Energy Systems and Fossil Fuels:
Nearly all forms of renewable energy either directly or indirectly arise from the sun; for instance, solar energy unevenly heats the Earth, creating wind that is converted to kinetic energy and later to electrical energy through wind turbines. Likewise, wave energy arises from the wind’s creation of waves. The two forms of non-solar renewable energy come from the tides (which arise due to the moon’s gravitational energy) and the decay of radioactive materials within the Earth.
Renewable energy systems have vulnerabilities. Wind energy, for example, is an inflexible and non-controllable resource because it takes a significant amount of time to convert captured wind energy into electrical energy, and humans do not have the ability to control the time and power of wind. However, increasing the variety of energy sources and the diversity of an energy mix can ensure that there is still an abundance of energy at all times.
Harnessing energy for use is not a completely efficient process, and humans do lose some of the primary energy that comes from natural resources before they are able to utilize it. As such, they must use an energy mix from a variety of primary energy sources in order to meet public demand.
Fossil fuels are one source of energy we can draw from, but unfortunately, they are not sustainable in the long-term. If we continue to use fossil fuels at our current rates, humans will eventually deplete them before their supply can be replenished. Coal, oil, and natural gas take millions of years to develop; coal, for instance, requires land-based plant remains to undergo physical and chemical processes before it can be harnessed for energy.
Furthermore, burning coal and oil releases pollutants that harm the atmosphere, and it also threatens social sustainability because not all countries and communities have access to or can afford fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are not very efficient under our current methods. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s energy flow charts shows that nearly 81% of U.S. energy consumption comes from fossil fuels rather than renewables and estimates that in 2016, the United States wasted 66.4 quadrillion British thermal units (quad) of energy, while only 30.8 quad were successfully implemented into U.S. energy services. Renewable energy may be a worthwhile alternative if implemented into infrastructure properly.
Energy Vulnerabilities & Efficiency:
Why is our current energy system so vulnerable to changes in our environment and infrastructure? Will we have enough energy to last us in the future if fossil fuel reserves are depleted, and will we have enough energy to last us in the future if the climate changes? What steps should we take now if we don’t? Our energy systems are vulnerable because they are neither diverse nor resilient enough to adapt to changes.
We face risks to our energy security because of our over-reliance on fossil fuels. Uneven distribution of fossil fuel resources leads to energy market volatility and instability. Technical system failures and physical security threats such as natural disasters also have the potential to disrupt the availability and affordability of energy.
According to the International Energy Agency, “the concentration of fossil fuel resources as energy resources is the most enduring security risk.” This is primarily because fossil fuels are finite resources and, in terms of centralization, fossil fuels are often concentrated in the hands of only a few countries. If energy resources were more decentralized, it may be more variable and politically difficult to manage; however, it would have greater resilience if infrastructure is, in some way, damaged. Rather than relying solely on fossil fuels, I believe it is important to diversify our energy sources through renewables.