RESOURCES

NATURALLY VALUABLE

People and Resources

Someone once objected to my use of the term “resources” when referring to company personnel, on the grounds that people should not be treated as simply functional commodities. I felt that this was missing the point entirely: we need to treat our natural resources in the same way we treat people, with care and respect.

Resources are valuable, whether it’s human or natural resources. Sustainable development is crucial if we are going to leave the planet in a condition for it to meet the needs of future generations.

 

The Energy Landscape is Changing

Over the next fifty years, the energy industry will undergo its biggest transition since the Industrial Revolution. Renewable forms of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal are already gaining ground, while disruptive new technologies in energy storage, efficiency and recycling will transform the sector in the coming years.

The scale of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) mean that it is unlikely that the industries that have fuelled the world for the last five centuries will disappear altogether. Disposal technologies such as Carbon Capture, Use and Storage will have to be massively scaled up if climate targets are to met.  

How will this be financed? The transition will cost trillions of dollars. How this will be financed, and who will foot the bill? Investors will face enormous risk as we enter the Brave New World of a climate friendly energy system.   Finding new ways to share and m itigate risk will be key challenges moving forward.

 

Coal

Most people will have come across coal in barbecues or in their open fire at home, but coal is also widely used in large-scale power generation and to power industrial and commercial processes. Coal is the cheapest but also the most polluting of fossil fuels. It is an efficient and intensive source of energy (although the calorific value of types of coal varies widely) but the problem is that it throws up huge volumes of CO2 and other impurities such as soot when it is combusted. 

Gas

Natural gas, or methane, has been used for years in the residential and commercial sectors for heating. But it can also be burnt to generate electricity, and is both efficient and less polluting  than coal. Gas is gradually expanding its share of the energy mix and, now that it can be easily transported in liquid form (LNG), more countries are using it as a clean alternative to coal. But while the gas industry promotes its image as a low-carbon fuel that can be complementary to renewable energy,  many environmentalists believe that using gas more widely will lead to climate disaster. 

Oil

Most people know about oil through filling their car with gasoline and diesel. Crude oil is refined to make these transportation fuels, which are also used by lorries, airplanes and to propel ships. But oil is a flexible form of energy, It has been widely used for power generation, and certain grades of refined products can also be used in manufacturing petrochemicals. Oil accounts for around a third of global energy use. The scale of the industry is enormous, and finding lower carbon sources that will replace oil will require huge investment. 

Renewables

Two decades ago, most people in the fossil fuel industry were skeptical about the the prospects for renewable energy, which required large subsidies. Nowadays, growth in renewable energy is being driven by entrepreneurs and hard-nosed investors who see massive expansion in the years ahead. Against all odds, the renewables industry has proved the skeptics wrong and it is the fastest growing energy sector. Solar and wind generation costs have dropped significantly, making them more competitive, and many people expect that new types of renewable energy such as geothermal and tidal power could follow the same cost curve.  

Electricity

Although everyone knows how to charge their mobile phone and plug in their kettle or television, most people are oblivious of how electricity is made. Power generation is a diversified and complex business. Coal, gas, oil, water, nuclear and renewable energy are all used to generate power. Distribution of the electricity to where it is needed is equally complex, evolving rapidly from centralised to distributed models. Grid-edge technologies which allow consumers to control how electricity is used and monitored — in the home, for example — are a dynamic new growth area. Electricity storage is also rapidly becoming more efficient. 

Bio-energy

Biofuels are as old as mankind. Burning firewood to keep warm goes back to palaeolithic times, and in some developing countries it remains the only fuel available to the majority of people. Modern bio- energy involves a multitude of different processes such as using bio-mass to generate power, using waste matter to make bio-gas and even using coffee grounds as a way to make diesel fuel.  Biofuels are hugely controversial, however, as using land to grow crops to make fuel reduces that available for food crops, and it seems inconceivable that chopping down rainforests to make palm oil is a sustainable way forward for Planet Earth. Nowadays the focus of bio-energy has switched to sustainable technologies that can be integrated with other supply chains.

We should be developing a holistic energy system where renewable energies are integrated with low-carbon fossil fuels  and emissions are managed through Carbon Capture. Demand Side Management is critical to ensuring the system is sustainable and will be a key to future energy efficiency.

Peter Stewart, Owner/Founder, Resource Economist

Natural Resources

Energy resources are just part of an interconnected web of natural resources that allow mankind and other species sharing Planet Earth to flourish. 

Water

The most precious natural resource, but also among the least understood. Water is essential to life, but the complexities of hydrology are understood by few. Water is used in producing energy and electricity.

Forestry

Forests are natural carbon sinks. Lumber is used for paper and pulp manufacture, so sustainable forestry is vital for the future of decarbonisation.

Metals and Minerals

All kinds of minerals have been used by people over the centuries to make implements of various sorts, but some rare minerals are also now critical for energy supply chains. These include lithium and cobalt which are used in electric vehicle batteries, and rare earths which are used in catalysts for various refining processes.

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