Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

Fossil Fuels Could Be Phased Out Worldwide In a Decade, Says Study (phys.org) 443

James Hakner, writing for Phys.org: The worldwide reliance on burning fossil fuels to create energy could be phased out in a decade, according to an article published by a major energy think tank in the UK. Professor Benjamin Sovacool, Director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, believes that the next great energy revolution could take place in a fraction of the time of major changes in the past. But it would take a collaborative, interdisciplinary, multi-scalar effort to get there, he warns. And that effort must learn from the trials and tribulations from previous energy systems and technology transitions. In a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Research & Social Science, Professor Sovacool analyses energy transitions throughout history and argues that only looking towards the past can often paint an overly bleak and unnecessary picture. Moving from wood to coal in Europe, for example, took between 96 and 160 years, whereas electricity took 47 to 69 years to enter into mainstream use. But this time the future could be different, he says -- the scarcity of resources, the threat of climate change and vastly improved technological learning and innovation could greatly accelerate a global shift to a cleaner energy future.There's no doubt that we will soon reach a point wherein solar and wind will be readily available and feasible to the vast majority but, the decade timeframe feels like a stretch. We must acknowledge the financial and political challenges that we face today. Private and government-backed companies have invested billions of dollars into plants that turn fossil fuels into electricity. Ditching these plants means losing a lot of capital and owing investors with plenty of explanations. There are several forces at play here.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Fossil Fuels Could Be Phased Out Worldwide In a Decade, Says Study

Comments Filter:
  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @10:39AM (#51921799)
    Things are unstable enough as it is in that territory. Matters could get a lot worse if they lose their only major source of income.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by swb ( 14022 )

      You might argue that it would solve their problems.

      If there was no demand for their product, the major world powers wouldn't quit injecting themselves into their affairs. With no income, they couldn't buy weapons. Without weapons, their ability to wage large-scale wars would drop off.

      The whole place might not be nice, but it would probably settle back to a patchwork of tribal areas generally stable because there was no means of consolidating power or enforcing minority governance.

      • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @11:33AM (#51922115)

        With no income ...

        what little economies they do have will collapse and that huge population of unemployed young people will go somewhere, bringing their Wahhabism with them.

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          I question that thesis.

          These countries have by and large been economic backwaters forever and its required basically a state of war and anarchy in Syria for several years to kick off a major wave of migration. End the fighting and you end most of the migration. The oil economies of most of these countries don't do a lot to help the man in the street anyway, they largely depend on general internal economic activity for subsistence.

          Plus you have to figure that the Europeans won't tolerate much more migratio

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @11:32AM (#51922099)

      Things are unstable enough as it is in that territory. Matters could get a lot worse if they lose their only major source of income.

      The Middle East is unstable because of the oil wealth. Most terrorism comes from the wealthiest ME countries, not the poorest. If a government gets most of its wealth from oil, it has little need to be concerned about the welfare or aspirations of the people, other than to just keep them under control. So you get a corrupt and repressive elite, and seething resentment from the population. Saudi Arabia is the worst case, and has bred the most terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, and 15/19 of the 911 hijackers.

  • Yeah right (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Saturday April 16, 2016 @10:39AM (#51921801)

    Pile on a few more conditions and you realize this is just wishful thinking. Some "think tank". Alternative energy is growing. And this is a good thing. But oil was still viable at $150/bbl. Don't think that at $40/bbl people are going to drop it. I think we're currently at or just past peak oil. Peak oil is not where oil is scarce - peak oil is where there is so much oil available that we are literally drowning in oil. Which is why we're hearing about oil gluts, and seeing plummeting oil prices.

    Yes, economic slowdown in the US and China has something to do with that too. But currently we are running flat out pumping up oil from tar sands, from the bottom of the oceans at scary depths, and even shale oil from coal and barely treading water, barely producing oversupply. Once the economic slowdown reverses and demand picks up again, these gluts are going to disappear, but production will not pick up as quickly. It can't. All the "easy" oil has already been drilled. Fossil fuels will be not be phased out, there just won't be anymore. But it's going to take a lot more than a decade.

    • Re: Yeah right (Score:4, Informative)

      by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @02:16PM (#51923153)

      Peak oil is not where oil is scarce - peak oil is where there is so much oil available that we are literally drowning in oil.

      We're long past peak; that's why we have to rely on [expensive] processes such as synthesizing fuels from tar sands...

  • by Adeptus_Luminati ( 634274 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @10:41AM (#51921813)

    I haven't even read the study and can tell you the title conclusion is completely ridiculous, bordering on bad click-bait.There exists over 1 Billion cars in the world. Unless the governments of all countries in the world both fully subsidize AND legally mandate people to switch to electric cars AND build global infrastructure to support 1 Billion electrical cars, then it ain't gonna happen. Simple as that, end of story.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Saturday April 16, 2016 @11:09AM (#51921985) Homepage Journal

      It's a shame you didn't read the study because it addresses your point. By "phased out" they mean all new vehicles would be electric, with a few exceptions. It's like CFCs were phased out - they didn't force everyone to replace hold fridges.

      • By "phased out" they mean all new vehicles would be electric, with a few exceptions.

        Of the 75 million cars made in 2015, 540,000 were plug in EV something or others... and even most of THOSE still use gas (Prius plug in EV counts for example).

        The idea that we could make all new cars and light trucks be EV only in 10 years is absurd in the extreme.

        It's like CFCs were phased out - they didn't force everyone to replace hold fridges.

        CFCs could be phased out because we had a ready replacement. It cost a bit more, but it largely worked in most of the same equipment doing the same job with minor changes.

        If you were talking about replacing gas in cars with E85, now THAT could b

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          The idea that we could make all new cars and light trucks be EV only in 10 years is absurd in the extreme.

          Why? Because we would have to build massive battery factories and infrastructure? Musk is proving we can do that, and he is one guy. The paper is arguing that it would need to be done on a massive, global scale.

          Several countries have said they will ban sales of new petrol/diesel cars by 2050 (34 years), and the Dutch are looking to do it by 2025 (9 years). It's pretty far from "absurd in the extreme", it's just difficult and would require a lot of effort. Kinda like going to the moon in less than a decade.

          CFCs could be phased out because we had a ready replacement. It cost a bit more, but it largely worked in most of the same equipment doing the same job with minor changes.

          S

          • Why? Because we would have to build massive battery factories and infrastructure? Musk is proving we can do that, and he is one guy. The paper is arguing that it would need to be done on a massive, global scale.

            There are many reasons... building all new car production is just one of them... What people WANT to drive is another, it takes time to change people's behavior, usually generations...

            If this was just a new fuel type for the same types of cars, you could do it faster. EVs require that people change how they use a car. A lot of people simply aren't interested and will make sure the politicians know it.

            Will my kids want EVs? Probably. But we're talking about 10 years here, not 50...

            Side note: Musk hasn'

          • musk has burned through a huge pile of cash and only produced a few hundred thousand vehilces. Thats not a good example of what it will take to replace every car on the planet in 10 years.
      • It's a shame you didn't read the study because it addresses your point. By "phased out" they mean all new vehicles would be electric, with a few exceptions. It's like CFCs were phased out - they didn't force everyone to replace hold fridges.

        TFA seems to be saying that switching quickly is a possibility, but there's nothing plausible to switch to right now. Planes and shipping aren't going to be EV and of course we need a solution to energy production. We have to shift to something with sufficient capacity and it's currently really unclear what that something is.

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      More obviously, trucks that deliver food to grocery stores are not electric and can't be converted to electric in 10 years. Airlines have no alternative fuel prospects at this time (except biological fuels which pollute more than fossil fuels). Ships run on fossil fuels and a ship can operate for a lot longer than 20 years.

      Ending fossil fuel use in 10 years or 20 years is not reality.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @01:08PM (#51922787) Homepage

        "More obviously, trucks that deliver food to grocery stores are not electric and can't be converted to electric in 10 years"

        There are already electric trucks and even electric semi trucks out there. you dont convert them, you REPLACE them.

        Nissan, toyota, Mercedes, and all the other big truck makers are already doing it. Backward companies like Mack,GM, Ford,and Freightliner dont want to spend the money to make the next generation of trucks.

    • You can't just legally mandate that all of your citizens abandon their cars. In a democracy, they would simply vote you out of office or camp out on your legislature until you resign. In a dictatorship, they would have you head on a pike. You can't even give them a free replacement car, because the extra $40k you'll be charging each of them in taxes will cause the same outcome.
    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday April 16, 2016 @02:26PM (#51923203) Homepage Journal

      You do know that we have perfectly viable replacement technologies for existing motor fuels, right? Refined vegetable oil [wikipedia.org] (or "green diesel") is a direct, 1:1 replacement for diesel fuel which does not have the problems of transesterified biodiesel, and butyl alcohol or butanol [wikipedia.org] is a direct, 1:1 replacement for gasoline which is made by bacteria from any organic matter in a process that has been used for decades. The former is being produced in increasing quantities, although that could be sped up, and the latter is being prevented through the joint efforts of BP and DuPont, who are preventing GE Energy Ventures' firm GEVO from producing it and selling it on the basis of a patent which a) describes an obvious invention and b) was developed at a public university, partially with our money. As ever, the problems are not scientific, nor are they even technical. They are political, and economic. And as usual, the economic problems are not insurmountable, but they do require government involvement to run in the opposite direction. Right now, the US government is helping to prevent us from having a viable replacement for gasoline.

  • It simply won't happen until there is a compelling financial reason to do so.

    Market forces always, eventually, win.

    • It simply won't happen until there is a compelling financial reason to do so.

      Market forces always, eventually, win.

      I'm pretty sure that if your hose is burning you won't bide your time and wait until there is a bear market in the fire extinguisher business so you can secure a fire extinguisher at the lowest possible price, you'll pay any price asked for a fire extinguisher so you can keep your house from burning down.... but then again boil a frog slowly, yada, yada, yada... (it doesn't work on frogs but apparently it will work on some free market fundamentalists).

    • Enter the carbon tax. Price emissions for their actual costs they incur. You know, the free market solution.

      • Enter the carbon tax. Price emissions for their actual costs they incur. You know, the free market solution.

        A couple things.

        First, government-imposed "social engineering" taxes such as a carbon tax are anything *but* "free market" and are nearly polar opposites.

        Second, such a tax would impact lower-income people hugely more than wealthier people both directly and through increases in their cost of living. The "1-percenters" won't hardly notice, but lower income people will pay a much larger percentage of their income, drastically affecting their ability to house, clothe, feed, and prevent themselves from freezing

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DogDude ( 805747 )
      It simply won't happen until there is a compelling financial reason to do so.

      You're right. If the US government stopped it's massive oil and gas subsidies, the economy would swing toward renewables quickly.
      • You clearly don't know anything about subsidies. Look it up; they're not nearly as big and bad as you imagine.

        They are a drop in the bucket compared to the economy, and aren't really big enough to affect prices the way you think.
        • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday April 17, 2016 @06:09AM (#51925965) Homepage Journal

          What makes the oil, gas, and coal industries possible is permitting them to ignore externalities. If you had to put the hill back to being nice after mining coal, and you had to fix all the CO2 emitted, and also somehow put all the radioactive isotopes back in the ground, and actually build refineries such that they don't occasionally^Wregularly emit deadly toxic clouds forcing evacuations (that is, build them to the same standard as chip fabs) and clean up 100% of the oil spilled and so on and so forth, none of those industries would even exist, at least not in their current forms. The oil industry would be focused on plastics, which would cost more. We'd use more composites as a result, with natural fibers perhaps. Coal just would be over. It wouldn't even be a thing. Natgas would exist, but we wouldn't be fracking, and they wouldn't be storing it in leaky underground caverns.

          Permitting an industry to ignore externalities is a kind of subsidy being paid in natural capital which, in theory, belongs to all of us.

  • If the Aussie brown coal industry shut down tonight, the natural fires that they have prevented would destroy centuries worth of fuel coal by the next of the next fire season.

    If coal isn't a useful resource, it isn't in anyone with money's interest to keep it from burning so natural fires will start and it will burn sometime in the future. That issue must be addressed.

  • I have a Time magazine from 1948 and the cover article said the same thing.

  • Who he? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @10:59AM (#51921913)

    The author of the paper, Professor Benjamin Sovacool, is Director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex. Confusingly, the University also describes him as "Professor of Energy Policy (SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit)". A brief search of the University of Sussex, University of Aarhus, and Wikipedia Web sites reveals that he has published a vast number of papers, given many, many talks and seminars, published books, received grants, and has a PhD in 'science and technology studies from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he won the “Outstanding Dissertation of the Year” award from the College of Social Sciences and Humanities'.

    Nowhere, however, can I find any information about Professor Sovacool's undergraduate degree discipline. From his published biographical details, he seems to have popped into existence at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University where he received his PhD - awarded, be it noted, by "the College of Social Sciences and Humanities".

    Until I learn to the contrary, therefore, I am assuming that Professor Sovacool is essentially a social science specialist who has ventured - very boldly indeed - into the topical, not to say fashionable, world of climate change, global warming, and general greenness. TFA tells us that, "In a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Research & Social Science, Professor Sovacool analyses energy transitions throughout history and argues that only looking towards the past can often paint an overly bleak and unnecessary picture".

    "Energy Research & Social Science". Hmmmmmmm. Professor Sovacool advances undeniably compelling (if not very scientific) arguments, such as this:

    "Moving from wood to coal in Europe, for example, took between 96 and 160 years, whereas electricity took 47 to 69 years to enter into mainstream use... Ontario completed a shift away from coal between 2003 and 2014; a major household energy programme in Indonesia took just three years to move two-thirds of the population from kerosene stoves to LPG stoves; and France's nuclear power programme saw supply rocket from four per cent of the electricity supply market in 1970 to 40 per cent in 1982".

    Well, there you have it. Clearly that evidence leaves no possible doubt that "[t]he worldwide reliance on burning fossil fuels to create energy could be phased out in a decade". To the satisfaction of any social science professor, anyway.

    http://phys.org/news/2016-04-f... [phys.org]

    • Re:Who he? (Score:5, Informative)

      by bazorg ( 911295 ) on Sunday April 17, 2016 @01:47AM (#51925493) Homepage

      Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/be... [linkedin.com]

      Education
      Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
      Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
      PhD, Science & Technology Studies
      2003 – 2006

      Activities and Societies: Science Policy; History of Science and Technology; International Research; Science and Technology in Society.
      Wayne State University
      Wayne State University
      MA, Communication Studies
      2001 – 2003

      Activities and Societies: Rhetoric and argumentation
      John Carroll University
      John Carroll University
      BA, Philosophy
      1997 – 2001

  • Here are some examples from the article:

    For example, Ontario completed a shift away from coal between 2003 and 2014; ... and France's nuclear power programme saw supply rocket from four per cent of the electricity supply market in 1970 to 40 per cent in 1982.

    So with a little political will, large changes can be made to our electricity generation system rather quickly. It would mean embracing nuclear, though.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      What did Ontario shift to between 2003 and 2014? I'm betting some other form of fossil fuel.

      and France's nuclear power programme was "just" another form of generating steam for the same kind of turbines used in the past.

      Renewable don't do that.

      • Renewable don't do that.

        That's true, but the article isn't saying we have to shift to renewables.

        What did Ontario shift to between 2003 and 2014? I'm betting some other form of fossil fuel.

        From what I understand, they're mostly nuclear [cns-snc.ca]. (Seriously, it took me five minutes to find that on Google, you could have done it).

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          From what I understand, they're mostly nuclear.

          Unless there was an unused nuke plant just sitting around doing nothing (or a new plant was brought online), where did that replacement capacity come from?

          Of course, seeing that nuke+hydro is 94+% of their generation, maybe coal wasn't that important to Ontario to begin with.

          • Unless there was an unused nuke plant just sitting around doing nothing (or a new plant was brought online), where did that replacement capacity come from?

            Wow, if only there were a global search engine brimming with information, waiting for you to type in a query. I'll bet you could find the answer to that, if such a thing existed.

  • There's no doubt that we will soon reach a point wherein solar and wind will be readily available and feasible to the vast majority

    If "feasible" means "economical", there is definitely doubt - each bit of government subsidy & market distortion is concrete proof of that.

  • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @11:10AM (#51921989)

    But it would take a collaborative, interdisciplinary, multi-scalar effort to get there, he warns.

    Uhh, that isn't a minor speed bump, that is Olympus Mons on Mars sized speed bump...

    To actually do it would require that we actually buy up and destroy most of the gas powered cars on the roads, since more than half of them are used longer than 10 years.

    We'd have to shut down and destroy trillions of dollars worth of industry around the world, from oil refineries to coking coal plants that make steel, to natural gas powered appliances, etc. (in my home along, my water is heated, my food is cooked, and my home is heated with natural gas, it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace all that with electric).

    We would somehow have to get all the nations of the world on the same page. You know, the same ones that are at war right now, declared and undeclared, the ones that fly jets 30 feet over our warships, the ones wanting to expand ISIS, and the ones building islands in the South China sea.

    If you wanted to avoid nuclear, you'd also somehow have to build an international power grid and allow nations to become dependent on other counties for power. That may work for Denmark and Sweden, but do you really think South and North Korea are going to get along? How about the US and Mexico? Israel and everyone else...

    ---

    The "think tank" either just wants money to write more pointless "reports", or they are smoking crack... Both are sad...

    • Rolling Stone [rollingstone.com], of all places, had an excellent analysis of the rather simple and brutal math behind such a transition. Simply put, there are about thirty trillion (ie, 10^12) US Dollars worth of hydrocarbons in the ground. Those hydrocarbons count as assets on the balance sheets of the richest companies on earth. Avoiding a 2-degree C global average temperature increase requires leaving about $20T of those reserves in the ground, forever. That is, you would have to get the richest companies in the world, al
  • All of the fast changes of electrical supply cited in the article were moves from one baseload source to another. But if you want to move from baseload to renewables (other than the lone baseload renewable, hydro) we will need a new grid. The envisioned upgrade, "Smart Grid" would be able to match fluctuating supplies with continually monitored and controlled loads. Yes, you will have to give your utility power to continually monitor your electrical demand and be able to switch your major appliances on and off to match the changing supply of sun and wind. Changing over to this grid will cost a few teradollars.

    The very first small step in upgrading to Smart Grid is Smart Meter, the first generation of which continually monitors load for each user, but does not have the control component. In my town the hippie moms have already protested away Smart Meter on grounds that they "emit radiation" by which they mean use cellular data chips to send their readings to the utility. So around here anyway, the flat-earth lobby has already eaten its own proposed solution.

    • If you want to know how that works, look back at California's electric market deregulation in 2000/2001. Real time pricing is unfortunately very easy to game.

  • Here's the article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/s... [sciencedirect.com]
  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @11:37AM (#51922137)

    At a level of global cooperation never before achieved by the human race, on a project vastly more expensive than any project previously undertaken by any nation state (or supranational governing body) humanity could achieve X in Y years for Z dollars—where the precise value of X is pretty much irrelevant, since it surely won't happen in less than Y*3 years and Z*10 dollars, in the unlikely event it happens at all.

    What Coke promised: "I'd like to teach the world to sing".

    What Coke delivered: global BMI inflation & Texas-sized land yachts.

  • Over the last 5-10 years you have had a large number of power plants re-powered from oil to natural gas and from once-through cooling to cooling tower operation. I could be way off on my numbers, but I believe the cost is around $1MM/MWh typically, and generally amortized as a 30 year investment. So, in order to pay off those expenses, you are looking at whatever the existing (wholesale) cost of electricity is, and adding the cost of new renewable sources to it (roughly triple the wholesale cost amortized

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @12:18PM (#51922405) Homepage

    This demonstrates a POSSIBLE answer. Right now we don't think the situation is anywhere near bad enough to warrant the major problems caused by the proposed solution.

    Far more likely is the complete removal of all coal plants, replaced by green technology. Combine that with a cessation of building fossil fuel burning cars, and you have a major shift.

    While not as good as the possible solution from the actual post, this is a far more likely one, and would still surprise most people. The benefits would take a while to appear, but they would be real.

  • If the 120 or so wealthy men with governments in their pockets who mostly rule commerce on this world agree, and they can be on board to receive the profits, then this would happen.

  • We may be about to find out to what degree the oil and coal industries own governments. You can bet that big oil and big coal will play every evil card on the bottom of the deck to maintain their grip on your wallet. Then again with an out of control world population problem exploding in our faces we may be using human bodies as fuel to run power plants.
  • So within the next decade people going on long road trips are going to put up with traveling 80 miles at a time, parking for over an our to recharge in between ASSUMING there is a free power station as they arrive? I can't see it.

Those who can't write, write manuals.

Working...