Sunday, September 17, 2006

Plugging the energy gap with wind

Cordis News Service
September 9, 2006

Many energy forecasts have significantly overestimated global oil and gas reserves, and a serious shortfall between demand and supply could be evident within the next ten years. This is the stark message from a new report launched in Brussels this month by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Renewable Energy Systems Ltd (RES).

According to the report, 'Plugging the Gap - A survey of world fuel resources and their impact on the development of wind energy', supply forecasts from bodies such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) are often too optimistic, giving the impression of plentiful and even growing reserves of oil, gas and coal.

'Public data about oil and gas reserves is strikingly inconsistent,' the report writes. 'Furthermore it seems to be unreliable for legal, commercial, historical and sometimes political reasons.' Different reporting practices and confusing terminology also help to confuse the picture.

To gain a clearer perspective of the reserves available, the GWEC and RES went back to drilling logs from individual wells, which are compiled into databases which can be used by the industry. Although much of the data is not available to the public, details of important regions and global totals can be found in published papers.

What the researchers found was worrying; their figures suggest that world oil production will peak in around ten years time and then tail gradually off, even as demand for oil continues to rise. They forecast that by 2030, there will be a gap between supply and demand equivalent to five times the current production of Saudi Arabia.

'The oil gap is the most urgent and the hardest to fill because no alternative to liquid fuels have been developed on a large scale so far and the time to do so is running out,' notes the report. 'Eventually the oil gap will be filled by a mix of demand reduction and vehicle efficiency, liquids from coal, biofuels and natural gas.'

For gas, the report predicts that production will peak in 2030. However, demand is growing so fast that by then demand will considerably outstrip supply. The resulting energy gap will be filled by a mix of energy efficiency, power generation from renewables, coal and nuclear and heat production from renewable sources.

Coal reserves are more extensive, and the report estimates that they will not run out until the end of the 21st century. However, producing energy from coal has a high environmental impact and mitigating these is an expensive process. Furthermore, some coal will have to be used to make materials and substances like plastics and fertilisers, which are traditionally made with oil.
Overall, the report finds that a gap between supply and demand for oil and gas will become evident soon after 2010. According to the authors of the report, wind power is an important part of the solution.

'World energy sources are not sufficient to sustain the expected growth trends,' commented Dr Ian Mays, Managing Director of the RES Group. 'Wind power is very much ready to keep the lights on and fill the gap. Wind power technologies are working successfully all over the world and with foresight and appropriate policy frameworks there is enough resource to role out wind power on a huge scale.'

'GWEC estimates that more than 1,000 GW [gigawatts] of wind capacity could be installed by 2020, if significant policy changes are implemented,' added Arthouros Zervos, Chairman of GWEC. 'This potential is technically realisable but will require continuing development of policies to facilitate more substantial integration of wind energy into the generation mix.'

The renewable energy sector has been lobbying hard for two thirds of the non-nuclear energy research budget under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to be allocated to research into renewable energy sources. Although the European Parliament passed amendments to this effect when it voted on FP7 back in June, the European Commission subsequently reversed the decision in its amended proposal.


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