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The Role Of Fossil Fuel In The Energy Mix Of The Future

The energy transition! The energy transition!!

One can just imagine how that keeps ringing in the mind of the average oil and gas worker who must be so worried about what would become of fossil fuels in this new energy world. Is oil going away? Will I be out of job next year? Will I never work offshore again? These are just very few of the possible questions that must run across the minds of some oil and gas workers. But, does the energy transition really spell the end for the oil and gas industry? let us find out.

The energy transition as defined by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is a pathway toward the transformation of the global energy sector from fossil-based to zero-carbon by the second half of this century. With the rapid population growth, industrialization, and digitization, it is safe to forecast that energy demand will see a rise in coming years, and the energy industry will have to evolve to embrace conventional and unconventional energy sources to meet the growing consumption level.

Increasing Energy Demand

Increasing Energy Demand

Source: ANIMP's Energy Industry Global Market Forecast 2019

Luckily, the production of energy is progressing. This progress along with technological developments has brought about dramatic reductions in prices and improved efficiency of renewable energy such as energy from wind and solar photovoltaic cells. These improvements suggest that renewable energy has the potential to become an active player in global energy systems, and have led to assumptions that renewable energy will invariably wipe out fossil fuels from the current energy mix.

However, the energy transition is not solely a scientific issue that requires pure scientific solutions alone to reduce CO2 emission, it is strongly driven by socio-political fuels. Hence, these technological improvements alone cannot establish it as the energy source of the future. The energy transition is made up of three core dimensions guiding its policies, also referred to as the ‘Energy Trilemma’. The energy trilemma which is the three-fold policy considerations of the energy transition includes Environmental Sustainability of Energy Systems, Energy Security, and Energy Equity. Let us consider each of them.

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY OF ENERGY SYSTEMS deals with the transformation of energy systems to ones that mitigate harm to the environment and reduce climate change impacts, to ensure the environment is fit for habitation for current and future humans.

ENERGY SECURITY deals with how a country can meet its current and future energy demand, while withstanding and recovering speedily from system shocks with minimal to no negative impact on its energy supply. It deals with how a country ensures that its energy supply exceeds or perfectly meets its energy consumption, without being necessarily subject to another country.

ENERGY EQUITY deals with how a country can provide access to affordable and accessible energy for its commercial and domestic use.

Together, these three constitute a trilemma for world governments, public and private bodies, sector regulators, and economic & social agents, which have thus far been quite difficult to balance. This is because while fossil fuels fulfill the energy equity aspect of the trilemma for many countries, it falls short in environmental sustainability, and while renewables largely cater to environmental sustainability concerns of energy use, it still does not meet the energy security and energy equity aspect of the energy trilemma.

When we consider growing demand for energy particularly in our exponentially developing technology age, we deduce that our current alternatives to fossil fuel energy are yet to be at the point where they can adequately meet current and forecasted energy consumption demands on a global scale. Even though the cost of renewable energy has reduced drastically in recent years, the initial capital cost for developing and installing renewable energy infrastructures is still one of the biggest challenges to its adoption. Hence, it remains improbable for renewables to completely replace fossil fuels across global energy systems today.

Asides from the high capital cost and emerging nature of renewable energy compared to already established fossil fuel energy, fossil fuels also serve as a major feedstock for the chemical industry, with adequate substitutes yet to be developed. Oil and gas serve as ingredients for manufacturing medicines, technological devices, plastics, vehicles, beauty products, etc. Hence, even if renewables lock oil and gas out of the direct energy industry, which is just one of the industries that adopt it, it is envisaged that the world would still need a good percentage of currently produced oil and gas.

Energy use in the industry (World - quadrillion BTUs)

Energy use in the industry (World - quadrillion BTUs)

Source: ExxonMobil's 2019 Energy Outlook


The many uses of fossil fuel

The many uses of Fossil fuels in our everyday life

Source: The International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP)


But there is even better news for the fossil fuel industry. Scientists and engineers have been working tirelessly to scale up Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) processes and technologies. With adequate CCS technologies, CO2 emission targets can be met and future emissions averted. If this comes to be, fossil fuels will be seen as less of a threat, and with the level of its technology maturation and accessibility, fossil fuel can maintain its place at the top of the global energy mix.

On the whole, due to the current shortfalls of both fossil fuels and renewables, and with the global demand for energy increasing continually, it is difficult to choose one energy source over the other to cater to our current and future energy needs. There can be no one plan for a successful energy future, because a successful energy future will require collective action from renewables and fossil fuel industries, the government, and the public to determine what would constitute the future global energy mix.

In the meantime, we would expect fossil fuel to remain an active part of the global energy mix as it continues to underpin technological and economic developments globally.

On the other hand, it is important that we expand our horizon as a global community to view fossil fuels and renewables as a part of a whole -the whole being energy- that must be optimized to meet growing energy demand, rather than thinking of energy as either renewable energy or energy from fossil fuels.

For oil and gas workers, although this means they can continue working without fear of an abrupt loss of relevance by tomorrow, this transition also ushers in an opportunity to embrace the energy industry as a whole and upskill or reskill as the case may be (learn more about upskilling here), to ensure - no matter what the energy future holds, they remain relevant in the energy industry.

One way to get started in any arm of the energy industry is to be a part of the Manup tribe where you can get access to either renewable energy or oil and gas jobs that you qualify for. It is very easy to get started, just click here.



About the Author

Tomisin is a Business Operations Specialist at Manup. She is an Industrial Chemist and Data Scientist with a Masters degree in Energy and Environment, and a strong affinity for Sustainable Development.

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