in Europe. Biofuels provided 1.8% of all of the world's fuel usage as of 2008. The International Energy Agency states that biofuels could potentially meet more than a quarter of the world population's demands for vehicle fuel by 2050.
So, there are many alternatives to oil as a fuel if we ever run out of oil. Although, some analysts believe we will never actually run out of oil. Mike Moffat, former guide of About.com, has this to say on the subject:
"There will still be oil in the ground 10 years from now, and 50 years from now and 500 years from now. This will hold true no matter if you take a pessimistic or optimistic view about the amount of oil still available to be extracted. Let's suppose that the supply really is quite limited. What will happen as the supply starts to diminish? First we would expect to see some wells run dry and either be replaced with new wells that have higher associated costs or not be replaced at all. Either of these would cause the price at the pump to rise. When the price of gasoline rises, people naturally buy less of it; the amount of this reduction being determined by the amount of the price increase and the consumer's elasticity of demand for gasoline. This does not necessarily mean that people will drive less (though it is likely), it may mean that consumers trade in their SUVs for smaller cars, hybrid vehicles, or cars that run on alternative fuels. Each consumer will react to the price change differently, so we would expect to see everything from more people bicycling to work to used car lots full of Lincoln Navigators."
So there you have it, if oil does run out, there are plenty of alternatives which need developing admittedly, but by the time they are really needed, will be ready to go. And some people dispute the fact we will ever run out of oil in the first place.